Gifts of God, Pentecost 14 (B) – August 26, 2018

Proper 16

Episcopal Sermon


[RCL]: 1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11], 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84 or 84:1-6; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

If you ever have the chance to visit the Holy Land, you will walk in the footsteps of Jesus and learn about the complicated world in which he lived. You’ll visit the Garden of Gethsemane, the Upper Room, and about fifteen sites claiming to be Lazarus’ tomb. You’ll also likely visit Cana, the place where Jesus is said to have turned containers of water into wine for a wedding feast. At the gift shop, you may even try some “Cana Wedding Wine,” but it is not recommended.

While sampling the “Cana Wedding Wine,” one tourist asked the theologian guiding their tour, “Is this wine from the time of Jesus?”

To everyone’s surprise, the guide answered, “Yes, in fact, this wine is from the time of Jesus Christ because now is the time of Jesus Christ. He is not dead, he is risen.”

It is one thing to hear these words repeated in the midst of a Eucharistic prayer or during an opening acclamation; it is quite another to hear these words in ordinary conversation, and it is something else entirely to think about our lives through our practice of consuming bread and wine during Holy Communion, but that is precisely what the Eucharist is all about.

In the 1940s, a young black woman invited her boyfriend to join her one Sunday at her Episcopal church, and he was hesitant. He was also black and knew that his girlfriend’s congregation was mostly white. This can be an uncomfortable dynamic in the 21st Century—seventy years ago it could have been downright dangerous.

When it came time for Holy Communion, the woman’s boyfriend noticed that everyone drank from the same chalice; people who were not allowed to share the same drinking fountains in public were using the same cup to drink the sacramental wine. Nervously, he followed her to the rail and watched as she took bread. The priest lowered the chalice to her lips and said, “The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.”

Stunned, the young man experienced the boundary-breaking, bad policy-defying, reconciling mission of the Living God. He drank the wine and was forever changed. This couple married, and one of their children grew to become the current Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry.

In light of this story of how his parents experienced the Episcopal Church, Curry says, “Communion is a sacrament of unity that overcomes even the deepest estrangements between human beings.” Deep estrangement exists today, whether based on political beliefs, socio-economic statuses, or the different ways we experience the world because of our race, creed, or sexual orientation. We need a way of bridging those gaps, because until we can find unity among ourselves, we will struggle to find union with God.

Jesus says in Saint John’s account that, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” This is, understandably, a difficult teaching for those crowds that followed Jesus. In fact, we are told that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” For many today—especially those that have little familiarity with sharing in the bread and wine of Holy Communion—this continues to be a difficult teaching, one that may often be depicted as archaic or even disturbing and absurd. Any reasonable person can understand this perspective; however, there is always more to Jesus than meets the eye.

Loye Bradley Ashton, in his contribution to the Feasting on the Word series, suggests that the problem here is the lack of a proper understanding of the Incarnation—that we seem to confuse “the body as flesh without spirit with the body as incarnate, flesh with spirit.” Because of this confusion, we tend to consume “the world without appreciating how God has infused creation with the Spirit; thus we use and discard it in crude and materialist ways,” which includes the way we treat our environment and the way we treat each other.

“The ethical imperative at the heart of John’s incarnational theology of the Eucharist is clear,” Ashton writes. “Will we treat the world around us as incarnational or simply as material?”

This is a hard teaching, indeed, as it requires an incredibly thoughtful approach to the world—one that calls us beyond the comfort of routines that satisfy our immediate needs and even our own sense of fulfillment. If we treat the world—the whole world—as incarnational, we will need to include people we despise. Not only will we need to include them, we will need to put our faith in them and in the Living God’s agency in their lives.

By sharing in the Eucharist, we share in an experience of the Living God that breaks down walls. By living Eucharistically, we seek to recognize the Living God in others, and by doing so, we are able to embrace one another as the gifts. Do you remember the exuberance you felt as a child on Christmas morning (maybe you still feel this way) as you opened presents and joyfully or frantically tried to play with all of them at once? What if we treated everything and everyone with that kind of exuberance—as if everything and everyone were a gift?

By living a Eucharistic life, we might find ways to break down the walls that divide us and see those from different backgrounds and those with different beliefs as gifts from the God who created them. This is the way Jesus lived: as if everyone possessed something special that was worth getting to know and worth connecting with on a truly human level.

