Sermons

Weekly Sermons from St. John’s in the Wilderness

St. John’s Church in the Wilderness sermons are supplied weekly on Sunday evenings. Please stop by the church during our regular Sunday service to hear The Word in person! All are welcome.

Pentecost 16B                                                         September 12, 2021

Declaration of Grace / Absolution
No one knows all their faults
and none of us have brought sin under complete control.
But Christ is not ashamed to identify with us.
In his own suffering love, he offers us his life.

Short Preface
We give thanks for your anointed one, Jesus,
who suffered rejection as one of us,
and who now lights a fire of renewal that will never go out,
as he calls us to take up the cross
and follow him on the road to resurrection.

Commission & Benediction

Go out with your minds set on the things of God.
Take up your cross and follow Jesus.
See to it that the words of your mouths
and the thoughts of your hearts
are acceptable to God and enlightening to all.

And may God make the holy Word known to you;
May Christ Jesus lead you in the ways of sacrificial love;
and may the Holy Spirit set you ablaze with divine wisdom.

Pentecost 16B  September 12, 2021

We give thanks for your anointed one, Jesus, who now lights a fire of renewal, as he calls us to take up the cross and follow him on the road to resurrection. +

Here’s a take on the question Who is Jesus?

Have you ever been asked that? Or have you asked it of yourself? Or, ask is this nonsense?

It would seem, after 2,000 years of Christian history, we should not have to ask. We might add that it’s obvious – Jesus is our Lord and Savior, the son of God, the second person of the Trinity to whom we pledge our faith through the creed every Sunday.

Still, the question presents itself to us today: Who is Jesus? St. Mark takes us back to the very heart of the gospel. It was a critical time in Jesus’ relationship with his followers, a moment when the truth of what God was doing in and through Jesus came into focus. An encounter that clarifies once and for all the answer to the question Who is Jesus?

For each of us – and in every generation – an understanding of who Jesus is cuts to the core of our personal faith. What Peter and the others experienced, so long ago, is what we go through again and again.  As we decide if we’re willing to act on what we say.  To match what we believe with how we follow Jesus in the actions of our lives.

Today we find Jesus with his disciples in a decisive moment of teaching, and a gut-wrenching reality check. Near the end of his public ministry, Jesus sought an evaluation of its effectiveness. And he needed his closest allies to understand, really understand, what God was doing in and through him, to know where it all led, for the sake of the world. He asked the disciples what people were saying about him. Who was he in their eyes? Well he received several answers: John the Baptist? Elijah coming back to life again, or maybe a modern prophet? But that’s just the warm up. Jesus really wanted to know was who his disciples thought he was. Peter, always quick to act spoke boldly: You’re the Messiah.  Peter had come to understand him as the one who would fulfill God’s promises, the one whom God would send to save the world.

So, Jesus may have thought: So far so good.

But then again, he also knew they didn’t fully understand what he meant. Jesus knew that Peter and others thought about the meaning of Messiah according to the old order. They saw him as the one who would usher in God’s deliverance, as a mighty warrior. One capable of returning Israel to independence, to be free from Roman oppression.

The truly revolutionary nature of what Jesus was doing required him to continue to teach, and perhaps test them further – to tell them what it meant for him to be the Messiah, and what it would take for the world to be saved. He revealed that understanding which would result in the events of Holy Week – his trial and death, before rising again.

Proving that he really didn’t get it, and with his usual impetuousness, Peter responds by reprimanding Jesus. He didn’t like what he heard. It didn’t fit his view of how God would save the world. Imagine how much it must have troubled Jesus to be treated this way by his most trusted follower. So challenging was this rebuke, Jesus had to take the strongest of measures to make sure he was not misunderstood.

He called Peter Satan insisting Peter’s view was one of human thinking and not of God.

Jesus might have expected this. It’s probably why he told the disciples not to tell people about knowing him as the Messiah. They would have more trouble understanding than the twelve. Those who had to know that the gift of God in himthe love, grace and forgiveness poured out through him – would come at a price, to Jesus and his followers.

To follow Jesus, to walk the way of God, would require going against the most basic urges of human nature. It would require that they deny their own needs and desires. Speaking words they would only truly grasp after his death. They would have to take up crosses of their own, like the one he would bear on his way to die on the cross of Calvary.

It wouldn’t work to focus on saving one’s life – that would be the surest way to spiritually lose it. Every world value pale in comparison to what one can have in living a life with God.

