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Bread of Heaven

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to John.

The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  ( John 6:24-35)

A couple of years ago, there was news of  a  new discovery in Egypt. A large sarcophagus made of granite, measuring nine feet long and weighing sixty tons was discovered. It was thought that it may be the tomb of Alexander the Great.

And just last week, archaeologists announced they had unearthed a 3,000-year-old “lost golden city” in the southern city of Luxor, a discovery that could be the biggest since the discovery of the tomb of the boy king Tutankhamen.

We have heard or read over the years of other tombs being discovered, and sarcophagi being opened, perhaps the most famous being that of Tutankhamen

There are often beautiful things found, which indicate the wealth and importance of the occupant.

Of course, as we know, wealth and fame don’t protect you from disease, or accidents, or being killed in war, or just old age and death.

Some objects  even after thousands of years ,do survive however and yield some interesting discoveries. You can find such objects in museums, where we can all see and enjoy looking at  them.

Also found, have been sealed jars with various substances inside. Some containing seed – wheat seeds – sealed away for three thousand years.

Three thousand years !

Out of curiosity, some scientists planted some of those wheat seeds, and surprisingly, they sprouted and plants grew.

The powerful and wealthy died, but the little seeds, lying dormant, for so long, still carried  the spark of life within them.

It seems that the inclusion of wheat seeds, among others in those tombs told of the importance attached to preparing the deceased person for the afterlife, and the belief that bread would be required in that afterlife.

They also knew the importance of bread in this life. 

You can live for a long time nourished solely  by bread and water.

Don’t they say that was what prisoners in some prisons were fed? Bread and water.

It might have kept them alive, but a diet like that was sure be an incentive to escape. 

Bread is important to life.

Jesus claimed that he was the bread of life.

In other words he was important to life.

The people he had fed at that miraculous feeding of thousands, brought others to follow him, expecting food, again.

He wanted them to strive for spiritual food, however, and in so doing presented himself as the bread of life.

He was, and is important –  nay essential – to spiritual life.

Believe on Jesus and his death and resurrection – and live –  we are told.

And assured of eternal life.

Believing in Jesus Christ is accepting that he came from God, died on the cross in atonement for our sins, rose from the dead, and lives with the Father in Heaven.

The men and women who believed this, accomplished  marvelous deeds in his name, much more that they could have dreamt of. 

There is an imagined fable, that has Jesus returning to Heaven, and being asked by an angel, ” Do you feel you have made a difference down there? ” and Jesus answering,” I hope I have.” 

And on being asked whom did he leave behind to continue his work, he replied,  ” Peter, John and James and  Andrew, Thomas and a few others.

And the angel asking, ” Will they be enough do you think?”

And Jesus saying,” I don’t know, but they are all I have, “

And those believers, having  the  essence of Christ in them,  –  having the bread of life in them – accomplished awesome deeds, and spread his name throughout the world.

We – you and I – are here today because of those who realised that Jesus was as essential to their spiritual life as  bread was to their daily life, and acted accordingly, sometimes in the face of extreme danger. 

Two thousand years after that motley crew set out to tell the world about Jesus, the fruit of the seeds they planted is visible here today.

So where are we today?  

What do we see as essential in Christ Jesus, for life today, and for life eternal?

I can’t give you a definitive theological answer to that question, but I can give you the story of a personal experience.

After going through a time of extreme turbulence in my life, and coming to the conclusion that God didn’t seem to care; didn’t answer prayer; left me on my own; I tried to leave Christ out of my life.

To go it alone.

But it was not possible. 

It wasn’t possible for me to go on, alone.

I needed Christ in my life.

I needed that essential element.

I needed something, someone, to hold onto, to bring me through the dark night.

I needed that spiritual bread, as much as or more, than any sort of daily sustenance.

We all know when we need to eat when we are hungry – but we may forget that we need spiritual sustenance.

We could be living a life that needs spiritual sustenance, and not realise it.

Some clues could be:

A feeling that prayer is not answered.

A sense of futility.

A feeling that the evil in the world can never be conquered.

Disappointment that God doesn’t do what we want Him to do for us.

“Working hard” for Jesus, and not seeing results.

Watching bad people prosper while you can’t seem to get ahead.

