August 16, 2015: Living Bread and More

The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Have you had your fill of bread yet? Today is the fourth of five consecutive Sundays John’s Jesus serves up bread – living bread – and today “fleshy bread.” What’s John’s point – bread, bread and more bread, and more? Eating and drinking are crucial metaphors for living with Jesus at several levels. That’s why we eat and drink so often – for physical cravings that point us to spiritual food we need. John is saying, “Pay attention. This is important.”

Local people following Jesus know Jesus, they think. That’s a problem for his followers even today – thinking we know more than we do. Some Christians think they know Jesus well enough to speak thoughts they wished he’d said – but hasn’t. Too many Christians adore him from a respectable distance. Others think he is a wise teacher, but not wise enough to trust and follow. It’s usually around the “love one another, pray for enemies,” thing that gets us. Until Jesus gets inside us, all we know is his name. And then today, “I am bread from heaven. Eat this bread, you’ll live forever. And the bread I give for the life of the world is my flesh.” You can understand why some figured Christianity was a cult – and outsiders were unsure what they’d be served at church dinners.

Then Jesus adds drinking to eating – drinking his blood, eating his flesh. Once in the solemn Eucharistic Prayer, as the priest intoned, “Drink this all of you: This is my blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for you,” a little girl yells: “OH, yuk.”[1]

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me.” That’s not the gentlest invitation. But it is true. Think about it – what we eat and drink do become part of us – whether physical, metaphorical or spiritual. One of the Anglican Church fathers likened it to eating an apple. We take a bite, chew, swallow, it enters the stomach, which somehow then gets circulated to our cells – and apple is floating around in us. It’s part of us. We choose what we take in. So pay attention.

A person holds onto self-doubts, painful past memories, an inability to forgive and let go, a lack of a sense of gratitude. We become what we take in and absorb, and we become gloomy and sad. A woman had a heart valve replacement. As I was leaving her post-op room, she tells me, “By the way, they put in a pig valve.” I said, “That’s good to know. If I drive by your house and see you’re in the front yard rooting around for corn, I’ll understand.” Eat a pound of fried bacon a day – you’re going to absorb some problems. We start to become what we take in, and what we eat. By the way, I do enjoy all kinds of nuts. Is that a surprise?

Jesus gives a nod to daily bread, too. We need that to survive while we’re here on earth. That’s why he served up fish and bread to a mass of hungry people. God is the source of all life and hungers. Then Jesus talks on and on about bread, living bread. That bread is Jesus – his flesh and his blood. We’re to do more than believe in him, or thank him. We are to take his full presence and life into ours. We become what we continually consume. Think about that when you receive bread and wine. Jesus abides in us, and thus you in him, transforming you to live his life. Faith is more than beliefs, knowledge or obedience to attain a greater reward. Faith takes the next step beyond belief. Faith actualized stirs us to change direction – live in that countercultural way of Jesus – loving and forgiving those we shouldn’t. Showing kindness and mercy – praying for enemies – sharing living bread.

In the early 70’s, some students roamed the college campus I attended on the prowl for non-Christians. They’d pounce when they’d find one and threaten, “You must believe four spiritual laws or you’ll go to hell – pray this prayer, sign this card – and boom – you’re in. Think about this: where would you go if you died tonight?” When I returned to my college town as a pastor, some students told me they’d been “assaulted and saved. But isn’t there more?” Signing the card – saying the prayer didn’t seem enough. They said their new Christian friends had no time for their questions, talking about faith, doubts, the mysteries of God, or how to live God’s life in the world. Thank goodness they continued to hunger. Jesus invites us to believe in him – not laws or propositions. Faith begins in trusting Jesus to be God’s living bread, not a signed card and a prayer. Jesus literally gives his flesh and blood – his whole life – to show us how much we are loved and cared for. How does his gift make a difference in you? One way – we bear the fruit of his life and people will notice and see.

Some of you may remember the days when you’d return to your pew after receiving the sacrament, kneel – and bow your head. You’d meditate on what just happened, the mystery in which you have just participated – that Jesus has come to you in bread and in wine. Wow – to remember, participate – we literally and mystically abide in Jesus, and he in us. And for a moment all the noise, minutia and failure of church fades away. What shines brighter than the noonday sun is God’s love for you, in you, and through you. You’re transformed again by that love. You do abide in Jesus, and Jesus in you – in the person beside you, behind you, in everyone. In the stuff of this life – the stuff of our lives – God once again meets us – and gets into us. His life grows in us – and on us sometimes, too. We become what we take in. “We, though many throughout the earth, we are one body in this one Lord.” And God’s still creating, and says again, “It is very, very good.”

[1] From the Rev. Dr. David Lose, Blog for Pentecost 12B, “Meeting the Carnal God,” adapted story from the Rev. Martin Coppenhaver.


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