That is the nature of who Jesus is.

That is what it means to know him as Savior. That is what it means to follow him in the way of God. That is how it becomes personal. That’s how we match what we say we believe with how we follow Jesus in the actions of our lives. To say that Jesus is our Savior is to follow him willingly into salvation.

Today’s gospel reminds us to deny ourselves – to lose self, to let go of the ego, – to put ourselves aside for the sake of greater values. It is giving up ourselves for others, in ways of sacrifice and unselfishness.

It’s giving up particular interests -or time – or possessions when God’s purposes require it. It is letting the will of God take the place of our own will. It is putting God, not ourselves, at the center of life. It is, in the words of the Baptismal Covenant, renouncing all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God.

The figurative cross we carry following Jesus represents the price we pay for Christianity. The cost of discipleship, the way we remain connected with God, answers the question Who is Jesus?

Though the answer – the response of losing our selfishness for the sake of God – is highly personal, because we don’t act upon it alone. We are lucky to be able to carry crosses in the company of a faithful band of followers of Jesus.

We stand beside one another as we meet Christ at the Eucharist.  where we relive Jesus’ sacrificial death.

Together we gain sustenance for the difficult challenge Jesus sets before us, as we eat and drink with him and of him.

We take what he is into our bodies, and into our spirits as we become renewed and empowered by the spiritual energy that is Christ.

So empowered, we go forth into our weekdays, and workdays, into the world as we act out the answer to the question:

Who is Jesus?

Amen+

Pentecost 15B  September 5, 2021

We give thanks for your son, Jesus Christ, through whom your love and healing mercy is now sowing in us the seeds of faith, that we might bring forth a rich harvest of good works. Amen+

Something different this week, as I want to begin with a reading that may capture the spirit we see and hear in the Syrophonecian woman’s response to Jesus.

I asked God if it was okay to be melodramatic
and she said yes
I asked her if it was okay to be short
and she said it sure is
I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to
Thanks God I said

And is it even okay if I don’t paragraph
my letters
Sweetcakes, God said
who knows where she picked that up
what I’m telling you is
Yes Yes Yes 
(Kaylin Haught, God Says Yes to Me, from The Palm of Your Hand, 1995).

The Syrophoenician woman tells Jesus, Guess, what? Jesus. God said yes to me. God said yes to me when God tore open the heavens. God said yes to me when God decided to show up in the wilderness rather than in the temple. God said yes to me when you came here instead of spending all your time in Jerusalem. It’s okay to be me, so get over yourself, Jesus.

There is really no story like this in the Bible. Well, the one exception might be Moses getting God to change God’s mind.

This morning’s Gospel lesson is the story of the Syrophoenician woman who claims the privileges of a dog to beg for Jesus to help in healing her daughter.  We see Jesus reaching across prejudice, across lines of insider and outsider, and healing the daughter. Before that, in last week’s lesson, we learn what really makes people unclean is what comes out of their mouths, not what goes in. Mark shows Jesus changing religious rules to include more people, opening communication where there was deafness and denial before, creating new possibilities for relationship.

But this woman does more than get Jesus to change his mind — she rocks Jesus’ world. She gets Jesus to admit for what and whom his ministry is all about. She gets Jesus to see God for what and who God truly is.

Jesus’ experience with the Syrophoenician mother is an unusual story because he experiences a critical shift in his awareness. Because she is a Gentile, he harshly refuses her request to heal her daughter. He actually insults her. Yet she persists and counters his insult. Then Jesus changes his mind. The woman tells the truth. And when the truth gets told? Worlds change. Her world changed. Same for Jesus. He tried to escape it, tried to escape notice (Mark 7:24). Because of her the rest of his ministry cannot be the same.

We may think we want our world to change, but do we really? Because when our world is about to change it takes preparation, getting our head around it, getting used to it. Life, obviously, will never be the same again. We  won’t be able to go back to the way it was, before.

We often remain where we are because we convince ourselves that it takes a lot less effort to live lives of falsehood than to muster the energy to move from lies to honesty.

Telling the truth takes risk. It takes courage, so much courage. So we don’t speak the truth. We stay silent. Bite our lips. Wait for the right moment, which, by the way, never, ever comes. We remain in made-up worlds, in illusions we’ve created that are carefully and strategically segmented from the truth we desperately want to live.