Experiencing an erosion of faith.

Finding yourself judging others.

Being unforgiving.

If any of this rings a bell for  you, then don’t despair. Many have felt that way.  Even great minds. Great philosophers, even.

However with Christ, with the bread of life, it is marvelous what can be overcome.

A great singing voice in the Christian church in America, a man by the name of Bill Mann, told about the most special concert of his life.

It was after that evening’s concert was over, and he returned to his dressing room.

Waiting there for him was a woman who was blind, deaf and mute. Through the lady who was with her, she asked if he would sing for her the last song he had sung in the concert.

“Surely” he said.

And as she stood five inches from his face, her fingers lightly touching his lips and his vocal chords, he sang again, “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”

As he finished singing, a tear trickled down the face of Helen Keller, Indistinctly, she said, as the words were repeated by the lady with her,” I was there!”

Deaf, blind and mute from birth, you might say, ” Isn’t that too much for one individual to bear?”

No, as a matter of fact.

Of all the women in the nation there was probably no contemporary who gave more insight into the meaning of suffering than Helen Keller  –  or more insight into the love of God or the power of Christ to overcome so much. 

 Bread of Heaven on thee we feed, for thy flesh is food indeed; ever may our souls be fed with this true and living bread, day by day with strength supplied through the life of him who died.

Amen, and Amen.

It’s Never Too Late!

 A Reading from Ephesians

I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

(Ephesians 3:14-21)

Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, is  thought to have been written while Paul was in a Roman prison, about the year 62, and seems to have been written for no special reason except to say how much he loved and wanted to encourage that church.

What is written is really Paul’s prayer for the saints – the believers –  in that city.

You will have noticed that he doesn’t pray for their physical well-being, or their freedom from oppression, or for their prosperity. Rather he prays for their spiritual well-being and for their continued spiritual growth.

We believe that Christ is in every true believer, but Paul prays that Christ’s indwelling in the saints in Ephesus, and by extension in us, must grow, and be strengthened.

It is Paul’s prayer  that in such growth, God would each day be more evident in their, and by extension, in our, lives. That we would sense His presence more nearly,  and become ever more devoted to Him.

You know, we might say, ‘I was baptised, I was confirmed, I grew up in the church, and I attend and support my church as well as any other.’  Isn’t that enough?

But that is just the point, isn’t it?

If I don’t work at being a better Christian, then I may very well slip back into being a not-so-good-Christian.

Coca Cola is the most  recognised brand in the world.  They advertise constantly.  When you see television news footage of a demonstration, or riot, against the Americans by people halfway across the world, often, in the background you will see a Coca Cola sign.

Coke is ubiquitous.

So why does the company bother advertising? Everybody knows about it. Just about everyone drinks it. Who is there left to tell about it?

Perhaps some lost Japanese soldier still hiding out because he doesn’t know the war is over?

Maybe he hasn’t heard about Coke.

But the executives of Coca Cola know that if they cease their efforts to grow, to garner an even bigger percentage of the soft drink market, they will fall back. Others who are striving to get ahead of them will succeed.

It’s the same with being a Christian. You have to try and keep growing in your faith. Or risk falling back.

There are many, many, distractions in this world working against being a Christian. People will laugh at you, say you are a fool to believe such stuff.

There are distractions against attending church.  Right now, Covid is the culprit. In case we could actually be in church, we have just had two beauties – one hellish hot Sunday and one hellishly wet Sunday.

(Attending the service by Zoom, from home has its advantages.)   There are job demands, family demands, needing time out, and so on.

There are distractions against holding onto your values.

I see a little ad in Scientific American every month with someone debunking religious beliefs in favour of science. And I know we can’t prove what we believe as Christians, but there are weird things that are cropping  in Quantum Physics that scientists have a hard time believing let alone explaining. 

They can tell you the whole universe was once a tiny speck, which erupted in The Big Bang thirteen billion years ago, and became all you can see, and much more you can’t see, in the night sky.

The more they learn the more they realise how much they have to learn. In my lifetime, the smallest known unit of mass has gone from being an  atom, to being a tiny, tiny, tiny speck called a quark, among others. And then further, that it isn’t even a ‘speck’ but a small force.

