The Rev. Robert P. Travis
Pentecost 12th Sunday Sermon – 8:00am and 10:30am Church of the Ascension, Knoxville TN
RCL Proper 15 Year B 8/19/2012
Scripture Text: 1 Kings 2:10-12,3:3-14, Psalm 111, Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:51-58
When I was a kid,
I really connected with this passage
from 1st Kings about Solomon.
Maybe it was because he says to God,
“I am only a little child;
I do not know how to go out or come in,”
that I felt I could relate to Solomon when I was a child.
In any case, I thought it was awesome,
the way Solomon prayed for Wisdom,
and even more awesome,
how God responded so positively to his prayer,
and not only granted him the wisdom he requested,
but also granted him everything else he didn't ask for.
I was so into that passage,
that I started praying for wisdom too,
thinking that was the key to everything.
Now, you can judge for yourselves
whether my prayer was answered,
some might say sure,
others, particularly people who know me well, like my wife
would wonder if something went wrong with my prayer.
In any case, it has been a big deal to me,
and I think for lots of Christians,
to pursue wisdom.
We see it in a lot of our prayers,
and here in three of our readings today,
we have a good start.
In the psalm,
we have that famous and often misunderstood line,
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
I certainly did not get what that was talking about,
when I prayed for wisdom as a little boy.
And though I have lots of explanations for it,
I'm not going to dwell on that today.
Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus,
exhorts them to live “not as unwise people,
but as wise, making the most of the time
because the days are evil.”
That also could lead us down an incredible rabbit hole,
because I think the days these days are probably evil
much like they were before.
But I'm not going down that path either.
The really confusing thing to me,
about the scripture we have this week,
was what is the connection between these passages
and the Gospel where Jesus
concludes the remarks he gave us over the past few weeks,
about him being the bread of life.
It takes some real wisdom to understand and apply that,
So I'm going to attempt to discuss that connection,
and ya'll can see if you see wisdom in it.
The psalm says,
“the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,”
but earlier on, it also says,
“He gives food to those who fear him.”
Jesus is talking about true food and true drink,
in his discussion with those around him.
Remember this is the group that originally was
impressed by him when he miraculously fed 5,000 men,
plus countless women and children.
He told them not to worry about that feeding,
but to seek to be fed the bread of life.
Then he told them he is the bread of life.
Today's passage has him upping the ante even more.
He describes himself as living bread,
and says people who eat this bread will live forever,
and that the bread he gives for the life of the world
is his flesh.
this is long before Jesus was crucified,
that whole self-sacrifice had probably not even
come into their minds.
So while we see obvious connections with
that statement and his sacrificing his body for us,
his fellow Jews gathered there did not.
In fact, they were offended by his remarks.
They disputed among themselves,
some translators describe that word dispute,
as a violent reaction,
in any case, they got really upset.
much as it is disgusting to us,
was anathema to Jews,
and even in animals they could eat,
they were not allowed to consume the blood.
So what it sounded like to them,
was that Jesus was saying they had to eat another person.
But when they balk at this notion,
He doesn't back down,
but even raises the stakes higher,
by saying unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man,
and drink his blood,
you have no life in you.
What the heck is he talking about?
This would not have sounded like wisdom to those hearing it,
it would have sounded like a scandal.
as Episcopalians I imagine you were drawn,
as I was, immediately to think about the Eucharist,
and reassured that you are eating and drinking
the life of Jesus in that sacred meal.
And you would not be wrong to think that,
though many protestants who place a lower value,
on the Eucharist than we do,
would point out that this is also at least a year
before Jesus instituted communion at the Last Supper.
So there has to be something else going on here as well.
On the one hand
as someone in the lectionary Bible Study put it this week,
this is a bold statement of Jesus about God,
he's saying “I'm it...”
it's all about Jesus.
This is an important distinction to make,
when people claim that Jesus was just another great religious
teacher, like Mohammed, or the Buddha.
This is one place where a clear distinction is drawn.
All the other great religious teachers,
all the other prophets point away from themselves,
when they try to lead people to God.
But Jesus points to himself,
“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man,
and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
In other words,
You have to take Jesus in all the way,
flesh and blood and everything,
take him, God in the flesh,
not just some transcendant God,
showing up in a sort of human-like Avatar or manifestation of God,
Jesus is God in Flesh and Blood.
We have to take him in completely
and make him a part of ourselves,
make our lives depend on him,
much like we would with the food that we need.
It's that basic, and that important.
and that is how we experience the life
that only God can give.
And we get this, about the Eucharist, right?
we come forward, and take
the wafer in our hands,
hearing the priest or deacon say,
the Body of Christ,
we say Amen,
as a sign of our agreement that that is what it is.
Then the chalice comes,
and we hear,
the blood of Christ,
and again we give our agreement.
It is that.
But it is more than that.
How can it be more than that?
How can we eat Jesus' flesh, and drink his blood,
outside the eucharistic meal?
This brings another one of my other pet peeves,
probably a pet peeve for me,
like for most people because I used to be like this myself.
