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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Beyond Language and Metaphors

A Sermon for Pentecost XII - Proper 14 B - RCL
The Episcopal Chapel of St. George, Harbeson, DE
August 12, 2018

I want to start by telling you something that Gospel Geeks and Language Nerds and English Majors – past and present – will find interesting. The rest of you may not, but I want you to listen anyway because if you don’t, you’ll miss the point of this sermon and that would be a terrible waste of time on a hot Sunday morning in August, don’t you think?

So, the thing of it is that we are in the third week of five Sundays in a row where the lectionary is stuck on the 6th Chapter of John’s Gospel. And, one more time, we hear about Bread. Bread! Five Sundays of BREAD.

So, I confess that it was out of a mixture of boredom and curiosity that I looked up the word “Bread” in the Oxford English Dictionary. I am so blessed and privileged to have this resource in my possession – a gift from a dear friend who wanted to spend his inheritance wisely and decided to invest some in my. Thank you, Jesus! (And, thank you, Scott!)

Turns out, the word we’ve been using all this time for bread is not the ‘original’ word for ‘bread’. That word was, from the Teutonic, ‘hlaf’ or loaf. 

The word ‘bread’ actually comes from the word ‘brod’ meaning ‘piece’, ‘bit’, or ‘fragment’. In fact, the word we use for ‘bread’ to mean a loaf of bread didn’t come into full use until around 1200.

Okay, are you still with me? No one’s fallen asleep, yet?

So, hold that thought for just a minute and listen again to Jesus say, “I am the bread of life.” Makes you sort of wonder what he really meant and what got lost in the translation, right? I know I heard “I am the bread come down from heaven” a little differently after I learned of the origins of the word ‘bread’.

So do you suppose Jesus is saying that he’s a ‘piece’ of God? A ‘bit’ or a ‘fragment’ of God come down from heaven? So that one might partake of that morsel from heaven and not die?

Is Jesus using this metaphor of ‘a bit of the loaf’ to explain his identity to the people?

Okay, hold that thought because we’re going in a little deeper now. I don’t want to lose any of you because this will all come together, I promise. So, here we go from English to take a sharp right turn into Greek and Hebrew.

“I am . . .” says Jesus. “I am” is a faithful translation of the Greek ego eimi. But the Greek, standing in an earlier Hebrew tradition, is much more than a simple self-identification.

When Jesus says “I am,” even before he follows the phrase with a predicate nominative (did you catch that, English majors?), there are gasps from certain members of his audience.

That’s because this is how God described God’s identity to Moses. Remember? “I am Who Am”. Jesus seems to be saying, “Remember that bread that Moses fed you in the wilderness so you would not die? I’m that bread – that piece of the loaf – come down from heaven. Eat of THIS bread and you not die. You will have life eternal.”

John’s gospel gives us lots of metaphors for Jesus besides bread. Seven in total. 

Jesus is the Light of the World.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd and The Gate for the sheep.

He’s the Resurrection and The Life,

The Way and The Truth

Jesus is The True Vine.

So, I said all of that to ask this. It’s the same question Jesus asked his disciples. He asked,

“Who do the people say I am?” 

And, the disciples said, “Oh, John the Baptist! Or, Elijah! Or, one of the prophets!”

 Jesus asked them: “Who do YOU say I am?”

Who do YOU say that Jesus is? From these seven metaphors, who is Jesus for you? Beyond what may or may not be lost in translation, beyond the seven metaphor, who is Jesus for YOU?

I want to suggest that as you are considering an answer that question, you might want to consider some things about yourself. Because, the thing of it is that, in order to really know yourself in all of your fullness, you need to know yourself in relationship to others.

As far as I can figure out, this is at the center of the reason we come to church. God knows, this is the same reason why some people choose NOT to come to church. Because of who we know ourselves to be in the midst of scallywags and scoundrels and sinners.

Truth of it is, some people bring out the worst in us.

Truth is, those very same people bring out the best in us.

And, we bring out the best and the worst in others. 

Either way, we learn the best and the worst about ourselves in relationship with others.

Let me explain that by telling a story:

My father was an alcoholic. When he drank he was mean. And, violent.  Verbally and physically.

There was so much I didn’t know or, frankly, cared to understand about my father. 

Because, you see, if I knew and understood my father, I would know and understand myself better.

For many years, it was just easier to let my father carry all of that perceived ugliness for me. So I wouldn’t have to.

I remember one day – I was probably around 15 years old or so – and wanting to be out with my friends but my mother had “chores” for us to do. We were cleaning out a room so that my grandmother could stay with us for a while as she recovered from having had a mild stroke.

I was grumpy and steaming with a smoldering resentment, as only a 15 year old who’d rather be anywhere else can be, when I came upon an old photo album. I sat down and opened the album and saw a picture of my father. It was the one the army takes after you finish basic training. He was young and trim and wore a uniform and had a full head of hair under his army hat.

