August 19th, 2012 “More Bread” Rev. Heather Jepsen
John 6:51-58 and Ephesians 5:15-20
This morning we are continuing in our discussion of John chapter 6 and the idea that Jesus is the bread of life. Together we have wondered on the reasons why we come to church on Sundays as well as how we are called to give of ourselves to those around us. We have talked about nourishment at church and nourishment at the communion table. Today we will explore what I believe to be the most offensive portion of this discussion in the gospel of John.
Picking up where we left of last week, Jesus makes a bold statement to his disciples as well as those gathered. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” It doesn’t take long at all for those listening to take offense at these words. The writer of John tells us that the Jews gathered who were not of his sect immediately began to argue about what Jesus was saying. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” I imagine that even the disciples were asking this question among themselves. Just what in the world is Jesus talking about?
Rather than calmly explaining what he means in clear language, Jesus takes the conversation to the next level in terms of offensiveness and outright outrageous speech. Listen to it again: 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. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”
What in the world is Jesus talking about? This just sounds like crazy talk. Can you imagine walking into a church, or anyplace for that matter, and hearing someone talk like this? You would think it was a church of cannibals, a church of zombies, a church of vampires. This is truly some outrageous language. As modern believers, we like to dumb it down and say, “oh he’s just talking about communion” but that really doesn’t do the passage any justice.
The writer of the gospel of John is really pushing the envelope here and he is doing it on purpose. While it is certainly a reference to the Eucharistic meal, the writer of John really wants to catch your attention and get you off guard. The purpose of this language is to make you uncomfortable.
I’m going to pass out some bread to share while we think a bit about eating.
So far in John chapter 6, the writer uses the Greek verb phagein when he writes “to eat”. This is a nice little respectable verb, eating politely like this . . . But suddenly in verse 54 when Jesus says eat my flesh, the verb changes to trogein which is not a polite verb for eating but rather an impolite term for crunching or munching on something with your teeth. Basically chewing with your mouth open, like this . . .
The writer of the gospel of John has deliberately set out to shock the reader. When it comes to eating Jesus, we aren’t supposed to politely nibble, we aren’t supposed to simply pull a delicate crumb off the loaf. No, we’re supposed to grab a giant piece and chow down. Chow down on the flesh of Jesus.
That’s a shocking thing to say but I hope you get the point. If we are going to be fed by the Lord than we really need to take it in. When we celebrate communion take a big piece, take two pieces, grab a handful. This is the bread of life, take a good share. Like the loaves and fishes there is plenty to go around.
I am reminded of a time once when I came forward to take communion at a Presbytery meeting. I was 6 months pregnant with Olivia and already quite big. Folks were coming up and pinching off pieces of bread to dip in the cup. When I got up front I saw what a beautiful loaf it was, fresh baked and tasty, and I was hungry, so I ripped off a giant piece and walked back to my seat with this huge hunk of bread. It was a great image for me and for those around me as many in the congregation giggled to see the pregnant lady with a big chunk of bread. We should always take communion with such gusto.
In addition to sharing communion with passion, we need to be more passionate about our faith in general. This leads to the other offensive language in this section of John chapter 6. In this passage, Jesus speaks in very exclusive terms “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. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life . . . Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood, abide in me and I in them . . . whoever eats me will live because of me.”
I think we like to gloss over it but the language used in this section of John is extremely exclusive. Unless you do this, unless you are part of this in-crowd, you have no life, you have no eternal life, you have nothing. There is no way forward in grace or faith, without going through the flesh of Jesus.
At the time this was written this idea of exclusivity would be offensive to all the other sects trying to discover just how to be good Jews now that the temple has fallen and this Jesus person has come and gone. But I think this language is even more offensive now. As modern believers and as Presbyterians, we are very hesitant to claim that we have a foothold on the faith. We are very hesitant to claim that ours is the only way to life or to eternal life. We are much more comfortable being inclusive that we are at being exclusive. We are much more comfortable saying “to each his own” in regards to faith, than in saying “if you don’t eat this meal of Christ than you might as well die.”
Don’t get me wrong, I am as much into inclusivity as the next guy, but I think we run a real risk there. If we welcome everything under then sun, then we start thinking that our faith is nothing special. And if our faith is nothing special, than why in the world are we wasting our time here on Sunday mornings? This text challenges us to take our faith more seriously. I’m not saying we need to get out there with an “it’s my way or the highway” type of thing, but we do need to get out there and say “hey, we got something special here, we got the way to life.” There are a lot of embarrassing Christians out in the world but that doesn’t mean we need to be embarrassed or ashamed of our faith. No, rather we need to be out in the world as well, proclaiming all the wonderful things that our faith, and our faith alone, has to offer.
All month we are pairing our readings from John with the letter to the church in Ephesus. Our passage from Ephesians for this week reminds us that the time is short. Every second counts, every day counts, we need to work for the building up of our faith every chance we have. The writer tells us that rather than getting drunk on wine, or getting fat on the world around us, we should be getting drunk on the Holy Spirit, we should be taking nourishment from the church.
As the gathered assembly, we feed on the bread of life by worshipping together. In singing and listening to music, in reading scripture and preaching, in teaching and learning we are fed. Time is running out for all of us. Now is the time to come together as a church and receive nourishment in worship and nourishment from each other.
One thing that I assessed from my meetings with the PNC and I have observed in my first few months here is that this church is hungry. This church, this body of Christ, needs more nourishment of our faith. We do a great job at getting together for meetings and a fine job at mission and an ok job at worship on Sundays but we don’t ever go deeper. We need to feed more together. We need to welcome the Spirit more together. We need to explore the depths of our faith more together. Rather than politely nibbling on the bread of life, we need to rip off a big chunk and chow down.
Now I am offering two opportunities for us to do this, two opportunities for us as a body of Christ to go deeper in our faith. The first one you already know about and that is the adult Sunday school class. This will be a comfortable thing for most of you and as we have many academic minded folks here. This Sunday school class is a chance to study, explore, and discuss our faith in a deeper way than we simply do here in worship.
The second opportunity I am presenting will be harder for many of us which makes it all the more important that you come. This is thing that I think we really need to help deepen the faith of us as individuals and of this church family. On Tuesday evenings here at the church, I purpose that we explore some spiritual disciplines together. This is a chance for us to go much deeper in our faith. This is a chance for us to get in touch with our spirituality. This is a chance to expand and explore what we do here in worship on Sundays. This is a chance for us to think a little bit less about our faith and feel a little bit more about it. This is a chance to explore our faith with all of our senses. I hope you will consider joining me here on Tuesday evenings, starting in September, for some quiet time of reflection as we dig deeper into our own spirits and our personal relationships with God.
Our readings from John continue to challenge us. From considering chewing on a big portion of the bread of life, to embracing the exclusive claims of our faith, to digging deeper for more nourishment from our God; this morning’s lesson asks us to leave our comfort zone and that’s a good thing. As long as we stay in our comfort zone we can’t grow in our faith and we can’t grow as a church. Jesus is calling to us, and challenging us to join together in experiences that deepen our faith. May we boldly explore our faith in new ways together, may we boldly gather to chew on the bread of life with our mouths open. Amen.