Sunday, September 16, 2018

Origin Stories: A Blessings for One A Blessing for All - Genesis 12:1-9

It is tempting when we come to Genesis to want to ask historical or archeological questions. We want to know when this happened. What was the date? What was the world like, how advanced  was human civilization. How long did this journey take? We want to know exactly where the oak of Moreh is. And exactly where did Abram pitch his tent? Where is this place with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east? But the questions these early stories are working to answer are completely different questions all together.
Genesis means “beginning.” And in the beginning there was no history, there were no maps, there was nothing. In the beginning there was God. And these beginning stories work to tell us about God. God spoke into the void and the world was. God reached into the dirt and formed humans. God walked with those humans in the dusk of the evening and was with them as they took their first steps into the world. God worked with them when they made poor choices. God was grieved when they turned against one another to do harm to each other. And then after destroying most of everything and giving humanity and all the earth a fresh start, God made a covenant with them and with all creation to never do attempt to do that again.
These stories are telling us about God, about God’s relationship with creation, about God’s relationship with humanity. About Gods’ love for us, God’s care for us and about all the ways God is reaching out to us, from the very beginning of creation. So as we come to the story of Abram, we may want to know the answers to questions that ask where and when but that is like expecting the story of Peter Pan to give you a understanding of the geography of London or expecting Einstein’s “The Meaning of Relativity” it to explain to us about the political landscape of the world of 1920s. Although, the real geography of London might have been in James Matthew Barry’s mind when he wrote Peter Pan, that it is not what he was writing about, it actually has nothing to do with even the underlying questions that are at play in the story. Likewise, the political climate of the 1920’s probably had some effect on Einstein when he gave the lectures at Yale on his ground breaking theories. Upon finishing this book, you will have a better understanding about a great many things, but you will be sorely disappointed if understanding politics in the 1920s is what you were hoping to gain.
When we come to Genesis, to these beginning stories, we need to remember what beginning this is telling us about. It is the story of the beginning of God’s relationship with humanity, the beginnings of a great story about of God and how very much God loves and cares for us, it is the beginning of the story of our salvation, of the redemption of all things. Although we may be able to glean some history, some geography, or sociology, these are not the questions these stories are answering. To think Genesis is a source of  information that it is not attempting to relay, is ghastly unfair.
So let us come to this story with fresh eyes and try to figure out what it is that this story about God coming to Abram is trying to tell us about God and about God’s relationship us.
When the earth was not very old and the people of the earth were still learning about how to listen to God and were a little unsure about the identity of God, there was a man named Abram.  And even though the story of God and humanity does not begin with Abram, the story of the people of God begins with here with God and with Abram. 
So one day when Abram was minding his own business, going about his daily life, going about same things his nomadic life required of  him on a day to day basis, doing the same kinds of things that his father and his father’s father had done before him, suddenly out of nowhere the general routine of his life was interrupted by God. God came to him and spoke to him and God asked him to do an extraordinary thing.  God asked Abram to leave his father and the land of his father and go to the place where God would lead him.  God did not get any more specific than that, just go, and God would lead.  
God then told Abram, if he chose to embark on this journey with its unknown destination, then God would bless Abram, his name will be great, he will be a blessing and through him God would bless all the families of the earth.  Essentially God would bless Abram and through that blessing, Abram would bless all of everyone. 
This promise of being a blessing is reiterated to Jacob when God renews the promise given to Abram ( who later known as Abraham), “. . .your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring.”  The promise given to Abram and then again to Isaac and then to Jacob and then from through carried down to the people God is one of greatness and one of blessing, not merely a blessing given to Abram or Isaac or Jacob or to a certain group of people but also that they will be a blessing, not simply to loved ones, or those encountered, but to all the peoples. God blesses Abram so that he can be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth.
And let us be frank, we are Christians and we know the ultimate blessing is the blessing of Jesus Christ, the blessing of salvation, the blessing of redemption. God’s love from the moment God reached into the dust and formed us by hand has been extended to us. From the moment of the fall, God has been reaching out to us to mend what we broke in our disobedience. God’s desire is basically to walk with us in the dusk of the evening and to talk with us, as friends, in a deep, intimate and enduring relationship and that relationship, the mending of what was broken, and redemption is the blessing that the people of God are carrying into the world. Understanding Jesus Christ, the salvation, the redemption, the restoration of the relationship between God and all creation is at the heart of this blessing. And it is our call to be blessed as the people of God and to carry the blessing into all the world.