This is true in our personal lives and it is true in our pastoral lives. You do not need me to tell you just how true this this. Just stop and think about this for a minute. Please.

The lies you live. The truths you are afraid to tell.  Tell yourself the truth.

If Jesus needed to be told the truth of the Gospel, God knows (literally) we do as well.

Because that’s the first step in uttering the truth to others. And we need these days, needs to speak about the difficulty of truth-telling and the difficult truths.

All too often truth is side-lined, to make the church, or the call to proclaim the Gospel, look better than it is. Truth-telling is 100% and absolutely essential, in part because the church itself cannot live into the fullness of the Gospel, when exclusionary power structures exist, says the woman from Tyre.

When the truth is suppressed, when your truth is suppressed, it is right then and there that assumptions take over. It is critical to name the truth, to put it out on the table for all to deal with rather than to maintain our current practices of ignorance or pretension.

Because when you are accustomed to hiding the truth, overlooking it, it becomes almost impossible to discern truth from falsehood.

Truth-telling is hard to do and hard to hear — and will be resisted, sometimes only at first, sometimes perpetually, even exponentially. But that is when the truth has to be heard for the sake of empowering the other. This is one of the most powerful promises of this text.

She tells the truth so that others can then say, so that I can say:You have just told my story! Thank you!  The truth, in part, has to be told and has to be heard so that you know and others know that you are not alone.

The process of truth-telling is essential, regardless of any issue we use to divert the promises of God.

Those who are entrusted with the privilege of giving voice to God’s love, must be held accountable to that which the Gospel in its fullness proclaims.

When voices are sidelined, when presences are questioned, when presentations of the Gospel are called into question because the source is an outsider, like the woman from Tyre it is never, ever just about us, but also about God.

When our imagination for God’s hope is undermined by our lack of imagination, that is when God becomes less than God.

The Syrophoenician woman tells the truth about God and in doing so helps us imagine that truth for ourselves. +

Pentecost 15B     September 5, 2021

Declaration of Grace / Absolution
When we fail to keep even one point of God’s law,
we become accountable for all of it,
but God’s mercy triumphs over judgment,
setting us free and giving us a faith that is active for good.

Short Preface
We give thanks for your son, Jesus Christ,
through whom your love and healing mercy
reached beyond the bounds of our prejudice,
and who is now sowing in us the seeds of faith,
that we might bring forth a rich harvest of good works.

Commission & Benediction

Go now, and invest your lives in the works of faith.
Make a name for yourselves for generosity and compassion.
Fulfill God’s holy law
by putting love into action as eagerly for others
as you would for yourselves.

And may God be your defender and provider;
May Christ Jesus dispel all that disturbs or disables you;
and may the Holy Spirit make you rich in faith
and loving and merciful in action.

Dismissal

We go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
   In the name of Christ. Amen.

Pent 13 B    August 29, 2021

Declaration of Grace / Absolution
The Lord is steadfast in love
and hears the prayers of all who come seeking mercy.
God reaches out to us in Jesus Christ
forgiving our sins
and nourishing us for life without limit.

Short Preface
We give thanks for your Holy One, Jesus,
who nourishes us with his body and blood
and arms us with truth, righteousness and salvation
that we might stand firm against the corrupt spiritual powers
that would tear down all who seek you with integrity.

Commission & Benediction

Go out, and make known the mystery of the gospel.
Keep alert and pray at all times.
Draw strength from God’s power
and so stand firm against all that would corrupt you.

And may God arm you with truth and righteousness;
May Christ Jesus give you words of Spirit and life;
and may the Holy Spirit draw you near to God’s presence
   and bless you with honor and grace.

Pentecost 13B   August 29, 2021       John 6: 56-69

God, we give thanks for your Holy One, Jesus, who nourishes us with his body and blood that we might stand firm against corrupt spiritual powers that would tear down all who seek you with integrity. +

Many disciples, when they heard it, said, This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?   I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s easier to identify with the crowds who misunderstand

 and question Jesus, than with Jesus himself. This is one of those times. To understand what I mean, we have to recall just what Jesus has been saying throughout the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel: that Jesus, for instance, is the bread of life; that he provides the only food which truly nourishes; that he gives us his own self, his own flesh and blood, to sustain us on our journey; that we are actually to eat his flesh and blood in order to abide in him. These are, indeed, hard words, hard to hear, hard to understand, hard to believe.

