The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost for Year B (August 9, 2015)

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Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Our children, no matter how rebellious or “unloving” toward us, are always still our children.

There are very few words in scripture more pathetic (as in, filled with pathos) than David’s declaration of his grief over the death of Absalom. David would gladly have traded his life for his son’s, wayward child that he was.

The fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy aside, what parent among us cannot identify with the pain in David’s heart? After sitting with the inconsolable grief for a few moments, which of us cannot be moved by imagining the same pain within the heart of God toward each of God’s wayward children across the earth?

Psalm 130
A plaintive and elegant song for the times we, too, must “cry from the depths” of life’s dark places.

1 Kings 19:4-8
There are those places that we, both as preachers and people of God, are sometimes called to go that just feel far too wearying to endure on our own. Laying down and waiting to die sounds like a pretty preferable alternative on some days.

But, on those days, God is still there. May the “bread of heaven” that sometimes appears in the strangest ways and places fill us and strengthen us for the journey.

Psalm 34:1-8
At all times.

That’s the key phrase in this psalm text — at least, it’s a key phrase. Blessing God is fairly easy when the good times are rolling by like a parade (though, admittedly, we often forget to bless God as our first instinct.)

When the bad times roll in like a fog, our first instinct may be to offer a prayer more along the lines of “help me, God!”

I’m with Anne Lamott, who quoted a wise friend (in Traveling Mercies, still one of my favorites of her work) as saying, “The two best prayers I know are ‘Help me, help me’ and ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’”

Ephesians 4:25-5:2
More practical applications of the grace of God for everyday living from Ephesians. This is good stuff. I like that all of it comes out of the phrase, “be imitators of God… live in love, as Christ loved” in 5:1-2. A pretty good set of companion ideas when paired with Psalm 34:1 (see above.)

John 6:35, 41-51
More than one wag has commented on this series of gospel readings, “When will Jesus ever stop talking about bread?”

We all love images of freshly-baked loaves, still warm from the oven, served up delightfully for us on platters with plenty of butter or cream cheese. Now that’s some “bread of heaven” we can get into!

As Jesus’ images turn toward eating his flesh, we find that the number of takers begins to dwindle pretty sharply. More than one Christian, when faced with the complexity and difficulty of living out the Christ lifestyle, has bemoaned, “This is not what I signed up for!”

Well….    

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Many years ago, when I was a young pastor, I was teaching a Catechism Class on a Sunday afternoon. A few minutes after we started, a young man came in, toting his four-year-old sister on his hip. “Mama has to go to the hospital to see Grandma. Says I got to keep Annie.” “Which means I ‘got to’ keep Annie,” I thought to myself as I heard his mother pull out of the church parking lot.

We were studying Holy Communion. I got Annie set up in the corner with a coloring book, then I began to go over the lesson with my three students.

Question – What two things make a Sacrament?
Answer – An Earthly Element and a Divine Command.

Q – What are the two Sacraments we observe? A – Baptism and Communion.

Q – What is the Earthly Element in Baptism? A -Water.

Q – What is the Earthly Element in Communion? A -Bread and Wine.

Q – What are the Bread and Wine? A – The Body and Blood of Jesus.

Q – So, when we eat the bread, what are we eating? A – The Body of Christ.

Q – And when we drink the wine, what are we drinking? A – The Blood of Jesus.

At this point I heard a noise in the corner, and turned to see Annie staring at us, wide-eyed. She loudly proclaimed “YEECH!” Then she threw up.

Most of us are so accustomed to hearing liturgical language about the bread and wine being the Body and Blood of Christ, that we no longer really hear the crude, primal, visceral nature of such language.  At least not the way Annie heard it; not the way Jesus’ audience heard it when he said to them: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6: 51)

How are we to understand this? What are we to make of such language? What is John trying to tell us with in chapter 6, filled as it is with “bread” stories? We’ve got the feeding of the 5000, the many references to the wilderness experience and God’s provision of manna from heaven and Jesus’ claims to be the true Bread from Heaven and then, this crude, cannibalistic reference to eating Jesus himself. It’s all a bit much for our modern, antiseptic sensibilities. It sounds too much like snake-handling and poison-drinking and being slain in the spirit and all those overly enthusiastic things some remote Christians are rumored to engage in. We prefer our religion neat and clean and appropriately done and appropriately metaphorical if you please.

And, so did many of the people to whom John was writing when he composed this Gospel. They were not only offended at his language about eating Jesus; they were offended by the very idea that Jesus was really human. They preferred to think that he was some sort of ghost who only appeared in human form, but was really all spirit. There was an idea about that the body was bad and the spirit was good and that true religion consisted of being really spiritual and escaping the body. So many who became Christian with this idea decided that Jesus, being the ultimate “spiritual person,” wasn’t really human, wasn’t really real, I guess.

John’s emphasis on Jesus’ fleshiness is meant to counteract this notion. The Greek word used here, “sarx,” denotes meat, flesh; whereas the other Greek word, “soma,” just means body. John is making it clear that Jesus was a real, live, human being who ate and slept and went to the bathroom. This was important then, and it’s important now. If Jesus just appeared or seemed to be human, then his death was not a real death, his suffering was not real suffering and his resurrection was just a show, a trick, an illusion.

For the economy of salvation to really work, it is necessary that Jesus be a real human being who lived and taught and suffered and died and went to the place of the dead and was brought back to life by the power of God. Otherwise, it’s just a nice story and it really doesn’t affect anything, doesn’t communicate anything to us about God’s love and our life.

In his book “Written in Blood” Robert Coleman tells the story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. For various reasons, the boy was the only donor whose blood could save his sister. The doctor asked, “Would you give your blood to Mary?” The little boy’s lower lip began to tremble, then he took a deep breath and said, “Yes, for my sister.”

After the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, the little boy began to look very worried, then he crossed himself, then he looked at the doctor and said, “When do I die?” Suddenly, the doctor realized that the little boy had thought that to give his blood to his sister meant he had to die, and miracle of miracles, he was willing to do that for his sister.

The gospel is – Jesus did that for us. That’s what John wants us to contemplate. It’s not a metaphor, not a parable, not a mythological construct about dying and rising gods. John is clear about that and wants his readers to be clear also. Which is why we have the language about eating Jesus’ flesh. The word rendered as “eat” in our text is perhaps better translated as “gnaw” or “chew.” Again, John wants to drive home the point of the “real world” nature of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.

As we come to the table this morning, we are to be mindful of Jesus’ presence in our midst. It was a real presence then and it is a real presence now.  The Gospel is that Jesus really, truly came down from heaven to live among us as the fleshly love of God. The Gospel is that Jesus really, truly died upon the cross, giving up his flesh and spilling his blood, to save us from our sins. The Gospel is that God almighty really, truly raised him from the dead, brought him out of the grave to a new and eternal life. The Gospel is that God almighty really, truly has just such a future in store for each and every one of us.

And the Gospel is that when we come to the table, we really, truly take a bite out of that future.
We really, truly drink deeply of that promise. We really, truly receive into ourselves a love that will never, ever let us go – in this world or in the next.

Amen and amen.

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