The promise is a call and that call is to be a blessing, to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth; to reach out beyond ourselves, beyond our family, beyond our kindred, our clan, beyond our nation and our national ties, to reach beyond those who are like us and with whom we resonate, to those who are unlike us, to those who are beyond our sphere of comfort, to those who are different than us, who speak a different language, who eat different food, who live lives that don’t make sense to you or me, who think about the world in ways that we do not and whose priorities and values are beyond us, to reach out to beyond ourselves and allow people, especially those most unlike us to be blessed through us. 
From the beginning God’s desire is for all the people of the earth, for all humanity. God’s love is for everyone, relationship with God is for everyone. Even as God was setting some aside, such as Abram and later the Israelites, that choosing, that setting aside was not for the sake of the chosen, it was always for the sake of the world.
 From the beginning it is God’s intention that the people of God; the people who know God, who love God, who listen to God and follow God to the places God leads; is that it is through them that God reaches into the whole world. It is through the people of God that God reaches the world with blessing, with God’s love, with salvation. It is through us that God intends to bring redemption to all creation. Even in choosing Abram and choosing his descendants, God’s plan is bigger and wider, and broader than simply the decedents of Abram. The intention was always for all the families, all the people of the earth.  God was not excluding all others in choosing Abram but working to be incredibly and mindboggling inclusive through Abram. God was never stopping with just a few, just a certain group or gathering, but through the people of God, to call all the people of the earth back into relationship with God. The ultimate plan of salvation is not for the redemption of some but redemption for all.  
God’s plan is to bless all the world through Abram, through those who come to be known as the children or people of God.  The call is for those who believe, all those who live their lives following God to the places God leads, those who are in relationship with God, that for us (Christians), to reach out beyond ourselves and bless the world around us. To carry the love of God which we know, the salvation of God which we are working to understand, the redemption of God we are experiencing to those who do not yet know or understand or have yet to experience. This is part of God’s promise to us, that through us, all the world will be blessed.  We are a blessing, we are to be a blessing, and we are to live lives that bless our world, the people of our world. Our very lives are to be lived sharing that blessing, being that blessing. Whenever we go from this place we take that blessing with us where ever we go, to whomever we meet. So let us go from here today remembering that we are vessels, we are conduits, and we are vehicles through which God reaches into our world and blesses our world. Let us go, knowing that it is through us that others will come so know God’s love. It is through us that others will come to understand salvation and it is through us that others will experience redemption.  Let us open ourselves up and be people who are continually reaching into all the dark places, all the lonely places, all the abandoned places; continually reaching out to people beyond ourselves, beyond our family, beyond our country of origin or nationality, beyond those who are most like us to those who are different than us, unlike us, to those we may not understand, to that who might not make sense to us, who might not be the people with whom we are most comfortable, because God did not call us to merely bless those closest  to us, those most like us, those who seem safe, but God calls us to be blessings to the whole earth, to everyone and that means EVERYONE!

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Origin Stories: The Rainbow Covenant - Genesis 9:8-17

One of the ideas weaving its way through the Old Testament, which is often overlooked, is the idea that the sin of humanity, the evil we do, the ways in which we harm one another, affects the world around us. Our sin, often times plays out in aspects of the natural earth becoming corrupted, becoming sick, or even seeming to rebel against humanity in response to sin and evil.
Once the Israelites get to the promise land, they find that when they do not follow God, when they do not live the way they are called to live, the very earth upon which they live bears the consequences of their sin, it turns against them. In many cases it seems that the land moves against them; their crops don’t grow, the animals die, the locusts swarm, there are droughts, fires, earthquakes and other natural disasters. God continually tells them their happiness in the land, which God has given them, is dependent upon them living in the ways God calls them to live. In short the land of milk and honey will only be so as long as they love God and love one another as the covenant they made with God calls for them to so. Jesus summed up the covenant when he said that, loving God with all our hearts, souls and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves were the greatest of all the commandments. What God desires of humanity is that simple, is for us to God and to love each other. Sounds easy, but generally we are so incredibly bad at it. 
