A sermon preached at Grace Episcopal Church, San Antonio, Texas.
The lectionary readings for the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost are here.
Are you still in shock over Jesus’ words from last week? We’ve spent the previous three weeks through today, talking about John’s telling of Jesus’ interaction with the crowd following the feeding of thousands and a miraculous trip across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, a conversation initiated by the crowd’s question, “Rabbi, when did you get here.”
Rarely does Jesus directly answer the question he’s asked. Jesus responds in ways that require us to reshape our thinking and our way of seeing of the world, and if we have the ears to hear, to dive deep into the type of self-examination that enables us to see the true life for which we are created. Jesus doesn’t provide spoon-fed answers but The Way of living the truth that enables us to be whose and who we really are.
By the time Jesus gets to the summary of all that he has just said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” the people are so disturbed by what he has said that many find it easier to just walk away.
Many of these folks came looking for Jesus simply because they wanted another meal, thinking that hanging out with Jesus would mean they would have an endless supply of fish sandwiches. But Jesus told them that he had so much more to offer – a living banquet beyond anything they’d experienced, that we need more than just physical nourishment, we need the right food to nourish both our bodies and our souls.
How often do you hear people say things like, “eating healthy is so difficult and time consuming?” We like the convenience of the drive-thru meal, the pre-prepared, just put it in the oven meal. After a long day, H‑E‑B’s ‘Meal Simple’ feel like a life saver, for sure. Ease and convenience allows us to fit more into our lives so we can show the world just how busy we are because busy means we are succeeding at life, right?
But somehow we know, deep in the core of our being, that the life we are created for is so much more than than that, more than just keeping our physical bodies sustained so we can keep up an ever increasing pace that still leaves us hungry for more. We cannot be fully alive without the kingdom nourishment Jesus offers.
Our souls are nourished through the sacrament, through the praise and thanksgiving of our worship, through time spent with God’s story so that we know better and better whose and who we are, through prayer, speaking our gratitude to God for everything, bringing our deepest concerns and fears and desires to God, and in the time of stillness and silence when we do nothing else but listen in the awareness of God’s presence.
And just to be clear, when Jesus tells us “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all” he isn’t saying that our physical bodies aren’t good but that we are so much more.
Last week to understand the shocking nature of what Jesus was saying about consuming his flesh and blood we went all the way back to the creation story and we go there again today, to remind ourselves, as Jesus’ words would have reminded those with him that day, in whose image we are created.
We are created in God’s image, in God’s likeness, formed of the dust with the very breath of God breathing life into us. The clay shell was not enough – very necessary and needed and worthy of God’s work but not complete without the spirit of God giving us breath.
We are not a body with a soul or a soul encumbered by a body. We are created fully human, in the image of our creator, inseparably body and soul.
There is a mystery to our amazing life given to us by God that we can’t duplicate. No human has been able to create life from nothing as God does. We cannot take the elemental ingredients of the human body, put them in a mixing bowl and create life.
Do you know the story of the scientist who thought he had discovered how to make life? He was so impressed by his own abilities that he called to God saying “come to my laboratory see what I’ve done. I’m just like you.” So God humors this scientist and comes to the lab. The scientist places a mixing bowl in the center of the table and then reaches into a bag of dirt, At which point God interrupts the scientist and says, “No, no, no. You have to make your own dirt.”
Jesus says ‘let me nourish you, your whole and holy self, let me show you the life you are created to live, on earth as it is in heaven. A life grounded in the love of God for you.”
The good news that Jesus came to proclaim is that God comes to us in love, wherever we are, whatever we’ve done, God comes to us and says “you are good, you are loved, you are worthy to be with me, fully alive as I created you to be. Abide in me as I am in you.”
And still there were those listening who didn’t think the news was all that good.
News is an event that changes the world whether we accept the change or not. But a lot of people just want good advice – pithy words that help us make decisions without necessarily changing our reality because changing is hard. The Good News that Jesus brings is that the reality of the world has changed: God has come to us, to live and die as one of us so that we are reconciled to God. We can chose to acknowledge and accept what God has done and is doing and live the full life we are created for and be filled. Or we can take the easy way of living on the surface, remaining in our comfort zone and continue to long for more.
We may credit Socrates for saying “the unexamined life is not worth living” but this is the underlying truth to all of Jesus’ conversations and sermons. Jesus asks questions like “do you want to be well,” and “why are you looking for me?” He makes statements like “you keep the outside of the cup looking good but never clean the inside.”
Jesus’ words are intended to challenge us and provoke us to rethink all that we think we know. Many people, through the centuries to today, decide it’s easier to walk away because the teaching is too difficult, letting a desire for comfort and ease overrule the innate need to be with God.
When Jesus does take us by surprise, in the face and words of another person, when we see Jesus where we didn’t expect him to be and we ask, “Teacher, when did you get here?” he reminds us that he’s been with us all along, ready and waiting for us to hear the good news that changes everything. And, again, we have the choice to walk away because the Good News is too much for us or we can respond as Peter does: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
The banquet table is set to nourish our bodies and our souls, our whole and holy selves, beloved children of God. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Amen.