Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentacost
I heard a true story of a mother in Toronto who went to pick up her son at his kindergarten during the Christmas season. When she arrived, she saw the children had been drawing nativity scenes, but could not see one with her son’s name on it. When she asked about it, the teacher gave her a serious look and called the school priest over. They pulled out her son’s nativity drawing, which displayed the stable scene, with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, only they all had fangs! The mother knelt down and asked her son about his drawing, and gathered from his response that he had combined his child-like understanding of the language of the Eucharist with his love of a TV program he watched called “Little Vampires”. Being that Jesus is “KING”, and we drink his blood, are we not vampires? So Jesus, for this wee five-year old, is king of the vampires too.
- To listen to the audio of this sermon, simply click the arrow:
Confusion, or even discomfort with some of the images and language of the faith is not limited to children. When I was a teenager, I did what many young Christian evangelical musicians do, and joined a Christian rock band. I invited some friends to Church, for a service where my band would be playing. The evening began with some “praise and worship” music by the church band, then we played…it was all just fine. But afterward, when I asked my friends what they thought, they, not having grown up quite like I did, replied: We didn’t know Christianity was so violent; blood, killing lambs, treading down enemies…Somehow, explaining that these were…Well, let’s just say, I didn’t know what to say.
Those who have grown up with this language, can also, at times, find it a bit of a stumbling block. Tonight I may even use the masculine pronoun to describe “God” – meaning no offense, though offense may be taken. When it comes to language, we’re sensitive; we try to be politically correct, and tend to see those who are not as brash, boorish, or at least – un-evolved. Yet, in John chapter six, we read about a fascinatingly politically incorrect Jesus, who does not shy away from provocative, challenging language. He uses bread as a metaphor for Himself, suggesting that while the Israelites ate manna from Heaven in the wilderness – miraculous food given by God – they still died, and boldly declaring that He would himself be the bread of life, and that unto eternal life.
Ah – bread. I can handle this metaphor. Bread, although the bane of my dieting existence, remains one of my favorite indulgences. What a beautiful, palatable, soft, homey, comforting choice to describe the miraculous sustenance of God. So very…nice. But, interestingly enough, what I find nice here offended some, as Jamie addressed last Sunday. There was grumbling and gossip over Jesus’ words. At this point, the “politically correct”, socially aware person would back off, wouldn’t he or she? Not Jesus. This is where the iconic images of my demure, peaceful Saviour don’t seem to tell the whole story about Him. Instead of backing off, he transitions from this perplexing yet somewhat “safe” metaphor of “bread” to: Flesh and blood? His flesh and blood? Would have to be consumed? Eaten? Drunk? Ew. I mean, however glamorized vampirism has become in our popular culture, even today this idea is revolting. How much more so then, where not only would one not speak of such a vile, sinful thing, they would certainly not suggest that anyone, let alone these God-fearing Jews, would be committing it!
Of course, Jesus is not speaking of cannibalism or vampirism, but it does occur to me, that, in a sense, what Jesus is speaking of is very real, and not purely metaphor, in a couple of ways. Firstly, sin, to as base a level as consuming literal flesh and literal blood, would ultimately be what consumed Jesus on the cross. Not only did he offer himself to be consumed, He invited, even challenged them to consume Him. This was, and remains, the way to redemption. The “truth of our lives”, to which Jamie refers Sunday after Sunday – the good, the bad, the ugly…even the outright disgusting and evil…every gory detail, cast upon Jesus who put Himself in the way of it ALL for our sakes. In the sense that it shines a spotlight upon the worst of our selves – our capacity for sin – the cross (the Gospel) is most certainly an offense. Jesus, however, does not back down, gloss over, or “dress-up” the reality. The worst parts of us-even the parts of us that we can’t bear to look at, including our mere human potential to be outright “grotesque” – would have to eat Him up (in a sense) for Him to pour back the sustenance of His Spirit, forgiveness, grace – LIFE upon us.
Even the disciples got hung up on what Jesus was saying. Later in John 6 they said, basically, “Why’d you do that?” Even they, at this stage of the story, could not fully understand the paradoxical & astonishing, upside-down miracle of redemption. That they, and now we, would receive eternal life – sustaining life forever- through Jesus being devoured by our sin. That He would take that upon Himself…willingly, once and for all. From that death, life – for all…Living water, bread of life, lamb of God…so many metaphors for this miracle of Jesus, and yes, among these, flesh and blood, eaten, drunk, consumed by us to obtain our Salvation…strange and astonishing words from Christ, even today.
Secondly, this uncomfortable metaphor hearkens to another actuality – the Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelled among us, which is, in fact, the way John opens his gospel just a few chapters earlier. Being that the Scriptures also tell us that we will not “live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”, it is a fair “leap” to say that we really live, not by “manna from heaven” or any earthly bread that fills our stomachs, (including my grandmother’s cinnamon buns which are as close to heavenly sustenance as it gets); rather, we live by Jesus himself – by his work on the cross, yes, but also by His words, left for us in Scripture. What a gift, to have recorded for us the ministry and stories; the sermons, the thoughts, the passion, the prayers and the very heart of our Lord, who is the way, the truth and the life. The Living Word – Jesus, who still speaks to us today by the Holy Spirit – and the Word (our Bibles), hold life and sustenance for us, if we will partake of them.
Tonight we will “take and eat” and “take and drink…” As mentioned earlier, in preparation for our journey to the table, we will be invited to take “the truth of our lives” to God. How honest am I willing to be? In society, we talk about the goodness of humankind. Humanists stand vehemently by humanity’s innate goodness. But, is not some, or much, of our lives (my life) spent in avoidance of a different reality? It is perhaps possible that many of our indulgences, whatever they may be, maybe even our addictions, are ways of distracting ourselves from really looking “square on” at the “less than ideal” truths of our lives; truths we’d rather not dwell upon: that we’re afraid, that we’re jealous, that we’re angry, petty, and, yes, capable of doing “things better left undone”. Yet, it was these that Jesus took, and still takes upon Himself today. Jesus, arms open wide, still says: “Come. Go deeper. Confront the truth, whatever it is, and however shameful – I can handle it. The truth will set you free.” Might not this freedom also mean a “release” from whatever we use to distract ourselves? There are behaviors that, though maybe not even “bad” in and of themselves, can become unhealthy. Some take such a hold of us and of our time. Are we avoiding God and what He wants to do in us? No “distraction” will ever, or could ever, provide the true food that Christ wants to give us. So, in the midst of our busy-ness, our pleasures, our addictions, the noise of our lives – even in the midst of all that we “do” for God…Will we make time to face our truths, bring them to the Lord and experience His freedom? Will we allow God to speak to us by the Holy Spirit and through the Word – so as to guide, fill, carry and feed us? For, even the most unbearable truths about us are irrelevant as we are transformed into His likeness, and offered His nourishment – that which feeds our spirits and allows His peace, His joy and His righteousness to increase in us. Christ’s “flesh” and “blood” offer true sustenance and life – more abundantly.
Jesus did not back down from challenging, even offensive language any more than He backs down from what is most challenging and offensive in us. Being “politically correct” was not more important than speaking the truth. What a Saviour!
Lastly, courtesy of my witty husband, who suggested I “leave it at that” hoping I’ve offered some ideas we can really “sink our teeth into”!