You Will be Found

Sermon for Sunday, August 26, 2018 || Proper 16B || John 6:56-69

Sometimes ordinary conversations spur the deepest of thoughts. This past Monday, I was cleaning up the breakfast dishes while listening to the kids talking to each other at the kitchen table. At their recent birthday party, they had decorated small terra cotta pots with glitter glue and stickers. Inside the pots they planted seeds that hopefully will grow into tiny spruce trees by Christmas. So there they sat at the kitchen table, and then they started listing off all the people they wanted to invite over to see their Christmas trees when they’re done growing.

They began with close family friends who had helped bake their birthday cake. Then they listed all their family members – Nana and Papa, Amma and Abba, their aunts and uncles and cousins. Then they moved onto friends who attended their party and their parents; then to other friends from school; then to people from church. They kept naming people they know, people with whom they have some level of relationship. And for a pair of four-year-olds, they had a pretty extensive list. Continue reading “You Will be Found”

Fully Alive

(Sermon for Sunday, August 19, 2012 || Proper 15B || John 6:51-58 )

“What’s the matter, Colonel Sandurz? Chicken?” –Dark Helmet, Spaceballs (1987)

The trouble with being human is that most of us aren’t very good at it. We are way better at being couch potatoes or social butterflies or chickens. We explain the very act of making more humans by referring to birds and bees. A frightened human is a scaredy cat; an insufferable one is a less polite term for donkey. We may exist as homo sapiens, but we spend a lot of time acting like other species.

And I can understand why.  Who really wants to be human? Our skin isn’t very well adapted to our climates. Our young can’t fend for themselves for at least twenty-two years. Our bodies break down with alarming frequency. And to top it off, I can’t think of another species on this planet that kills its own kind with as much regularity and proficiency as we humans.

But somehow we have survived down through the ages amidst the dangers of saber-toothed tigers, drought, pestilence, and war. We have survived, but, as the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson writes, “We are not now that strength which in old days / Moved earth and heaven.” I’m not convinced that we’ve ever been that old strength. I don’t think that we’ve ever lived into our humanity to the greatest extent possible.

Except for one of us. Except for the one whose life, death, and resurrection brought us all here this morning. Except for Jesus. Jesus’ life was miraculous, yes, but perhaps not for the reason we might suspect at first. We believe that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, 100 percent of both without either being diminished or destroyed. This is a great, inexplicable mystery, so I’m not going to try to explain how this full humanity, full divinity thing works. I will say that down through the centuries the “full divinity” side has gotten the majority of the press. But have you ever stopped to think just what we claim when we say that Jesus was “fully human?”

Jesus was fully awake, fully alive – more awake and alive than any person had ever been or has been since. Human potential has always been so vast, so untapped, but until Jesus no one had lived up to that potential. We have always had the capacity to see clearer, to love deeper, to shine brighter, but Jesus is the only person in history who has seen the clearest, loved the deepest, and shined the brightest. And the good news is that he dedicated his life and his death to showing us the way to that full humanity, to the abundance of life that he himself embodied.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Last week, we talked about Jesus being the “bread of life,” the most foundational source of nourishment and sustenance for us. Of course, when Jesus talks about being bread, he doesn’t mean physical bread made of flour and other ingredients. Likewise, when Jesus speaks of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, he moves past the literal and invites us to bring his life into ourselves. If we were to eat his flesh, he would travel down to our bellies, the literal middle of our bodies. That’s where Jesus desires to reside in us: in our guts, in the very core of our beings, in the center of what makes us, us.

When we gather to receive Christ in the Holy Communion, we invite him once again to take up residence within us. He has been there all along, but he knows that we need to participate in the action of taking him in again and again so that we remember his life is growing in us. Jesus was fully human, fully alive. As we come closer and closer to him, we too discover our lives expanding, becoming fuller, more abundant. As followers of Jesus, we believe that participating in his way, in his example, in his life will make us more fully alive. And the more fully alive we are, the more life we can bring to those around us.

