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Sunday, August 19, 2018

But wait!

A Sermon Preached for Pentecost XIII - Proper 12 B
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Georgetown, DE
August 19, 2018

Note: This is my last sermon on John's 6th gospel. I am fresh out of bread, and what little I have si stale. I have discovered I really only have one sermon about bread . Or, Bread. Which is to say, Jesus. I've just tried to say it in different ways over the past four Sundays in three different congregations. There is a small mercy in that no one congregation had to hear this. Well, except you.

Let us pray: + “The love of G-d is broader than the measure of the mind and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.” AMEN.

What in the world is Jesus talking about?
Eat my flesh? Drink my blood? 

I've known many people over the years who have been put off or deeply disturbed and confused by this passage.

Sounds like human sacrifice, doesn’t it?

Well, right. That’s exactly what Jesus is talking about. Well, at least in part. 

But, wait! 

Remember, Jesus is talking to ancient Jews whose culture and religion revolved around animal sacrifice as part of worshipping G-d, to appease whatever anger the God of their understanding may have because G-d once sent them off to slavery in Egypt for hundreds of years and, G-d knows, you don't what that to happen ever again. 

I know. I don't get it either. But, living a fear-based faith has never made any sense to me.

But, wait! 

To understand this, as with anything from scripture, you have to understand the context.

We have to go back to the beginning of the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel. And yes, you may have noticed that we’ve been stuck on this sixth chapter for the last four weeks – and we won’t leave it until the first Sunday in September,.

So buckle up, kids. We’re still talking about bread.

It all began with the Feeding of the Five Thousand – a story we heard at the end of July, just four weeks ago in the first chapter of John’s gospel. Remember?

As the rest of the chapter unfolds, it seems that the crowd has misinterpreted the sign of feeding the huge group with only a little food. 

All of the conversation, since the miracle, has been about bread -- explaining it, defining it, identifying it. 

Turns out, it really has not been about bread at all. It has been about Jesus and who he is. 

The point missed in the feeding sign was who Jesus was. The sign was to point to Jesus. 

Instead they got full of food and went back to how things were before. They went back to the literal level and missed the depth and riches that were right in front of them. 

By the end of the conversation, Jesus is telling them that they ate the wrong thing. They ate bread and fish and they should be eating flesh and blood. 

You cannot hear that on a literal level. It is too deep for that.

It’s not about literally eating the flesh and blood of Jesus. 

And it’s not simply about a symbolic meal.  It’s more than that. Much more.

It’s about coming to know Jesus in his fullness and taking him into your heart and your mind and your soul so that you may be able to live out his teachings.

It's not about changing bread and wine. It's about changing your heart and mind.

So, the question each one of us has to ask ourselves is this: Who is Jesus for YOU? 

We have to get out from under the literal words and beyond the symbols and metaphors and LIVE them.

What does it look like to LIVE who Jesus is for us?  I think this story might help:

The Rev. Bill Coffin, former pastor at Riverside Church in NY City, used to tell of an event that occurred one year during a Christmas pageant. It was Christmas Eve and the pews were packed. 

The pageant was underway and had come to the point at which the innkeeper was to turn to Mary and Joseph with the resounding line, “There’s no room at the inn!”

Never mind that no figure of the innkeeper actually appears in scripture. We’ve all imagined him delivering the message of no room, of in-hospitality to the baby Jesus and his parents. 

And it seemed the perfect part for Tim, an earnest youth of the congregation who had Downs Syndrome.

Only one line to remember: “There’s no room at the inn!” He had practiced it again and again with his parents and with the pageant director. 

He seemed to have mastered it. So there he stood at the front of the sanctuary, bathrobe costume firmly belted over his broad stomach, as Mary and Joseph made their way down the center aisle. 

They approached him, said their lines as rehearsed, and waited for his reply.

Tim’s parents, the pageant director and the whole congregation almost leaned forward as if willing him to remember his line. “There’s no room at the inn!” Tim boomed out, just as rehearsed.

But then, as Mary and Joseph turned on cue to travel further, Tim suddenly yelled, “But wait!”

They turned back, startled, and looked at him in surprise.

“You can stay at my house!” he called.

Well, Tim had effectively preached the sermon at Riverside Church that Christmas Eve. As Rev. Bill Coffin, the pastor, tells the story, he strode into the pulpit, said, “Amen,” and sat down.

It was, he said, the best sermon he never preached.

Little Tim knew his line. He knew every word of his line. He knew his part in the story of the Nativity of Jesus. 

But, he really lived the Gospel when he stepped out from his part and took the words to his heart. 

He took in the words to his head and when he lived them out, he knew in his heart that something was wrong. And, because Jesus clearly lives in this young boy's heart, he knew what to do - beyond the expectations of his assigned role.

It’s the best example I know of how it is to KNOW Jesus and how it is to LIVE Jesus.

Get out from under the literal words and beyond the metaphors and live them.
Stop living a fear-based faith or whatever part you think you have been given to play and step into the fullness of a life of Christ.

Sometimes, that means stripping away the words of Jesus to get to Jesus, the Word of God. 

You can check out Matthew 25 for more detailed instructions. 

Even so, you don't have to get it exactly right. You don't have to be perfect. You don't have to be super smart. You don't have to be very young or very old. 

You just have to be who you are and be willing to, as our baptismal prayer bids, to "grow into the full stature of Christ."

I began this sermon with a verse from the hymn “There’s a Wideness in G-d’s Mercy”. I’d like to repeat them so you can hear them:
 "The love of G-d is broader than the measure of the mind and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind."
Please don't be put off or disturbed or confused by this talk of eating flesh and drinking blood. 

Remember that these words were originally spoken to ancient Israeli and Palestinian people.

Remember that it's not just about changing bread and wine. It's about changing your heart and mind. And, when we do that, we can change this old world of ours. 

Try to remember this: When all else fails, hear little Tim say, "But wait!" 

Take Jesus into your heart and try to be loving. Try to be kind. 

Because that is who Jesus reveals G-d to be - loving and kind.

And, in the end, love and kindness will change the world.


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