Sunday, August 23, 2015

What sort of god do you want?

A sermon for Trinity 12.

I want to begin with a question and a warning.  First the question: What sort of a god do you want?  That is the question that our Gospel reading sets before us this morning.  What sort of a god do you want?  Perhaps before we go any further it is worth taking a moment to reflect on that question.  What sort of a god do you want?


I’m not going to ask you to share your reflections with anyone else.  But try to hold them in your mind as you go through the remainder of the service.  Now, however, comes the warning.  “This teaching is difficult.”  That’s what Jesus’ disciples say to him.  “This teaching is difficult.”

This encounter comes at the end of a long sermon that Jesus has given after the feeding of the five thousand.  Positively he has been teaching that the feeding points to something about himself.  “I am”, he tells them, “the bread of life”.  More negatively he wants them to know that he is not just a food manufacturer, not just a miracle worker on demand.

Which brings us back to our question.  What sort of god do we want?  Perhaps we want a god who will be that sort of miracle worker.  A god who will feed the hungry – that’s a big job in itself.  And wouldn’t it be good if everyone in the world was fed, think of the lives that would be saved?  Perhaps we could go further, and ask for a god who would ensure peace and security throughout the world; a god who would ensure that refugees were well housed and cared for, and would also make things so that all the things that cause people to flee their homes would disappear.  A god, in short who would clean up all the messes that we have made.

On the other hand, perhaps we would like a god who will essentially leave us alone.  A god who will leave us where we are, confirm us in our comfortable existence.  A god who doesn’t make too many demands of us, but who appreciates that we’re busy; a god who will just let us be, after all we’re not too bad.

My own reflections on what sort of a god I want tend to veer between these poles, that itself might say something.  I want a god who will make everything right, but who won’t let that interfere with my comfort.  Surely that’s not too much to ask for?

That is not the God who Jesus offers to us.  Remember, “this teaching is difficult”.  The God who Jesus offers to us invites us to share our lives with him, so that we might share in the life of God.  All of the long and complex sermon about the bread of life points to this.  And in sharing the life of God, we are invited to share with God in the work of mending the world.  We are to feed the hungry, to work for peace and justice, to care for the refugee and the stranger.  To do so is to discover that the roots of the problems that we face lie within our own hearts.  So the invitation to share in the life of God, is an invitation to share in the work of mending and an invitation to change and to be changed as we do that.

The god we want to fix everything is not the God of Jesus.  Jesus offers us a God who asks us to share in the task of mending the world.  The god we want to leave us alone is not the God of Jesus.  Jesus offers us a God who invites us to change and to grow.  And all of this is founded on a sharing in the life of God, which is what comes first.  We share in God’s life, we are held as we face up to the change that we have to make; we are supported in the work to which we are called.

There is a constant need for us to be converted from the gods that we want, to the God that Jesus shows us.  It is a constant temptation to fall back on a god who will fix everything and leave us alone.  Whatever the god that we want, the God of Jesus will challenge and surprise us. The God of Jesus will give us life.

This morning we are invited to bring the gods that we wish for to the altar, and there to receive the Living Bread.  We are invited to come to the true and living God, to share in the life of God.  We come away from the altar to share in the work of mending the world, and to be changed.  This is the challenge and the adventure of the Christian life; this is the invitation that Jesus offers to us this morning. 

This is a hard teaching, but it is a true teaching.  To who else can we go; Jesus has the words of eternal life.  Amen.

First given at the Chapel of St Mary on the Bridge, Derby and Derby Cathedral 23.8.15

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