This is the way Jesus lived, and this is the way we can live. This is the way God lives among us today. Now is the time of Jesus Christ. He is not dead, he is risen. Alleluia!

The Rev’d Curtis Farr serves with the good people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fairfield, Connecticut, as their rector. In his spare time, he chases his dog Eleanor Roosevelt (Elly) around the house as she attempts to make off with one of his Batman comics.

Download the sermon for Pentecost 14 (B).

The Word Made Flesh – Proper 16(B) – 2015

(RCL) 1 Kings 8: (1, 6, 10-11) 22-30, 41-43 and Psalm 84 (Track 2: Joshua 24:1-20, 14-18 and Psalm 34: 15-29); Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

Once we accept the miracle of the Incarnation, all other miracles, all other signs, together with the words of life eternal, find their proper place in creation. If we accept that, the greatest of all marvels, nothing else is marvelous indeed. We abide in the marvel of the Word that became flesh, the Bread of life. Thanks be to God.

To read the sermon, click here.

Download the sermon, for Proper 16, Year B.

Written by Katerina Whitley who is the author of Light to the Darkness: Lessons and Carols, Public and Private (Morehouse, 2008), and a teacher at Appalachian State University.

 

The bread of life, 13 Pentecost, Proper 16 (B) – Aug. 26, 2012

1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43 and Psalm 84 (or Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 and Psalm 34:15-22); Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

Is there anything quite as wonderful as the smell of freshly baked bread? The ingredients are so simple – yeast, flour, eggs, butter, water, salt – but the smell when it comes out of the oven is heavenly. And what could be better than eating fresh hot bread? Slice open a loaf that is still hot from the oven, spread on some real honest-to-goodness butter, try to let the butter melt for as long as you can resist, and then take a bite. Divine! Heavenly! Out of this world!

And yet it is so simple, so earthly, really, the extraordinary taste of fresh bread that provides the ordinary staple in the diet of so many people. Eating bread can be, at the same time, a profoundly earthly and profoundly heavenly experience. Jerre Mangione and Ben Morreale in their book, “La Storia: Five Centuries of the Italian American Experience,” see something of this paradox in the importance of bread for southern Italians, the folks that made up about ninety percent of the Italians who emigrated to America. They say, “For most southern Italians their sturdy bread was the mainstay. When cutting a new loaf, one would make the sign of the cross on its level side and kiss the knife before cutting into it. One would never set the bread on its rounded side: bread was respected. A good man was said to be as good as ‘a piece of bread.’”

Not “good as gold,” as we say in this country. But as good as bread!

We see something of this bread-like virtue in our word “companion,” which literally means someone with whom bread is shared: com, meaning “with,” and pani, meaning “bread.” A com-panion is someone with whom we break bread. And when we break bread with someone, we are in communion with them. Thomas Foster in his book, “How to Read Literature Like a Professor,” says this about breaking bread: “Here’s the thing to remember about communion of all kinds: in the real world, breaking bread together is an act of sharing and peace, since if you’re breaking bread you’re not breaking heads.” Foster continues, “We’re quite particular about those with whom we break bread. We may not, for instance, accept a dinner invitation from someone we don’t care for. The act of taking food into our bodies is so personal that we really only want to do it with people we’re very comfortable with. … Generally, eating with another is a way of saying, ‘I’m with you, I like you, we form a community together.’ And that is a form of communion.”

In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus says he is the bread of heaven. He says, “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.”

In this passage, Jesus contrasts his life-giving bread with the Old Testament story of manna in the wilderness. In that story, the Israelites had been freed from their bondage in Egypt and were on their way to the Promised Land. But before they entered the Promised Land, they had to wander for many years in the desert. During this time they were sustained by God’s gift of manna, a flakey, bread-like substance that God provided for them daily. But as Jesus points out, while manna was food for the journey, it wasn’t the same thing as the bread of life, because even though they ate it, they died. What Jesus is saying is that through him, in him, God is providing a different type of food, for a different type of journey. In Christ, God is providing the bread of life. This is food for our journey out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life. Jesus is food for our journey into the true promised land of eternal life with God.

