August 23, 2015 Gospel: John 6:56-69 1st Reading: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
2nd Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20
What did you have for breakfast this morning? If you're like me, you ate it absent-mindedly. I like to read the internet while I eat. Nick is likes to sleep in as long as he can most mornings. He often urges me to be quiet with my bowl and spoon. He calls it the “bell bowl” because of the sound the spoon makes against the bowl while I am absent-mindedly eating my breakfast.
Every once in a while I try to eat a meal with more intention. It makes even plain old oatmeal so much more interesting to let my imagination wander through the millions of years it took for oatmeal to develop, from the exploding stars in space that provided the elements and atoms that now come together in this food, to the formation of the earth and the gathering and organization of those elements and atoms, water gathering on earth, life appearing, plants appearing, natural selection determining which survive and which don't, separating the grasses from the broad leaf plants, becoming just attractive enough for animals to use them to get around, but not so attractive as to be completely destroyed. And God, the author of life, overseeing it all—this beautiful dance of creation leading up to this moment, when all these billions of years of creativity become a bite in my mouth, and not stopping there. This plant, a product of God's life-giving power, being gnawed upon by a jaw and teeth developed over hundreds of millions of years through many kinds of creatures ancestors of mine over the ages, then swallowed, and digested by still other creatures with their own DNA and purpose, the pieces of this plant absorbed into the bloodstream and traveling through the body to be used by the cells, transformed into energy to be used. Through the sacrifice of this grain of oatmeal I lift my arm, my body stays warm, I live and act. I am a part of something from the past billions of years up until now, and I go on, move forward into the future, part of a community of people and creatures that continue to work together to make sure that life flourishes and that all are empowered to be the amazing creatures God designs them to be.
But sometimes fear stops me from fully being the creature God designed me to be. I dwell a little too long on my powerlessness. I might be more easily persuaded to eat something that doesn't give me as much life as oatmeal. I might believe what the commercials tell me about Special K—how I'll be more attractive and thinner and better if I eat that food. Or maybe I'll just eat a donut because I don't consider my self worth food with actual vitamins and fiber and life in it, or to take the time to cook myself a bowl of oatmeal or I forget that eating right is important enough to risk waking my husband up with my bowl and spoon. Or maybe oatmeal just gets a little too difficult for me—I have to prepare it—cook it, chew it, digest it. Maybe I just don't have time for that anymore, so I give up.
But I always find that if I eat something other than oatmeal, it just isn't as satisfying. I get hungry before lunch time or I feel worse physically. There's a reason they call it the most important meal of the day.
Jesus Disciples were feeding on his word. They were hanging on his words. They were following him around, having several daily meals of Jesus and his words. Many of them recognized that before Jesus, they just hadn't been satisfied. They didn't feel connected. In fact they felt powerless and hopeless. Now they are chewing this food daily and Jesus was pointing out to them what it meant to eat this food. It meant always being connected to Israel's history of needing God, of not being self-sufficient, of not being able to do it themselves, and of finding God faithful and loving and saving and leading them forward into new life and new relationships, and of God expecting certain things of them and that was to honor the connectedness of life and the sacredness of life and the flourishing of life—the continuity of life of which we are all apart and which God placed responsibility upon us to see that it continues. This kind of connected life meant remembering the history of the people and of this sacred earth, the kind of story told in our Old Testament Reading for this morning. This history shows the sacredness of all creation. It meant remembering those who are not usually valued for the life they have in them, but only for what they can do for others. It meant honoring those whose life seems insignificant. For God, the measure of a life was not riches or power or strength or armor, but vulnerability and connectedness and love and acceptance of each one of their place within a larger connected web, a part of what has gone before, and humbly thankful of being connected for the flourishing of life into the future.
But some of Jesus' followers thought this was too difficult and they took off. They don't want to admit that they need nourishment of body and soul and that others grow and pick their food and get it to their table or that others are necessary for the nourishment of their inner life, their spiritual life. They don't want to think of the deeper story of their food or anything else that gives them life. Instead of admitting we are all connected, all people and all creation, it felt easier to them to throw in the towel and they didn't go around with Jesus anymore. So Jesus asked the other Disciples if they would also like to hit the road. But even though they don't really get what it means for Jesus to be the Holy One of God and to gnaw on his flesh and rely on God and to take up their cross and to follow him, they are willing to keep gnawing on his words and see where this leads, because so far they are beginning to feel connected, feeling challenged, using parts of their brains and lives that they had never expected to, and seeing a little bit of a different world, a better world.