A lot of people these days like to say,
“I'm spiritual but not religious.”
I used to say that too,
but only recently I learned that it was not always that way.
It turns out that in the middle of the last century,
people would more commonly say,
“I'm religious but not spiritual.”
That had to do with a distrust of spiritualism,
and spiritual things,
and a trust in the authority of the religious institutions.
Today's popular, self-identification
“I'm spiritual but not religious,”
mostly has to do with a distrust of the authority of institutional religion.
But I have come to understand that it
is deeper than that as well.
What it really says is, “I don't like people.”
Religion is messy,
it's made up of sinful people,
who struggle to get it right,
and who often make mistakes,
sometimes mistakes that hurt people.
Our churches have always been made up of people,
and in spite of our best intentions,
we do things wrong sometimes,
and sometimes scandalously wrong,
sometimes we're hypocritical.
And so idealistic people,
as I was before,
seek that spiritual life that seems better than
the messiness of life in the flesh we experience here,
and so they like to say
that they're“spiritual but not religious.”
But what they're really saying to me,
is that they don't like people,
they don't like flesh and blood,
and messy things like that.
I see Jesus' statements about our need,
to eat his flesh and drink his blood
contradicting that stance.
I believe the people who heard it first found it very
that's why they were so offended.
But Jesus is saying,
I'm it! I am God in the flesh,
and if flesh and blood is good enough,
for God himself to come and take on,
then you too must take God in the flesh,
and consume him into every aspect of your life,
in order to become one with him.
That is what this religion is all about,
it's not just worshipping some God
that is out there somewhere,
but accepting Jesus as God in the flesh,
committing our lives to him,
and becoming one with him,
one with his life,
one with his flesh and blood.
But how do we do that?
How do we do that beyond the wonderful liturgy
that we have on Sundays?
Because if Jesus' flesh is true food,
and his blood is true drink,
then certainly we need it more than once a week
to sustain our lives.
To sustain his life in us.
You will be pleased to know I am not
about to announce that you need to start coming,
for the Eucharist every day.
I don't think that is necessary.
But I do think we need to look for other ways,
that we eat the Christ every day,
so that we can be fed by his body and blood.
A couple of weeks ago,
I led worship at Good Shepherd in Fountain City.
I heard there,
as I have heard at other Christian churches,
something that speaks to this connection,
between eating and eternal life.
People say, well I don't know how to express,
what it is that makes what we do special,
but we sure do like to eat together!
They have yummy meals together,
and it seems at every gathering there is something tasty to eat.
We have that too in fact!
Some of our best times together in this parish,
revolve around sharing delicious food with one another.
When we eat together,
we take part in something very basic,
something essentially flesh and blood,
something that connects us to one another,
and to the earth that we all are made of.
It's no accident that Jesus' institution of communion,
happened at his last supper with his disciples.
It is both physical and spiritual,
and too often we take it for granted.
Except when we miss it because it is not happening.
When I was a teenager,
and my sisters were also growing up,
we got really into our individual activities,
and we started to get away
from our habit of eating dinner together.
This really bothered my mom,
as she saw something more fundamental missing,
than our need for physical nourishment.
That dinner time together was our chance to connect,
with one another as a family, every day.
To take part in the life we shared with one another.
Sometimes it would be wonderful,
full of laughter and lively discussion.
Sometimes it would be painful,
as we had arguments,
a glass of milk was spilled,
or someone's feelings got hurt from teasing.
Sharing dinner together was often messy,
but it was the stuff of life.
And when we stopped sharing it every night,
my mom got upset.
She put her foot down when I was 14,
and said to all of us,
I don't care what you have to move around or miss,
we are going to have dinner together every night.
Taking that stand was one of the best things,
my mom ever did for our family,
and I imagine it is significant for you all as well.
Our church family is like that as well,
the way we take Jesus into our lives,
is to recognize his flesh and blood,
living in the bodies and spirits
of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We love each other in the flesh,
we hug each other,
we feed each other,
we need each other,
even when it gets messy,
and sometimes painful.
That's what the people who claim
to be spiritual but religious are missing,
what those people are missing,
who say, “I don't need to come to church to believe in God.”
Sure you don't,
but if you want to be with God in the flesh,
his Church is his body in the world,
and that's where we experience him,
by sharing in the stuff of life with one another.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
I've learned that means seek the Lord,
who is so much greater than we are,
and be in awe of his majesty.
And you'll quickly see,
that the Lord gives food to those who fear him.
Wisdom makes us see our need to be fed,
by connection to the flesh and blood of everyone here.
We participate in life together in the church,
in all of our various ways of connecting with one another.
As our bodies and spirits are fed together,
we experience a taste of that life,
that will go on forever,
when we are finally completely united with Christ,
and stop hurting each other.
But the mistakes we make in this life,
should not tear us away from one another,
because leaving each other takes us away from the food we need to survive in the deepest way.
Rather we must cleave closer to one another,
and through sharing life together,
with all it's messiness,
we will abide in Christ,
he will live in us,
and we in him.