A sermon preached at Grace Episcopal Church, San Antonio, Texas.
The Lectionary readings for the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost are here.
Are you a picky eater? Are your kids? What do you or your kids absolutely refuse to eat? When my son was little, he ate most anything and everything, except for the one thing that all children love – French fries. And what’s the one thing all kids meals in every single restaurant has? French fries. 25-30 years ago, fast-food kids meals didn’t have options like apple slices, only French fries. When we’d go to a sit-down restaurant, Ike would ask if he could substitute a salad for the fries – at 3 years old he started doing this. And the waitperson would inevitably look at me and ask “is he serious” and I’d say yes, he is. And they’d walk away, shaking their head, having their reality of how kids should behave slightly disturbed.
As we continue to hear John’s version of how Jesus established our practice of communion, we encounter Jesus disturbing the reality of those around him as well as our own.
We begin this week with where we ended last week: Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
And we’ll return to this theme of the bread of life next week and the week after that. So, if we are willing to spend so much time on this, it must be really important, don’t you think?
So, let’s first take a look at what’s going on in this scene and then we’ll return to God’s table. Don’t worry, I don’t have another pastoral letter from our bishop to read this week, but I do hope your reality is disrupted just a little.
Do you remember way back when on the first Sunday in July we talked about the skepticism of the people in Jesus’ hometown because he was disrupting their norm by not being who they had decided he was supposed to be? We have the same situation here: others trying to discredit Jesus because he wouldn’t cooperate and force fit himself into their prescribed role.
It’s easy to sit in our comfortable seats some 2000 plus years later and criticize the Jews for not seeing Jesus for who he really is but let’s get courageous and ask ourselves: “how do we do the same?”
What is our own prescribed role for Jesus?
Do we expect Jesus to be where we saw him last, like the folks who found him on the opposite side of the lake?
Do we expect Jesus to be available to us only when we decide we want him around?
Are we willing to let Jesus disrupt our reality with who he is and who we are?
Remember – It’s a prophet’s job is to disrupt the norm. The vast majority of Jesus’ time in his three year earthly ministry was spent out and about interacting with people in the ordinary every day moments of their life. His whole purpose was to teach people how to disrupt their own reality and norms by seeing the world through the lens of God’s love.
But Jesus doesn’t just disrupt who they think he should be, he disrupts their view of the historical events in which they plant their identity. He has this debate with them about the bread provided to their ancestors in the wilderness. They want to credit Moses for the manna but Jesus reminds them that it was God who provided it; Moses was just the messenger. And, he reminds them, the purpose of the manna was, yes, to fill their bellies, but also to teach them how to live in a trusting relationship with God.
God told them the manna would be there for them every day, that they needed just gather enough for the day because there would be more tomorrow. This is what living the abundant life of God’s Kingdom is: trusting that God will provide enough of what we need to do what God calls us to do. So often we equate abundance with excess when really it simply means a never ending supply.
God gave them what they needed but they still complained and tried to hoard extra. Jesus telling the people not to complain about him would have immediately reminded those around him of the grumbling of their ancestors in the wilderness. When we let ourselves get distracted by what we don’t have, we often miss out on the real message of God’s loving provision. We use our energy to grumble rather than to give thanks.
Jesus uses the most ordinary form of physical nourishment to explain the most extraordinary life that is ours for the living if we open our ears and eyes to what Jesus says and does. He shows us how to be who and whose we are created to be: God’s beloved children, walking with Jesus to bring heaven to earth in the ordinary every day moments of our lives.
God’s deepest desire for us is to live the abundant life of love.
I can’t store up more of God’s love than you have. I can’t earn or win God’s favor so that there isn’t any left for you. God’s love and Grace and forgiveness is abundant, a never ending supply that sustains us and equips us be God’s beloved children.
It is when we deny this life for ourselves or others that we grieve the Holy Spirit, as Paul tells us in his letter to the church at Ephesus we read today:
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
This last bit that Paul says is one of the options in our Book of Common Prayer for inviting others to God’s Table. And even though what we do around God’s Table may look differently these days, the reality of it, the purpose of it, remains in God’s hands. We come to this holy table to receive from God all that God has to give, life abundant with love. All that we do in this place: praising and praying and listening to God’s word, leads us to this act of remembering and being re-membered as God’s beloved.
In one of the prayers that can be used for Holy Communion in the Book of Common Prayer, we prayer, “Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name. Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the Bread.” (Eucharistic Prayer C)
What takes place when we gather weekly to praise, pray, listen, and receive God’s grace is to disrupt our reality enough that we can see and hear the reality of God’s kingdom in the ordinary, every day moments of our lives.
This past week as Jim and I sat down for a meal at our favorite local diner, and just as we were going to say grace, Jim spotted a sign on the wall above our table that read, “Grace isn’t a little prayer you say before receiving a meal, it is a way to live.”
Let this meal disrupt you. See, hear, and taste the reality of life in it. Be strengthened and renewed. Receive the grace it offers and let the abundance of God’s kingdom flow through you in all that you do this coming week. Amen.