Monday, August 28

Sermon Proper 16 Year B

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Psalm 34:15-22
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

Hor.-O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!

Ham.-And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
(From Hamlet (I, v, 164-167) Hamlet speaks these lines to his friend Horatio after seeing the Ghost of his father the late King of Denmark. These lines continually came up in my mind as I was preparing the sermon)
There is strangeness to this Gospel reading. Bear with me as I lead you in a little bit of wandering around the themes of this gospel like the Israelites in the desert and those who have been chasing after Jesus after being fed. There will be some backtracking through John six that we have been following the past few weeks. As we wander a bit like Israelites in the desert after the exodus, there are two things I want you to keep in mind from the Gospel today: 1) Jesus intensifies the I am the Bread of Life theme, by saying “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” 2) the Gospel confronts us with the question of whether or not we are truly abiding in Christ; are we the offended disciples or Peter? The first point of our wandering this evening is to back track to the beginning of John 6. We are at the conclusion of what began with the feeding of the multitude by the multiplication of bread and fish. Jesus walking on water followed the miracle of the multiplication of Bread and fish, in these we are encountering who Jesus is. As I have said a couple weeks back these are miracles signs, meaning they direct us towards, in the immediate context of Jesus’ intensification of the bread of life theme they should heighten our sense that Jesus is that Jesus is intending his words to be taken literally but not realistically. At least not the Realism of the mind that is limited to our common limited and sinful everyday life. Jesus is directing us to the meaning of faith as abiding in Christ showing us the means of entering into the life and community of god the Father, son and Holy Spirit, the Holy Trinity. “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”
We are invited into the unity of the Holy Trinity through eating. Eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man brings one into the relationship that the Son has with the Father. The Grace we are offered is not simply disembodied, nor are we offered merely physical and temporal sustenance. Jesus promises that we can encounter the physical reality of the incarnation beyond the bounds of the time when Jesus Christ walked the earth.
Some of Jesus disciples say this teaching is too difficult. Many disciples through history have found this too difficult. The controversies of the Reformation around how and whether or not we need to explain away Jesus’ words here in John and whether or not they have any connection to the communion table, the Eucharist. What sort of disciple are you? Are we offended? It seems to me that to some extent what is at work in much Protestantism is the argument of the disciples who find this teaching too difficult. It is a heritage we are all left with, in one way or other.
Then Jesus points to his ascension, this sheds light on the meaning of Jesus’ words here.
The distinction between Flesh and Spirit could be taken as meaning that Jesus did not believe his body and blood to be salvation. This reading says it isn’t Jesus’ body that is important but believing in Jesus, to remember what he did without any direct and physical connection with the incarnation except for those who saw and touched Jesus. Bodies are without significance. But what happens to a body when it is God’s body. In the end the consistent witness of the church and Jesus’ words refer us to the ascension, to explain the meaning of Jesus’ words. The ascension direct us to see that Jesus’ body is spirit (not in the sense of not physical but in the sense of being life giving) and not merely fleshly, destined to death and decay. In Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God, the bodily, the physical, the created universe can be the place of encountering God: God in the body and person of Jesus Christ has been joined to the physical universe. If any body is and was not merely flesh it is the body of Jesus. If anything that is physical can be salvific it is this body, the body of God. The flesh God the Son took on in the womb of Mary the Mother of God, Theotokos.
This is the central scandal of Christianity it defies human reason logic and philosophy. God cannot according to this reasoning be joined with the created and physical. The person Jesus Christ cannot feed us with the spiritual food of his body and blood.
Through bread and wine do we take Jesus Christ, the Life of the world, into ourselves? Do we accept Jesus’ words as eternal life? Some say its words not bread and wine that are important, but what do the words say what does belief entail here in John 6 if not accepting that in some way Jesus Christ the God man will give his flesh and blood as spiritual food. This acceptance (not necessarily understood or explained) of this incredible teaching is one of the marks of the true follower of Jesus of those who are members of Church, Christ’s body. Who are we going to be in this story, the many disciples who turned back or Peter? Impetuous imperfect but faithful Peter who despite his humanity (is that not all of us) manages to say essentially “I don’t understand but I know life and truth and it is in you. Your words are life, these difficult words are eternal life.” The church is the church of the apostles, which accept these difficult words, and feeds on Christ ingesting Christ and is unified with Christ and brought into the communion of the Holy Trinity. This is the new Exodus the true exodus and liberation that which gives the true meaning of all liberation and any other type of freedom from oppression. If Justice is possible if there is food for the hungry it is because of what Jesus teaches here. It is because Jesus body is true food and blood is true drink.
