Sermon for August 15, 2021
There was a couple who were both 85 years old and they had been married for sixty years. They were not wealthy but they managed to get by. They were both in good health, mostly because the wife had insisted they eat healthy foods and exercise. She had especially pushed healthy eating and daily workouts for their health during the last ten years.
They saved enough money to take a vacation. On their way to their dream destination, their plane crashed and they both died. When they reached the pearly gates of heaven, Saint Peter escorted them inside. He took them to a beautiful mansion and said, “this is your new home”. The man was nervous and asked how much it would cost. Saint Peter said they owed nothing. “Remember, this is your reward in Heaven.”
Right next to the mansion was a beautiful championship golf course.
“What are the greens fees?” grumbled the old man.
Saint Peter responded that he could play for free every day.
Next they went to the clubhouse and saw the lavish buffet lunch, with delicious foods laid out before them.
“Don’t even ask,” said St. Peter to the man. “This is Heaven, it is all free for you to enjoy.
The old man looked around and glanced nervously at his wife.
“Well, where are the low fat and low cholesterol foods and the decaffeinated tea?” he asked.
“That’s the best part,” St. Peter replied, “You can eat and drink as much as you like of whatever you like and you will never get fat or sick. This is Heaven!” You don’t even have to exercise.
The old man glared at his wife and said, “You and your blasted Bran Flakes. We could have been here ten years ago!”
I shared this story because it was cute. Contrary to the punch line, we should all eat healthy foods and take care of ourselves physically. Scripture encourages us to take care of every part of our selves, our body, our mind, our heart and our soul. I also believe that we have a wonderful gift from God that is given to us while we are here on earth. There are many different theological perspectives about communion. That gift is the bread and wine that we receive at communion. I believe the bread and wine to be the body and blood of Jesus. I also know that many would say that we receive the bread and wine in remembrance of the time when Jesus first shared it with his disciples Either way, communion can be a time of refreshment, reinvigoration and joy. It may give us a feeling of fulfillment or a sense of connection. It might help us to rededicate ourselves to following the ways of Jesus.
We read about the bread of God in each of the lessons. In the reading from Proverbs, Wisdom invites us to “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” The bread and wine of Wisdom would provide great insight. One of the Psalm verses quietly mentions the importance of food and describes how we are fed by God, “The young lions lack and suffer hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack nothing that is good.” Let us seek the Lord for the Lord will give us nourishment.
In the gospel, we hear directly from Jesus. “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.” Once again we hear about the importance of God’s nourishment for our souls. If we choose to take this message literally, we might think Jesus was telling his followers to eat from his body. No wonder it was such a difficult message for the people to hear. We certainly want the life that comes to us from Jesus. Still, we might struggle with this passage.
The theologian Rolf Jacobsen would suggest, “In essence, Jesus is saying, “Bread is life—eating bread sustains life … mortal life. For eternal life, for abundant life, you are going to need something beyond mortal bread. You are going to need living bread. I am that living bread come down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”
Rather than spending a great deal of time discussing the theology around the words Jesus said in today’s gospel, I prefer to spend my time experiencing this living bread than trying to explain it. Let us come to the table and allow the love of Jesus to lift our spirits and revive our souls. Let us abide in Jesus and allow Jesus to abide in us. It is through the bread and wine that we express a trust in Jesus which does not waver and needs no other sign of reassurance.
As I listened to this reading from John my thoughts turn to the words Jesus shared at the Last Supper. We find this in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. These words are from Matthew, “While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” I believe that in the blessing of the bread and the wine, in the offering of these gifts to God and in the sharing of it with each other, the bread and wine then become the body and blood of Jesus for us. It nourishes us.
In the bread and wine, our spirits are fed. It is in the coming together of our Christian community that we find a spirit of togetherness. Paul wrote about this in his letter to the Ephesians. “Be filled with the Spirit” as you worship together. We receive the spirit as we partake of the bread and the wine. And each of us helps to create that spirit in the way we approach our worship life together. Paul wanted the community to “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” together. Paul wanted them to sing to the Lord in their hearts. Paul asked them to be thankful to God at all times and to remember that everything is done in the name of Jesus. In other words, Paul wanted us to reach out, to seek God in our life together.
The reading from Proverbs tells us we should seek wisdom. We come to the house of Wisdom and avoid the landmines of sin and foolishness. In Ephesians, we are told to be wise and to seek the will of God. In both we want it, we have to work for it. Let us then seek God in our wisdom, let us yearn for God, let us wish that Jesus would be present in our lives and fill our souls.
Our search for God begins in our hearts. Henri Nouwen once wrote that “community is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another. Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own. The question, therefore, is not ‘How can we make community?’ but, ‘How can we develop and nurture giving hearts?’.
Let’s choose Wisdom and open our hearts to God, that together we will find joy. We need joy more today than ever. The pandemic has caused people to struggle. Many are in a state of depression. Some may find it hard to share communal space with others because they have been alone for so long. Still others are angry and their anger is touched off by even the slightest provocation. Our communal life as a church is broken up because people cannot come to church as they used to do. We try our best to create community with those who are here and with those who follow us on social media. We accept everyone who comes to this place knowing that each of us is imperfect. Each of us needs the spirit of God in our hearts. That is why I think it is especially important to prepare our hearts. It all begins with our desire to be with God.
There is a book written in the fourteenth century called the Cloud of Unknowing. It offers many insights including this one about our desire for God.
“For I tell you this: one loving, blind desire for God alone is more valuable in itself, more pleasing to God and to the saints, more beneficial to your own growth, and more helpful to your friends, both living and dead, than anything else you could do.”
May we open our heart and invite God’s spirit in. May we yearn for God in our individual lives and in our communal lives. Let us come together and share God’s spirit among us and lift our hearts and voice to praise God. Let us feel the presence of the spirit in this place. May it be a spirit of love and thanksgiving for God who nourishes us. Amen.
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