It’s an extraordinary promise. Jesus is not only our companion on the way, the one with whom we break bread, but he is also the bread itself, the bread that came down from heaven to give us eternal life. No doubt Jesus is our companion. He is our brother, our teacher, our friend. But in our gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus is saying that he is all this and more. He is the one who has come to give us life and give it abundantly. In him was life and the life was the light of all people. He is the bread of life.

When we gather together for the Holy Eucharist, we catch a glimpse of the heavenly life that Jesus promises us. The Eucharist is that sacrament whereby we get a foretaste of that heavenly banquet when all things will be put to rights, when all hurts will be mended, when all tears will be wiped away, when all divisions will be repaired, when God will be all in all. This is why we call it Holy Communion. It is a holy union with God and with all of creation in relationship to God. And one of the things that distinguishes this breaking of bread from so many other meals is that everyone is welcome. The high and mighty and the lowly and humble; friends and enemies; relatives and strangers. All of God’s children are welcome at God’s table. All are companions, all are people we break bread with, because Christ himself is the bread that has been broken and the blood that has been poured out for the life and salvation of the whole world.

In one of our communion prayers we say, “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.” We share the bread of life so that we may be strengthened and renewed to go forth into the word with a message of life and love. In small and large ways, sharing in the bread of life, sharing in Christ’s love, transforms us and our world.

Stephanie Paulsell in her book, “Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice,” tells a story about the transformative power of Holy Communion. Diana Ventura was in seminary where she was learning to be an ordained minister. She was an exceptionally good student: smart, compassionate and funny. But before she began her year of supervised ministry in a parish setting, she became very anxious. Ventura had been born with cerebral palsy, which caused her to jerk a bit when she walked and to drag one leg, and she was terribly afraid that she would spill the cup on the floor or, even worse, on someone she was serving. But the time came for her to serve and she gave it a try and things went well. No spills. She made it through her duty. Then, Paulsell writes:

“One spring Sunday, Diana served again as cupbearer and walked from person to person kneeling at the rail at the front of her church, offering them a drink. ‘The blood of Christ,’ she said to each one, ‘the cup of salvation.’ And as she raised the cup to each person’s lips, taking the utmost care not to fall, she saw her own reflection in the shiny silver chalice. Over and over again, she saw the reflection of her body in the cup. This is my broken body, she thought, serving this church. This is my body teaching people what we do with brokenness in the church. Here in this cup is new life, and here is my body, expressing the truth of what this new life means!”

Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. … This is the bread that came down from heaven … the one who eats this bread will live forever.” In the bread of life, our souls are blessed and nourished. In the bread of life, nothing is lost, not even our brokenness. In the bread of life, we are raised to eternal life. The bread of life is the bread from heaven.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano is the associate rector of St. Anne’s Parish in Annapolis, Maryland.

We are walking on holy ground, 12 Pentecost, Proper 16 (B) – 2009

August 23, 2009

(RCL) 1 Kings 8: (1, 6, 10-11) 22-30, 41-43 and Psalm 84 (Track 2: Joshua 24:1-20, 14-18 and Psalm 34: 15-29); Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

During Pentecost of Year B of the Lectionary, we have been studying the Gospel of Mark. However, for the past four Sundays we have digressed in order to delve into the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. Today, on the fifth Sunday of trying to absorb the signs and words of Jesus, we conclude this remarkable study on the meaning of Bread, at once corporeal, spiritual, and metaphorical.

There are few words in the English language that are as heavy with meaning and metaphor as the word “bread.” A poor woman in Greece comes to mind. She had had a very hard life both during the war years and immediately afterward. At a time when there were no washing machines, she was trying to survive by washing other people’s clothes. This woman would not allow even a stale piece of bread to be casually discarded; she had such reverence for it that she would kiss it before letting go of it. Somewhere inside her, even though she could not understand the difficult ecclesiastical Greek of the Eucharist, she acted in a manner of a priest with consecrated bread. For her, bread meant both survival and holiness.

Today, reading this gospel passage makes the reverence of a humble, illiterate woman understandable even to those who have studied theology and have delved into the intricacies of language. We are walking on holy ground as we hear Jesus saying, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.” And later, “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died.”

The disciples murmur among themselves, “This is a hard saying, difficult to take.” Like so many of Jesus’ words, these were offensive to those who adhered to tradition in their religious practices and understanding. Jesus knows it: “Does this offend you?” he asks them.