No wonder, then, that many following Jesus now desert him. But we need to be careful, for it’s tempting to write off those who gave up on Jesus as people too stupid, lazy or unfaithful to believe. John calls these folks not simply the crowds as in earlier passages, but disciples. Those who now desert Jesus are disciples who had believed in Jesus, had followed him and had given up much to do so. Now after the waiting, watching, wondering and worrying, they have grown tired. They can no longer see what it was about Jesus that attracted them to him in the first place. So they leave…and who can blame them?

Seriously. Are we really all that different? I mean, which of us has not wondered whether we have believed in vain? During the dark of the night, perhaps, watching and praying by the bedside of a child or grandchild in the hospital, wondering why in the world he is so sick and whether he’ll ever recover.

Or in the early part of the morning, waking up alone and wondering why your spouse has left you and whether she’ll return. Or at noon time, standing in line at the unemployment office and worrying whether you’ll find another job. Or wondering why things have not turned out the way you hoped. At these times aren’t we tempted to conclude that the faith we once held was misplaced?  Perhaps we don’t renounce or desert God openly–we just don’t make the extra effort to get to church, reduce what we’ve been giving, are more reluctant to help others, or simply stop praying until we end up just like the disciples.

And so, we may conclude the picture St. John draws for us is not a pretty one. It’s probably a realistic portrait of disbelief, of disciples then and now for whom the life of faith has become too hard. But…but at the same time St. John’s picture is also one of belief, of courage, and of faith.

For as John writes, after many disciples drew back and no longer followed him, Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Will you also go away?’ [And] Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Where do Peter and others get their faith? Or put another way, what makes them different from all those who gave up on Jesus? Now in asking this question we must still be careful. As easy as it is to write off those disciples as stupid or blind unbelievers, it’s even easier to imagine Peter and the rest as faith giants.

As each of the four evangelists points out, this was simply not the case, for the disciples were also plagued by doubt and fear. They suffered at times from an over-abundance of pride, or a lack of courage, and they, too, eventually deserted Jesus–and at the very time he needed them the most.

If they aren’t smarter or more faithful or more courageous or, in short, any better than the rest of Jesus’ disciples-then or now-then what it is that sets them apart? One thing. Listen again to Peter: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Peter knew where to look. That’s it; that’s what makes him and the other eleven different–it’s not their brains or their ability or their status or even their faith: they simply know to look to Jesus and they keep their eyes fastened on him.

According to many Christians through the centuries, this is what makes church so important, so vital. In all these places and more, God continues to be both present and active, creating and sustaining the whole creation. And yet each of us knows just how difficult at times it can be to see God there.

When nature turns violent or governments fails, when family is a place of discord and the workplace one of division, when all the things we usually count on come up empty and we no longer know where to turn. Then we may hear the church calling us back to see God clearly at work for us through God’s mighty Word and sacraments of the church, offering us again the promise of forgiveness, acceptance, meaning, and life.

The 16th-century German monk-turned-reformer Martin Luther once said very much the same. Although [God] is present in all creatures, and I might find him in stone, in fire, in water, or even in a rope, for he certainly is there, yet [God] does not wish that I seek him there apart from the Word, and [thereby] cast myself into the fire or the water, or hang myself on the rope.

[God] is present everywhere but does not wish that you grope for him everywhere. Grope rather where the Word is, and there you will lay hold of [God] in the right way.

Grope where the Word is. What a vivid way to emphasize the importance of gathering the people of God around the Word of God. What a vivid way to lift-up the gift we receive in the promise that Jesus is, indeed, the bread of life. That Jesus offers his body and blood, his own life for ours, that Jesus has and offers us, as Peter declares, the words of eternal life.

Given the challenges we face, baptism and communion can seem like small, even paltry things. No wonder disciples then and now had a hard time believing.

Yet God has determined to be made most clearly known, through neither the grandeur of nature or the accomplishments of humans, but rather through what the Reformers called the weak word of the gospel that we might cling to God’s word in times of plenty or need, in times of celebration or sadness, in times of triumph or despair.

Come to hear and receive God’s life-giving word, Jesus. Come today and always to hear in Jesus the promise that you have infinite worth in God’s eyes, that your life has purpose and meaning, and that through you God intends to do great things in this world.

