Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Wisdom of God in Flesh and Blood

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

Sermon Text:
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
about wisdom,
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.

Now remember,
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.
Because cannibalism,
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.

To us,
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 God,
seek perfection,
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
confrontational too,
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.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Reconciling the Unreconcilable

The Rev. Amy Hodges Morehous
August 12, 2012
Proper 14
Church of the Ascension

When my sister and I were little, we had a bit of a case of hero worship for
our uncle, my father's youngest brother. My mother is an only child, and
my other uncle had died, so he was our only uncle on either side. He was
always really great with technology and electronics. He brought us the first
VCR we'd ever seen and loaned it to us for the afternoon. It looked amazing on our 12" television set. 

We thought he was kind of like a wizard - poof!- you never knew when he would pop up with something cool and interesting. He had a great laugh, and would be thrilled with our interest in whatever he was trying to explain to us.

But the visits grew fewer, and his behavior grew stranger. We visited him
in the hospital one weekend, and he looked terrible. I found out when I
got older that he had "borrowed" a motorcycle, and had an accident
at a busy intersection. He stopped visiting our house regularly, but things
suddenly began disappearing when we weren't home. Small things. Cash.
My sister's piggy bank. Then bigger things. We didn't enough money to 
replace the things that were gone. Sometimes things would mysteriously
reappear. Sometimes they wouldn't.

Then came the stints in prison. Driving while intoxicated. Possession of
a controlled substance. Theft. Driving on a suspended license. He would
attend court ordered rehab, and be sober for a period of time. We would
hear from him sometimes, then. He would call to see how we were doing,
tell us where he was. His laugh would still be the same. But those times
would never last, and he would once again be on a cycle of arrests and
imprisonments and release, and we usually had no idea where he was.
For twenty years, my sister and I lived in fear that we would
get the call that he had caused a fatal accident. But that call never came.

Last summer, the call I got instead was from one of my cousins. My uncle
was fatally ill - Hepatitis C and cirrhosis. He didn't have long to live, and
he no longer even recognized anyone - not even his only brother. My first
feeling was shock, and then briefly, relief. Our worst fear hadn't come true.
He hadn't ever injured anyone. Then I felt immediately guilty, for feeling
that way.

He lived only a few weeks longer. Despite the anger I felt with him, and with the choices that he had made, I still cried when the call came that he had died. I cried because, in my heart of hearts, I hoped that he would make different choices. That those choices would stick. That he would become the person God meant him to be, the person I remembered as a child. That he would be reconciled with what remained of his family, with the people he had wounded. As long as he was alive, I could hang on to the possibility of reconciliation, no matter how small.

David's son Absalom had an even more horrible past. Absalom's brother,
Amnon, assaulted their sister, Tamar. Their father David did nothing to
bring justice in the midst of tragedy. Overcome with his anger, Absalom
bided his time, and let his anger fester into hate. One night, he got Amnon
drunk, and then had his servants murder him. His revenge was complete.

For his crime, Absalom is cast out for years from David's kingdom. David
allows him back, but for more long years, David will not receive him in
court, or even speak to him. Fed up, Absalom appears before his father,
and demands to either be recognized, or killed. Father and son reconcile,
briefly, but Absalom's heart is still false. Absalom wins over some of
David's soldiers, and the hearts of the people of Israel. He withdraws from
the city, then proclaims himself ruler, and David flees Jerusalem in fear of
his life. Absalom returns as the conqueror, and takes over the city, and all
his father's wives, demonstrating his power before the people.

Yet still, even with all that Absalom has done - murder, subterfuge,
insurrection - before the final battle, David pleads with his remaining loyal
soldiers to be lenient with Absalom. His love and hope lead David, the
warrior, to ask for a near impossibility. Let the betrayer live, because he is
my son.

David grief at Absalom's death is not only that of a parent losing a child.
His grief is at the end of possibility for relationship and reconciliation with
someone he had hurt, who had also hurt him. As long as they both lived,
there was always hope, no matter how slim, that the relationship could be
mended. With Absalom's death, there can be no reconciliation, no healing
of the deep wounds between them.