So what does being “more fully alive” look like? If we aren’t even close to being fully human during our normal, humdrum lives, then how does participating in the fullness of Jesus’ life make any difference?

Perhaps you come home late one night from work and your husband didn’t even think to make dinner and your son decided that his smelly practice clothes were best displayed in the middle of the living room floor and your daughter is having a minor anxiety attack because of all her algebra homework. You and your husband launch into the same old fight about responsibilities; at the same time, you try to tear your son away from the computer so he’ll clean up his mess. Your daughter starts crying because of her homework and hormones and everyone yelling and you tell her to take a few deep breaths: “Everything will be okay, sweetheart.”

And as you say those words to your daughter, you hear another voice saying them to you, a voice that rises up from your gut, from your core, from the center of what makes you, you. And you realize, not for the last time, that life is messy, but there is more to life than mess. You remember that none of you is fully human yet, not like Jesus, at least. None of you is fully alive, not like you will be one day when God completes God’s work in you. And so you ask Jesus to live in you during that moment of stress and failed expectations. And for a little while at least you see clearer, love deeper, and shine brighter than you did before.

Perhaps you visit the Long Island Homeless Shelter, as some are doing later today, and for the first hour you put bread on trays but you can’t quite bring yourself to make eye contact with the guests. They are too foreign, too dirty, too sad. Then you hear one of them laugh – a deep bass laugh that rattles the silverware – and you remember how your grandfather laughed. And when you steal a glance at the man, you see Grandpa for a split second. Then you make eye contact and realize that you are related to this man, if not by blood than by the fact that the Christ dwelling within you and the Christ dwelling within him are the same Christ. And the fullness of the life of Jesus rises up from your gut, from your core, from the center of what makes you, you. The bread you hand to this man will be more than bread.

When we participate in the fullness of the life of Jesus, we discover our own human capacity to love expand. We might not be very good at being human, but Jesus was. When we allow his life to permeate ours, then we can reach toward that full humanity that made him the unique, shining being that he was and is. When we share Holy Communion with one another in a few minutes, we will participate in the act of taking Jesus into ourselves where he resides already. And in that participation, we will become more fully alive, more fully human than we were before. And the more fully alive we are, the more life we can bring to those around us. Thanks be to God.

Christ be with Me, Christ Within Me

(Sermon for Sunday, August 12, 2012 || Proper 14B || John 6:35, 41-51)

I don’t know about you, but these last two weeks, I have felt afraid. Last week, I was excited to go and see the new Batman movie. But then a self-proclaimed Joker – Batman’s chief enemy – calmly walked into a midnight showing in Aurora, Colorado and filled the theater with tear gas…and then bullets…and then dead bodies. Fear – and grief for the victims and their families – replaced excitement, and I haven’t darkened the door of a movie theater since.

This week, I was excited to come to church to celebrate communion and praise God with all of you. But then a white supremacist calmly walked into a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and filled the temple with bullets of his own…and more dead bodies. Fear – and shock and more grief – once again replaced excitement, and I would be lying if I told you that I feel completely comfortable right now exposed like I am in this pulpit. I don’t know about you, but these last two weeks, I have felt afraid.

And so, as I sat down to write this sermon, fear was on my mind. And I started wondering just why fear is so debilitating. And as I wondered about that, the words of Jesus from today’s Gospel started seeping into my consciousness. And I found that, while my fear didn’t evaporate just like that, someone had sidled up next to the fear and made the fear seem very small in comparison.

But I get ahead of myself. First, why is fear so debilitating? Well, fear has a way of unmaking us. When God created you and me, God made our default position one of loving and trusting. Think of the toddler who will go up to any stranger and say, “Hello.” Then think of the frantic mother who grabs the child by the wrist and yanks him away. Or here’s another example. While on vacation, I met my two-year-old cousin for the first time (which was a real treat, let me tell you) and within half an hour of meeting me, he was flinging himself into my arms from the top platform of the playground. God programmed us to love and trust, not to fear.