Today’s physicist knows much more than most people will ever know, but if you were on your death bed, would you ask for someone to bring a physicist to your bedside?  Or a fellow Christian? 

Like I said, there are many distractions that call us away from our faith. And if we take our faith for granted, these distractions can jump in and weaken our faith. And our faithfulness.

Verse 2 in today’s psalm ( Psalm 14) has it: The Lord looks down from heaven, upon the children of men, to see if there are any that act wisely, that seek after God.

We should never cease to seek after God.

One evening,  Albert Einstein was having dinner at a neighbour’s, when the young daughter of the host asked the white-haired scientist, “What are you actually by profession?”

Einstein said, “I devote myself to the study of physics.”

The girl looked at him in astonishment. “You mean to say you study physics at your age? I finished mine a year ago.” [1]

Being a Christian these days is harder than being a physicist in some ways, at least a physicist can confound people by talking  scientific gobble-de-gook.

When we have to explain to someone what it is exactly we do, we have to talk in plain language.

And what is it that we do, do ?

Well, some television evangelists promise prosperity to their followers and flaunt their own extravagance as proof of their message.  I heard one such television personality defending his use of a private plane by saying that he had it because God obviously wanted him to have it.

So do we work to get rich by being a Christian?

Paul, writing to his friends from prison, uses his chains as proof of his calling.  He tells us that the Gospel  doesn’t promise earthly wealth, but rather assures us of an eternal blessing.

Today’s Showtime preachers may have learned the secret to material wealth, but they are very different from the apostle Paul, who learned the secret to eternal life through suffering.

So what do we do?

Or, why are we here?

A minister visiting a mental health hospital to do a service, began by asking that very question:  ” Why are we here?”

And a voice came back :”Because we are not all there.”

What the minister meant of course, is ‘why did God put us here?’ Why are we here on earth? 

Sometimes when people come to me and say, “Could I ask you a question?”  I say, “I hope it isn’t ‘what is the meaning of life?’ ”

Well, here it is. The meaning of life according to Paul.

Paul says, the ultimate goal of the church and every Christian is to bring glory to God. That’s why we are here.

That’s it!

Not to make a million dollars. Not to get a gold medal. It is to bring glory to God – by how we live. Just that.

And that’s why we need to continue growing in our faith..

I was in the medical book business, medical and college books. And the buyer of our professional books was the physician who needed – indeed was required – to take continuing education.

I remember one of my  salesman telling me that a doctor stopped by his display stand in a hospital corridor once, and after flicking through a couple of books, walked away, saying, “I haven’t read a book since I left medical school.”

The salesman called out after him, “Then I am glad I am not one of your patients.”

I don’t know what that doctor’s problem was, but I think a lot of Christians are afraid to pick up a bible at home, or to talk about their beliefs because they feel inadequate,  afraid of betraying their lack of knowledge.

It may be that people from some of the other churches who are encouraged to read their bibles, and to engage in discussion, tend to hit you over the head with their memorized quotations.

I read the bible through a long time ago. So if the bishop asks if I read my bible, I can say, “I already read it.”  ”

I need my Bible every week when I prepare my sermon.

But that’s for work.

We need to refresh ourselves in the Word. Daily wouldn’t

hurt.

Sometime we choose not to do anything about growth as a Christian because we are scared what it may lead to. 

You might finish up as a priest. Imagine that.

Or you might be called some time, to stand up somewhere and say something about your faith.  And you don’t. And afterward you wished you had?

Because you might be embarrassed?

Growing in faith may not be safe. Nero had the Apostle Paul killed.

But there is danger everywhere.

Some children had been taking swimming lessons. The instructor had  always had  a line slung across the pool separating the deep from the shallow until her students were familiar with the pool.

 After a week of lessons and the children were swimming, she knew they were ready for the deeper level. To acclimatize  them to this, she would take down the line separating the two levels. And this would make the students very nervous.

To give you an idea, once when she did this,  one little boy remarked, “Miss Tahnee,  please put the line back up…the deep water is getting into the shallow water!.”

We might laugh at this, but are we no different? Our Father may challenge us to a newer level of growth by urging us out of our comfort zone. And we cry, “But Father, the deep water is getting into the shallow water!”