Physical creation, human beings are no longer merely created merely other. In Jesus Christ God becomes other than God. God in Jesus Christ is known, spirit and matter the otherness of creation and humanity now subsist in God. Humanity is defined by Jesus Christ Jesus is the true human. We become truly human and begin to see the world transformed in this physical spiritual union with Christ.
The point is who are you? What are you going to be? What gives you your being, your very life? Do you want to know what to do, first take into yourself Christ, God become human. We are tempted to over extend, to live life out of our own resources, to attempt do good on our own. Here is the way out. Do you believe in Jesus Christ will you follow? Then here the words of Jesus you want life true abundant permanent life than eat of him? How? Here at the table under the auspices of bread and wine. Here is true life. But don’t simply eat as if what you eat has no effect on you what you take into yourself and won’t change who you are your. Does our life deny that we know and taste the one who is life, and who has given us life.
I met this woman on the train platform the other night on the way home from my office hours, so I was wearing my clerical collar, so she recognized that I may have something to offer her in her situation and struggle, some bit of life. She was seeking life, but only in a sense in a very narrow scenario, dealing with her alcoholic daughter. I mostly listened; it is dangerous to give advice within a ten-minute conversation with someone you have never met before. I also tried to encourage her to continue in behaviors that were drawing healthy and appropriate behaviors. But she wanted me in our short conversation to tell her what she should do, so she could pick up her life where it left off before her daughter moved in and upset her routines and life. In some sense she saw me and Christianity as offering a band-aid so the wound could heal, or that piece of advice, like a drug that could help her get through a difficult time. She was not seeking that which would transform her whole life. In then end she didn’t want her life to change to radically, she wanted life as she probably has always known it, doled out drip by drip. I do not believe it occurred to her, any more than it probably occurred to the disciples that walked away (or of those who chased after Jesus wanting more bread) that she should be asking me about more than small limited solutions to a specific problems that are symptomatic of the deeper problem that we are all under domination of sin and death. In less obvious ways we can be caught up in simply wishing for the negative symptoms we see in our lives and our nation and world to go away, but not think submit ourselves to the cure. St Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop martyred in 117 Ad, in a letter written on the way to his martyrdom called the bread and wine of the Eucharist the medicine of immortality.
Give yourself over to Christ admit that you must eat of his flesh and drink of his blood, that you must take Christ into yourself to be truly human, Then walk in the way that is clear, walk in the way of the generosity of God who for our sake gives of himself so that we may live true, whole liberated lives. All we do works of charity, working for justice, feeding the poor must be a response to God’s gift of God’s self in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Surely if you truly take God into yourself and let that transform you into a new person your life will reflect that same generosity, Our life will reflect liberation from sin and death and will lead to living a life that is set against sin and death, in all its manifestations and forms seeking the liberation of all.
Here at the table before blessed bread and blessed wine you are asked to take Christ at his word or see his words as too difficult. God does not abandon us to the world; rather he offers us the spiritual food of his body and blood that will sustain us if we but accept Jesus’ word. All we do begins and ends here at the table. If Jesus Christ is not our sustenance, our life, then we are lost. Here at the altar we meet and touch the life of the world. So we want a different world first we must find our selves transformed by life: take life into ourselves. Jesus Christ says to us “Do you want true life untainted by death, lay down all your understanding of how the world works and who you are, lay them down here at the altar on which bread and wine are blessed, where I have said I’ll be and take me into yourself.” As God became human and welcomed the other into God, so we may welcome the other into ourselves. So will you eat take Jesus at his word, and be continually welcoming the other. Or is this too difficult
Hor.- O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
Ham.-And therefore as a stranger give it welcome