"Eats of this bread"-Sermon for Proper 14, John 6:35, 41-51
So, I have been on sort of health kick since the beginning of the year…a health journey really. I will be vulnerable here and say that after the holidays, so January-ish, I stepped on the scale and weighed as much as I have in my life. And I believe for the good, it quickened my heart. Though my annual physical last fall was generally positive and the doctor gave me a clean bill of health, I became convicted that that would not remain true if I remained on the path I was walking down. My father and his father before him both died in their late 50’s…for different causes…but still this fact combined by what I saw on the scale brought into a new sort of focus for me that I very much want to break that pattern.
Now, believe me when I say, I look forward to the day when I will take my place at that great heavenly banquet that was prepared before time and forever for me and each of us…basking among the saint in light perpetual…in the very presence of God in Christ…truly the great and forever family reunion. I really do look forward to that day. I do not live in fear of my own mortality. And yet…in all honesty and at the very same time, I am not in a hurry to get there! I believe there is much glory still to be had and experienced on this side of eternity. I have so much to live for…so much to see and do…so many people, beginning of course with my wife and two children, who I want to continue to live with and for…for many years still to come. With Jesus, by his Spirit, walking around in me…in my body…I still have some work…loads of ministry left to complete for good and for God. And I think it is right and good for Christian folk to hold that up together…to embrace that tension…that is both a desire to live in the nearer presence of the God of love and…and to hold on passionately to the life we get to live in the present…all we get to do and experience and overcome and struggle with and take delight in…right here on earth. And so, I made the conscious choice with the encouragement and example of my wife, Ashley, to make a few changes…really nothing drastic…nothing too radical. And those changes are around just what you would expect…exercise and diet. More of the first and less of the second…and so far, so good. I am at a healthier weight today, and I am on what I believe is a good and sustainable path.
And if you are wondering where on God’s green earth I am going with all of this…for we are indeed at the church and not our nutritionist’s office…and, further, I assure you this is not just a moment of true confession…though sharing those significant things in life with those we love and trust…those things we are working on, trying to change, claim control over, form new habits around…does build a community of support and accountability…and that’s a good thing…essential even to success. But, really, these musing flow today directly from our gospel lesson, for it is all about diet…about what we choose to consume and fill ourselves with. For this morning, Jesus says to us, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry…Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”
I was once at a lecture with a theologian from Yale Divinity School who said when determining when Jesus is speaking literally or metaphorically…we need to only use our common sense. For instance, when Jesus says, “Love you neighbor.” He is speaking literally…he means…love your neighbor. When Jesus says, “Eat me and you will live.” Common sense suggests he is speaking metaphorically. He means…I want you to take me into the very center of yourselves…my teaching, the unending love I have for you, the hope I have for this world that God made out of and for love alone. I want you to fill yourselves with it. I want you to feel it in your gut. I want to become interwoven in your DNA. I want to walk around with you in the world…inspiring you by my presence…in little and large moments…to be the love-spreaders and life-givers you were created to be…wherever you may find yourselves…in the darkness and in the light…in moments of loss and sadness and in moments of great joy and triumph.
Thus, I believe Jesus wants to be for us an unending resource, found within ourselves, that fully satisfies our hungry souls…a well that can never dry up…a spring of life-giving water…gushing up to eternal life. And, that wonderful word, eternal, is about the present and future…about an unconquerable life in the here and now…a life that will overcome in this present darkness and…and a life that is unending, everlasting…that not even death can destroy.
And this is what is so important to me about receiving Holy Communion regularly…what I missed so much about it throughout this pandemic. And I really think about this and commend it to you if helpful for you to think about. You see, when I receive, by faith and with thanksgiving, Christ’s body and blood…which is a way of saying Jesus’ real live presence…I think of Jesus literally dwelling in me…inhabiting my body…becoming a part of the make-up of my cells…one of the fundamental building blocks of my biology…what we call incarnation…just like the food which we consume and that constitutes our diet. Receiving communion reminds me that Jesus, indeed, sits at the center of who I am as an embodied…flesh and blood human…making my way in this world and alongside all those people who cross my path.
