Sunday, August 23, 2015

Pentecost 13, 2015: Heaven on earth

Lectionary: 1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

So… we’ve had four straight weeks of Jesus teaching about bread. I am the bread of life.I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life.

Parts of the readings overlap week to week – which is unusual. Why does our lectionary do this? In their wisdom, our lectionary choosers are mimicking what Jesus is doing in the gospel of John, namely, repeating a teaching over and over to stress the importance of the lesson.

The online discussions among preachers and worship leaders have been pretty funny. Some preachers were giving up, saying, ‘I’m finished with John – I’m preaching from one of the other texts.’

Well, I’m not finished with John. (I’ll never be finished with John!) This gospel is so rich and contains what is probably THE best teachings on what the Incarnation is and what that means for the world.

There are 21 chapters in John’s gospel, and our four weeks of “bread” readings are found in the 6th chapter. Since Jesus’ ministry is discussed beginning in the first chapter of this gospel, we are well into Jesus’ miracles and teachings by chapter six. Conflict around Jesus and his ministry is present and growing, and the tide is turning – some of his followers are beginning leave him.

In today’s reading, Jesus asks his own inner core group if they want to leave too. Why are people leaving Jesus? Let’s take a look.

The setting is Jesus teaching at the synagogue in Capernaum, where Jesus settled after leaving Nazareth, his birthplace. Capernaum is on the western coast of the Sea of Galilee, so it’s no surprise that it’s where Jesus called those fishermen, Peter and his brother, Andrew, to be his first disciples.

By the time we get to today’s reading, Jesus has already worked some pretty astounding miracles in Capernaum: healing Peter’s mother-in-law, healing the daughter of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, saying that famous phrase, “Talitha cum.” The people in Capernaum know Jesus, and his ministry. They know his family, heard him teach in the temple, witnessed his miracles, and follow him around in great numbers.

Jesus is teaching those gathered in Capernaum by repeatedly using the familiar concept of manna – bread – emphasizing the importance of this lesson. His listeners hear the teaching in the context of the story from Exodus, where God sends food that keeps them alive, food that comes from no effort on their part but as a gift from God.

In today’s reading, Jesus is teaching about the co-existence of the Spirit of God and humanity – which is what Incarnation is. Jesus, who is the firstborn of this, as our Creed says, is fully human and fully divine. If we believe that, and if we eat and drink of his nature, then he abides in us and we in him. Think about the reality of that: God abides in us - divinity and humanity co-existing in us – just like in Jesus.

We are the next-born, and we aren’t born this way, as Lady Gaga would say. We are re-born into it through our Baptism and we mature in it by continually partaking of this spiritual food.

We have at our disposal every Sunday and every Wednesday, the spiritual nourishment that gives life to us and to the world. We have the opportunity to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Holy One of God, making ourselves and our community one body, one spirit in Christ.

What an amazing gift that is! It’s a mystery to me that anyone would choose not to come – not to eat and drink – not to be transformed and empowered by this miracle. Have we, as Episcopalians, become so complacent about the availability of this gift that we’ve lost sight of its power and its purpose?

Our Catechism teaches us that we, the church, are the community of the New Covenant. (BCP, 854) It is our duty to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God. (BCP, 856) We accomplish this simply by making a choice to do so.

Our mission, as stated in our Catechism, is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Jesus Christ. (BCP, 855)
This can only be accomplished by choosing to be made one with God who accomplishes it though us.

Remember, we can’t produce manna. We are not the living bread - we are where it dwells (abides). But each time we eat the flesh and drink the blood of our Savior in this holy meal we abide in the eternal presence of God strengthening our union with Christ and with one another. This is what prepares us as a church, and individually as members of it, to go into the world with strength and courage carrying God’s love to all with gladness and singleness of heart. (BCP, 365)

Jesus followers complain that this teaching is a hard one – and it is – because it means letting go of all that separates us from God and from one another. There’s a part of us that clings to what we know, what we want, and even to our weakness and imperfectness.

We cling because it allows us to remain unchanged, unchanging, despite the changes in the world around us. We cling because it enables us to remain safely inside our emotional, spiritual, and social fortresses instead of carrying the light of Christ boldly into the world he died to save. We cling, because we’re afraid of acknowledging the real and powerful presence of God that is in us
and what that means for us, for our church, and for the world.

As Marianne Williamson says in her poem, “Our Greatest Fear,”

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.

It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

Today, as we come forward to receive the spiritual food of Holy Communion, I invite us all to open our hands and our hearts, and receive faithfully the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. As the wafer melts in our mouths, let’s allow the melding of our spirit with Christ’s. As we swallow the wine and feel it make its warm path down our throats, through our chests, and into our stomachs, let’s acknowledge that it is also the warmth of God’s steadfast love entering us, warming us, becoming part of us –
part of our bodies and our souls.

Then, when we walk back to our pew to pray after communion, let’s open ourselves to recognize how, in this very moment, God is changing us physically and spiritually and ponder why God has gathered us together as a congregation, a church, in this time and place in history. For what divine purpose are we being nourished and strengthened?

How are we being called to let our light shine and “manifest the glory of God that is within us”? And what might happen if we were to choose to be as “brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous” as God has made us? What might happen if we were to choose to show forth the power of God’s love to all people?

My guess is: it would be nothing short of heaven on earth.