Come and receive the Word of eternal life, Jesus the Christ, that you might believe in him, and in believing have life in his name. Amen. +

Pent 13 B    August 22, 2021

Declaration of Grace / Absolution
The Lord is steadfast in love
and hears the prayers of all who come seeking mercy.
God reaches out to us in Jesus Christ
forgiving our sins
and nourishing us for life without limit.

Short Preface
We give thanks for your Holy One, Jesus,
who nourishes us with his body and blood
and arms us with truth, righteousness and salvation
that we might stand firm against the corrupt spiritual powers
that would tear down all who seek you with integrity.

Commission & Benediction

Go out, and make known the mystery of the gospel.
Keep alert and pray at all times.
Draw strength from God’s power
and so stand firm against all that would corrupt you.

And may God arm you with truth and righteousness;
May Christ Jesus give you words of Spirit and life;
and may the Holy Spirit draw you near to God’s presence
   and bless you with honor and grace.

Pentecost 13B   August 22, 2021       John 6: 56-69

God, we give thanks for your Holy One, Jesus, who nourishes us with his body and blood that we might stand firm against corrupt spiritual powers that would tear down all who seek you with integrity. +

Many disciples, when they heard it, said, This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?   I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s easier to identify with the crowds who misunderstand

 and question Jesus, than with Jesus himself. This is one of those times. To understand what I mean, we have to recall just what Jesus has been saying throughout the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel: that Jesus, for instance, is the bread of life; that he provides the only food which truly nourishes; that he gives us his own self, his own flesh and blood, to sustain us on our journey; that we are actually to eat his flesh and blood in order to abide in him. These are, indeed, hard words, hard to hear, hard to understand, hard to believe.

No wonder, then, that many following Jesus now desert him. But we need to be careful, for it’s tempting to write off those who gave up on Jesus as people too stupid, lazy or unfaithful to believe. John calls these folks not simply the crowds as in earlier passages, but disciples. Those who now desert Jesus are disciples who had believed in Jesus, had followed him and had given up much to do so. Now after the waiting, watching, wondering and worrying, they have grown tired. They can no longer see what it was about Jesus that attracted them to him in the first place. So they leave…and who can blame them?

Seriously. Are we really all that different? I mean, which of us has not wondered whether we have believed in vain? During the dark of the night, perhaps, watching and praying by the bedside of a child or grandchild in the hospital, wondering why in the world he is so sick and whether he’ll ever recover.

Or in the early part of the morning, waking up alone and wondering why your spouse has left you and whether she’ll return. Or at noon time, standing in line at the unemployment office and worrying whether you’ll find another job. Or wondering why things have not turned out the way you hoped. At these times aren’t we tempted to conclude that the faith we once held was misplaced?  Perhaps we don’t renounce or desert God openly–we just don’t make the extra effort to get to church, reduce what we’ve been giving, are more reluctant to help others, or simply stop praying until we end up just like the disciples.

And so, we may conclude the picture St. John draws for us is not a pretty one. It’s probably a realistic portrait of disbelief, of disciples then and now for whom the life of faith has become too hard. But…but at the same time St. John’s picture is also one of belief, of courage, and of faith.

For as John writes, after many disciples drew back and no longer followed him, Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Will you also go away?’ [And] Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Where do Peter and others get their faith? Or put another way, what makes them different from all those who gave up on Jesus? Now in asking this question we must still be careful. As easy as it is to write off those disciples as stupid or blind unbelievers, it’s even easier to imagine Peter and the rest as faith giants.

As each of the four evangelists points out, this was simply not the case, for the disciples were also plagued by doubt and fear. They suffered at times from an over-abundance of pride, or a lack of courage, and they, too, eventually deserted Jesus–and at the very time he needed them the most.

If they aren’t smarter or more faithful or more courageous or, in short, any better than the rest of Jesus’ disciples-then or now-then what it is that sets them apart? One thing. Listen again to Peter: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Peter knew where to look. That’s it; that’s what makes him and the other eleven different–it’s not their brains or their ability or their status or even their faith: they simply know to look to Jesus and they keep their eyes fastened on him.

According to many Christians through the centuries, this is what makes church so important, so vital. In all these places and more, God continues to be both present and active, creating and sustaining the whole creation. And yet each of us knows just how difficult at times it can be to see God there.

When nature turns violent or governments fails, when family is a place of discord and the workplace one of division, when all the things we usually count on come up empty and we no longer know where to turn. Then we may hear the church calling us back to see God clearly at work for us through God’s mighty Word and sacraments of the church, offering us again the promise of forgiveness, acceptance, meaning, and life.