I'm assuming that most of you have not had a child nearly overthrow your
kingdom. (Unless, perhaps, you have a two-year-old.) Most of us can't find 
common ground there. But I'll bet most of you have your own uncle, 
or friend, or cousin, or sibling or a child with whom you are estranged. 
I told you the story of my uncle not because it’s unique, but because it is the  story of millions of people. If you see parts of yourself in that story, I hope you know that who you are now isn’t who you must always be. If you see  a person you love in that story, I hope that you have the chance to speak in this life, that you have a chance to begin to bind up the wounds that have grown between you.

You may tell me that some hurts are too large, that some wounds too deep
to heal. Believe me, I understand. For me, too, that work of reconciliation
is still in progress. The last gift I was asked to give to my uncle was to
officiate at his funeral service. In my homily, I said, "Part of grieving the loss of someone is letting go of things that will not be reconciled, at least not on this earth. Sometimes there are things that go unsaid in families, and in friendships. Sometimes there are griefs that are too large, and relationships that cannot be mended. Opening our hands, and letting those things go is hard. But I believe in a God who is a great healer. I think that even as we speak, God is working in this world and the next, to heal what is wounded, to bind up what is broken, and to reconcile that which is unreconcilable."

The good news we are about here is just that - reconciliation. Transformation. 

While the story of David and Absalom may seem dark and hopeless, what I hope you'll see in that story is just that. Hope. Not fruitless hope, but the hope of a father for a child. Not earthly hope in things that can be finite, but in God's holy hope for reconciliation and relationship. The same hope that our loving God holds for each of us, no matter what we may have done to separate ourselves, no matter the wounds we have caused one another, no matter what we have done to grieve the Holy Spirit. Just as David asks for another chance for his son, I believe God does the same for all those who are separated from each other, from God. Just as David hopes for a reunion, so God holds out hope for each of us when we wound, when we rebel, when we wander.

And we live in a world sorely in need of that reconciliation. Each day,
we find new and more inventive ways to divide ourselves from each other.
That hurts you.  It hurts me. After all, we are members of one another. "Be
kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you." Kind. That's not something we think of often, anymore, is it? It seems somehow quaint, like a relic from our grandparents' time. Kind. Is that something we teach anymore? Is that something our children learn from us, every day? Do we show that we value that in one other? Rabbi and scholar Abraham Heschel once wrote, "When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people." An old Rabbi, advocating kindness. That sounds so idyllic, and peaceful, and unrealistic. What could he know about divisions, or anger or hatred?

Rabbi Heschel was intimately acquainted with hate. His mother was
murdered by the Nazis, and two of his sisters died in concentration camps.
But he advocated kindness and nonviolence as a force for change. This
Polish rabbi marched in Selma, Alabama, with Martin Luther King, Jr. He
worked for change, for reconciliation, for healing and wholeness.

We can disagree without anger, without hate.  We can believe that we are meant to work for change, to work for the kingdom of God here in this world, and still do it with kindness, and respect in the face of our differences. We can speak the truth in love, or we can speak it in bitterness, and hate. "It is, as Nelson Mandela has said, never seeing an enemy, but always a future friend … and not only treating the person as you would a friend but in such a way as looks forward to that friendship blossoming. If the goal is transformation and changing hearts, and if we believe we are in the right, our goal is not to defeat the other but to move their hearts." (*Kinman) In Christ, we know that the most powerful force in the universe for  change is not hatred or division, but sacrificial love.

"If we are not just to follow Christ but to trust in Christ fully, the goal of every encounter with someone who disagrees with us," with someone who has wounded us - "our goal must be together to strive for what is ... beyond us. To have all of our hearts transformed by God’s love so that together we are shaped into the image of Christ." (*Kinman)

Despite the wounds, despite the disappointments, despite the separations,
we can be bold enough to be part of the healing and reconciliation to which
we are called. We can do that by fully saying "yes" to what Christ asks of
us. The passage from Ephesians shows us what our lives might look like if
we really lived into that "yes, Lord, I believe." We're not going to get it right all the time. We're human. But we worship a God of second and third and twenty-third chances.