And I think this makes a huge difference in how I move in the world…how I understand my purpose in the world. I believe I am sort of like Jesus for other people…as he literally, by his Spirit, dwells in me. This then both empowers, provides literal energy, for my Christ-like witness in the world…the love-spreading and life-giving I get to participate in…and it makes me more self-aware of how I am perceived…how I want to be perceived…what is said, done and accomplished by the life I live, who I make friends with, how I spend my money, how I take care of myself, and what values I try to establish for and alongside my household. I think believing that I leave this altar, each week, with Jesus in me…should make…can make a tremendous difference in actually incarnating the very life that I believe God has made me for…made me to be…out in the world. And, again, if helpful perhaps you can think of receiving Holy Communion in a similar way…for if we all felt like we carried Jesus, deep within ourselves, from this altar and out into the world…into all the places and among all the people we impact…simply said…I think there is no limit to the good and Godly things we can accomplish together.
So, in the context of receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion, we really are to become what we eat. I think this is said so beautifully by the words of invitation that we use…and that were given to us by the Bader-Saye family…during the Easter season. Just to remind you, the words of invitation are what the priest says just before we receive communion each Sunday…they are literally the words of invitation to receive Holy Communion…and, again, in the Easter Season at St. Julian’s, the priest, holding up the bread and wine inviting all to the altar, says, “Behold what you are”. And you all, the congregation, responds, “May we become what we receive.” In other words, we are to be what we eat.
Which take me back to where I began. You see, two things I have learned on my own journey with exercise and diet are first how frustratingly little it takes to move backwards and, second, the importance of a word I have already used…and that is…sustainability. And, right now, I am experiencing the first, as I am just back from vacation, where I was not particularly attentive to my diet. You see, it took me like 6 months, 24 weeks or so, to lose 35 pounds. But, in about only 2 weeks of vacation, I successfully put 10 of those pounds back on. Much time to lose…just a little bit of time to gain. And similarly, it takes no time at all to forget that Jesus is literally walking around in us as we live and move and have our being in this world. If honest, it has taken me, at times, all of the length of the walk from the door of the church to my car. But, it takes a lot of time, daily attention, an ongoing commitment, to remember, particularly when things are hard, sad or frustrating, that Jesus is literally walking around in us…that we are what we eat.
It is easy to put our own needs before others. It is easy to be reactive when confronted with something that is frustrating or with which we disagree. It is easy to be suspicious of difference. It is easy to avoid hard conversations. But, like sticking to a diet over the long term, it is genuinely hard, takes much time and great effort, to cultivate new habits…rooted and empowered in a belief that Jesus is not just with us but in us…that we are what we eat. But, when we do we…when we become what we receive…we begin to find joy in empathizing with and actively caring for others even if some level of sacrifice is required. It becomes more intuitive to think and pray before just reacting to that nasty email or social media post or a misbehaving child. It becomes exciting to come to know and understand people and ideas that are born from a different experience than our own. And, we begin to find a courage from within ourselves to confront conflict with the goal of achieving understanding, seeking reconciliation, and protecting the dignity of all.
Which leads me to the second thing I have learned on my own health journey, which is sort of the corrective of the first…and it’s all about sustainability. For we sustain the positive patterns and habits that grow our awareness of Jesus’ alive and active presence within our very selves…by making realistic and achievable choices about what and when we eat…about what and when we consume. Counting calories, and measuring out portion sizes, and healthy snacking throughout the day…have not and will never work for me…but that’s just me. But intermittent fasting, which though still requires making healthy choices about what I consume, but is even more about when I eat and the number of times I eat each day, has worked for me. Which is only to say that determining a healthy and sustainable rhythm of feasting on God’s love that transforms our minds…that makes us ever more aware of Jesus living and breathing in our own lives…is the place that I invite you to give some thought today. No single diet, literal or spiritual, will work, will be sustainable for every single one of us.
For some it will, indeed, be a diet of weekly participation in Holy Communion. For others, beginning or ending the day with a simple word of prayer, or praying out loud with a spouse, or praying before meals…for others reading spiritual books…for others journaling…for others reading the bible once a day or even once a week…for others finally visiting and setting up regular time to volunteer at that non-profit you believe in…for others carving out regular time to make art or write…or of course some combination of all the above. But, whatever it may be…make no mistake it will take intention and attention…but still creating a sustainable pattern of consuming…of eating…of feasting upon God’s own love, will increase our awareness of Jesus’ life dwelling in the center of our own…in our gut. And, new good and Godly patterns and habits do emerge…we become what we receive…we are what we eat.
And, then, not just us, but all those we are blessed to live with and among, become more healthy…more holy. When Jesus is acknowledged and felt in us, we begin to break the patterns of this death-dealing world, as we then invite others to feast on God’s own love that dwells in us. We become…our selves, souls, and bodies become, if you will, a table set with bread and wine in abundance…new sources, for so many others, of the food and drink of new, eternal and unending life. Amen.