Archbishop William Temple in his superb study, Readings in Saint John’s Gospel, makes it quite clear that eating the bread means receiving the power of self-giving and self-sacrifice, while drinking the blood means receiving the life that is triumphant over death. He says that both elements are essential for the full reality of the sacrament to be effected:

“It is not the momentary eating but the permanent abiding that is of primary importance. … The sacrament is normally necessary; but it is the communion alone that is vital.”

And this communion is found in abiding in the Son as the Son abides in the Father. What comes through in this magnificent sixth chapter of John is the sense of abiding, a word that denotes continuity and communion – a kind of security in the Spirit, an assurance that we will not be cast out into the void.

Those of Jesus’ followers who were attracted to him because of his popularity and his healing miracles find these sayings hard to take. So on that day, many left the community of Jesus. They were not alone: many who carry the name of Christ today are offended by the miracle of the Incarnation.

It is even in vogue today for people to claim to be “spiritual” without having any church affiliation or even any religious conviction. We hear it in all walks of life: “Oh, I am spiritual, but not religious.” Archbishop Temple calls this “a vague religiosity which has no definite and critical moments, no fixed religious practice, no cutting edge.”

Jesus was not confrontational when many of his followers, finding his sayings hard to take, left him. Jesus didn’t stop them; he let them go. Throughout his ministry, he let those who were offended go. Unlike many of us, he used no PR, no gimmicks, and, above all, no magic to hold on to his followers. He allows us our freedom in the same poignant manner he used with his closest friends – the Twelve.

One can imagine the sadness in his eyes, the wistfulness in his voice as he asks them: “Do you also wish to go away?” And Peter, being truly spiritual – inspired by the Holy Spirit – answers for all of the disciples, “Lord, to whom can we go?”

After seeing the Light, how can any of us go to the Dark? After tasting living water, how can we drink what is rancid? After knowing the goodness of Life, how can we willingly choose death? After knowing you, Lord, to whom can we possibly go? As Peter said to Jesus, “You have the words of life eternal.”

Peter, together with the other followers of Jesus who stayed to the end, would feed on these eternal words as we are asked to do, Sunday after Sunday, when we receive “the Bread of Life, the Cup of Salvation.”

Again and again in Saint John’s gospel, the crucial key to understanding is the miracle of the Incarnation. If indeed the Word became flesh, “if that occurred, nothing else is marvelous,” William Temple reminds us.

Once we accept the miracle of the Incarnation, all other miracles, all other signs, together with the words of life eternal, find their proper place in creation. If we accept that, the greatest of all marvels, nothing else is marvelous indeed. We abide in the marvel of the Word that became flesh, the Bread of life.

Thanks be to God.

 

— Katerina Whitley is the author of Light to the Darkness: Lessons and Carols, Public and Private (Morehouse, 2008), and she teaches at Appalachian State University.

We all need to find our gift of servant ministry, Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 16 (B) – August 27, 2006

(RCL) Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:15-22; Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69 

Remember the old gospel hymn, “When the roll is called up yonder”? Today’s scripture challenges Christians’ exercise of God’s gift to servant ministry and how we will respond to God when we are called to share in God’s “glory.”

Throughout our lessons Joshua, David, Paul, and Jesus lay challenges of servant ministry before us. It is not done to chastise us, but to help us see and feel the call that is made to each of us to use our skills, our intellect, and our compassion to serve others.

In Joshua, after gathering the tribes of Israel together, he said to their leaders, “Revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and faithfulness.” In the Psalm, David reminds his people, “The Lord ransoms the life of his servants and none will be punished who trust in him.” In Ephesians, Paul challenges his listeners to “Put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.”

The remarkable thing in the Gospel of John is that the disciples have questioned Jesus about his teaching on the Eucharist and what is required of those who follow him. “Many turned back and no longer went about with Him.” John called those who walked away from Jesus “disciples.” Obviously they were not just folks who showed up at Christmas and Easter. These folks were committed to Jesus – at least for a while, until things got a little tough and demanding beyond their understanding. Like many vestries, we are honored to be a member until we have some heart-wrenching decision to make such as a choice between paying our apportionment or keeping the thrift shop open.

