Transforming Bread for All People

August 23, 2015

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA

The 13th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 16 
1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

(Gospel text is provided at the bottom of this post)

I always know the school year has started when I see clusters of parents walking their young children to school. I grew up in a time when parents rarely walked their kids to school. We’d jump on our bikes and head off on our own. Even so, there were rules we were expected to follow to keep us safe along the way.

3-29-2008_006-VG on FenceI remember one time, my younger sister, Virginia, was later than usual getting home from school, and Mom was getting worried. When my sister finally made it home, amid the relief, my mom asked her why it took so long. It turns out that when Virginia came to a busy intersection on her way home, she remembered the rule my parents taught her – to not cross the street until there weren’t any cars. While that’s a good rule, it doesn’t always work so well. If memory serves, the next lesson Virginia learned was about how to use the Walk/Don’t Walk signs at busy intersections!

Rules are important. For children, they can help set boundaries and keep them safe. Yet, as we grow older, we begin to use our own judgment; perhaps test the boundaries of the rules. And, as our context changes, like standing at a busy intersection, some rules need to be replaced with a new way forward.

John’s gospel shows us Jesus as the one who provides this new way; he’s all about transformation from what WAS to what’s NEXT!

We’re told this in the opening chapter of John’s gospel:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth… The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  (Jn 1:14, 17)

The laws that Moses delivered were good and useful. They provided structure and guidance for the Hebrew people; setting boundaries for their lives that kept them safe. These rules created a kind-of Parent/Child relationship with God. What’s more, adhering to these rules determined who was IN and who was OUT. If you followed the rules, you were among the chosen people of God, otherwise, you weren’t.

But Jesus came to change all that. Jesus came to open-up the boundaries and to bring God’s message of love to all people! Jesus didn’t come to set up more rules. Instead, he tried to simply the rules, synthesizing the 10 commandments down to two: Love God, Love Everyone else.

Now to be clear, following specific rules makes life much easier – but Jesus wasn’t in the business of making life easier. Jesus was in the business of bringing us to maturity in faith; to a more mature relationship with God – and to transform our understanding of God.

Not simply a God that makes and enforces rules; not merely a God for a sub-set of people in this world; but THE God that created all people; THE God that loves ALL people; that wants to be in relationship with ALL people and wants us to be in relationship with one another.

So, as we look at today’s gospel lesson, Jesus continues his discourse about being the Bread of Life and that whoever eats this bread will have eternal life.

Tissot_The_Gathering_of_the_Manna_(color)

“Tissot The Gathering of the Manna” by James Tissot

Jesus compares this new bread to the manna in the desert. You remember about the manna? After being delivered from their oppressors in Egypt, the Israelites were led through the desert by Moses toward the Promised Land. They started complaining – even saying they wished God would’ve left them in Egypt because at least they had bread to eat. And in response to their whining it says:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day…(Ex. 16:4a)

By sending manna, God provided for the needs of the Israelites. Even after they tested God by taking more than they were supposed to, God continued to love them and provide their daily bread.

But with Jesus, the daily bread of the law is being transformed by grace and truth! This grace and truth is open to all people, with bread enough for ALL people, not just the chosen few.

The question is, can those who hear this message handle the change? Can they let go of the hard-and-fast rules that have governed their lives? The rules that made them separate and special; that made God theirs and theirs alone! Can they embrace this new way, through Jesus, of radical inclusiveness? That all would be welcome; and all are invited to feast on this life-giving bread that is Jesus?

Now, we aren’t surprised when we hear that the Pharisees and Jews push back on this new message. But, in today’s gospel we see that even many of Jesus’ own disciples are troubled. It says:

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you?… It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (Jn 6:60-61, 63)

And then we’re told that many of his disciples turned back and no longer went around with him. It doesn’t say just one or two… it says that many left him. Even for Jesus, that had to be tough.

But that didn’t stop Jesus. He came to say what needed to be said.

Jesus came to do what he was purposed to do – to transform this world. Jesus was bringing about a new thing! This Spirit and Life, this Grace and Truth, will surpass the flesh; will outlast the law. But, it’s a hard word to hear, especially when we like the comfort of the list of rules; when we like things neat and orderly and predictable.