Because we are so human, we live in relationship with one another. In
being part of one another, we make ourselves vulnerable to hurt. We hurt
ourselves, we hurt each other. Sometimes those wounds are too much for
us to overcome on our own. But the good news is that we aren’t on our
own. No matter what depths surround us now, or in the future, no matter
the divisions and the wounds, God will hear us when we call.  

Jesus doesn't offer the Bread of Life to us only once. He offers it over 
and over and over and over. As many times as it takes us to get it. God 
doesn't give up on the hope of transformation for the people of the world. 
Even when we are estranged one from another, one person from one person,  or a whole nation from another nation, God’s holy hope is for reconciliation and justice.  God hopes so much for our healing and restoration to wholeness that God sent the Son, sent the Bread of Life to live a human life among us, so that his sacrificial, boundless love would be the ultimate gift of reconciliation for us all. God sends the Holy Spirit to be among us, to be within us, so that we will have hearts that yearn to be transformed, one with God and one other.

We are the beloved children of God. We bring our brokennesses, our
separations, and our human hearts to this table of God, to share the
living bread set before us. In that sharing, we offer up our very selves to be
transformed, to be healed and made whole. May we yearn always to live into that hopeful love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, in offering and sacrifice.


(*The Very Rev. Mike Kinman is the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, St. Louis, MO, and quite a transformational preacher himself.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

August 5, 2012
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Robert P. Wadley

"The Bread of Life

I've just returned from two weeks vacation, during which I had a lot of time to think about what I might say today.  In fact, I've known for two months that I would be preaching today, so I've had ample time to read the assigned lectionary and try to find a theme on which I could focus.  Unlike our clergy, who preach much more often, and rarely have extended, uninterrupted periods of time to prepare, yet deliver wonderful messages week after week, I am given a lot of time to prepare.  That doesn't mean you will get a better, or maybe even an adequate, sermon.  But, hopefully, ten minutes from now, you will still be awake and I won't have made a complete fool of myself.  One of the things I thought about was reflecting on Fr. Howard's sermon four weeks ago in which he described his call.  What he said then made me ask myself, what are you doing up here?  Well, only God knows the answer to that, but I can say that the path has been very indirect, often unexpected, and, sometimes, with the benefit of hindsight, absolutely amazing.  It has been a gift from God that I have only been able to live my life one day at a time. 

Including the Psalm, we have heard four readings today, and as is nearly always the case, when the lectionary was compiled, the readings chosen fit together.  There are several themes in today's readings, threads if you will, that all seem to come together into a single blanket in the final verse of the Gospel reading, in which Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  This comes one day after Jesus has used five barley loaves and two fish to feed five thousand people.  Many of those five thousand may not have realized the miracle in which they had participated.  Now, many of them just wanted to be fed again.  But is Jesus talking about physical hunger?  No, and, obviously, this isn't to be taken literally.  There were many hungry people in the world then; there are many today right here in Knoxville.  Ask Jim Wright, or any one of our many parishioners who volunteer at FISH and hand out 11,000 bags of food every month.  So, how does this statement make sense to us?

Let's start with our Old Testament reading and begin to weave the threads together to see if we can find an answer to that question.  David, chosen by God to be Israel's king, had been bad, really bad.  He had committed adultery with Bathsheba, who was married to Uriah.  Now I don't know if she actually looked like Susan Hayward, for those of you old enough to remember the movie “David and Bathsheba,” but the Bible says she was very beautiful.  So David sends Uriah to the front of a battle knowing he will be killed, freeing Bathsheba to become his wife.  The Bible says “the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.”  Imagine that!  So, God sends Nathan to talk to David and when David acknowledges the seriousness of what he has done, he says, “I have sinned against the Lord” and, in the rest of the verse, which is included in next week's reading,  Nathan says, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.”  David has been saved.  

We'll return to that in a few minutes, but first let's look at what David writes in his anguish.  Because the King James version sometimes says things more beautifully, I'd like to read the beginning of the Psalm for you again.

Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to thy lovingkindness;
According unto the multitude of thy tender mercies
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions;
And my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in thy sight;

and then a few verses later, these words, which are the same in the King James as in our Prayer Book:

Create in me a clean heart, O God;
And renew a right spirit within me.

