Theme for Sunday, 19 August 2018

Scripture for this Sunday: 1 Kings 2.10–12, 3.3–14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5.15–20; John 6.51–58

A Jewish rabbi recently commented upon his observation of the way in which people behave with regard to reclining their airline seats – ranging from complete indifference to the person behind to careful consideration of the way in which others might be affected.  In older times, rabbis were divided upon the idea of “self-first” behaviour, some seeing it as neutral, ethically.  Others, and Jesus would have subscribed to this point of view, saw it as eroding the foundation of life in community.  After all, how can anyone follow the instruction to “love your neighbour as yourself” if they are placing their own needs in isolation from the life of the community?

Community matters – the Christian faith is founded upon this basic idea of Jewish tradition that God made us to be communal beings.  And to be effective in community, we need to be sensitive to the needs of others.

It was this quality that Solomon requested when invited by God to ask for anything he wished: in the original Hebrew, he asks for a “hearing heart,” a wonderfully poetic way of expressing sensitivity to others and a desire to serve as a nurturing leader. And it involves listening to God and to one another, and treating others with respect, no matter who they may be.

This week, it is almost impossible to hear the word “respect” without thinking of Aretha Franklin.  The song of that name, even though not one of her own composition, is the one by which she said she wished to be remembered above all, as an anthem for civil rights for African-Americans, for women – for any disadvantaged minority.

Perhaps this reflects her Christian upbringing: her father was a Baptist minister in Detroit and she understood that Christian living should be based upon respect, which is part of the wisdom of having a hearing heart.  Trying to score points at the expense of others, or trying to prosper at the cost of the poverty of others, is antithetical to the values of the Christian community with which Jesus tried to feed his followers.

The bread of life involves recognising that we eat of the nourishment of freedom, repentance, forgiveness and life because someone placed his life on the line – and allowed it to be taken – so that others – including us – might be fed.

We are fed by the sacrament of Holy Communion, but also by partaking of the Christian life and participating in the feeding of one another spiritually and physically, guided by the wisdom of a hearing heart.  One of the songs that Aretha wrote herself was “Think,” which includes the chorus: You need me, And I need you. Without each other there ain’t nothing people can do. Community matters, and the health of the community matters. That just about sums it all up.

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