Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost — Rev. Karen Barfield

I Kings 8:1,6,12-11,22-30,41-43
Psalm 84
John 6:56-69

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

In today’s scripture readings we hear words of challenge, promise and home…a place of being and belonging in the presence of God.

When you were a child or maybe even an adult and were experiencing something frightening, did someone ever tell you: “Go to your happy place?”

What might that place be for you?

….the place where you feel safe and protected…surrounded by the love of God?

For me, one of the places I visit in my mind and heart when I am in need of some Peace is a hillside in Scotland. The grass is green and the air is crisp, but the sun is gently warming my face as I lie there looking up at the clouds drifting by.

At the bottom of the hill is a stream with an old water mill slowly turning.
The ducks are quacking as they search for food.
Occasionally a child laughs in delight.

There is stillness
and life
all at the same time.

In today’s Psalm we hear that

“the sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young;
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts…
Happy are they who dwell in your house!” (Ps 84:3-4)

Whatever the place that you find rest in God…hold that place in your heart while we journey into the gospel….

The people who have been following Jesus, listening to his teaching and preaching, are beginning to grumble at Jesus’ hard sayings.

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

“Just as the Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” (Jn 6:56-58)

They have been amazed at his miracles, but when it becomes life as usual, without the punctuation of the miraculous, they begin to grumble.

What is this talk of eating flesh and blood?

“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

As Jesus speaks of eating his flesh and blood, no doubt his hearers would be offended, hearing words of sacrifice and of consuming human flesh and blood.

It is indeed too much!

Then Jesus says, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63)

Perhaps he is saying, “Don’t take so literally the flesh and blood. Consider my life… Consider taking my life into yourselves, and when you do that you will live! Find your home in me as I find my home in my Father, and there you will dwell forever.”

In Caroline Bynum’s book, Holy Feast and Holy Fast she says, “In becoming flesh, God takes on humanity, and that humanity saves, not by being but by being broken.” (p. 251)

God’s humanity saves, not by being but by being broken.

Here is the critical point: God, in Christ, is broken for us.

Christ’s suffering is essential.

If God had become human and was taken into the heavens without suffering and death, then something would be lost.

That God became human, taking on flesh and blood, means that God was capable of suffering our pain.

Just as God provides for our healing through participating in our suffering,
so we, too, participate in the healing of others as we enter into their suffering.

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (Jn 6:56)

Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we hear the words: “do this in remembrance of me.”

Every time we eat the bread and drink the wine, the Body and Blood of Jesus, we remember that Jesus’ body was broken for us, his blood shed for us…. We remember that through Jesus’ life, suffering, death and resurrection, we have been redeemed – made holy – by God.

Perhaps these words: “do this in remembrance of me” are not so much a command to remember Jesus’ brokenness for us as it is a command to have our bodies broken and our blood shed for others.

Our Eucharistic meal is not only a remembrance of what God has done for us, but it is also a calling for us to share our lives in the suffering of our sisters and brothers.

This is indeed a difficult teaching…who can accept it?

“Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” (John 6:66)

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities… communities which live in solidarity with persons with disabilities, has written a beautiful book entitled, The Broken Body.

I share with you a portion of his reflections on “Growing to Wholeness through Descent”:

“In a special way, for those of us called to live or work with very broken people, our purpose is to help them rise up and discover and exercise their own gifts, to discover their beauty and their capacity to love and to serve.

“The danger for those who are serving the poor is to hold them by doing too much for them, like parents who do too much for their children with a handicap.

“It is always easier to do things for people than to help them find their human dignity, and self-respect, by doing things for themselves.

“When we do too much, not helping others to grow or take responsibility for themselves, are we not just serving ourselves? – seeking power and a pedestal?

“To serve broken people means helping them, like a mother helps her child, to discover their own gifts and beauty, helping them to a greater independence, so that gradually we may disappear.

“It means going down the ladder and washing their feet as Jesus did, discovering the beatitude of littleness: to be hidden servants, taking the last place; it is there we find Jesus.

“John the Baptist said that he must decrease that Jesus might increase.

“The power of God’s glory grew only as Jesus disappeared, descending to the lowest place.

“Jesus said: ‘It is good that I go, so that I can send you my Spirit; then you may grow and bear much fruit.’

“And so, Jesus died on the cross, and then hid himself in the bread of the Eucharist.

“In the same way, those of us who are the strongest or the elders in a community, must learn to disappear, to take the last place, to become like bread, so that others may be nourished and grow.” (pp. 110-111)

And it doesn’t matter if that is in our role as parent or teacher or social worker or minister or lawyer or friend or boss or companion.

We become like bread so that others may be nourished and grow.

And we do this by taking Jesus into ourselves, by allowing Jesus to nourish us and abide in us as we abide in him. We do this by finding our resting place in God.

“Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:67-68)

We have gathered here because we know, somehow, that Jesus has the words of eternal life…whether today is the first day you have found yourself in church…or the second day or the fiftieth year…we come to be nourished by the bread from heaven.

Vanier speaks of Jesus’ teaching and our participation in it…

“His teaching is simple, contained in what he called the new commandment: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’

“Love your enemies.

“Love those who hate and persecute you.

“Love those who have become outcast and those who are excluded from the group because the are ‘useless’, non-productive: the blind, the lame, the sick, the poor and the lepers.

“Love not just those of your own tribe, your own class, family or people, but those who are different, those who are strangers, who are strange to your ways, who come from different cultural and religious traditions, who seem odd, those you do not understand.

“Love as the Samaritan loved the man he found beaten up by robbers, somewhere on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho.

“To love is to open our hearts to people, to listen to them, to appreciate them and see in them their own unique value, to wish deeply that they may live and grow.

“To love is to give our lives for one another.

“It is to forgive, and to be compassionate.

“But by ourselves we cannot love in this way.

“Jesus came to take away the dynamics of fear that close us in upon ourselves as we try to cover up our vulnerability and inner loneliness. He only asks that we follow him, opening our hearts to him in a personal relationship, trusting and believing in him,
as the One sent by the Father to give us this love which flows from the heart of the Father;
as the One sent by the Father to make us children of the Father, beloved children, called to enter into the glory and love of the Trinity;
as the One sent by the Father to take away the sins and the violence of the world and all forms of fear and guilt;
as the One through whose body our bodies become whole;
as the One who will fill us with his Spirit…. (The Broken Body, pp. 36-38)

As we share breakfast or burgers and dogs with our homeless neighbors, or coffee and tea or a meal with colleagues, friends or family, it is a time to share ourselves…to enter into the lives of one another, sharing our places of pain and hope, allowing ourselves to be broken open for another.

It is there that we will abide in God and God in us.
It is there that we will experience eternal life.