You are What you Eat – Proper 15(B) – 2015

 

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 and Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

We are what we eat; therefore, we must mind carefully what we eat and digest spiritually, for the health of our souls. The world offers us a lot of unhealthy diets – diets of materialism and greed and selfishness. Feeding on the word of God and partaking of the body and blood of Christ ensures life-sustaining nutrition for the spirit – food for the soul. By faith, eating the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we can enable the process by which Christ penetrates our beings and nourishes our lives. In this sacrament, God’s very life comes to us through the elements of bread and wine so that we can have union with God. We are re-called to the truth that this union with God through Jesus, the Christ, is the connecting link for us with all that is good and true and holy.

To read the sermon, click here.

Download the sermon for Proper 15B.

Written by the Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of John E. Hines: Granite on Fire (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife, Toni, in his native home, Bastrop, Texas.

Elders offer us wisdom and grace, 12 Pentecost, Proper 15 (B) – Aug. 19, 2012

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 and Psalm 111 (or Proverbs 9:1-6 and Psalm 34:9-14); Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Two old friends recently met at a school reunion. They had not seen each other for 35 years. During that time they had each married, raised children, worked to support their families and, they discovered, been active members of their churches. As they walked into dinner, one looked at the other and said, “We’ve aged well, but our hair has gotten gray, and we’re sagging in places. What have we got to say for ourselves?” His friend smiled and said, “Wisdom!”

A local Rotary club was having a hard time getting a major fundraiser off the ground. People were distracted and nobody was volunteering for the jobs that needed to be done. The organizers were both discouraged when they met with their club president, an older woman. As they talked over lunch, their president had many suggestions for how to move forward, and all of them involved giving precise tasks to people and asking them if they would do a certain job, rather than a general asking for volunteers. At the next meeting all the tasks were assigned and the activity was a success.

These two stories illustrate something we all know: maturity and experience are valuable traits in our culture. They are in our churches as well.

From the earliest times of our ancestral faith, wisdom has always been upheld as a part of spiritual growth and development. As we grow in knowledge and love of God, we should expect to see changes in ourselves. Our tent should become bigger, not smaller. Our generosity of spirit should broaden and deepen. And we should see elders among us as gifts of wisdom and grace, especially in times of difficulty.

A church was having a conflict over worship times. There were those who wanted one service, and those who preferred an early service without music. As the discussion went on and became more divisive, one member said, “But we’ve never had an early service.” An elder stood up and replied, “Oh yes we have. I can remember …” and her explanation and tone changed the whole focus of the discussion. Elders are often sources of wisdom, and they carry the corporate history of a congregation.

But there is another side to all of this talk of wisdom: it comes in today’s gospel reading from John. Jesus says, “I am the living bread. … Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” It seems that wisdom alone does not grant us participation in the kingdom. Wisdom is rather a doorway to spiritual living that includes the Eucharist as part of our regular practice. The Eucharist feeds us with the living bread that sustains us, helps us grow in Christ, and brings us peace and maturity of life, at whatever age we may be.

As we watch Jesus dealing with the people who come to him, some pleading, some confronting, others curious, we see him over and over again answering their questions with simplicity, kindness and great power. He cannot be trapped by the powers of this world, except by his own choice; he cannot be bought or tempted by the devil; and he is not compromised.

The prayer after Holy Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer says that when we are baptized we enter into new life and are anointed with gifts: “an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love [God], and the gift of joy and wonder in all [God’s] works.” These gifts are ones that result in spiritual wisdom and maturity. These are gifts that help us embrace the world as God’s creation rather than rejecting it as merely sinful and degraded. And that is spiritual maturity.

Right now there is a lot of posturing and shouting going on as we approach the November elections. Some want to join in the name calling and finger pointing; and there is plenty of reason to do so. Some Christians have always been drawn into this fray, choosing to publicly support a candidate or a cause, but we know Jesus did not do this. He saw all temporal power as limited in its scope, subject to the whims and wills of the people who put others in power, and unable to address the issues of peace and justice for many. We need to remember that, and while we hold our leaders accountable in a democracy, we also look to Jesus for leadership. At our recent church convention the person giving the noon address reminded us that the question we need to ask in not “What would Jesus do?” but “What did Jesus do?”

Our Christian wisdom should direct us to act in terms of our Baptismal Covenant, seeking and serving Christ in all persons. Our spiritual maturity should energize us to work to see the Christ in all persons. Our spiritual wisdom should help us know that does not mean we have to give others what they want, but what they need. Our combined maturity and wisdom should lead us to remember our own need for Sabbath, the rest that restores and renews us.

Finally, the living bread that sustains us should always be our quest: Jesus, whose prayer, mind and deeds show us what to do, Jesus whose flesh and blood instill new life within us, Jesus who lives in us that we might live forever. As the collect for today has us pray, “Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work and to follow in the blessed steps of his most holy life.”

