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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 20, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
August 19, 2012

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6: 51-58?

And my blood is real drink’

“Don’t act like fools, but like wise and thoughtful people” (Ephesians 5:15b). “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (John 6:55). God be with you

This is the third week of reflections on the Bread of Life discourse in John 6, and opportunity for us to confront the words of Jesus – or be confronted by them. There is something very confronting here – in cannibalistic language. John has Jesus speak this way (“For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink”) in the context of significant Jewish-Christian conflict. Jesus speaks of the Eucharist in the most graphic way – in a way that signals the great and widening gulf between church and synagogue in the late first century. Christians celebrate a messianic meal that is offensive to Jews.

Before we attempt to reflect on the Gospel together, it’s right that we acknowledge this gulf. The conflict of the late first century (two fragile religious communities under imperial rule) may be contrasted with centuries of anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic belief and action. We need to proceed with caution – with “reverential fear and awe”. May nothing we say today further anti-Jewish sentiment or anti-Semitism.

Still, there’s something confronting here for us and for “wise and thoughtful people”. Our Gospel is not simply about the gulf between church and synagogue. And it’s not simply about the Eucharist – not simply about Holy Communion.

The word “communion” is closely related to the word “community”, and community is about what holds us together. Jesus, we may understand, is pointing to something about how communities are bound – and what he says, now as then, is unpopular. It is offensive to Jews and to Christians.

What he is saying is that we bind ourselves in community by doing violence to a common enemy or scapegoat. In some communities in ancient times this did involve ritual cannibalism. The enemy or scapegoat was sacrificed and eaten by the community, and participation in the killing and eating strengthened the bonds of unity in the group. One of the reasons people are offended at what Jesus says is that he uses this language and imagery of them, and they think they are so much more sophisticated than the barbarians who did such things. Jesus is saying, No. You may appear more sophisticated, and you may not actually kill and eat your enemies, but in fact you do target scapegoats and chew them up and devour them just as your cannibal forebears did (Nathan Nettleton).

When we begin to look at examples, it is hard to argue with him. We might acknowledge that our national identity is founded on violence to Indigenous peoples.

Again and again, in spirits of expedience or compromise, refugees are denied rights/scapegoated to unify so-called “true Australians” and their elected patriots (last week even the Fairfax editorials referred to “illegal boat arrivals” and “queue jumpers”).

By way of jokes, bullying and negative stereotypes, same-sex or “rainbow” parents (and their children) are maligned/scapegoated to unify proponents of supposedly “traditional family values”.

Punk-rock feminists are convicted of “hooliganism”, of inciting “religious hatred”, and imprisoned/scapegoated to unify nominally orthodox (Government-fearing, Patriarch-fearing) members of church and society …

This month’s Rolling Stone magazine editorial may seem an unlikely site of evangelical wisdom, but it’s hard to resist Tom Morello’s riposte to Republican vice-presidential nominee, Paul Ryan. Morello is guitarist with “political-progressive” rock band Rage Against the Machine – a band Ryan claims, curiously, to be one of his favourites. “I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta ‘rage’ in him,” Morello writes, “a rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment … Basically the only thing he’s not raging against is the privileged elite he’s groveling in front of for campaign contributions.”

Lest I succumb to scapegoating neo-conservatives, I might acknowledge that my religious identity is all-too readily founded on rejection and even hatred toward those I label “fundamentalists” or “heretics” …

It is often easier and more popular to unite against someone and barricade ourselves against them, than to unite around the practice of breaking down the barriers and extending love to others/outsiders.

The stunning thing that Jesus does, we might notice, is to recognise that the machine, the system of unifying groups by way of scapegoating others, is almost unavoidable – and yet, instead of defining who he is against and calling others to unite with him against a common enemy, Jesus offers himself as the victim and calls us to unite in solidarity with the victim.

The gruesome talk about offering his flesh to be devoured does not take us directly to the altar-table. It takes us first to the cross, to the place where he is executed/devoured.

It is from that gruesome place that he takes us to the table, where we find that his self-offering becomes the true food and true drink that unites us in a new and Holy Communion with him, and through him, with all the victims of the machine, all the victims of the world’s systemic violence.

Here at this table, as we participate in an expression of the world’s violence (one civilisation/culture/community upon the flesh and blood of others), we find the most astonishing transformation taking place. In the very same moment that we enact the violence of tearing apart and chewing up the victim, we find that we become what we receive – we become one with the victim.

It bears repeating. In the words of St Augustine, we “become what we receive”. In the moment we enact the violence of tearing apart and chewing up the victim, we find that we become what we receive – we become one with the victim.

We abide in Christ, and Christ abides in us, and we are united together in Christ, offering ourselves to be broken and poured out for the life of the world – that all scapegoating and violence might come to an end.

In a variation on the words of our Mission Statement: With Christ, we dare offer ourselves to be broken and poured out for the life of the world – that all scapegoating and violence might come to an end.

Let’s complete the homily together. We’re invited to pour the wine/juice into the chalice. Becoming one with Christ means becoming one with all victims of scapegoating and violence. What does that mean for you today?