The 16th-century German monk-turned-reformer Martin Luther once said very much the same. Although [God] is present in all creatures, and I might find him in stone, in fire, in water, or even in a rope, for he certainly is there, yet [God] does not wish that I seek him there apart from the Word, and [thereby] cast myself into the fire or the water, or hang myself on the rope.

[God] is present everywhere but does not wish that you grope for him everywhere. Grope rather where the Word is, and there you will lay hold of [God] in the right way.

Grope where the Word is. What a vivid way to emphasize the importance of gathering the people of God around the Word of God. What a vivid way to lift-up the gift we receive in the promise that Jesus is, indeed, the bread of life. That Jesus offers his body and blood, his own life for ours, that Jesus has and offers us, as Peter declares, the words of eternal life.

Given the challenges we face, baptism and communion can seem like small, even paltry things. No wonder disciples then and now had a hard time believing.

Yet God has determined to be made most clearly known, through neither the grandeur of nature or the accomplishments of humans, but rather through what the Reformers called the weak word of the gospel that we might cling to God’s word in times of plenty or need, in times of celebration or sadness, in times of triumph or despair.

Come to hear and receive God’s life-giving word, Jesus. Come today and always to hear in Jesus the promise that you have infinite worth in God’s eyes, that your life has purpose and meaning, and that through you God intends to do great things in this world.

Come and receive the Word of eternal life, Jesus the Christ, that you might believe in him, and in believing have life in his name. Amen. +

August 15, 2021

Pentecost B, 2021

Declaration of Grace / Absolution
The Lord is gracious and merciful
and comes to us to redeem us.
Christ Jesus offers himself to us, forgiving our sins
and promising to raise us to life on the last day.

Short Preface
We give thanks for your Son, Jesus,
who you raised to new life,
and who now offers himself to us
as the bread of heaven,
so that all who eat and drink of him
might live forever as one with him.

Commission & Benediction

Go out, nourished by the bread of heaven,
and take care to walk in the ways of wisdom.
Discern carefully between right and wrong.
Understand what the will of the Lord is.
Feed on Christ and be filled with the Spirit.

And may God give you a wise and discerning mind;
May Christ Jesus fill you with life in all its fullness;
and may the Holy Spirit overflow in you
……..in songs of joy and praise forever.

Pentecost 12B August 15, 2021 John 6:5-11

We give thanks for your Son, Jesus, who you raised to new life, and who now offers himself to us
as the bread of heaven, so that all who eat and drink of him might live forever as one with him. Amen+

Sometimes you have to wonder about after-church snacks, especially celebrations. Eating congratulatory cake doesn’t make for a good pre-lunch appetizer.  What’s the hospitality protocol – and don’t get me wrong but I appreciate the coffee hour treats. Such minor controversy plays on the wider discussion about what we put into our stomachs. By now we are all familiar with the catchy and telling phrase You are what you eat. The teachings are legion. A child who fails to receive proper nutrition might become sick or even die. Eating food high in cholesterol can produce heart disease. An excess of sugar can lead to diabetes. And a person eating a proper, healthy diet grows and prospers. Clearly, what we eat is important.

That’s a central concept for us today because our gospel reading is all about eating. In it, we experience Jesus getting pretty graphic with his imagery, when he says: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life… Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

Jesus could well have said: You are what you eat. If you don’t eat that which is Christ, you have no life – no real life – no life that is of lasting and true value. If you do not eat of what I am, you will become malnourished and get sick and die, spiritually. 

This is not unfamiliar territory in the Episcopal Church which values the Holy Communion. However, we must also

remember that the gospel reading we are considering comes from John.

John’s version does not contain an account of the Last Supper, unlike Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul, who each share the story of Jesus taking bread and wine, telling his disciples to eat and drink of it, to recall his presence.   In John’s passion narrative, we hear the story of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.

And so, in today’s gospel – John’s version – we don’t hear about Jesus acting out the sacrament. Instead, we hear Jesus teaching about its meaning. Jesus helps us understand what we know about the Eucharist, as an outward sign of a profound spiritual truth. Bread and wine, through the power and spirit of God, become for us what Jesus really is.

And if we are faithful and committed, we can become what we eat.