 

— Ben Helmer is the vicar at St. James’ Episcopal Church in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. He and his wife live in nearby Holiday Island. 

Jesus leaves himself with us and for us, 11 Pentecost, Proper 15 (B) – 2009

August 16, 2009

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 and Psalm 111 (or Proverbs 9:1-6 and Psalm 34:9-14); Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Sometimes you have to wonder about after-church snacks, especially celebrations. Eating congratulatory cake doesn’t make for a good pre-lunch appetizer, does it? Some parents oppose having cookies available for their little ones and insist on fruit or other more nutritious snacks. What’s the hospitality committee to do?

Such minor controversy plays on the wider discussion about what we humans put into our stomachs. By now we are all familiar with the catchy and telling phrase “You are what you eat.” The teachings are legion. A child who fails to receive proper nutrition might become sick or even die. Eating food high in cholesterol can produce heart disease. An excess of sugar can lead to diabetes. And a person eating a proper, healthy diet grows and prospers. Clearly, what we eat is important.

That’s a central concept for us today because our gospel reading is all about eating. In it, we experience Jesus getting pretty graphic with his imagery. He said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life. … Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

Jesus could well have said, “You are what you eat.” He could have said, “If you don’t eat that which is Christ, you have no life – no real life – no life that is of lasting and true value. If you do not eat of what I am, you will become malnourished and get sick and die, spiritually.”

This is not unfamiliar territory in a denomination that values the Holy Communion. It might be instructive, however, to remember that the gospel reading we are considering comes from John and his version does not contain an account of the Last Supper, unlike Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul, who relate the story of Jesus taking bread and wine and telling his disciples to eat and drink of it to re-call him to presence.

In that portion of the passion story that John recounts, he gives us the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. And so, it is in the passage of today’s gospel – John’s version – that we don’t hear about Jesus acting out the sacrament but we hear instead of Jesus teaching about its meaning. Jesus helps us understand what we know as an outward sign of a profound spiritual truth. Bread and wine, through the power and spirit of God, become for us what Jesus really is. And if we are faithful and committed, we can become what we eat.

In regard to the Holy Communion as we experience it in the twenty-first century, what do we know and how much do we know about this eating that Jesus gives us to do? What do we understand about it? How much do we have to know to get it right? How old do we have to be to know enough?

Some parents and clergy puzzle over when the right time is to bring children to eat the food that Jesus bids us eat. This is based on the question of not cheapening the sacrament by feeding Jesus food to someone who doesn’t know what it is. So, what is the proper age? When is the time of maturity, the moment when it can all make sense?

For generations, the time was set at confirmation. This would mean that individuals were well prepared and old enough to claim the faith for themselves, ready to discern the meaning of eating Jesus’ holy meal. Others settled on a Roman Catholic-like “first communion” at age seven or eight. This view is based on the belief that children of such an age can understand enough about the Lord’s Supper for it to have true meaning for them. Where does one draw the line? When is old enough really old enough?

Perhaps a story from some years ago can be instructive. A priest abided by his bishop’s directive to give communion to children only after they reached first grade and after both they and their parents had received adequate instruction. Sunday after Sunday his 4-year-old son came to the alter rail and lifted his little hands for the bread, but the priest smiled and reached down to touch his head in blessing. One day, as the priest reached down for the blessing, the son pushed his hands in defiance, and after his father continued to withhold the bread, the child shook his fist at him in anger. The boy was gesturing what he could not fully articulate: “You are giving out bread to everyone but me, and something is wrong about that.”

The lesson taught by this preschooler is helpful. If he was able to understand being excluded, he was old enough to sense the importance of being included with those experiencing the feeding Jesus insisted will give spiritual heath. This gives credence to those who desire to open the table to all baptized, to anyone able to take the bread and wine that is the Body of Christ. It is the same theological perspective as baptizing infants. It’s not about us – not about what we initiate but what God does for us.

Feeding children the bread of heaven at an early age is like feeding them mother’s milk or pouring out parental love on them. Isn’t it powerful to think that children can grow up not having remembered a time when they did not eat at the table of the Lord? It would be like the reality of a good parent’s love – the absence of which they never experienced.

As to what they understand or when they are able to understand it, who knows? But one thing is for sure, if we communicate children early, whenever the time comes for them to understand, they will be receiving the same sacrament of love as the rest of us. And who’s to say that any of us understands everything about what Jesus meant when he said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.”

Don’t we all continue to grow in our understanding of what this means? Why shouldn’t we begin the learning at the earliest age? What’s wrong with mothers and fathers guiding children at the altar rail, helping them learn to eat and drink the food that can help them learn to recognize themselves as part of the very body of Christ? What’s wrong with parents whispering to children at the altar rail, “Remember, you are what you eat”?

We want children to eat of this special food because that is how they learn; that’s how all of us learn. That is how we grow, through this feeding. And since we become what we eat, we need this food always.