The initial occurrence of this theme of the sin of humanity taking a toll upon the created order of things, which weaves its way through the pretty much all of the Old Testament, from this point forward, the flood. From the time of the Fall, where Adam and Eve turned away from doing what God had called them to do, to do what seemed right and good in their own minds, onward, we have several example stories of people doing harm to one another and rebelling against the love of God by mistreating one another. And in this first incidence of the world around us being affected by our sin, and a natural disaster causing harm, is directly linked to the ways in which humans choose to rebel against God and refuse to treat each other with love, kindness and respect. The flood occurs because humans were increasingly failing to treat each other with love or even common decency.
The scriptures tell us that once the first humans left the garden, things did not go so well. Although, Adam and Eve may have lived at peace with each other and with their children, their children did not live at peace with one another. Their elder son turned on the younger killing him in a fit of rage. And things only go from there. First there is Lemech, who not only takes two wives, something which prior to that did not seem to be done, but then he boasts to them about killing a man. At the beginning of chapter 6 we are told there are those who are called “Sons of God.” Now “Son of God,” is the same term which is often used of David and others in the OT were considered righteous or particularly close to God. These “Sons of God,” who were considered to be “righteous” the men to whom others should look as examples of how to live, decided that they could just take any of the daughters of men they wanted to be their wives. It can be concluded, that thus begins the horrible human practice of daughters being property to be handed over or considered objects that can be simply taken as wives, either way, without their own consent. But that is just the beginning, then there are mighty warriors (the word Nephilim for whatever reason goes untranslated in most translations), men who are also looked up to, for their strength and their might, who then decide taking women to be their wives, is too polite for them, they would just “go into” any woman they so choose.
And these are the actions on humanity’s part that grieve the Lord and cause God to regret ever creating humanity. When we treat one another poorly, when we not only fail to love each other but actively seek to do harm to one another, when brother turns on brother, when nation rises against nation, when we harbor hatred, scorn or malice in our hearts against another human being, we are going against the way God desires for us to live. But when the earth was young and humanity was still finding its way, the actions by humans that grieve the heart of God, so much that God begins to regret even creating us; those actions are how women were treated. It is how the “good” men of were choosing to act in relation to women, that grieved the heart of God so.
I want to be clear here. When a husband raises his hand against his wife God cares. When a woman is taken into a dark alley and used and abused and discarded, God cares. Whenever a woman is bought or sold for the purpose of using her body, God cares! God cares whenever a woman is mistreated or harmed. And as people of God we need to know that. God cares and God sees. If you have ever been a woman used or abused in any way, please know that, God sees and God cares and it grieves God’s heart each and every time these things happen.
But let me also be clear. It is not just women God cares about. The abuses of men against women are what is listed here, but the breaking down of the loving relationship, which God desires to be between men and women, particularly between husbands and wives, simply serves as an example here as the kind of thing which grieves God’s heart. Whenever ANYONE is used and abused, treated as an object, as less than human, bought or sold or having their humanity stripped from them in any way, God cares. It grieves God’s heart. It literally pains God when we mistreat anyone, or when any group of people are mistreated because they are not who we are, whether we do so individually, as society, or as a part of a broken system. As people of God our hearts should also be grieved by these kinds of thought, attitudes and actions. When we see them in the world around us our hearts are broken in the same way God’s is. And we should be actively working to right these kinds of wrongs in whatever ways we possibly can.
(Ok side sermon over)
Gen 6:6, tells us that when God saw what was being done, that God was grieved by the actions of humanity. It was too much. God wishes that humanity had never been created. God desires to wipe the slate clean, to start again.  And so a flood comes upon all the earth. The sin of humanity, against one another is so great that the very earth upon which they dwell rebels against them. God sends a flood, to wash the earth clean, which wipes out nearly all of humanity. God spares one man, Noah, and his family along with as many of the creatures of the land and the air which are able to be crammed into a tiny little boat.
So Noah builds an ark, gathers all the creatures of the land and the air inside and closes the door. And the rains come and the floods fill the earth and they all remain safe inside throughout the duration of the floods. Once the flood waters recede they emerge from the ark onto dry land, a new earth so to speak, with the chance to begin again, to try again, and to do better this time.  
