Practical Discipline, Spiritual Nourishment

Practical Discipline, Spiritual Nourishment

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Readings: 1 Kings 19. 4-8; Psalm 34 1-8; Ephesians 4.25 – 5.2; John 6. 35, 41-51 (view all)

I have to confess that I love that feeling of being absolutely full. Whether it’s after a nice Sunday roast, or whether Amy and I have ordered a cheeky takeaway after Evie has gone to bed, and as usual ordered far too much food for ourselves. That sense of leaning back in your seat with a full stomach, after enjoying a really good meal. There’s nothing quite like it!

At the beginning of today’s gospel reading, Jesus declares:

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

As we reflect on this together, what might it mean for us to be spiritually fed by Jesus, the bread of life? And how can we find spiritual sustenance in our lives today? 

In describing himself as the ‘bread of life’, Jesus reminds the gathered crowd of the way in which God has always provided for his people.

We were reminded last week of the way in which God provided manna — ‘bread from heaven’ — for the Israelites in the wilderness. And this week, our Old Testament reading portrays part of the story of Elijah, who is at his wit’s end when an angel appears telling him to: ‘Get up and eat.’ We all need nourishment, both physical but also spiritual. And God provides both for his people.

But when it comes to talking about spiritual nourishment so often those of us who are practically-minded can switch off. We can assume that spiritual nourishment means something kind-of airy fairy to do with prayer and contemplation, and being holy. 

The kind of people that come to mind for us as examples are people like Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, or, if you’re strange like me, even Master Yoda from Star Wars. These are characters who seem entirely other-worldly and whose example we could not possibly manage to live up to. 

However, this morning I want suggest that being spiritually nourished can also be very practical. It has to do with finding ways in and through our everyday, practical lives to cultivate relationship with Jesus. It has to do with concrete values and principles of honesty and justice. It has to do with the way in which we treat others.

When Paul writes to the Ephesian Christians, in today’s epistle, he shares with them some very practical steps to a way of life where God sustains and nourishes us. Speaking the truth, rejecting evil or negative talk and instead encouraging and building others up, putting away bitterness and malice, instead being kind and forgiving others — all of these are practical ways to enable us to live well and thrive with God and our neighbours.

When we trust that God is in control, and will sustain us, then we have no need for anger or bitterness. It is only when we fail to trust him that we feel the need to snatch control ourselves and lash out at those around us. And it’s only when we fail to acknowledge our own need for God’s forgiveness and mercy, that we fail to forgive and extend grace towards others.

Ultimately when we follow Christ’s example, finding practical ways to build a healthy relationship with God and our neighbours, we find ourselves spiritually sustained and nourished, not just surviving, but able to thrive as God’s people.

As Paul sums it all up:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us.

So, I wonder, this morning: Will we trust in God’s ability to sustain and nourish us, his people? Will we choose to find practical ways to cultivate an attitude of love within us, enabling us to grow and thrive in our spiritual lives? 

How can we, as God’s people, enable our friends and neighbours to discover Jesus, the bread of life, to sustain and nourish them?

I love the story of a 17th century monk named Brother Lawrence. While other monks were busy with theological study or copying important spiritual texts, he was given the mundane task of assisting in the monastery kitchen. However, day by day, as he washed pots and chopped vegetables, he came to the realisation that he could acknowledge God’s presence with him. As he talked to God while he worked, there was a sense of closeness between them, and he was able to grow and thrive spiritually.

In his book, The Practice of the Presence of God, which has now become quite famous, Brother Lawrence writes:

In continuing the practice of conversing with God throughout each day, and quickly seeking His forgiveness when I fell or strayed, His presence has become as easy and natural to me now as it once was difficult to attain.

Jesus invites us to come to him, the bread of life, and be sustained and nourished in all we do. May we respond this morning, in joy, receiving his body and blood, in faith that he will sustain us through all we have to face in the week ahead, and the days, weeks and years to come.

O God,
you declare your almighty power
most chiefly in showing mercy and pity:
mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace,
that we, running the way of your commandments,
may receive your gracious promises,
and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.