We are what we eat; therefore, we must mind carefully what we eat and digest spiritually, for the health of our souls. The world offers us a lot of unhealthy diets – diets of materialism and greed and selfishness. Feeding on the word of God and partaking of the body and blood of Christ ensures life-sustaining nutrition for the spirit – food for the soul. By faith, eating the bread and wine of Holy Communion, we can enable the process by which Christ penetrates our beings and nourishes our lives. In this sacrament, God’s very life comes to us through the elements of bread and wine so that we can have union with God. We are re-called to the truth that this union with God through Jesus, the Christ, is the connecting link for us with all that is good and true and holy.

The early church writer Irenaeus said it this way: “The word of God, Jesus Christ, on account of his great love for mankind, became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.”

Jesus leaves himself with us and for us, and eating what is the Christ nourishes us into what he is – because we are what we eat.

 

— The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of John E. Hines: Granite on Fire (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife, Toni, in his native home, Bastrop, Texas.

The hospitality of our God, Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 15 (B) – August 20, 2006

(RCL) 1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14 or Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 111 or 34:9-14; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58 

“Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars.” The King James language would have been familiar to Lawrence of Arabia when he titled his long and idiosyncratic memoirs of the Middle East “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” In Proverbs 9, the reference to the seven pillars is probably an allusion to the idea of the earth conceived as a platform resting upon pillars. But what matters here is, of course, the personification and character of Wisdom as God’s “daily delight” as it says in Proverbs 8, and as master-craftswoman in the work of Creation itself. The first few generations of Christians, attempting to describe Jesus theologically, leaned heavily on this Wisdom tradition and attributed to him many of her characteristics.

The thematic connection between the reading from Proverbs and the continuing discourse in John’s Gospel, where we are now in about the third week of the “Bread of Life” speech from John 6, lies in the offer of God’s life-giving hospitality. The passage from Proverbs 9 shows Wisdom preparing a banquet: animals are slaughtered, the wine is mixed with spices to increase the flavor, and she sends out her servants to invite the “simple people” to her house for the festivities. The purpose of the banquet is to invite and encourage the “simple” to embrace the path of following wisdom, and begin by learning insight. Later in the same chapter a contrast is drawn with the lesser figure of “Folly,” who neither makes preparations nor sends out invitations, but expects passers-by to drop in casually for bread and water. This non-banquet invites and encourages nobody on the road through insight to wisdom; the path of Folly merely goes down to Sheol, the abode of the dead.

We understand, then, that Wisdom’s hospitality invites us to life, not death, and so we move into the “Bread of Life” discourse in John 6. Eating and drinking at Wisdom’s feast is to live and walk in the way of insight. Eating the bread that Jesus is offering is accepting to participate fully in his own flesh and blood. We have to understand both passages metaphorically, though it is always worth pausing to contemplate the horror of Jesus’ words if they are taken literally: eating flesh and drinking blood is the language of cannibalism. Wisdom’s banquet can be taken as a symbol of God’s invitation to enjoy the abundant richness and sustenance of his presence in our lives as we commit ourselves to seeking him by study, prayer, and action.

But when Jesus talks of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, he is saying that unless we come to live by his death we shall not find that abundant richness and sustenance. We find our true and eternal life with God only as we take Jesus’ self-offering in dying as characteristic for our own living as his disciples. When he goes on to say in John 6 that “those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them,” Jesus is indicating that both life in this world, and life in what we call “the world to come” are intimately bound up with our relationship to his sacrificial death.

The “Bread of Life” discourse is, from end to end, resonant with overtones of both Passover and Eucharist. But the significance of the whole thing lies not only in the promised abundance of abiding, eternal life that God, through Jesus’ life and death, gives for us and to us, but also in the way we appropriate the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ life and death into our own ways of being and thus make our own lives available to others. That deeply inviting hospitality is seen in Lady Wisdom preparing her feast and setting her table. She will make herself available to those who seek insight into her ways and paths.

The picture awakens memories of Abraham’s hospitality, the feast laid out for his anonymous and angelic visitors in the desert “by the terebinths of Mamre,” when he and Sarah are promised the inheritance of life in the world to come of a son, Isaac.

Like John 6, the inviting and deeply hospitable banquet of Wisdom haunts us with its allusions to God’s gift of manna in the wilderness. The long journey through such inhospitable places is where the People of God came to terms with their departure from Egypt, their deliverance and the invitation to freedom; the inhospitable desert is where they learned new things about God’s hospitality, and looked forward to life in the world to come of the Promised Land.

May all our Eucharists show forth to ourselves and to others the hospitality of our God, and may our lives grow ever deeper into the self-offering of our Savior Jesus, so that we can offer ourselves and the fruits of our lives and labors to others in his name.

 

— The Rev. Angela V. Askew is priest-in-charge of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn, New York.