And it is then after all the animals have been saved along with Noah and his family that God comes to Noah and makes this covenant; the rainbow covenant, which is a covenant with all creation. God tells Noah that this covenant is being established with you, and your descendants after you and with every living creature, with all flesh. This covenant is not made simply between God and Noah, it is not simply made between God and Noah’s family or God and Noah’s decedents. It is not even a covenant made between God and all of humanity. It is a covenant made between God and all creation. Never again will God allow the floods to wipe out the earth again.
And so God sets the rainbow in the sky. The idea of the rainbow being a promise is so ingrained into our thoughts and our minds, that I am sure none of us ever question. Why a rainbow? Why is the rainbow the symbol of the covenant, why not the sun parting the clouds, or the sight of rainwater drying on a leaf. What it is about the rainbow that made it the symbol of the covenant?
You may notice that the word rainbow, actually never appears in this passage, the word that is here is “bow.” Just “bow” without “rain”, before it. It is a bow that is seen in the sky. Not the kind of bow that small children learn as one of their first life skills, but a war bow. It is the kind of bow that shoots arrows. God hangs up the war bow promising to never use it against humanity again. God flooding the earth is seen as an act of war against humanity, against all creation. In times of peace weapons are hung on the wall. A weapon that is seen on the wall is not in use, it is on the wall. It is on display, everyone can see that it is there and not in the hand of an enemy or one who is seeking to destroy you. So as a sign to all creation God hangs the war bow in the sky, where it can be seen. As long as it is in the sky it cannot be used to bring this kind of destruction against humanity again. God’s war bow which was once used against humanity is hanging on the wall of the sky for all to see.
Whenever the bow comes after the rain, the rainbow is in the sky; we can see it there and know that it is remains there. It is not in the hand of God about to be used. As long as bow is in the sky it is not a war bow, it is a bow of peace.
And whenever we see it there we can know that God remembers the covenant made with all creation. The bow is sign to us that God does not forget the promise to never destroy all the earth again with a flood. It is not there so that we remember; it is not there so that we can never forget. It is there so that we can know something about God. God does not forget the covenants God makes. God will always remember this covenant (and every other covenant God makes.) God does not forget.
These early stories of the Bible are here to tell us about God, about who God is, about the character of God and what matters to God. The story of the flood tells us that how we treat one another matters to God. What we do to our fellow human beings matters to God. It hurts God when we harm one another. War, abuse, maltreatment of other people, the reducing of other humans to less than human, to objects or possessions, matter to God. It grieves God when we are unable to treat our fellow humans with the same love, and respect we give to God.
How we treat each other and how we are treated matters to God. I matter to God. You matter to God each and every one of us matter to God. There is nothing anyone can do that will make any of us stop mattering to God. God care about us and what happens to us. God cares and it grieves God when are hurt, in anyway.
But not only does humanity matter, but all of creation matters. God makes the covenant following the flood with all of creation, not just Noah and his family, not just with his decedents or all of humanity but we all flesh with all creation. The whole earth and everything on it matters to God. Everything matters, the earth and everything in it. It all matters! We all matter.
The covenant God makes with all creation following the flood tells us something else about God.  It tells us that God does not forget. Humans forget all the time. We forget where we put out keys, we forget what we ate for lunch on Wednesday, we forget small things as well as important things, we forget birthday and anniversaries, we forget commitments and the promises we make. There are so many things we forget each and every day, but God does not forget. God does not forget the small mundane things, but more importantly God does forget the important things. God does not forget promises or covenant. This means that God will not forget you. No matter how you may feel, no matter what it seems like, God will not forget you.