Regarding Holy Communion, just what do we know and how much do we know about this eating that Jesus gives us to do? What do we understand about it, as we experience it? How much do we have to know, to get it right? And some may wonder: How old do we have to be to know enough? Some parents and clergy puzzle over the right time is to bring children to eat the food that Jesus bids us eat. This is based on not cheapening the sacrament by feeding Jesus food to someone who doesn’t know what it is. So, what is the proper age? When is the time of maturity, and the moment when it can all make sense?

For generations confirmation was the time. This would mean that individuals were well prepared and old enough to claim the faith for themselves, ready to discern the meaning of eating Jesus’ holy meal.

Others settled on a Roman Catholic-like first communion at age 7 or 8. This view is based on the belief that children of such an age can understand enough about the Lord’s Supper for it to have true meaning for them.  But when is old enough, really old enough?

Perhaps this story can help. A priest abided by his bishop’s directive to give communion to children only after they reached first grade and after both they and their parents had received adequate instruction. Sunday after Sunday his 4-year-old son came to the alter rail and lifted his little hands for the bread, but the priest smiled and reached down to touch his head in blessing. One day, as the priest reached down for the blessing, the son pushed his hands forward in defiance, and after the priest continues to withhold the bread, the child shook his fist at him in anger.

The boy was gesturing what he could not fully articulate: You are giving out bread to everyone but me, and there is something wrong about that. The lesson taught by this preschooler can be helpful. He is old enough to sense the importance of being included with those experiencing the feeding that Jesus insisted will give spiritual health.

This gives credence to those who desire to open the table to all baptized, to anyone able to take the bread and wine that is the Body and Blood of Christ. It is the same theological perspective as found in baptizing infants. It’s not about us – not about what we initiate -rather it is all about what God does for us.

Feeding children the bread of heaven at an early age is like pouring out parental love on them.

It can be powerful to think about all children growing up, not having to remember a time when they did not eat at the God’s table. As to what they understand, or when they are able to understand it, who knows? But if we communicate children early, whenever the time comes for them to understand, they will be receiving the same sacrament of love as the rest of us. And who’s to say that any of us understands everything about what Jesus meant when he said: Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life. We can all grow by understanding what this means. So why shouldn’t children begin learning this at the earliest age?  We want our children to eat of this special food because that is how they learn; how all of us learn. And since we become what we eat we will need this food. We are what we eat; therefore, we must carefully mind what we eat  and digest spiritually, for the health of our souls.

The world offers us a lot of unhealthy diets – diets of materialism, greed and selfishness. Feeding on the word of God, taking the body and blood of Christ ensures life-sustaining nutrition for the spiritfood for the soul. Eating bread and wine of Holy Communion, in faith enables the process by which Christ penetrates our being and nourishes our life. In this sacrament, God comes to us through the bread and wine so we can have union with God. We are reminded in this union with God through Jesus, the Christ, is a connecting link for us with all that is good, true and holy.

The early church writer Irenaeus said it this way: The word of God, Jesus Christ, because  of his great love for mankind, became what we are in order to make us what he is himself. Jesus himself is with us. Eating what is the Christ nourishes us to become what he wants us to be, because we are what we eat.

August 8, 2021

Prayer:

Pentecost 11B    August 8, 2021
Declaration of Grace / Absolution.
The Lord is gracious and merciful
and comes to us to redeem us.
Christ Jesus offers himself to us, forgiving our sins
and promising to raise us to life on the last day.


Short Preface
We give thanks for your Son, Jesus,
who you raised to new life,
and who now offers himself to us
as the bread of heaven,
so that all who eat and drink of him
might live forever as one with him.


Commission & Benediction
Go out, nourished by the bread of heaven,
and take care to walk in the ways of wisdom.
Discern carefully between right and wrong.
Understand what the will of the Lord is.
Feed on Christ and be filled with the Spirit.

And may God give you a wise and discerning mind;
May Christ Jesus fill you with life in all its fullness;
and may the Holy Spirit overflow in you
……..in songs of joy and praise foreve
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Sermon:

Pentecost B  , 2021
We give thanks for Jesus, who now offers himself to us as the bread of heaven, so that all who eat and drink of him might live forever as one with him.  +

Enjoy the summer. Our text for these months, show the abundance of God’s unfailing love, shared as the bread of life and the living water Christ offers us. Out of that abundance we are called to respond in love. Now food in summer can also be delightful. If you live in the country or have a garden in your yard, the ripeness of summer crops enrich the senses. Even city dwellers get fresh food from farmers’ markets: sweet corn picked early that morning from a farmer’s field can be on your table for lunch. [My father was a bread maker and well known for his ‘french intensive method’ raised garden beds – you name it he probably tried growing it ].