Or, “Lord, the storm is blowing and the boat is about to sink. Don’t you care if we drown?”

And he will reply. “Where is your faith?”

Where is our faith?

Is it so weak and insipid that it’s hard to find? A little tiny faith?

That’s alright.  He wants to make it bigger. And stronger.

When the disciple’s faith grew stronger, they did indeed venture into deeper water, risking their lives to bring the Gospel to the world.

Maybe if we answered His call to grow in our faith, we too could venture into a little deeper water.

I heard the other day about a lady of over seventy who has started taking swimming lessons.

It is never too late you know.   Amen.

Ideas for this sermon came from “Paul’s Imprisonment, His Prayers, and His Praise,”  By: Bob Deffinbaugh , Th.M.


[1] Today in the Word, September 25, 1992

He Just Died For Us!

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark

 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”  What did Moses command you?” he replied. They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied.  “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’[a] ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,[b]  and the two will become one flesh.’[c] So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”  

When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this.  He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her.  And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them laying his hand upon them. ( Mark 10:2-16)


Moses Mendelssohn, the grandfather of the well-known German composer, was far from being handsome. He was rather short, and he had a grotesque hunchback.

One day he visited a merchant in Hamburg who had a lovely daughter named Frumtje. Moses fell hopelessly in love with her. But Frumtje was repulsed by his misshapen appearance.

When it came time for him to leave, Moses gathered up his courage and climbed the stairs to her room, to take one last opportunity to speak with her. He was stunned at her beauty, but saddened by her refusal to look at him.  After several attempts at conversation, Moses shyly asked, “Do you believe marriages are made in heaven?”

”Yes,” she answered, “And do you?”

“Yes, I do, “ he replied. “You see, in heaven, at the birth of each boy, the Lord announces which girl he will marry. When I was born, my future bride was pointed out to me. Then the Lord said, ‘But she will be humpbacked,’

“Right then and there I cried out, ‘Oh Lord, a humpbacked woman would be a tragedy. Please Lord, give me the hump and let her be beautiful.’”

Then Frumtje looked up into his eyes, as if stirred by some deep memory. She reached out and gave Mendelssohn her hand, and later became his devoted wife.

I wanted to bring you a warm-hearted story today, a story of love, love that sees inside a person, past superficiality, the sort of love we all hope that we have or will find, in our life partner. 

Like Moses in that story, we all have flaws in our appearance, and we hope we will meet someone who will love us for who we are, rather than for our looks.

Sometimes, we meet someone in whom we can see no flaws. They are just as beautiful as can be.  But inevitably  there may be things about our partner that we don’t know, and there are things about us that our partner won’t know. Not horrible things, although that has happened, but mostly I am thinking of the way we are;  the things that we bring to the relationship from our family of origin, or from other relationships.

We may be damaged inside in ways that affect the way we relate,  Sometimes these differences, faulty ways of relating, can be so severe an impediment to our relationship that our love gets frittered away, and we end up with a damaged relationship. 

Sometimes, with the proper attention, counseling, willingness to listen, and willingness to work things out, the relationship can be saved.

Sometimes it can’t. In fact, the ratio of divorce to marriage is one to two. Half of marriages result in divorce.

I am a parent, as many of you are. We love our children. If one of my children were in a damaged and damaging relationship, and if the couple had taken all avenues in an effort to make it work, and if my child were living in a situation where she or he could never find happiness, and they decided to end their relationship, I would find it hard to judge them. 

I want my children to live in relationships that allow them to grow and develop, to find happiness, and true partnership, and to achieve wholeness. 

I believe that our Heavenly Father wants the same for us His children. And I don’t believe that He condemns us for our failures. 

But how do we reconcile that with the words that Jesus spoke, as recorded in Mark’s Gospel?

First we have to look at the context.  And the time.

Pharisees asked Jesus about divorce. “Is it right for a man to divorce his wife?” 

The question of marriage and divorce was a hot issue at the time.  Maybe the Pharisees wanted to test Jesus. Maybe they wanted to place him in opposition to Herod, who had just divorced his wife. Maybe they really wished to know his opinion.

The Jews had an ideal of marriage. They thought that God would forgive almost any sin, except the sin of unchastity.  It was held that a Jew would die rather than commit idolatry, murder or adultery. ‘The very altar sheds tears when a man divorces the wife of his youth,’ it was said.