God will not forget how much God loves you, how much God cares for you.  We all matter to God. Everything matters to God. The earth and everything in it matters to God. The love of God is so vast, so huge that it encompassed everyone and everything. There is no one who is beyond the love of and there is nothing and nowhere on the whole earth that is beyond the reach of God. God’s love extends to everyone, everyone and to everything on the whole earth. The entire earth is filled with the love of God.  We all matter to God. God desires to be in relationship with each and every one of us. God’s love is extended to all of us, to each of us. And none of us are ever forgotten. God does not forget. God will never forget any of us. Not you not me, not you, not anyone! Were all loved, we all matter, and none of us are ever forgotten.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

John 6:50-69 - You Are What You Eat

Once upon a time, a long time ago, the Hebrew people found themselves slaves in Egypt. Pharaoh was cruel and jealous and heaped hardship upon hardship upon them, forcing them to build his cities. And as they labored they called out in their distress and God heard their cries and sent Moses to free them from slavery. After much intersession on the part of Moses and a long affair consisting of 10 miraculous plagues, Pharaoh finally agreed to allow the Hebrew slaves to go free. The Hebrew people hurriedly gathered their things and left as quickly as possible. Only to have Pharaoh change his mind, chasing them all the way to the red sea where God parted the sea allowing the Hebrews to pass safely to other side, collapsing it back in on itself and covering Pharaoh’s army in water.
And thus the Hebrew people made their exodus from Egypt. Once on the other side, they met God at a mountain, where Moses, serving as mediator between God and people, laid down the ground rules for their relationship. A Covenant was formed and they became the People of God, trusting and relying on God from that day forward. And thus began their journey through the wilderness back to the land God had given to their ancestor Abraham.
Since they had left so quickly they had not brought enough food with them to carry them through their long journey. So, they became completely reliant upon God for the very food they needed to survive. The food God provided for them was called Manna, which was a word which literally meant “what is this?” But it was also called Bread from Heaven. For the Hebrew people the Bread from Heaven, provided by God, was the ultimate example of what it meant for the people of God to be totally and absolutely dependent upon God for all things. During their desert wanderings they had no other option than to rely upon God for their daily sustenance. God fed them and it was through God’s provision they were able to live as they journeyed toward the Promise Land.
When Jesus says that he is the Bread of Heaven, to the people who had gathered to listen, he is quite obviously making an allusion to Manna. He is telling those listening to him that he is spiritual sustenance sent by God to provide them with the spiritual food they need to be the people of God. Jesus is the Bread of Heaven; he is food in the desert, is the Manna. He is that which keeps the people of God alive throughout their treacherous journey. In short Jesus is life. But not just any kind of life, not life barely eking by, scraping and scratching at the edges, just barely carving out existence, but true life; life that matters, life that is worth living, can only be found in him and provided by him.
Although it is not found in this gospel, Jesus being the daily bread which sustains us and brings life to us, can bring new meaning to the Lord ’s Prayer when we say, “. . . give us today our daily bread. . .”we pray every week. When we say this, what comes to mind first is food, of the actual stuff we need to make it through the day, of physical sustenance. Perhaps we make think of it as slightly metaphorical, taking it to mean all the things we need from day to day. So in asking Jesus for our daily bread is asking for him to provide the things we need to make it through each day.  But if Jesus is bread, the bread that matters, the bread that truly feeds, that adds a whole new dimension to this request. When we are asking Jesus to give us the bread we need for today, we are asking the One who is the very Bread of Life to give us spiritual food. What we are actually asking is, “Jesus provide us with all that we need to be spiritually healthy, to be fed and satisfied spiritually today (and everyday) by you and you alone.”
 “Help us to not find our spiritual sustenance in anything or anyone other you.”
“Give us today what we need to be the people you are calling us to be.”
“Give us this day our daily Bread!”
“Give us you, all of you, exactly what we need of you! Oh, Lord Jesus, feed us today!” (pause)
Thinking about eating, makes me think of something that I am sure is happening in many and varied places all across this country, perhaps even the world; almost every day; somewhere, sometime, there is a child sitting before a meal, displeased with green broccoli, white cauliflower, red peppers, slimy spinach, stinky Brussel sprouts, horribly round and smooshy peas. And as she kicks her feet and shuffles in her seat she rolls those peas around her plate or presses them with her fork. An adult, nearby, is inevitably extolling the virtues of vegetables, explaining the importance of the vitamins and minerals they provide. And at any given moment at least one of those adults is saying, “You are what you eat.” I am sure that at least one of those children is thinking to herself, “I’d rather be a jelly donut.”