Everywhere they went, they would have seen the Roman Army in their shields and belts and boots and breastplates, bringing fear to those they ruled, breaking down the connections between all forms of life, contributing to the destruction of all that God had created, rather than the flourishing of life of all creatures. But Jesus' way was an alternative that was working for them, leaving them satisfied. And they didn't just have their own satisfaction in mind. They saw those who were without anyone to care for them or love them or share life with them, like those who were sick or blind or helpless, Jesus was sharing life and power with them, and the disciples could participate in that, too. Now suddenly life is flourishing where it was a desert, where no one dared to go, now there was praise and worship, joy, hope, giving, sharing, connectedness.
I'm sure Jesus' Disciples were tempted to take up arms and put on armor because the destructive powers of that day were so strong and real and certainly they were afraid for their lives and wanted to protect themselves and their loved ones. And the destructive powers of our own day are also very real and we want to protect ourselves and our loved ones from them. We've got mental illness and depression, hunger, mass extinction, addiction, loneliness and isolation, distractions. Sometimes we just say, this is too difficult, I give up. We feel alone, we get tired, we can't see that we're making any difference. We've all given up on Jesus, failed Jesus, abandoned him. And still he abides. Jesus has the sticking power, the gumption, the thick skin. Maybe not today, but by the end, when it came to the cross, every last Disciple has answered his question, “Do you also wish to go away?” with the same answer--”Heck, yeah. I'm out of here. I don't want to die! I don't want to hurt. I don't want to be challenged this much. I am afraid. This is too hard.” We expect Jesus to reject us, but he has a thick skin. He doesn't take it personally. He just says, “No one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” It is up to God. And Jesus continues on his mission to bring life to all and connection to all.
Jesus takes off every defense, lays down any arms, his shield and boots and belt are taken from him, and he goes vulnerable and naked, beaten and mocked to the cross to die. The Romans knew he had power or they wouldn't have taken the trouble to try to destroy him. They would not have crucified him if they didn't think he was a threat to their kind of power over and a power to break connections. So there he hung, dying at their hands and as his flesh suffered and his blood was shed, he did not lose his power, because his power was in relationships and connections which went deeper even than his own breath or pulse. His power was in the truth that everything is connected, it was in his righteousness as he valued all that God gave life to, it was in his faith that helped him choose what was life-giving to all creatures, it was in his love. Jesus was there at the beginning of creation, the Word spoken over the waters that brought everything into existence. He knew the truth of the flourishing of life, that we need each other, and we are all related. He was part of those atoms exploding and elements forming. He saw the water bring forth life and the earth bring forth creatures
and plants of every kind. He was there as the oat plant changed over millions of years and as animals and humankind discovered the life it shared. And he came to be among us to show us the interconnectedness of everything, that we don't just rely on ourselves, but that we need each other, we are not alone. As it turned out, it was granted by the Father that we should all come to him and become children of God and eat him and eat with him, and be gnawed on.
The most important meal of the day for the flesh may be breakfast, but the most important meal of the day for our spirit is Jesus, which we physically eat each Sunday when we gather and which we constantly experience in our daily lives. We live because of him and we share life, love, and connectedness because of him. When we realize our place in this amazing creation, where we've come from and where we're going, the flourishing of life that makes our life possible, the sacrifice that Jesus makes when he takes a human place in this world, even plain old oatmeal becomes exciting, even ordinary bread and wine, even ordinary trees and grass. We come from a flourishing of life-giving power, and now we get to share that flourishing of life, make choices that contribute to the flourishing of life, and accept the challenging task of accepting Jesus' presence and power and life with us.
Truly, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” There is nowhere we can flee from God's presence, for God is with us, even when we turn our backs. In every star, in every animal, in every person, in every voice, we find God's words of eternal life, flourishing life, life valued and shared and risked and treasured until every fiber of our being says thanks and opens to the life and love God is offering.