“OhMuhGAWD,” I exclaimed.

“What?” asked my mother.

“This picture of Daddy!” I sputtered. “Look at him! He’s a STONE COLD FOX!”

She looked over my shoulder and smiled wistfully, “Yes. Yes, he was.”

“I don’t EVER remember that Daddy looked like THAT,” I asserted.

She flipped a few pages forward. “Do you remember that?”

There I was. Age 7 or 8. All chubby cheeks, gangly legs and long, disheveled hair, in my PJs, sitting next to my father as he held me close. I looked a bit peaked but he looked, well, strong and young and so very handsome. He was clearly protecting me.

“You had just recovered from the chicken pox, remember? We were so worried about you.”

And then, it all came back in a rush. Now, chicken pox is one of those “childhood diseases” that are spoken of like a rite of passage but, you know, chicken pox was a real misery. 

I was hit with a very bad case – pox in my nose, in my throat, in my eyes, in my ears. I was one massive ITCH. To make matters worse, I ran a fever, which racked my body with shivers.

Mother put cold compresses on me and covered me, head to toe, with calamine lotion. Nothing seemed to work. The doctor said to take some of the baby’s teething medicine – which was paregoric, which, by the way is tincture of opium (OMG!!) – and give me a few drops of it. But, that just made me groggy while I still felt hot and shivery and itchy and miserable.

My father was working the night shift at the factory. It was early morning and he had just come home from work. I hadn’t really slept all night. I think I was whimpering in misery. 

I couldn’t see very well but I sensed my father’s presence. I knew my father’s smell. I could hear his voice but it sounded funny - like he had something in his throat. And, I don’t think I had ever heard him whisper, but he was whispering.

“Oh God,” he was saying. “Oh, Elizabeth. Oh, my baby girl. I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”

The next thing I knew, my mother was getting me undressed and my father wrapped me in a large towel and carried me to the bathtub where he gently lowered me into a warm baking soda bath. 

He slowly and carefully cradled me in his arms as he washed off all the old calamine lotion, gently compressing the pox on my arms and legs, my face and eyes and ears. I could hear him sniffling and saying soothing things.

The thought crossed my mind that he was crying but well, that just couldn’t be. Not MY father.

The next thing I knew I was in bed, in new PJs, with new clean bed linen. My father was dotting my pox with a new layer of calamine lotion as he sang softly one of his favorite songs, 

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are grey. You’ll never know, dear. How much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

That was my father’s favorite song. It was probably the only song he knew all the words. I only remember him singing it when he was drunk. Or, when one of the babies was teething.

But now, he was stone cold sober. And, he was singing it to me. 

For me.  Just for me. To comfort and soothe me. And, it did.

I opened my eyes and though my vision was still blurry, I could see that he was crying. And, I swear, those tears were the most healing thing I have ever experienced in my life.

After he left, I think I slept the rest of the day, which was the first time I had slept in days. Later, for supper, my father brought me some popsicles, which felt so good. I remember that I ate them down slowly, savoring the coolness, as he read me a short story. Then I fell back asleep.

As I remembered that chicken pox story, I sat in that room, at age 15, weeping. I wept because I believed the story I chose to believe about my father because it was easier than believing what that story told me about myself. 

I believed it because it was easier for me to believe that my father was ill tempered and I was not. That I could recognize his violence because I have the same potential in me. And, that I could recognize his tender compassion because I have the same potential in me, as well. 

It's mine to choose what qualities I want to cultivate in myself.

So, I come to you this morning with these two questions:  Who do you say YOU are? Beyond what your family told you about who you are, beyond the narrative you like to tell about yourself, beyond the story you want others to believe about you, who are you, really?

Begin to explore that question as you move beyond the language about Jesus, beyond the bits and fragments of the words about The Word of God, beyond the seven metaphors for Jesus, and ask Who is Jesus for YOU?

What pieces of the Sacred Loaf are you choosing to consume? How does that change you by telling you more about who you were created to be?

Jesus is more than an historical figure – don’t let anyone tell you that that’s all He is. He’s more than the metaphors John gives us. He’s even more than the stories four of His disciples told us about him. 

He is a bit, a fragment of the Sacred Loaf that is God.

And, because he is, in our baptism in him, so we are, too. 

As annoying and aggravating as we can be to each other, we reveal something about ourselves to others and, they, in turn, reveal something about ourselves to us. 

Like it or not.

This is why we can listen to the story of David and his son Absolom and, even  though we can recognize that David was a scallaywag and a scoundrel, we also can hear are are deeply touched by his lament for his son.

We are about to partake in the bread come down from heaven. 

We believe that Jesus is present to us in the breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine. 

We are about to eat a bit of The Bread, a true piece of the true Loaf of God.

In the mystery of the Eucharistic feast, Jesus shows us more deeply who HE is, so that we may become more of who We are.

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”        


Lindy said...

I needed that.
Thank you.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Always happy to return the favor, Lindy