I cannot say with any certainty, if Jewish Mothers at the time said anything similar to their children in the first century, but I can say, that the idea that eating something making that thing a part of a person; that is in the eating one assimilates that thing into one’s being, was a pretty common thought. The first century hearer of Jesus’ word would understand the sentiment behind, “you are what you eat,” even if they had never really heard it put that way. Assimilating Jesus into our being is exactly one of the ideas we are to hear when Jesus is speaking about being the bread of Heaven saying, “those who partake of me, ‘will abide in me and I in them.’”
If Jesus is the Bread of Heaven, it is in him that all humanity will find Life. Just as assuredly as eating literal bread will provide sustenance, and that sustains physical life, eating the Bread of Heaven, will provide nourishment for our spiritual lives. Eternal life, true life, is lived in Jesus and is lived by partaking of him, so that we become a part of him and he becomes a part of us.
The call of every follower of Christ is to assimilate Jesus into our lives and to be assimilated by Jesus. To put it in a way with which you maybe more familiar hearing, we are all called to live in personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ, doing everything we can to draw closer to Jesus and to strengthen our relationship with him.
When missionaries go to other countries, one of the things we talk about is how well they assimilate into the culture. How well to they become like the people in their new country, speak their language, understand their cultural assumptions, come to see and understand how the people in that country interact with the world around them as well as with one another. It is about becoming more and more like the people to whom you are attempting to bring the gospel.
When we speak of followers of Jesus assimilating Christ into their lives, we are talking about becoming more and more like Jesus. Allowing ourselves to be made over in Jesus’ image, so that we act like Jesus, we talk like Jesus, we love like Jesus and forgive like Jesus. So we are what we eat and if we eat Jesus we become more like Jesus. So that day by day, by partaking of Jesus, we become more and more like him in all things.
In a manner of speaking our spiritual lives need food as much as our body does, and often times, whether intentional or not we are continually partaking of something that feeds this part of who we are. We are filling ourselves up, and in doing so we are assimilating those things into our lives. We are always consuming something, the books we read, the TV we watch, the conversations we have, the very things with which we fill our lives, which we find valuable, our stuff, our jobs, our positions, all the things by which we define ourselves and allow to define us. And if we are not intentionally filling ourselves up with the things of Jesus and purposely assimilating Jesus into our lives, we will begin to look like all the other things we are consuming. If we partake of healthy food, we will be healthy, and if all we eat is junk, well then, we will become a jelly donut.
We need to fill our lives with the things of God. There are amazing books out there written by gifted Christian writers that are written to encourage us on our spiritual journeys, novels, memoirs, biographies and journals of great followers of Christ who have gone on before. There are devotionals written to give daily encouragement, as well as books that are written to help us on our faith journeys. And of course there is the good ole fashion idea of just reading the Bible and seeking to gain understanding of God’s calling upon our lives by reading scripture often and at length. There are Bibles set up to help you read through the Bible in a year or chronologically or reading programs that can be found on the Internet that will give you passages to read for your edification and spiritual growth, to be read each day. One person I met even just found a new translation each year and worked to read through it. And of course there is prayer, so many different ways to pray, the traditional kneeling by the bed each night and each morning, beginning and ending each day talking to God. There is praying through drawing or while listening to music, or praying scripture, such as praying psalms or the Lamentations, as well as praying through journaling, writing down your prayers. There so many things out there that can be done while praying to help focus your mind and keep you from becoming distracted. All these things are ways of consuming Christ, assimilating Jesus into our lives so that we can become more and more like Christ in our thoughts and in our attitudes, in all we do, in all we say.
Now I am not saying that we are not to watch TV, listen to our favorite music, partake in deep conversation with our non-believing friends or consume all the good books there are in the world. But, I am saying, “all things in moderation.” Eating one jelly donut, even one jelly donut every day will not necessarily do you in. But a dogged pursuit of jelly donuts will make you look like a jelly donut physically and spiritually. Partaking of nutrient rich foods that will give your body the things is needs to be healthy on a regular basis, along with jelly donuts in moderation is what I am talking about. I am saying do not just consume the smorgasbord that our culture and our world provides but partake intentionally of the things of God filling, your spirit with things that will make you spiritually healthy and cause you to look more like Christ instead of more like a facsimile of all that this world has to offer.