51796e8a651f46bcbc2ec2801daa40702Jonathan Daniels was that kind of person. He was a young, white, Episcopal seminarian from New Hampshire. He had been a rule-follower most of his life. Before seminary, he attended the Virginia Military Institute because he liked structure and order. That’s also what drew him to the Episcopal Church as a teenager. I was one among over a thousand who went Hayneville, Alabama last Saturday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death and the death of other Alabama martyrs.

Some 50 years ago, after hearing Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for clergy to come to Selma, Alabama in support of the voting rights march, Jonathan’s first instinct was not to go. He planned to simply make a donation toward the cause. But one evening during Evensong at the seminary, he heard the Magnificat with new ears. The song of Mary as she accepted the work God had given her to do – to endure the burden of being shamed by others in order to bring God’s son into the world. The song speaks of the lowly being lifted up and the powerful being brought down.

11898678_10206156644587835_4605500335658795623_nJonathan heard these words and through them allowed God to transform his life. He accepted the work given him by God. Work centered on building relationships with people that were different than him. Through these relationships, he discovered more fully that God had made these people in God’s image, too. They were, and are, just as important to God as everyone else. Sadly, Jonathan’s God-led work ended with a shotgun blast that ripped through his body as he pushed a 17 year old black girl, Ruby Sales, out of harm’s way.

As our Presiding Bishop-elect, Michael Curry preached at that service last Saturday, he pointed to Noah, Abraham, Sarah & Hagar, to Moses, and to Mary, and even to Jonathan, as he spoke of God using regular people to bring about God’s dream of a transformed world.

IMG_4825-cropBishop Curry also shared insights of French philosopher, scientist and Jesuit Priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, in which he said that the greatest discovery in the history of humankind was the discovery of fire – more precisely, our ability to harness and control fire. Doing this created the path to longer life, by our ability to cook food, to global migration, by heating spaces, and countless other eventualities, including launching satellites into space, making smart-phones possible! Hallelujah!

But de Chardin went a step further when he said that if humankind could ever harness the power of LOVE, it would be the 2nd time in history that humanity discovered FIRE.

It’s no surprise that fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit – the on-going revealer of God in the world. John’s gospel explains that Jesus couldn’t teach all there was to teach during his time here on earth, not because it wasn’t possible, but because the disciples couldn’t bear it. The response to his invitation to embrace him as the Bread of Life seems to support that.

So, the Holy Spirit continues to reveal who God is and how God is moving and transforming this world as our understanding of the world evolves. The Holy Spirit is the fire that moves us to action. The Holy Spirit speaks to us through the Bread and Wine that is Jesus, and speaks to all who will listen.

IMG_5363-compressedThis became all the more evident that Saturday afternoon. You see, right after Bishop Curry’s sermon ended, I noticed a young girl, probably 10 or 12 years old sitting on the sidewalk in the middle of the square. There were people all around her, but she wasn’t concerned with that. Instead, she had a message in her heart that she wanted to capture. Using small twigs on the cement sidewalk, she very methodically broke each small twig to make it just the right size. She placed each twig carefully beside the other and they began to spell words. I stood with anticipation to see what this message would be. When she finished, she had written: The Fire that is Love

In this hectic world we sometimes lose sight of this fire that is love. We fall back on hard-and-fast rules of old – the rules that keep us standing paralyzed at the busy intersection of the status quo instead of blazing new trails for Jesus.

Jesus challenges us to break past the rules of the manna and embrace the daily bread HE gives – even when it’s a hard message to hear. To open up our hearts to one another and to let God’s love flow to all people.

So, when your flame – the fire that is love inside of you – starts to dwindle, come to this table and eat and drink of Jesus. Let the spirit and life of Jesus fill you; let it fan the flame of transforming love. This controlled burn will keep us moving forward toward God’s dream for the world – a transformed world of love for all people.

IMG_5364-compressed

Photo by Jody – The Fire that is Love

IMG_5319

Photo by Jody – images of Alabama Martyrs

IMG_5369

Photo by Jody – taken on the way home from Jonathan Daniels Pilgrimage

Gospel Text:

Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”. (John 6:56-69)

I invite your thoughts and insights.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: