“He looked up and saw a large crowd coming towards him.”
“It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
These words are found in John’s gospel, our reading for today, and they paint a picture for us.
In one of the final scenes of The Railway Children, based on the book by Edith Nesbit, we see Bobbie stood on the train platform, filled with smoke. Dare she hope that her father has finally come home. As the smoke dissipates, her eyes catch the form of her father and she runs towards him shouting, “Daddy, my Daddy!”
I had similar experiences as a child and this is perhaps why The Railway Children is such a favourite of mine. My dad was an Army Chaplain and so I had many a moment where my daddy was missing from my side, and many a reunion moment.
In this moment, Bobbie’s dreams come to fruition, all her anxieties are cast aside. There he is, at last. Her daddy. Daddy would make their lives complete once more. He would ensure they never went hungry and fill the empty space his absence had created in their hearts and lives.
In the same way, in our reading this morning, the crowds come towards Jesus with great expectation and anticipation. They have been waiting for the one; the Messiah. They had been able to turn to John the Baptist for reassurance, but – as we heard in our reading a fortnight ago – John had been brutally beheaded. Who else could they turn to?
Jesus. News about him has spread. Here they think they see a new prophet, like one of old. A prophet who they could rely on to lead them back to Yahweh. The crowds come to see and hear from this man, Jesus. He offers reassurance of God’s love for them. He brings security for those deemed unfit to worship in the temple. He feeds them. He feeds their minds, with truth; their hearts, with compassion; their bodies, with miracles.
Jesus refers to God has his Father. He cries on multiple occasions, “Abba!” This is the equivalent of “Daddy!” Through Jesus, the people have their own “Daddy, my Daddy!” moment. God has not forgotten them in their plight and pain. They were not alone in their present circumstances of oppression and foreign invasion. They need not fear. God the Father, their Daddy, had remembered them and come to them himself.
What about us then?
Where do we find our comfort and reassurance?
We have the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.
And Jesus told us to call God “Abba!” He told us to call God, “Daddy.”
Each time we encounter God, we have our own Bobbie moment on the railway platform.
Each time we encounter God through the Eucharist. Each time we encounter God through singing. Each time we encounter God through the reading of scripture and prayer. But also, each time we encounter God in the ordinary. The washing up. The daily walk. The chat with an old friend. For me, it was in the night-time feeds with my daughter when she was a baby. Even in the darkest times, we don’t need to be afraid. Jesus comes through the storm and climbs into the boat with you.
The beauty is that we don’t get to call God “Daddy” because of anything we do or say. It doesn’t matter if we have read our Bible every day, or not at all. We can call God “Daddy” because of who God is. He is our heavenly daddy.
Find somewhere quiet, and take stock of how you’re feeling. When you feel hard pushed, what do you turn to? Be honest. Do I reach for the phone to speak to someone before I speak to God? Do I reach for that comforting food, before I reach for the comforting nourishment of scripture?
Read the verses from John 6: 1-21 again. And remember that, however you’re feeling, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have the beautiful right to encounter God as Daddy, to feel his comforting touch and hear his comforting words: “It is I: Don’t be afraid.”
“Daddy, my Daddy!”
(Sermon given at Winmarleigh Church on Sunday 25th July 2021.)