We need to be careful about how much junk we take into our beings. And be fine connoisseurs of what we are partaking as spiritual food. Filling ourselves up on sugary sweets, even if the sugary sweets are cookies shaped like fruit, they are still sweets. Likewise be careful, even  wary, of things that dress themselves up as spiritual food but are really only cross shaped donuts. There is a lot of Christian fluff out there. Reading some cheesy Christian fiction is one thing, but partaking of that as the staple food of your spiritual life is another thing altogether. Read some fluff, but also read your Bible, a good devotional or something by Chrysostom, Theresa of Avila, or one C. S. Lewis’s works of non-fiction. Our goal is to consume Christ and the things of Christ so that we can be assimilated by Christ and assimilate the things of Christ into our lives, becoming more and more like him in everything. For those of you who have come to our annual retreats this is what the spiritual disciplines are all about, including practises into our daily, weekly and yearly lives that will help us become more like Christ.
As we listen to Jesus’ words today, many of us cannot help but think about the Lord’s Supper. When we partake of communion, we are partaking of the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In the communion liturgy today, we will talk about Jesus being our spiritual food and about being made one with him. As Mike pointed out last week, although the original hearers of Jesus’ words would not have thought of communion when he said these words, because this is before the last supper and before his death and resurrection, the early readers of John, just like ourselves, would have immediately connected Jesus’ words here to the Eucharist. “Take this, it is my body.” “Drink this is it my blood.”
As we come to the table we are re-enacting the death of Christ so that we will never forget the sacrifice he made for us, but we are also reminding ourselves of these two things. When  we eat the bread and drink of the cup, we receive them as the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ and in doing so we are partaking of Jesus as spiritual, consuming him, eating him. In so doing we are reminded that Jesus is our bread, our food, our sustenance. In the Lord’s Supper we remember that we can only find spiritual life by partaking of Jesus. He is the Bread of Heaven, feeding us, giving us what we need, providing for us and giving us today eternal life, as we consume him. The Christian life is one that is lived in total reliance on God, and requires that we take all that God provides so that we can live, so we are able to be the people Jesus is calling us to be.
Through the Eucharist are in a sense partaking of Jesus, and in doing so we are taking Jesus into us, allowing ourselves to be assimilated by Jesus and assimilating Jesus into ourselves. By join together in communion we are affirming our desire to become one with Christ, to daily become better and better images of Jesus Christ becomes the very core of our being. In communion we are becoming the people of God united together and united with Christ, by bringing Christ into our very beings, consuming of Christ and allowing that consumption to shape who we are down to the very core of ourselves so that inside and out we become more and more like Christ.
As we hear the teachings of Jesus here, we can have one of two reactions which are also found in our scripture this morning. We can say, “This teaching is difficult,” it is too hard, we cannot accept it. It is too much! Maybe, our problem is that partaking of Jesus sounds too risky, or too strange. Perhaps we are not willing to make a diet of the things of Christ. We like the things we are already eating. We like the things with which we are filling our lives. We are like the little girl looking at her peas. We know they are good for us, we have heard all the reasons we should eat them. We know that they will bring health, wholeness and well-being. We know that we should read the Bible more, make a point to read more of the things written by Christian authors, make more time for prayer, for journaling, for listening to God, but we really don’t want to. We would rather keep things the way they are. The idea of being a jelly donut sounds more appealing than becoming more like Christ (not to mention easier).
The other response we can have this morning is that of Peter, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Jesus has just told us that life can only be found in him. Jesus has explained to us that the only true sustenance that can be found can only be found in him, the bread of Heaven. We realize that without him we will starve; without him there is no life. So we instead of rejecting the bread that is offered we turn to him and say, “Give me more!” Like the woman at the well we respond by desiring all we can get. We say, “Let me eat of you and be satisfied, let me never be hungry again.”
This response has us coming to the Lord’s Table this morning hungry, ready to eat. Ready to declare through the Eucharist, by partaking of Christ through communion that life can only be found outside of him, that we rely on him for all things, for all sustenance and for all nourishment, that we want to become one with him, and with his body by partaking of him in this manner. If this is your response, come, come let us eat together, let us join the feast of God and partake together of the bread of Heaven, let us become one with Christ in Christ, let us eat and be satisfied, nourished and fed!e THe