The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evensong      17th October 2021
Being with God - like breathing in and breathing out
Graham Dunn

The lectionary gives us plenty of opportunities to reflect on the notion of Jesus as the bread of life and tonight’s second lesson from John’s gospel is another.

The last time I preached on the subject was back in August and I talked about a number of things, including the national obsession with sourdough starters as well as the centrality of bread to human existence.

One of the wonderful things about Hampstead Parish Church is that people want to talk about your sermons with you. 

After that last bread of life sermon, a few of us ended up having an interesting discussion outside the front of church about my claim that bread was universally seen as a basic foodstuff. Quite rightly, the question was posed – what about parts of the world where bread is not the staple that it is in our own culture – for example what about places where rice plays far more of an underpinning role than bread.
We got to thinking about how the word used for bread – artos in the original koine Greek – is or should be translated. 

So I did a little bit of digging. Interestingly in places where rice is the main staple, many translations still use the local word for bread in order to be faithful to the original text. In some places there is a concern that to use the word for ‘rice’ might not be appropriate – in others, they have opted to translate it simply as ‘food’. For the food of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the food of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry. 

Wherever we land on the specific translation, what come across through all of this is that what Jesus is trying to convey is the absolutely essential nature of our relationship with God.

Our relationship with God should be as fundamental to our very being as eating and drinking, as going to sleep and waking up, as breathing in and breathing out. 

Taking time to be with God, to dwell with him, to read his word, to seek his counsel, should be the very food of our lives.

God makes himself available to us in good times and in bad, when we are weeping and when we are laughing.

I don’t know about you but I suspect I’m probably better at turning to God when things are tough than I am at stopping to thank him when things go well. 

I’m sure I’ve had many times when I’ve been praying fervently for something that I’m anxious about and when that thing has gone well I’ve gleefully skipped off without stopping to return thanks to God for having been with me.

Much of the early part of the Old Testament involves the journey of the people of Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

The journey is not straightforward. The relationship between God and his people is definitely not straightforward.

There is an ongoing sense that God’s people forget what he has done for them and return to their old ways. They constantly need bringing back to him. 

The book of Deuteronomy is threaded through with this dynamic. Deuteronomy in Greek means Second Law and much of the text is essentially centred on the image of Moses reminding the people of what God has done for them and the way in which God wants them to live. Indeed the book includes the second appearance of the ten commandments, the first being in Exodus.

In the passage we heard tonight, the people of God are being told two things. 

Firstly they are being assured that they will reach the place they want to get to. It is not ‘if you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you’ but ‘when you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you’. God will lead them into a better place after all they have been through. 

But they are also being told what they need to do when they get there.

They are to take the first of all the fruit of the ground which they harvest from the land…put it in a basket and go to the place that God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 

In other words they are not to simply enter the promised land and say ‘phew, we made it – I guess we probably don’t need God anymore’.

Quite the opposite, when they enter the promised land they are to stop and pause. They are to offer back to God the first fruit of their new land. Returning thanks to God is not to be an after thought, once they have settled in and got things in order. It is to be the first thing they do. 

God brings them into the land, they offer some of it back to God. This signals the fundamental rhythm which should underpin their relationship with God. Like breathing in and breathing out.

At this point in the year when we, like churches across the country are celebrating the harvest, I wonder what it is that we are being called to offer back to God as our first fruits, as a thanksgiving for all that he continues to do as he walks alongside us. 

Of course we can think about this at a global, community and individual level. 

This morning we on the need to protect our planet and the people who live on it, with a particular focus on another essential ingredient of life – water.

At a community level, returning thanks to God might mean getting involved in volunteering locally.

At an individual level, perhaps it might be as simple as devoting some time each day just to be with God. Just to sit and dwell with him. Taking him seriously when Jesus says that he is the bread of life. The food of life. 

If we take Jesus seriously then the relationship God wants to have with us individually and collectively is a loving one in which we are so connected with him that we simply can’t imagine our lives without him. 

One in which we know we can turn to him in our darkest hours.

One in which we gladly offer back to him a portion of what he has given us in grateful thanks for his blessings. 

Dwelling with God, day by day.

Like breathing in, and breathing out.

Amen

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