In summer, we can be out-of-doors more, which makes the nature images in scripture seem more alive. How many have gone on a hike up mountains that did not seem so steep on the map? Hungrier and achier, the hiker longs for the trail to level out. The summit — and picnic spot — approaches and you see a vista more marvelous than you could have imagined down at the trail head parking lot.
You are tired and relieved, exhilarated and awestruck by where God has led you and what you see unfolding in front of you:
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing …
There’re other summer images of abundance: think of children dancing in the spray of water at a pool, or the ice cream truck that drives through the neighborhood right up to your door. Think of free concerts in parks.

Think of the smell of bread right out of the oven, like I do about my father’s kitchen. Images like those could be used if the Bible were written today: images of abundance and grace, ordinary, simple and ever-available.

Jesus’ words about the bread of life rang true with his hearers. The image reminded them of the ancient prophets who used the bread of life to mean the word, the wisdom, that comes from God to humanity. The Wisdom tradition of the Hebrew Bible says this:
Come, eat of my bread; drink of the wine I have mixed. [Proverbs 9:5]
The book of Ecclesiasticus describes what Wisdom will do for the one who fears God: She will feed him with the bread of understanding, and give him the water of wisdom to drink. [Ecclesiasticus, Sirach 15:3]
Those who long for the knowledge and love of God find it in abundance and simplicity.

It’s no mistake, words everyone understands — bread, water — are used to tell us what the wisdom of God is like. Climb that mountain and nothing tastes sweeter than the simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich you packed, the one that got squashed in your backpack. No vintage wine could be better than flowing water from the mountain stream. Walk down a sidewalk on a hot day and find refreshment that no king could equal by plunging into the cold water of a pool. 
Jesus uses those images of the messianic banquet, abundance of the fruits of wisdom, to say this: the banquet is here now. You no longer have to wait. Wisdom is not in some far-off distant future; it is here now, in the person of Jesus. I am the bread of life. Food is available, lots of it, to all who seek.

A teacher once said: 3 lessons each Sunday go like this: the lesson from the Hebrew scripture states a theme. Jesus interprets that theme in the Gospel. Epistles tell us how the community of early Christians would have worked it out in life. Ephesians encourages us to show abundance with one another. Be kind, tender-hearted, forgiving, follow the love God has showed you by loving those around you. We can pattern our relationships on the relationship God has with us, exemplified by the love Christ showed to us.
There is often a big difference between what we want and what we really need. It’s also been said that there exists in each of us a God-shaped hole that can be filled only by a stirring, nurturing relationship with Christ. However, our problem is that we attempt to fill that deeper, spiritual longing with things that do not ultimately satisfy….

D. T. Niles, (CSI leader) 50 years ago, defined evangelism in light of Jesus’ claim to be the bread of life. Evangelism, he explained, is one hungry person telling another hungry person where to find bread. Indeed, that is the mission of the church, to tell the world where love is to be found in Jesus as well as peace, joy, hope, and all of the fruits of the Spirit. Especially in these troubled times, God shows the world the path to finding the peace of the kingdom, right here, right now.
Finally, we cannot ignore the obvious allusion to the sacramental bread of the Eucharist. There is no doubt that, when St. John was writing his Gospel, 1st century Christians had begun to connect Jesus’ words claiming to be the Bread of Life to a growing sacramental, mystical understanding of Holy Communion. Just as they had experienced Jesus as a man, but more than a man, in the Eucharistic bread they saw more than bread alone. It was a sign of the presence of Jesus. The bread became a representation of the mystery of Christ in their midst. Receiving the sacrament was to realize the love of God in Christ, which graces, forgives, accepts and fills lives in very profound ways. To prepare us to receive this love, we can turn to Thomas Cranmer, whose words find their place in the American Book of Common Prayer, in the first Eucharistic prayer of the Rite I service:
And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.

The bread God offers to the world is himself. So come to the altar, hands outstretched, and come desiring to be so filled with Christ that your restless seeking shall come to an end. We come believing that here is the place where the God-shaped hole shall be filled.
We are filled when Christ dwells in us and we in him. It’s at this moment Jesus becomes, for us and for the world, the living bread that comes down from heaven.+

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