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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 16, 2015

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, 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.

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

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 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 isagainstand 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 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.

Blood is certainly a powerful metaphor. Once we have recognised its significance in terms of becoming one with victims of scapegoating and violence, it’s possible to regard it more positively in terms of life the life of community. What unites us and gives us life wonderfully, miraculously? What is the life force animating the body of Christ? I think of three words today: integrity; creativity; reciprocity.

I’ll finish with a comment on the third word. In a recent conversation with Norma Ingram, who will give the Welcome to Country here on Saturday, Aunty Norma said of Aboriginal families: “The words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ don’t exist in Aboriginal languages. Reciprocity is something more automatic; a natural way to be. It’s being aware of needs, being in tune.”

Reciprocity means giving and receiving, sharing, valuing the time and gifts of one another, valuing what another has to pay, say, offer, ask, exchange for what is truly needed. Every member of the body is a member by virtue of what Aunty Norma calls a “being in tune” the free flowing grace, generosity, courage or blood of Christ.

Let’s complete the homily together. We’re invited to pour the wine/juice into the chalice. Jesus says: “My blood is real drink.” What does that mean for you today?