David had been saved.  A major step in his salvation was repentance, as we have just read.  However, in Ephesians, Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God...”  Saved, a gift from God.  What does that mean?  Or maybe I should say, what do you think it means?  Are you saved from something?  Are you saved from going to hell when you die?  Or are you saved for something?  Are you saved so that you will go to heaven when you die?  Or are you saved to serve God?  Recently, the Brotherhood of St. Andrew spent two months in our weekly Thursday morning meetings discussing a book entitled, “Love Wins” by the Rev. Rob Bell.  This book explores the concepts of heaven and hell.  In so doing, it talks about being saved, about judgment and separation from God, and about how we continually find grace waiting to pick us up after we have fallen.  

So, back to my question.  What does it mean to be saved?  Is it a one-time, lightening bolt experience or a lifetime journey?  Or, maybe, for some people, both.  As a young boy I attended a non-denominational church.  One night, the final night of a week-long revival, I went forward and, on my knees with the preacher's hands on my head, I accepted Christ as my savior.  At that moment, it was like a lightening bolt.  A few years later, the intensity of that moment had passed.  I was in college, and although I had twinges of guilt, being saved was not anywhere near the top of my consciousness.  In fact, if God had taken me right then, I have no doubt that when I knocked on St. Peter's door, he would have said, “Son, what makes you think you belong here?  That being saved experience you had was not a license to test God's patience and forgiveness.”  Obviously, for me, it has been, and still is a journey.  However, I have known people who genuinely had life-altering experiences in which they were so moved by the Spirit  that they point to that moment as the exact point in time when they were saved.  Let me share a story with you about a man who had just such an experience.

His name is Rob.  Rob is a very large, powerfully built African-American man and he was a drug dealer.  Apparently, in the course of one of his transactions, he became violent.  He never admitted to me exactly what he had done, but if he hadn't killed someone, he had seriously injured them.  He was convicted and sent to the Federal Prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.  One night, while at the prison movie theater, a fight broke out between rival gangs, which quickly turned into a riot.  Just as quickly, the doors were sealed and the lights turned on.  The man sitting next to Rob ripped the wooden armrest off his seat and advised Rob to do the same.  Rob asked why.  The man said he would need it to protect himself when the guards entered and starting swinging their clubs to put down the riot.  Rob said he wasn't involved in the riot.  The man said it wouldn't matter; the guards wouldn't discriminate, they'd hit everyone.  Then, the doors burst open and an army of guards poured into the theater.  And just as the man had told Rob, they were indiscriminately swinging their clubs at anyone in their path.  Rob was terrified.  This big, powerful man got down on his knees in front of his seat and began to beg God to save him from being beaten.  About that time, the man next to him screamed as a guard hit him.  Rob covered his head with his arms and felt the man's blood splatter on him.  He was simultaneously praying and bracing himself for the blows he knew were coming.  And then he heard a voice say, “Are you OK?”  He looked up and standing over him was a guard.  Rob said, “Yes sir, I'm OK.”  The guard held out his hand and said, “Then let's get you out of here.”  Rob believes Jesus answered his prayer; Rob believes Jesus saved him in that moment.  When I met him, a few years later, he was one of the most gentle, caring persons I have ever known.  He became one of my closest friends.  He took to heart our reading in Ephesians which says, “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.”

So, what has all of this to do with the bread of life?  Going back to the reading from John, and rearranging the order of the verses, it says, “it is my father who gives you the true bread of heaven.     For the Bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.  Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life...”   Wait, did that say we are to work for the bread of life, the bread that endures for eternal life?  Earlier we heard that we are saved by grace and not through our own doing.  Hmm.  Maybe we need to rethink what it means to be saved.  Maybe, being saved isn't just about where we will live in the next life.  Maybe, as Jesus says, the kingdom of God is at hand; heaven and, maybe sometimes even hell, are both here and now, as well as in our next life.  As Emily Dickinson wrote, “Who has not found the Heaven below will fail of it above.”  Maybe hell is separation from God, whenever and wherever it occurs, and heaven is being in God's presence, this moment and for eternity.  And, maybe, being saved is living for God, this moment and for eternity.  Living for God.  Working for God.  Partaking of the bread of life, as we will in a few minutes during the Eucharist.  And when you look at it that way, it all makes sense when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”