Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 13)

Text: John 6:28, 35
So they asked him, "What can we do in order to do what God wants us to do?" … "I am the bread of life," Jesus told them. "Those who come to me will never be hungry.

It’s all about Jesus

A high school student was upset about the grade that he was given for a history assignment.  The student accused the teacher of being ‘unfair’ and of ‘not giving him a fair go’.

The teacher was taken aback by this attack on his integrity. He quietly asked the student, “How much time did you really spend on this assignment?”  There was an awkward silence from the student.  The teacher concluded, “The mark I have given you is a correct reflection of what it deserves”.

The young man persisted in his disappointment and suggested the teacher had a problem with his aboriginal background.  The teacher assured that he had nothing but positive dealings with people from his cultural background; in fact, he had aboriginal students in his classes who were achieving very well.

The young man started to go down the track of “you marked me down because you don’t like me” when the teacher interrupted and focussed on what the real problem was.  He said, “I thought that this was a class about history.  That was all that I intended by this mark on your paper.  This is an assessment of how well or how poorly you mastered the material in this history assignment.  You are acting as if this grade is personal, as if this is my attempt to give you an assessment of your personality.  It’s about history.  This grade is not about you”.

“It’s not about you”.  That’s a phrase that I find myself using every now and then with other people.  In another congregation a woman said she wasn’t coming to church anymore because she felt “attacked” during a church meeting.  The proposal that she had put forward with a great deal of enthusiasm had been defeated by the vote of the congregation.  She took it personally.  It needed to be pointed out that this was a discussion about a particular issue.  It wasn’t a discussion about her as a person, nor a referendum on her as a member of the church.  “This is about the ministry of our church. This is not about you”.

A seriously ill person says, “What have I done to deserve this?  I have tried to be careful about my diet, watch my weight, and exercise regularly.  Why would God do this to me?”  This is not about you.  This is about bacteria, infection, viruses, weaknesses in our bodies, genetics.  This is not about God picking on you.

We have been trained by our culture to consider that everything is about us.  We are urged to think that we are the centre of the universe.  We judge people, our experiences and events and organisations by this one criteria – what do they do for me?  We are so accustomed to thinking like this in everything we do, and by the way that’s the way we teach our children as well, that when it comes to the church we bring that same attitude with us – the centre of the church is us.

I don’t believe that anyone here would stand up and say, “Take note everyone, I am the centre of the church and what happens around here revolves around me”.  No-one would be as crass as that, but it does come through in the attitudes that are expressed.

If we are not careful, it’s easy to get confused into thinking that the church is mostly about us and I use worship as an example. (This is not a comment on traditional or contemporary styles of worship).
It’s not too hard to start thinking
that worship is only valuable if it makes me feel included and warm;
that worship is a rally to motivate me to do better in my life;
that worship is entertaining and so always keeps me interested;
that Sunday mornings are about me feeling pumped and excited by great music, a great motivational speaker and a great crowd of people;
and that the supreme test of our Sunday is that I “get something out of it”. 

Do you see what’s missing?  When the church becomes all about us, it’s no longer about Jesus.  We might use Jesus’ name a lot but he isn’t the centre because it’s become all about us. 

And so it is my duty to keep on reminding myself and everyone else that this is not about me, this is not about you.  It is first and foremost about Jesus Christ, crucified, risen and now reigning in heaven.  This is about God. 
Sunday is a time when we are confronted with God's feelings about us. 
Sunday is a time when we celebrate what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. 
Sunday is a time to be touched by God through his Word and the sacraments.

Think about what worship is.
We are called here into the presence of God by God.  There is no way we could dare come into his presence except by his gracious invitation.
We hear his words of forgiveness for all of our sin – sin that we are aware of and even sin that we have committed unknowingly – all forgiven by a gracious God.
He speaks to us in his Word as we hear the Scripture readings and the sermon and tells of his wonderful love for each of us.
He listens to our prayers.
He gives himself to us in Holy Communion.
He blesses us and promises to journey with us through the week as we seek to be his disciples in everything we do.

And it is just because Sunday morning is all about God that we then respond with our songs and prayers and offering.  These are our responses – they are not the focus.  This is not about us – it is about God and especially his love shown to us through Jesus Christ.  Isn’t it true that we can too easily miss the point of worship because we make the response part the central and sometimes the only focus of worship and miss meeting God?  We are so bound up in the music and whether we like it not, or whether more than two people talked to us, or whether some kid is distracting us that suddenly the whole thing has become about me. 

Let me add that when we get it right and God is at the centre of the church then our responses become more meaningful.  For example, when Jesus is the centre then just as Jesus welcomed those who were different, likewise we will want to welcome those who see things differently to us, and so on.

The reading from John’s Gospel follows the story of Jesus providing food for a huge crowd of people with just five loaves and two fish.  Even though Jesus and the disciples left the area the people clamoured after Jesus thinking that he will produce bread on demand.  Jesus attempts to teach them that they ought to hunger after the bread that gives eternal life.  He tells them he is the bread of life and they will never go hungry.  They don’t get it and ask what good things they must do to get this continual supply of bread.  They come back to this one thing – getting this bread is about them.

Believe me in our current cultural climate where there is an even greater focus on our needs and how everything is all about us; it is even harder to get it right.  And I can appreciate how hard that must be, especially for those who are new to the church.  Our culture encourages us to delve deeper into ourselves, constantly monitor our personal feelings and continually ask ourselves, “What am I feeling now?  Why hasn’t this changed my feelings?  What am I supposed to be feeling now?  Why hasn’t this changed me?  Why am I still here if I feel unmoved?” 

Our culture leads us to compare going to church with going to concert.
A pastor was standing at the door after a worship service where a 150 voice choir and an orchestra had led the packed church and the preacher had given a great sermon focussed on Jesus Christ.  As the congregation left the pastor overheard one person say to another, “That didn’t do anything for me”.  The pastor did everything to stop himself from saying, “You’ve missed the point.  This wasn’t about you”.  Maybe classical anthems with an orchestra might not have been appealing to that person but he let that get in the way of being touched by the Holy Spirit.  It wasn’t about him.  It was about Jesus.

Sunday worship is a God-given opportunity to look beyond ourselves to get out of ourselves, and put someone else at the centre of our lives.  It’s like adopting a different set of strategies and values when it comes to being in the church.  It’s like coming
without any tickets on ourselves,
without any expectations that we demand to be fulfilled,
without any feelings that we want changed,
without any idea that we want to be entertained or thrilled or whatever it is that we might expect. 
It’s not about us.  It is about being served by God.  And of course having been met by God we are changed but often in ways that we hadn’t expected before we came through the church doors.

I’ve talked a lot about worship but worship is just an example of how life in the church can become so much about us.  This can happen in any aspect of church life.  When we make decisions or act as the church we should always be conscious of the cultural conflict that we live in and ask, “Are we doing this because it’s about us or are we doing this because it is about God”.

The great thing about the Christian faith is that it keeps reminding us that it’s not all about us.  It is about God, God who loves us so much that God sent his Son to save us, to be with us, to give meaning to our lives that we could not have on our own. 
It’s about God who gave manna to the people in the wilderness,
God who calls himself the Bread of Life and gives eternal life,
God who gives himself to us in bread and wine and journeys with us and within us in our daily struggles,
God who raises us above sin and death and claims us as his own through the water of baptism. 

“Thank you, Lord, that it’s not about me.  It’s all about you”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
5th August 2012

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