Grumbling Sunday - St Bride's: Reflection

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Grumbling Sunday

Grumbling Sunday
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"Then people started grumbling about him, because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven". John 6: 41

"In the desert the whole Israel community grumbled against Moses & Aaron, in Egypt we ate, here we starve!" Exodus 16: 2

This might be called 'Grumbling Sunday'. In both our bible readings people complain. So what do the stories have in common? "Grumbling people". The Israelites grumble because they are hungry; the people with Jesus grumble because he does not do what they want, perform a miracle. Grumbling is a human condition, particularly shared by Christians, so today's stories will interest us here today!

The Oxford English dictionary has a definition of Grumbling thus: "to mumble in discontent". In Exodus the Jews would rather eat in captivity than starve in freedom, and the people with Jesus want a repeat of the feeding of the five thousand where they didn't have to work to provide food, but had to be taught to share what they had in order to see Gods goodness to them. The grumbling in both bible stories was begun by a few discontents and spread amongst those who couldn't get their own way.

Food and water are basic requirements of life, taken for granted by most of us. Without food and water we die, witness Ethiopia, the Sudan and many other places today! Water & food are fundamental to human existence, not surprising that Oxfam & Christian Aid grew out of Christian's concerns for the social gospel. The Bible, a series of books recording the development of the Jewish nation and the Christian community, is full of stories of men & women striving to provide sustenance for the body in order to sustain the soul. How can you understand God's love for you if you are starving and dying, actions speak louder than words? Feed the body and the soul will grow.

Much of the testing of the early communities of faith is bound up with the need to free people from slavery and prejudice in order for the words of truth to hit home. Moses couldn't deal with Israel's anger until he fed them in the wilderness. Still they refused to listen. Fresh from feeding five thousand Jesus is confronted by a hostile crowd who want proof of who he is the cheap way. "Do another miracle and we will believe".

Today's gospel of Jesus & the crowd illustrates something of the dilemma facing our church. Membership of the church of God should be about belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Make no mistake about it that is the message. This community at St Brides is not primarily a social agency, not a club for the 'in few', not a heritage interpretation centre. It is the People of God. That is men & women who see in the life, death resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, the 'Way the Truth and the Life'. This is not a place of doctrines & dogmas, not somewhere where church services are held ad nauseam: but the gathering place of those who agree on one thing and one thing only, that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Unless we are followers of this Jesus, livers of his life, students of his word, no amount of working for the church will make any difference. Generosity of spirit, openness of heart, readiness to admit we might not be right are the marks of a follower of Jesus Christ. And it is so clear in today's gospel that those who wanted to run a club for themselves completely misunderstood who Jesus was and lost the plot!

 Look what happened to the grumblers. They find Jesus in a different place, not where they expected to find him on the other side of the lake. "Rabbi when did you get here"? Jesus is frank, "You are not looking for me because you want to know God, you seek me in order to see another wonder worker". Feeding the people with bread and fish was a necessity of life, but you need the food that comes down from heaven. And in this Jesus mirrors the Moses grumbling only too familiar to the Jews listening to him.

Still they do not understand, or won't understand. "Yes Lord, but how do we earn God?" What a telling phrase, those speaking to Jesus still believe they can work, earn their way into Gods favour! Many of today's Christians believe exactly that and it is tragic. The reply of Jesus is numbing, "The work of God is this, believe in the one he has sent." The grumblers continue, "What miracle will you now do so that we might believe you?" And then comes the direct reference to our other grumbling story, "Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert, he gave them bread to eat".

Jesus looses his cool, "I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."

The grumbling stops, and for a moment sanity reigns, "Sir," they say, "give us this bread". Jesus declares, "I am the bread of life, he who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes I me will never thirst".

In the gospel itself Jesus continues to teach the grumblers more about the faith which he comes to bring and what they need to understand in order to become believers. Then off they go again and we read that the people started grumbling because what they saw was Joseph's son, we know his father & mother how then does he say he comes from heaven?

Jesus has the final word, "Stop grumbling amongst yourselves, no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws you to me". Needless to say this all leads to something the followers of Jesus really enjoy, "this started an angry argument among them" How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

In spite of being fed, of learning to share, of meeting Jesus face to face, of receiving answers to their questions, of having a good moan together, they refuse to believe and continue to run a club for themselves! In the meantime Jesus has slipped away and left them alone.

That is the price you have to pay for missing the point of Jesus Christ. He comes to us that we might believe. All the stories, all the teaching and finally the suffering, the cross, the grave and the resurrection are to help us believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the promised Messiah, the Word made flesh. That is what separates a Christian from a Muslim, a Jew from a Christian. But that is also what commands respect and trust between a Muslim a Christian and a Jew. What separates us is a lack of faith, incredulity about our scriptures, a mistrust and a grumbling amongst ourselves.

Do you think God is really interested in our petty squabbles amongst ourselves while his world thirsts for the bread which came down from heaven and the bread which saves the hungry? Like those people who were too busy grumbling amongst themselves that they did not notice that Jesus had left them so it will be with the grumblers.

Return to the reason for the gospel itself, that we might believe that Jesus is Lord. What is the point of trekking here to this church in Fleet Street, or to any other church for that matter if you do not believe in the possibility that Jesus Christ is the way the truth and the life?

In reading your bible, letting the scriptures speak to your heart and mind, by opening your mind to God in prayer, and realising that you are not the centre of attraction, but looking to Jesus Christ who came to bring us life, more  abundantly; only then will we understand that faith is the ingredient we most need. And with faith comes a contented heart and mind and contented minds and hearts are too busy giving thanks and working for God to grumble. So if you are a grumbler perhaps you need a new look at faith, a new look at Christ and a new look at yourself.

If we all returned to the words of Jesus Christ as a pattern for our words, to the service of Jesus Christ as a pattern for our service, to the trust which Jesus put in his Father as our basis for trust we would all grasp better the truth behind today's gospel, that those who believe in Jesus Christ will never go hungry, nor thirst, for they will be given the bread of life - Jesus Christ himself.  

But, is that what you really want? Or would you rather grumble and see the world revolve around you; in which case Jesus Christ died to no avail and church is a hobby! And that is blasphemy in place of faith!

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