12 Pentecost, Proper 15B: Prov 9:1-6; Ps 34:9-14; Eph 5:15-20; Jn 6:51-58
Sunday, August 19, 2012 at St. John’s Episcopal Church
. . . whoever eats me will live because of me.
As much as we may want to dance around Jesus’s words this morning–eat the flesh of the Son of Man; drink his blood; those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life; my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink; whoever eats me will live because of me–as much as we want to explain them away as metaphor or Jesus just trying to get our attention, as much as we might want to say that Jesus didn’t really mean that–as much as we want to do that, if we do, we diminish who Jesus is and how he calls us to be in relationship with him.
And we cannot, we must not allow ourselves to take the easy way out. It is today, it is this Gospel, it is John’s recounting of Jesus’s words that tell us we have to take a stand.
Four weeks ago we read the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. It seemed a tame story at the time, a beautiful story–one we have known since our Sunday school days, a story shared by all four Gospels–a story we take comfort in. But what we didn’t realize at the time was how important a story it would be to what John has to say about Jesus.
Think back for a minute to the other side of Galilee, to a man talking to a large gathering of people, to a man who cares enough about their condition for the evening that he performs a miracle by feeding them with five loves and two fish. It seemed a simple story, but its implications are enormous. Jesus feeds not so that people will have food in their bellies but so that people will begin to believe–so that people will begin to live.
His feeding of the five thousand is a proof, a symbol of who he is and what he is about–he is the bread of life. He has been telling us that for three weeks now. And in our minds, we want to say, I get it! Enough already. Can’t we talk about something other than bread?
Those who heard Jesus by the Sea of Galilee may have felt a little bit the same way–Jesus keeps repeating himself in this discourse and the Jews begin to complain
because he said, I am the bread that came down from heaven. They are grumbling because they know his parents, they know his beginnings, his upbringing, they know where he has come from.
And now he is telling them they must eat him–I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.
The Jews are growing a little more wary and dispute–how can this man give us his flesh to eat? What’s interesting is not the dispute of the Jews, but Jesus’s response to those questioning his words.
Jesus seems to ignore this concern regarding his giving of his flesh for them to eat and instead starts pushing buttons–really egging them on.
The translation from Greek into English at this point is a little misleading. We read our NRSV translation as Jesus continuing to tell us to eat his flesh and drink his blood–as if our consumption of Jesus is something akin to a tea party with polite manners. The NRSV gives us the Emily Post version of how to eat Jesus–but that is not really what Jesus says.
In the Greek, Jesus has used a verb meaning to eat throughout his discourse so far, but in response to the disputes he hears at this point and maybe because he is a little tired of repeating himself and people not getting it, he switches verbs.
No longer is he telling them to politely eat him, now he is telling them to gnaw and chomp on him. There is nothing well-mannered about the way Jesus wants us to consume him, instead his wording is akin to the visceral consumption of wild animals,
Very truly, I tell you, unless you chomp and gnaw and rip and tear the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you.
This is not a tame Jesus and he is not calling tame Christians. To abide in Jesus and he in us, we must chomp and gnaw and rip and tear and struggle and cry and be frustrated and angry and sad and hurt and lonely and empty and then we can begin to be filled–with hope and courage and loyalty and righteousness and peace.
Jesus knows that life with him is not for wimps. Living a righteous life, living a Godly life is not easy. It will take a lot out of us, it will knock us to the ground over and over again. And our only response, our only hope is the bread that has come down from Heaven.
When we wrestle with life, when we gnaw and chomp and rip and tear, when we wrestle with Jesus opening ourselves to him, feeding on him, nourishing our lives with his body and blood we invite something greater than ourselves to enter the picture.
Later this morning/in a few moments we will stand as witnesses to this greater struggle. We will be asked to witness and support a new life in Christ. Do we really know what that means?
Do we truly understand what we are being asked to do when we respond we will do all in our power to support this new life in Christ?
It is in the Baptismal Covenant that we find the answer–not simply the Creed but in the five questions that follow, the questions we are asked as we reaffirm our own Baptismal Covenant. And it is in these five questions that we begin to discover how we are to chomp and gnaw and rip and tear the flesh of Christ.
We make a reaffirmation that we will continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers, i. e. we will maintain an active and participatory life in corporate worship.
We make a reaffirmation that we will persevere in resisting evil, that we will repent and return to the Lord whenever we fall into sin–no matter how difficult our choices, we will try to make the right choice not the easy one.
We reaffirm our intention to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, yes, that would be called EVANGELISM–I know it is scary to go out into the world and profess your faith but this is what it means to be a baptized Christian.
We reaffirm our desire and intention to seek and serve Christ in all persons and love our neighbors as ourselves–that means we no longer look at our fellow man as individuals but as Christ members, struggling together in this transitory life.
In order to love others as oneself, we must learn to love and accept who we are first–we must seek Christ in ourselves in order to seek Christ in others.
And finally, we reaffirm our intention to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. Practicing a life built upon these five questions is a difficult and pain-filled practice. It involves not living by your own desires but by what God desires for you.
By living into the sacraments of baptism and eucharist we begin to live a life of grace–that unearned, undeserved favor God directs towards us. By grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills. Through Baptism we are made members of Christ’s body, the Church, and we become inheritors of his kingdom. Through Holy Eucharist we participate in the continual remembrance of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection until his coming again.
This is big stuff. And Jesus wants to make sure we get it.
Its about flesh and blood, not simply eating and drinking. Its about tearing into a turkey leg at the state fair when you think no one is looking and you are ravenous. There is no silver cutlery or linen napkins when it comes to a life with Jesus. Its about all-out, no holds-barred, risk-taking, heart-thumping, sitting-in-the-front-seat-of-the-roller coaster- with-hands-in-the-air commitment.
And sometimes its terrifying; and a lot of times its exhilarating; and sometimes it takes you by surprise. Every so often you’ll lose your stomach. But at the end of the ride, when you pull back into the station and you get out of the cart on the other side with your hair all messed up and your clothes askew–you’ll wear a face-splitting grin and I’ll bet you’ll want to ride again.
Because thats what gnawing and chomping on Jesus’s flesh is all about. Its living a sacramental life. A life in which we are sustained by our present Christian hope and anticipate its future fulfillment. A life in which, as Barclay says, we are saints not because we never fall, but because every time we do fall, we get up and keep going