This was the ideal, but in actual practice, things were very different.  

The whole crux of this issue was that a woman just wasn’t  a partner in a marriage  –   she was  a thing.     A woman had no legal rights whatsoever. Her life was at the complete disposal of the male heir in the family.

A man could divorce his wife on almost any grounds, while there was precious little a woman could cite to divorce her husband.

And then again, a woman could be divorced against her will. A man could not.  

Then there were also real problems because of  various interpretations of the law, drawn from Deuteronomy 24.1. which says that a man can divorce his wife if he finds her in some ‘indecency.’

Interpretations of this ranged from saying that a woman must have committed adultery, to merely spoiling food, spinning wool in the street, talking to a strange man, and so on. One school of thought even held that if a man found a woman he thought was fairer than his wife, he could divorce her.

The upshot was that men divorced their wives for the most trivial reasons.

In this context, Jesus was condemning the use of a woman as a chattel. He was condemning the complete lack of compassion and kindness. He was condemning those who looked upon marriage as a temporary state, and one which could be gotten out of easily – if  you were a man. He was condemning the lack of  regard for the welfare of a wife, and their children.

In answering his questioners, Jesus went beyond the law, as laid down in Deuteronomy – back to Genesis in fact – for his view that marriage was a permanent bond that could never be broken by man’s laws or regulations.

But did Jesus mean that if a woman were sold by her family into a marriage where she was treated like property, dreadfully unhappy, her very personhood denied, that she should remain in that kind of bondage?

We are all flawed human beings. We are going to make mistakes. In relationships, perhaps there, is a greater potential to make mistakes than anywhere else.

As married couples we owe it to each other to try and solve problems. We owe it to each other to be understanding, and forgiving, and patient, and kind, and encouraging. But sometimes we fail. And despair is often the result.

I don’t believe that God wishes us to live in perpetual despair. 

Jesus cared for people. He was concerned at the way people used others.   He was concerned for the weakest and most vulnerable in society, and that included women.

He broke the rules of society by talking to women. He broke the rules of society by talking to those who were ostracized by the Hebrews.  You will remember he disregarded both those rules when he spoke to the Samaritan woman by the well.

Today we read about his care and compassion for children, another vulnerable group in society. It was the custom for mothers to bring their children to great rabbis, to ask for a blessing on them. Some mothers had brought their children for Jesus to bless.

The disciples, concerned for Jesus, and perhaps knowing the stress he must be under, as he was making his way to Jerusalem and the cross, tried to shoo the children away.    But Jesus, even in this time of great anxiety, and knowing what lay ahead, didn’t want anyone turned away.

Those who came seeking him would be received, and fed.

He tells his disciples to allow the children to come to him.

And he blesses them.

And he made a difference in the lives of those children.

We can do that.

I want to leave you with a story of someone who regularly makes a difference in the lives of others. 

Lee Shapiro is a retired judge. He is a genuinely loving guy. At some point in his career, Lee realised that love is the greatest power there is. He became a hugger. He was known as the hugging judge.

He created what he calls his Hugger Kit. It has in it, little red embroidered hearts, with a sticky back.  He exchanges them for hugs. He hugs at the drop of a hat.  He is often invited to conferences as the keynote speaker where  he shares his message of unconditional love.

At one of these conferences, the local news media challenged him saying, ”It’s easy to give out hugs in a conference where people know  about you. What about out in the real world?”

He took up the challenge. The cameras followed him as he went onto the streets of San Francisco. He first approached a woman walking by. He said, “Hi, I’m Lee Shapiro, the hugging judge. I’m giving out these hearts in exchange for a hug.”  “Sure,” she said.

That was too easy, so the TV commentator directed him to a lady parking attendant who was being given a hard time by a BMW owner. “You look like you could use a hug,” he said, and she accepted.

The television commentator threw down a final challenge.” Here comes the bus. San Francisco’s bus drivers are the toughest, crabbiest, meanest people in the whole town. Let’s see you hug this driver.”

