You can listen to this sermon here; https://soundcloud.com/christchurch-fulwood-pres/sermon-by-mandy-stanton-sharing-our-bread
I’ve recently gone onto Twitter and Facebook, and I’m still trying to work out whether it was a good idea. On the negative side, you can waste vast amount of time scrolling through the details of other people’s lives, sentimental thoughts for the day, videos of cats and online quizzes – I’ve discovered that if I were a Winnie the Pooh character I’d be Piglet – I was quite pleased to get Piglet, I was afraid I might be Eeyore.
And sometimes you come across levels of anger and abuse that make you want to switch your phone and computer off and never go online again – some of it, I regret to say, from self-declared Christians. On the plus side, you can keep up with what friends and relatives who live some way away are doing, reconnect with people you haven’t seen for years, and find out what’s going on in different parts of the Church, with organisations you support, and with authors and musicians who you like. I confess I get a bit overexcited when an author I admire retweets something I posted, or I get into conversation about the interesting work someone’s doing. And I know that once a day or more I will read something that makes me laugh, or at least smile, something that makes me think, and something that makes me pray.
The web – whether we like it or not – has become a community. All human life is here, good and bad. People go online looking for answers, comfort, prayer and guidance, and sometimes they find it – sometimes they find anger and rejection. There’s also a lot of repetition – the same photos and videos get posted by different people, but the comments they attract are different.
In this chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus continually circles back to the image of bread, interwoven with the idea of the manna which God provided to feed the Israelites in the desert. Every time bread is mentioned, we find out a little bit more about what Jesus means by it – but as the picture builds, there seems to be more and more confusion and argument among his listeners. First the people want to make Jesus king; then they ask questions – but don’t much like the answers; then they ask for more signs; and now they’re grumbling because he talks about coming down from heaven.
When we’re confused, when we don’t understand what’s being said or what’s happening, when we feel threatened, it’s very easy to go on the attack – we all do it at times, in church as well as outside it. If we don’t like what’s happening in the church worldwide, we attack our fellow-Christians, deny their faith, refuse to acknowledge that we and they are part of the one body of the church. If we don’t like what’s happening in the Church of England, we grumble about Archbishops and Bishops and Synod members who have the temerity to think differently from us, to interpret the Bible in different ways, to have different priorities from the things we think are important. If we don’t like what’s happening in our own church, we have a go at, or about, the vicar, or whoever’s leading worship, or preaching, or leading a particular group – I’m not picking on this church, I’ve seen it happen in all sorts of places. We’re human, we all have Eeyore moments – but if those are public, and they’re the only thing some people see about the church, it gives them a very distorted picture.
Neil spoke last week about the ‘deforestation of the Christian memory’ – the stories and language and assumptions of the Christian faith being lost as fewer and fewer people grow up with any sort faith background. That is a danger, and we need to be ready to share the truth of the gospel with those around us. But it gives rise to another danger. It’s a depressing truth that if non-Christians in our culture think about the church at all, they often think about us in negative terms. At best, they may think, as a recent Church Times put it, that we’re ‘smug and a bit weird’; at worst, they see us as judgemental, discriminatory and hypocritical. And that’s hardly surprising, when you see some of the things that Christians say in the media, whether that’s social media or newspapers and magazines and TV.
But in the letter to the Ephesians, the Christian lifestyle is seen as replacing negatives with positives: replacing falsehood with truth; stealing with honesty and generosity; bitterness and anger and wrangling and slander and malice, with kindness, compassion and forgiveness. Perhaps this passage from Ephesians should be compulsory reading for any Christians going on Facebook and Twitter… Because the things that unite us, that bind us together as Christians, are far more important than the things people get upset about.
This passage from John’s gospel reminds us that Jesus offers us the bread of life, he offers us himself, he offered up himself for the life of the world. That’s the fundamental truth that we need to hold onto. The word Jesus uses when he talks about himself means the best, the finest bread, not the cheap barley loaf most people ate, that was used in the feeding of the 5000. One of the participants in a recent Occasional Preachers course I was involved with spoke in his practice sermon about people settling for cheap bread with a short shelf life, instead of the real thing. If you’re a Bake-Off fan, you might call it settling for bread with a soggy bottom. We have the real thing: bread that satisfies, that won’t go stale. It’s nothing to do with us, it’s not our baking, we’ve been given it. How do we respond to that? Do we try to hoard it for ourselves, or do we pass it on to those around us?
D T Niles described Christianity as one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread. We are surrounded by people with needs and questions, but they often don’t see the church as somewhere they’re likely to find the answers. We need to change that. I’d love it of churches were seen not just as places for the faithful to come and worship and share faith and encourage each other, but also as safe places where people can come to share doubts and questions, to explore what they believe and think, without being pressured to conform or commit if they’re not ready. Maybe more churches than we think could be like that, but it’s not how we’re perceived.
I think Christians should be on Twitter and Facebook, but we need to be aware that what we post says something about who we are as Christians, says something about our faith. We need to engage with people where they are, whether that’s on social media or in our community; we need to engage with the questions they’re asking, not the ones we’d like them to ask, because we know the answers. We could start by admitting that we too have needs, we too are hungry, and we find the answer to our needs in the bread of life; and we can allow God’s Holy Spirit to work within us, as we share in that bread, to replace our negatives with positives, so that God can use our transformed lives to speak to others who he is drawing to himself. Amen.
You can follow Mandy on Twitter - @mandyhstanton
You can also follow Christchurch - @CCFulwood
Christchurch Fulwood, Preston also have a Facebook page