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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 19, Year B
Commissioning of Elders
South Sydney Uniting Church
August 12, 2012

2 Samuel 18:5-9,15,31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35,41-51

Reason to live’

Food sustains the body, and so in John 6 Jesus feeds the five thousand. But while food is necessary, of itself it’s not sufficient for human life to flourish. Millions of people in the west have plenty to eat, and even an epidemic of obesity, and yet many remain spiritually malnourished. Jesus points beyond the “sign” of literal food to the spiritual reality signified. God be with you

Just as he compares himself to “living water” that quenches our thirst (John 4), Jesus identifies himself as the one who satisfies our deepest hungers: “I am the bread of life. Anyone who comes to me will never go hungry, and anyone who believes in me will never be thirsty” (6:35). Last week we listed seven hungers – from physical hunger to the hunger of loneliness, the hunger for forgiveness, for self-esteem, for learning, for spiritual growth and community. We listed seven nourishments, too – from food and shelter to friendship, peace of heart, emotional support, wisdom, private and public prayer and tradition or community.

I can think of another hunger today – the hunger for meaning. I’m inspired in part to think of this hunger for meaning in light of sharing something of Geoffrey’s faith and hope – and joy – this past week. What a profound experience of turmoil, grief, grit, integrity and freedom!

The Search for Meaning (the book’s common full English title is Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy) is a 1946 book by Viktor Frankl chronicling his experiences as a concentration camp inmate, and describing his psychotherapeutic method of finding a reason to live.

Frankl identifies three psychological reactions experienced by all inmates to one degree or another: (1) shock during the initial admission phase to the camp, (2) apathy after becoming accustomed to existence in the camp, and (3) reactions of depersonalisation, moral deformity, bitterness and disillusionment if the prisoner survives and is released.

Frankl concludes that the meaning of life is found in every moment of living. Life never ceases to have meaning. In a group therapy session during a mass fast inflicted on the camp’s inmates trying to protect an anonymous fellow inmate from fatal retribution by authorities, Frankl offers the thought that for everyone in a dire condition there is someone looking down, a friend, family member, or even God, who would expect not to be disappointed. Frankl concludes from his experience that a prisoner’s psychological reactions are not solely the result of the conditions of his life, but also from the freedom of choice he always has even in severe suffering. The inner hold a prisoner has on his spiritual self relies on having a hope in the future.

It’s a conclusion reminiscent of words by Friedrich Nietzsche: “The one who has a why can endure any how.” We might reflect on David’s grief – his sense of dominion and dynasty in ruin; his struggle to overcome meaninglessness, a struggle of tears, prayers and songs.

When I worked with Father Chris Riley’s Youth Off the Streets, I was encouraged to help young people write songs and tell stories, draw pictures, take photographs … and play sports. There is a hunger for meaning and the nourishment is a reason to live.

Jesus says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, s/he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (6:51).

The text is one of the seven “I am” sayings in John, all of which are literary allusions to God, revealed to Moses as “I am” or “I will be” (Exodus 3:14). In addition to the bread of life, Jesus compares himself to light in darkness (8:12), a gate to safe pasture (10:9), a good shepherd who sacrifices himself for his sheep (10:11), the resurrection and the life (11:25), the way or path (14:6), and the true vine who fulfills Israel’s destiny (15:1, Isaiah 5).

“If the text scandalises us today, we can at least console ourselves that it did the same thing to the original audience more than two thousand years ago” (Dan Clendeni). People grumbled about Jesus identifying himself with God. Wasn’t he the one “whose father and mother we know? How can he say such things?” Even some of his own disciples dismissed Jesus’ reason to live as a hard saying. “Who can accept this?” they protested. From that time on, the gospel story concludes, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (6:66).

What does it mean? A reason to live, the divine life itself, is found in the brokenness and self-giving death of Jesus. As we participate in the brokenness and self-giving of one who really loves, we receive real life. Participation in godly brokenness and death calls us to the same way of Jesus, a preparedness for self-giving and being among the the ones who sustain life in the world.

Some of the spiritual qualities of this Christlikeness are described in our reading from Ephesians where we are called “to put away all bitterness, wrath, anger, slander and malice” and instead to be “kind, tender-hearted and forgiving of one another”.

Some of the spiritual qualities of this Christlikeness are seen – as we have said these past three Sundays – in our elders. Miriam’s reason to live has to do with freedom and responsibility. It has to do with a sense of first-world privilege and obligation to those in need. It has to do with creaturely existence and cosmic interdependence. It has to do with overcoming vengeance and proclaiming the good news of compassion.

“Like Jesus, we are poured out for each other and for the world,” says one commentator. “We are nourished by Jesus and the bread that he gives, the bread of his broken self” (John Queripel). May it be so …

Might you give thanks (eucharist) today for a reason to live, however paradoxical, however incomplete?Amen.