As the bus pulled up, Lee said to the driver, “Hi I’m Lee Shapiro, the hugging judge. You must have one of the most challenging jobs in the world. I’m offering hugs today to lighten the load a little. Would you like one? “

The six foot two, 230 pounds driver got out of his seat, stepped down, and said…..”Why not?”

One day Lee’s  friend Nancy Johnson showed up dressed as a clown. She said, “Lee grab a handful of your hugger kits and let’s go out to the home for the disabled.”

They got there, and handed out balloons, and hats, and hugs, and little red hearts to the patients. Lee was definitely uncomfortable. He had never before hugged people who were terminally ill, severely mentally challenged,  or quadriplegic. It was quite a stretch for him. But after a while it became easier.  Lee and Nancy acquired  quite an entourage of doctors and nurses as they made their way through the wards.

Then they came to the last ward. In here were thirty-four of the worst cases Lee had ever seen. The feeling was so grim it took his heart away.

But, he and Nancy were committed to share their love and make a difference. They worked their way around the room, followed by the medical staff, all of whom were wearing little red hearts, and hats, and carrying balloons. 

Finally Lee came to the last person, Leonard. Leonard was wearing a white bib onto which he drooled. Lee looked at Leonard’s dribbling and flinched. “Let’s go Nancy,” he said, “There’s no way I can get through to that person.”

Nancy replied, “Come on Lee. He’s a fellow human being too, isn’t he?” and she placed a balloon hat on Leonard’s head.

Lee took one of his little red hearts and placed it on Leonard’s bib. He took a deep breath, leaned down and gave Leonard a hug.

Leonard suddenly began to squeal  – EEEEEEgggghhh. Some of the other patients started to bang things together. Lee turned to the staff for some sort of explanation, as Leonard continued to squeal  – EEEEEggggghhh.

He asked the head nurse, “What’s going on?”

She replied: “This is the first time in 23 years we have ever seen Leonard smile.”

It doesn’t take much to make a difference in someone’s life, does it?

Jesus affirmed the value of children when he told his disciples to allow them to come to him. And he blessed them.

He affirmed the value of women when he condemned those who divorced them for selfish and trivial reasons, treating them as commodities, instead of  beloved children of God.

In his death on the cross, Jesus showed us total and unselfish love.  He didn’t judge any of us.  He just died for us.

Amen 

The stories of Moses Mendelssohn, and Lee Shapiro, are to be found in Chicken Soup for the Soul, written and compiled by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, published by Health Communications, Florida.1993

Such a man was John the Baptist.

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark.

King Herod heard of Jesus and his disciples, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.

But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”

The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.  (Mark 6:14-29)

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In the fifteenth century, or thereabouts, a certain priest, serving in the king’s chapel, was told by a  representative of the king, that His Majesty  would be in attendance at the morning service,  and that the priest should mind what he said in his sermon.

The priest replied, “There  will be someone greater than the king in attendance, and it is His presence that I shall mind.”

A brave man, that priest.

Such a man was John the Baptist.

Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, had visited his brother Philip in Rome, and while there had seduced Philip’s wife, Herodias, persuaded her to leave her husband and to marry him, Herod..

Herodias, as well as being his brother’s wife, and therefore his sister-in-law, was also the daughter of his half-brother Aristobulus, and Herod’s niece.

This only hints at the complicated relationships and marriage tangles in the Herod family.

The kind of relationship that Herod and Herodias were in, was unlawful, as defined in the Book of Leviticus.

John had publicly rebuked Herod because of his deliberate seduction of his brother’s wife, and the resulting adulterous marriage. That took a great amount of courage, by John. 

And he was arrested.

Ironically, Herod was something of an admirer of John, thinking him a godly and pure man, and enjoyed listening to him. But after watching Salome dance, he made that rash promise to her, and in doing so, was tricked into pronouncing John’s death sentence.

Why did John run the risk of death by publicly criticizing the king?

It might be that John had no choice but to criticize Herod and Herodias because Herod was someone who should show a good example, and also, because John, was calling everyone to repentance. 

He could hardly call the average person to repentance and turn a blind eye to what Herod was doing.

He could not keep silence.  And he paid for it with his life.

Herodias loathed John for preaching against her husband, and shining a light on their affair, but she could do nothing about it.

Not, that is,  until the celebration where her daughter danced for Herod.

