Friday, August 21, 2009

Flesh and Blood

I am probably in the minority in my enjoyment of the “bread of life” cycle in John. It seems like the same themes are repeated, but I have found them to be quite distinct. It just takes a little digging to discover the nuances of each pericope.

Two weeks ago, in John 6: 35, 41-51, I was very struck by the “I am” language related to the “bread of life.” In the Hebrew Bible, Exodus 3:14, God is named as “I am who I am.” The use of “I am” reverberates through the Hebrew Bible is various forms. When Jesus uses the “I am” form, he is invoking a significant name that carries freight. It is about identity and it is the key to understanding Jesus.

This past week, in John 6:51-58, Jesus shifts into sacramental terms. He speaks in terms of the separation of his flesh and blood. He speaks in terms of sacrifice. The separation of flesh and blood brings to mind the religious praxis of Israel.

The meat of an animal was offered in sacrifice. The blood, which was understood to contain the life/soul of the animal, was returned to the earth and covered with earth. There was a reverence for the life, contained in the blood, and that was the preserve of God. LIfe goes back to God.

Jesus speaks, however, of his blood being offered in a different way. Jesus speaks of his blood/life being offered and consumed by his followers. He is obviously speaking in sacramental language. His blood/life are not placed in the earth and hidden. His blood/life becomes the life sustaining fuel of presence for his followers. It is not simply the life of one man, remember the “I am.” Jesus is sharing the life of God. In that sharing, our lives are forever redirected and meshed in the purpose of God.

I almost wish I were preaching this week...but it is time for a vacation. Stay tuned. See you in a couple of weeks!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pentecost 9, proper 13-Sermon Notes

I have been very fortunate, through the years, to work with people dealing with significant meaning of life issues. One of the most rewarding and important areas has been the field of addiction. I have known many young and old, male and female, black and white who have found their lives spiraling out of control as a result of alcohol or other substances. The stories are incredibly similar, despite the different backgrounds of the individuals involved. No one plans to become dependent on a substance, but those with a predisposition and enough use, become dependent. The fortunate ones recognize they are in trouble and seek help.

Unfortunately, the first efforts are usually not successful. Health is not to be found by throwing a switch, finding self-discipline or just quitting. Most have to reshape and remake their entire lives. One must become honest about reality. One must recognize the inability to find health alone. One must find a personal faith. One must engage in a constant process of self-examination and be prepared to do what it takes to stay in right relationship with God and fellow humans. Eventually, one must be prepared to share the new life discovered with others seeking wholeness.

Most struggle to get to the place where they are willing to do what it takes to recover. For a time, most cling to the idea that they can control their use of substances. Some do stop for periods time, yet cling to self-will and become what some call “dry drunks”. They continue in the same self-destructive behavior. They continue creating a wake of chaos. They are still marked by character defects and they still practice a slash and burn strategy in life, but they are not using. Dry drunks don’t last, they usually devolve into wet drunks.

The mystery is that often in the dark night of the soul, many become willing to do what it takes, and they accept the invitation to live a whole new life. They recognize that just not using is only a mere shadow of what life can be. In the grand scheme of things, not using is a tiny piece of sobriety.

Jesus is faced with a very similar myopic temptation to settle for the minimum in the Gospel. He has just fed 5000 people, maybe more, he has changed location and is regrouping. The feeding, however, seems to have an unintended consequence. The people that follow him now want to see more of the same.

When your hungry, food must be a welcome sight. When you are poor, abundance must mean everything. When you are powerless and irrelevant, being close to something powerful must be positively intoxicating.

Jesus finds himself surrounded by people seeking more of what he has offered them. They desire him to act again and again. They want him to give them more of what they want. Jesus knows why they are there, so he attempts to shift their thinking to help them recognize the fullness he embodies.

Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

Jesus pleads with them not to settle for the small, immediate and fleeting satisfaction he offers, but to enter into a fuller and richer relationship with God through him.

Jesus clarifies that he offers more than a full belly or a neat trick, but a new life.

We, too, are offered the opportunity to reshape and remake our lives. We will become honest about our reality. We will recognize our inability to find health alone, and know that we are not alone. We will discover, through God’s grace, a personal faith. We will engage in a constant process of self-examination and be prepared to do what it takes to stay in right relationship with God and our fellow humans. Eventually, we are prepared to share the new life discovered in Christ.

It is the fullness of the new life offered us, beyond temporary satisfaction.

Don’t settle for a full stomach. Seek the new life God offers in Christ.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bread of Life

We are moving into a part of the lectionary where the Gospel lessons seem very repetitive. Jesus refers to himself as "the bread of life". Last Week was the first instance in our cycle, but we will hear echoes of it for the next three Sundays.

As a preacher, I have not always looked forward to this time in the lectionary cycle. I have sometimes felt like each week I am saying, " and another thing about the bread of life." Repetition, however is a very useful strategy.

As we repeatedly reflect on Gospel themes, we encounter those themes in different ways. What first seems like more or the same, becomes subtly different and deeper. Spending more time with a theme, and examining the different dimensions of it, can open new pathways for engagement.

Bread is food; food is necessary sustenance for life and health. Bread is food; food is fuel to propel the body to physical action and endurance. Both dimensions are required.

Bread is also part of a meal, and meals communicate something about the relationship that participants share. Meals are events in the lives of individuals, participation creates a community. Bread can be part of a simple intimate meal, and it can also be part of a highly ritualized, sacramental action. A sacramental meal points beyond the present moment to the past and the future, bringing both into harmony.

Bread is the Body of Christ, and it accomplishes all the features mentioned. As we reflect on "the bread of life", I hope to break beyond the feeling of unenthusiastic, lifeless repetition. I hope to engage the place of Jesus in my life as sustenance, strength, maker of intimacy and the presence of God.