Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Uncommon Sense

Sermon Delivered on August 19, 2012 
1 Kings 3:3-14
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

Have you ever been so engrossed in a book or a project that you did not notice that the lights were still off until someone else turned them on? Or how about looking for your glasses when they are on your head or your keys when they are in your hand along with five other things? These are moments that make you say, “Duh.” These are moments that confirm our humanity by our obvious limitations.

These are moments that remind me of comments of elders from my youth. Comments like, “Don’t you have enough sense to come in out of the rain?” Or, “If your head wasn’t attached, I bet you’d leave it somewhere.” Of course whenever I would tell my mother that I was trying she would simply sigh and say, “Yes. Yes, you are.” Then again, one of my favorite of her euphemisms was, “Boy, you talk like someone a tree fell on.”

I’m not sure what the current phrase might have been for that type of thing in Jesus’ day – maybe they accused him of being in the sun too long – but I get the sense that the Jews who were following Jesus were thinking that he had gone a little loopy. Some of them had been following him around the country side. All of them had either seen or heard of his great miracles – particularly feeding the 5,000.

Some of them knew him beforehand. They knew his family. Maybe they had even been in Bethlehem when he had been rejected – unable to do any miracle except for healing a few unmentioned souls. Either way, the crowd was not buying his message. They wanted proof. They wanted an encounter with God on their own terms. They wanted another Moses to intercede and provide for them.

Now, before we discount the Jews as adversaries – or dimwits who cannot find the glasses on their heads – we must remember that these are a particular people who are coming from a position of need, real need. They do not want a metaphor. They do not want a different church where they sing more inspiring music, have a coffee shop, or use multimedia presentations. They want a political solution. They want to know that they do not have to live in fear for not conforming to the power of a state who declares its Caesar to be a God – and a very different one from the God who promised to keep them safe for generations on end.

And it is to these people he says, “I’m sorry, but you’re just going to have to eat me. It is not a metaphor. I am really the bread from heaven. I am really going to give over my life for the life of the world. Very truly – really, really – if you want to live, you have to eat of my flesh and drink of my blood.”

Now, this is a point where it is important for us to remember that the Gospel of John includes some things that the others do not. That is because this Gospel was written for a particular community during a particular time in history when division between followers of Jesus and Jewish leaders – and conflicts between Rome and Jerusalem – were at their height. Not only that but religious sects were already beginning within the followers of Jesus, and this Gospel had the task of making it clear who Jesus is, what he is about, and what it means to follow him.

And Jesus is, according to John’s Gospel, the Divine Logos. Jesus is light in the midst of darkness. Jesus – not simply the man, but the reality he expresses – is the creative energy through whom all things are made. Jesus – the man himself – was the very presence of God expressed in very real, very tangible, and very vulnerable human flesh.

And the thing he was here to do, the one thing he was here to do, was to let go of himself – his earthly desires, the expectations of others, and all the pleasures and pressures of a tangible life – to insure the ecosystem of eternal life for the rest of us.

In John 6:51b, Jesus says, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is myself.” Literally translated from the Greek, the phrase “life of the world” is the system of life.

And so Jesus, as the Divine Logos, is not only the Author of life, but the Perfecter. He is the One who moves things toward the end that they were made for. And so Jesus tells them quite literally that they must consume him because he is life. And it sounds about as bizarre to them as it does to you and to me.

The thing is, this passage has to be taken as a metaphor – maybe even hyperbole, given the extreme that he is going to in order to make a point. Even though Jesus is clearly stating that those who want to live have to eat of his actual flesh and blood, we know that did not happen.

What did happen is that Jesus drew a line in the sand and dared them to cross over into a new reality. Jesus told them their ancestors ate mana and died, but they have the opportunity to receive him and to live forever.

Still, none of this made sense. Human sacrifices had never really been a part of Judaism since the release of Isaac. Even in regional cults, you never sacrificed a leader. Only the powerless were ever sacrificed, anyway. Now here we have a Rabbi – whom followers would typically imitate until they had their own following – suggesting that he has to die and be consumed by them if they want to live.

Of course, Roman Catholic Theology has been comfortable with this for centuries, having the view that the consecrated elements of communion are the very body and blood of Jesus. And when you take them in you become as Christ. I’ll never forget a friend of mine who grew up Catholic telling me about his first time serving communion as a Presbyterian Elder.

A cube of bread fell to the floor and he could barely make it through the service because of his anxiety over Jesus, The Host, being thrown carelessly to the floor.

The Reformers, on the other hand, took the position that the elements of communion are shared as a celebration of what God has already done through Jesus. And so when we take in the elements we are reminded of what God has done for us and we make a public statement of our desire to respond to God’s grace with our lives. Therefore we become as Christ through our common union as forgiven sinners.

Either way, once you get past the obviously grotesque aspects of the idea of eating Jesus, this claim of eating his flesh and drinking his blood is ultimately about intimacy. And intimacy is about knowledge. And the knowledge of God that we have through Jesus is that we have a part to play in what God is doing here and now. That’s what it means to be followers of Jesus. That is the new reality that we are being challenged into by these texts today. God wants to be known by and through each of us.

Even if you are in a season of waiting – even if you feel that you have already played your part, even if you worry that our congregation won’t survive, or that some other, more personal, issue is going to overwhelm you – you still have a part to play.

The letter to the Ephesians reminds us to be careful how we live and make the most of our time. It tells us to be strengthened by singing hymns and psalms together, and it reminds us that the noise of the world will never be distracted by the sound of one hand clapping! Duh.

Tonight we will celebrate the joyful noise that has resounded from this corner for 136 years. This congregation has done some amazing things in its time. We opened a pre-school when there wasn’t one in the community. We’ve hosted dynamic programming for all ages, including coffee house nights and musical events. We’ve used our facilities in conjunction with others and spawned ministries that are dependent on ecumenical partnerships like our basket ministry and the meals on wheels program. We’ve been a locus for so many on their journey of faith, and we have lived through conflict and found a place of deep solidarity and friendship together.

We are even bold enough to proclaim that this is a place to experience, explore, and express the love of God, because that is what we do here! And yet Jesus says to us, “Do not trust in your ancestry. Trust only in the intimacy of being my body, broken for the world.”

And so – as we have sung – let us be bread. Let us be wine. Let us continue to proclaim the grace, mercy, and providence of Jesus Christ as forgiven sinners living in the hope of the resurrection. And to God be the glory. Now and always. Amen!
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