Sermon for Sunday 2nd August 2009 Pentecost 9 by tyndale

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									Sermon for Sunday 2nd August 2009 Pentecost 9

I love research. I loved all the years of study I did, all of the pursuit of little pieces
that went into the larger puzzle to make a clearer picture. I loved the reading, the
thinking and dreaming, the planning and execution of the trials and experiments. I
loved collecting the data and the analysis. The writing up I wasn’t so keen on. But it
had to be done. In order to follow this pursuit, I went through course after course.
The Grad Diploma, the Masters Degree, and the PhD. I loved it and wanted to do a
good job of it. I worked hard for each degree and strove to keep moving forward.
Publish or perish was the dictum, and writing grants was the way forward. At the end
of my PhD I had been offered a job in the US as a postdoctoral research assistant.
This was a big step. But my career was important to me, it was the driving force of
my life, I think, and I sacrificed a lot to follow it. Moving to Texas, leaving behind
my family and friends, unfinished business and everything I knew in Australia, was
the price I had to pay for the pursuit of this goal. And it was a high price. But I
wanted so much to be a name, to make my mark in the world of research that I paid it,
and took on the extra stress of having to reach out to make new friends and new work
networks, a task of gargantuan dimensions for an introvert like myself. I had to
negotiate the almost vertical learning curve of new experimental techniques, train my
brain to process and understand far more complex information and learn to live in a
country which spoke English, but whose customs were surprisingly alien.

Was it what I needed though? When I got there, when I had mastered the new work,
when I had forced my brain to digest the complex science in the journal articles I had
to build my own work on, when I had written and landed a grant on the basis of the
work I had done, and published a few papers, when I began to achieve the things that
I thought would give me status in the world, and finally a sense of myself, I found that
I was looking in the wrong place. I was in pursuit of something that would give me
self esteem, something that would show that I had a legitimate place in this world.
But somehow I had missed the mark. There was still a great gaping hole within
myself that was not filled, that could not be filled, even if I’d won the Nobel prize. I
was seeking a sense of fulfilment in the wrong place. Nothing I could do in terms of
my working life was going to show me the true source of my identity in life. It was
like trying to follow a path through the woods by analysing the molecular markers of
a single leaf in a clearing in the woods. And like Alice, I tumbled down the hole and
found myself doing everything at a frenetic pace, bouncing from one thing I could no
longer make sense of, to another. The stress of it all took its toll. I became seriously
depressed and quite ill. And it was while I was almost immobilised by the stress that I
got a glimpse of what it was that I should have been pursuing: who I was in Christ.1

You know, I often wonder about the crowds who followed Jesus. We have the
images of Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ in our heads sometimes, of a crowd of
people so desperate, so hungry for their Messiah that they would follow anyone who
had some charisma, even grasping as a sign a gourd or a sandal that Brian had lost in
his haste to escape them. But I wonder how far fetched that picture of desperation
was. The gospels certainly describe a people who were hungry – hungry for teaching
and for healing, hungry for someone who seemed to care about them, this people who

1
 M Craig Barnes ‘Poet in Residence: Listening for the sacred subtext’ The Christian Century Feb 10
2009
were caught on the treadmill of following the letter of the Law. Today’s story takes
up from where we left off last week. Jesus had just fed 5000 people who had gathered
because they saw the signs he was doing for the sick. Jesus had read desperation in
their faces and had been moved to pity and had fed them all until they could eat no
more, from a meagre offering of 5 loaves and 2 fish. The people had been amazed
and seeing in Jesus something too good to let go, had rushed on him to make him their
king, but he’d escaped up the mountain, he withdrew from them for some time with
God, then joined his disciples when they were half way across the lake in their boat.
But the crowd had followed. They were curious about how Jesus had got to the other
side so quickly – they hadn’t seen him get in a boat, they were curious about his
ability to work signs and wonders. They were like bloodhounds following a scent
through the woods. What else might this man be able to do? He was new and
exciting and charismatic, his words had them hungering for more. Their need had not
been satisfied even though their bellies were full. But had they confused their hunger
for signs and wonders, which flare up like fireworks for a moment then sink to ashes,
with their true seeking for their Messiah, for eternal life? Had they too got so
absorbed in the molecular markers of single the leaves of signs and wonders that they
too had fallen down Alice’s hole? They tried to stay on track. They tried to
understand. ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’ and ‘What must we do to perform the
works of God?’ Good question, but they’re still stuck on the treadmill alongside the
path. Jesus tries to break them out of it. ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in
the one whom he has sent.2’ So they ask him for another sign. And as if to prompt
him, the recall the manna in the wilderness3. But Jesus reminds them that Moses
didn’t give them the bread from heaven, it was God. And now Jesus points to himself
as the true bread from heaven, also given by God. ‘Lord, give us this bread always!’
is their response.4

So what’s the problem here? It’s as though Jesus and the people are having parallel
conversations, their minds never meet. The people are talking about one thing and
Jesus is trying to tell them something that they just can’t comprehend, because their
expectations are completely elsewhere. Was God at the heart of what they sought?
Or did they just think it?

We can kid ourselves that we centre our lives on the will of God. I’ve done it. I was
sure that because that postdoctoral research assistant job dropped in my lap that God
must have been smiling on my aspirations, blessing my path. But at the centre of my
life was my desire to make my mark, to find my identity. And I very nearly lost it
entirely because until I was so beaten down that I could do nothing else but listen to
the voice of God, God did not even really figure in my aspirations. God was
peripheral, faith was an optional extra, something I chose as an accessory.

The people who flocked after Jesus wanted to hear him say all the right buzz words.
They wanted their stomachs to be full, their ills healed, their political will to be
fulfilled, and the Romans vanquished. The presence of God in their lives was
probably peripheral to them too. The desire that drives us to acquire things, to seek
after and accumulate the trophies of life – whether that’s money, things, career, signs
and miracles – deadens our appetite for God, and numbs us to the value of what’s
2
  John 6: 28-29
3
  William Loader Pentecost 9
4
  John 6: 34
really important5. Our appetite for these trophies is never satisfied even when we
have so many that they clutter up our lives. Our real source of identity, each one of
us, is in our lives in Christ.6 And if we can keep that goal in our sights, if we can
acknowledge that our source of identity in Christ is sufficient for us, then all the rest
would just fall away and our lives would be far less fraught. Jesus said, ‘I am the
bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in
me will never be thirsty.’7 Seek the true bread.




5
  Rev Meggin in NS Desperate Preachers Site Pentecost 9, August 2, 2009
6
  M Craig Barnes ‘Poet in Residence: Listening for the sacred subtext’ The Christian Century Feb 10
2009
7
  John 6: 35

								
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