The disciples became anxious about Jesus. They might have said, “We like him, but can we do what he is asking?”

Jesus called the twelve together and asked them, point blank: “Do you also wish to go away?”

Had we been Jesus, how would we have asked that question? Would we have asked it sadly, disappointed by what had just happened? Think of the tough decisions that we have had to make in business, at home, in social clubs, or at church. How have we reacted when questioned about decisions that affect others? We are uncomfortable. We may feel like getting up and leaving the room; it is a normal reaction. But it is gracious to stay and listen. We need to be part of the solution – only then can we be at peace.

Jesus knew what he was asking of his disciples. He knew what the cost would be: his life! He knew that what he was saying offended them. They were unwilling to really hear what he was saying.

Peter even later asked him, if this is so. “Lord, to whom can we go?” Blessed Peter just could not grasp that Jesus would be with him in spirit as powerfully as he was in flesh. Are not we – as active as we may be in the life of the church – often like this? We are fearful of being called “Jesus freaks” if we tell someone about the love Jesus has for them.

Jesus, admittedly, had an advantage over modern Christians. He knew “who were the ones that did not believe, and who would betray him.” We don’t have that luxury. What we do have is the element of surprise the Holy Spirit works through us as we share the agape love of Jesus with others.

Sometimes, no matter how strong our convictions are, or how great our desire to journey with Jesus may be, we may want to walk away, to find a spot in the wilderness away from the pressures around us. Peter doesn’t just come out and tell Jesus that is what he wants to do, but Peter is honest about his uncertainty. He realizes that no one besides Jesus is in the business of eternal life. Either the disciples of Jesus must keep this faith experience alive or it will die away for the simple reason there is no other alternative.

Paul, preaching to the Ephesians, makes reference to the use of the shield as the “shield of faith” and that should be carried by those who go out to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul adds that faith is always the complete trust in Christ.

As adults we need the child-like faith the 5-year-old girl had when her grandmother visited her. Sarah had been in Sunday school earlier that week, and she said, “Nana, I know Jesus. Do you? Because Jesus is a friend of mine, I let Jimmy play with my teddy bear today. What did you do?”

What a joy it will be when we all get to heaven and find our name on the roll of servant ministry. How has God empowered us, as individuals and a congregation, to reach out and serve God by serving others in Jesus name?

William Barclay, in his commentary, points out that the sign of the Christian is when he or she is eager to be on their way to tell the story of Jesus: his death, his resurrection and his ascension. This is the commitment of being a servant for the Lord. Barclay emphasizes that for servant ministry there are three conditions people must have in their prayer life:

Prayer must be constant. It is from daily prayer that we find daily strength and holy guidance.

Prayer must be intense. No beating around the bush. When you have a clear message from the Lord about a particular concern, be bold about your prayer life. Be the prayer warrior he has called you to be.

Prayer must be unselfish. We must learn to pray as much for others as for ourselves. We must seek a community of believers to pray with us and for us. Together we will know the wisdom of the Holy Spirit as it uses us to be a vehicle of servant ministry.

There is no one more colorful in the Anglican Communion than Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Many years ago, he preached in St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa. The wall was lined with soldiers carrying guns, waiting for the opportunity to close the service down. The cathedral was filled to capacity. Bishop Tutu spoke of the evils of apartheid. Near the end of his sermon, he pointed a finger at the soldiers and said, “You may be powerful, but you are not God! You have already lost!” Before the soldiers could react, Bishop Tutu, with that wonderful smile that God has given him, came out from behind the pulpit and began to bounce up and down the aisle with glee. As the congregation moved into the aisle, dancing with him, he spoke to the soldiers again, “Since you have already lost, we invite you to join the winning side,” The soldiers melted away. They broke rank. Surely some found Jesus that day and danced with unspeakable joy. Bishop Tutu was inviting those soldiers to cross over and be servants of the Lord.

We all need to find our gift of servant ministry. Join the winning side! Tell others in our work place, where we live, or play, or go to school that we want them to join the winning side. Tell them about our friend, Jesus.

 

— Harry Denman is a layman and parishioner at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. A former member of Executive Council and Chair of Episcopal Life, he is retired and writes devotionals on the Collects and other Christian materials for his blog, LaymanAtWork