So when fear inevitably takes hold, the fear overrides our initial programming. Love and trust move down the list of conditioned responses, and we are no longer the whole people that God intended us to be. Fear motivates people do all sorts of things, the kind of things that unmake us. Some people hole up in their bedrooms never to venture into the world. Some lie to their parents about where they’ve been. Some never settle into mutual, meaningful relationships. Some cheat. Some bully. Some abuse drugs and alcohol. And some go on shooting rampages through temples containing people who look and think differently than they do.

Fear is so debilitating because fear keeps us from being the people God made us to be. Fear hollows out our identity as God’s children. Fear replaces the loving and trusting identity with one that longs to isolate and control. When our identities are tied up in fear rather than in God, we lose who we are; we lose ourselves because there is nothing sustaining or life-giving about fear.

When we feel fearful, when we feel like we are being unmade, what is really happening is that we are losing our connection to our identity as those loving and trusting children of God. And this where the words of Jesus begin seeping into my mind. This is where we make the turn and place Jesus next to the fear and notice how small the fear seems in comparison.

Jesus spends much of his time in the Gospel according to John telling people who he is. His identity is a subject that crops up every other chapter or so, and Jesus signals to us that he is talking about his identity with a special coded phrase. He says the two simple words: “I Am.” But these two simple words carry a lot of weight. By saying “I Am,” Jesus essentially quotes God’s words to Moses. At the burning bush, God gives Moses the mission to free the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt. Moses wants some insurance to let people know he really met God, so he asks for God’s name. “I Am Who I Am,” says God. When Jesus borrows this phrase, he reveals to his listeners and to us his divine identity.

Jesus uses these “I Am” statements over a dozen times in the Gospel according to John. Two of them happen in the story that runs the length of Chapter Six, a part of which we read this morning. I’ll get to the first one in a moment, but before that, let’s talk about the one in our passage today. “I Am the bread of life,” says Jesus. With these words Jesus reveals a piece of his divine identity.

As followers of Jesus, our identities are wrapped up in his. When he discloses a piece of his identity, we discover a piece of ours. When he says, “I Am the bread of life,” he invites us to imagine what bread can tell us about God. Bread nourishes us, just as being in relationship with Jesus nourishes us. Bread in the wider sense of food sustains life, just as through Jesus (as “the Word made flesh”) all life has come into being.

But this is no normal, everyday metaphor. I might say my wife’s smile is the sun on a rainy day, but we all know her smile is not actually the sun. Jesus doesn’t idly compare himself to bread. Jesus is the “bread of life.” Normal, everyday food and drink will satisfy for a time. But eating the food of the bread of life brings us into relationship with Jesus, who is that bread. One of the Eucharistic prayers says this beautifully, praying that we “may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, and [be] made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.”

In the Eucharistic meal, which we will share in a few minutes, we take Jesus in, and the Bread of Life opens our eyes to the wonderful reality that his presence surrounds us and penetrates us always. The wonderful hymn known as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” describes this ever-present reality:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

When Jesus reveals that he is “the bread of life,” he invites us into the reality that his presence sustains us wherever we are and whatever has happened. This is part of his divine identity, and our identity finds a home in this sustenance.

Whenever fear debilitates us, whenever fear threatens to unmake us, Jesus Christ is there sustaining us, nourishing us so that we can continue on our way, surrounding us with his steadfast presence. We were not made to fear, but to love and trust. The more we rely on the sustaining presence of the Bread of Life, the less of a foothold will we give to fear.

I told you that I would mention Jesus’ other “I Am” statement from an earlier part of this morning’s story. The night before today’s lesson, the disciples row across the sea in their boat. But a storm comes up and threatens to swamp them. Then they see Jesus coming toward them, walking on the water. And do you know what he says to them? He says: “I Am; do not be afraid.”