We have the example of Herodias, who let the evil in her heart wreak evil against John, compared with the words of Jesus on the cross,

” Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.”

Wanting to get even with someone, wishing bad luck on someone who may have hurt us is inculcated in our culture, and in cultures  across the world, isn’t it?

Shiite Muslims discriminating against Sunni Muslims in Iraq, Muslims against Hindus, and Hindus against Muslims in India and Pakistan, Burmese Buddhists against Muslims in Myanmar etc, and until a few years ago Roman Catholics against Protestants, and vice versa, in Ireland.

Major religions behaving like the Hatfields and the McCoys –  remember hearing about them? 

About a hundred years ago, these two families, neighbours, had feuded with each other with tit- for -tat killings over decades, until they couldn’t remember what they had originally disagreed about.

Even John F. Kennedy, a much admired president, had a similar mindset. He is famously recorded as saying, ” Don’t get angry, get even.”

Where are the people who speak up against such destructive mindsets? And such destructive behaviour?

In some countries, people who speak up end up in prison. Just as John did.

In many countries today, people have been killed because they spoke up.

Others have just disappeared.

And yet unbelievably,  brave people still speak up against evil, whether practiced by governments or rapacious companies or even as we have seen, against the security establishments that have overstepped their boundaries.

Someone has to speak up against injustice, and government wrong-doing..

And it has to be done, because allowing bad things to continue

unrestrained over the centuries has fostered, or even encouraged decades, and centuries of ill-feeling – of hatred –  one group against another.

And ill-feeling towards others is never a one way thing.

Hating someone, or wishing evil on someone, you actually bring evil upon yourself.

Malachy McCourt, quoted by Alex Witchel in New York Times, and in Reader’s Digest,  said, “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

In other words, holding evil in your heart for someone else will poison you more than it does them.

Go figure!

Herodias would suffer for what she did to John the Baptizer. The evil in her heart would poison her life.

I have been in situations – involved with someone, for example, who had made me so angry with them that I was unable to sleep at night.  Until, that is, until I realised that the feelings I had against them did them no harm but instead were actually hurting me.

It’s like a guy I saw once in a movie, about to get into a bar brawl, grabbing a bottle to use as a weapon, and smashing it on the bar counter, and cutting his own hand!

So I changed my tactics, and prayed for good for those who had angered me. 

I asked for God to bless them.

And I found peace.

 And could sleep.

When we wish good on someone, when we bless them, when we help them, we receive much more good than they,  funnily enough.    

People who work in soup kitchens, or on the streets helping the homeless, talk about the fulfillment they feel in doing so.

In blessing others, they feel much more blessed themselves.

And it isn’t that they are helping someone just down on their luck -innocent victims of circumstance, as some are – no, some people go into the prison system to visit and pray with, murderers robbers, rapists, and find a blessing in doing so.

I want you to have that blessing, that ‘cup-runneth-over’ blessing for yourself, that comes from helping others. 

I have been surprised, sometimes, when talking with a family to prepare a funeral of a church member, a good Christian, to find out they hadn’t spoken to a brother or sister. for a number of years.

That’s more common than you would think.

For example, I was visiting a man who was dying, and his wife told me that he had something weighing on his mind that worried him.

I talked to him and he told me that he had fallen out with his brother-in- law, some years before and said some harsh things to him,  and he had regretted it ever since. 

He felt bad about it. What could he do?

I asked his wife, ” Do you have the brother-in-law’s phone number? ” and she said, ” Yes”

So I said to this man, ” Call your brother in law on the phone and ask for his forgiveness.”

He said, ” Can I just do that?”

“Of course.”

To his merit, he did, right there and then, and the rupture between them was mended.

He died peacefully a couple of days afterward.

Please take this message with you, have this in your heart: that we will never find true peace and true happiness by only concentrating on our own happiness. That we must find ways to help others – even enemies –  and that we will find our own happiness and peace that way.

Here is a prayer from the prayer book, to be read on John the Baptist’s Day, adapted slightly.

Almighty God, by whose providence thy servant John the Baptist, was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour by preaching repentance; make us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching, and after his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly reject vice, and seek to make a difference in the lives of those who have no hope.  Amen.

And Amen.