Friday, August 25, 2006

PENTECOST 12:RCL texts for August 27, 2006

A couple of stories this week:

Re: Ephesians 6:10-20 about putting on the full armor of God.
about 25 years ago I was driving across eastern North Carolina's hot, sandy pine barrens. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was on my way to Methodist College in Fayetteville to attend the North Caroina United Methodist Annual Conference.
I was listening to a radio preacher because it was the only station I could pick up. The preacher was waxing eloquent about the full armor of God, in full volume cadences he talking about the helmet of Salvation and the Breastplate of righteousness etc, when suddenly he said, "But notice, uh, there's no backplate,uh, brothers and sisters, there is no, uh, backplate. Long as you facing the Devil, fighting evil head on, the Lord's with you. But listen to me people, there ain't no backplate; you turn tail and run from the devil, you're on your own!" I ran off the road into a ditch.

Re: Gospel Lesson in which John makes reference to the many I AM statements of Jesus.
Rabbi Harold Kushner in the book GOD WAS IN THIS PLACE AND I, I DID NOT KNOW, talks about the holy of holies as described in I Kings, chapter 6.

He reminds us that on the day of atonement the high priest went in to make amends for the people's sins. In that room, he had only one job, to utter the sacred name of God, which no one ever said, because it was too holy. No one was even allowed to try. As the High priest breathed in and out he could hear the sacred name on his lips. "yahweh" I AM WHO I AM. I will be who I will be. the Priest stood there, barely breathing, breathing the name of God.

Now here's the important detail. Remember, only the High Priest goes in, and that only once a year. the other priests helped him get dressed before he went in, and the last thing they did was tie a rope around his ankle. Why? So that if he said the name wrong and God struck him dead, they could pull him out of the holy of holies without having to go into God's presence themselves.

Jesus came to show us that we had nothing to fear in the presence of God, to remind us that God is a God of love, a God of mercy, a Living God of the present, not a desd relic of the past.

I AM, God said, I AM present with you right now. I AM present in your successes and your failures. I AM present in your joys and sorrowa. I AM present in your going out and coming in, I AM present in your work and in your play. I AM present in your religious moments and your not so religious moments. I AM here, now and forever.



Thursday, August 17, 2006

PENTECOST 11, RCL Gospel for August 20, 2006

PENTECOST 11 August 20, 2006
Texts: Proverbs 9:1-6
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

TITLE: Eating and Drinking Jesus

Some years ago, when I was a young pastor, I was teaching a Catechism Class on a Sunday afternoon.A few minutes after we started, a young man of 13 came in, toting his 4 year-old sister on his hip. “Mama has to go to the hospital to see Gramma. Says I got to keep Annie.” “Which means I got to keep Annie,” I thought to myself as I heard his mother pull out of the church parking lot.

We were studying Holy Communion. I got Annie set up in the corner with a coloring book, then I began to go over the lesson with my three students:

What two things make a Sacrament?
An Earthly Element and a Divine Command.

What are the two Sacraments we observe?
Baptism and Communion.

What is the Earthly Element in Baptism?

What is the Earthly Element in Communion?
Bread and Wine

What do the Bread and Wine represent?
The Body and Blood of Jesus.

So, when we eat the bread, what are we eating?
The Body of Christ

And when we drink the wine, what are we drinking?
The Blood of Jesus

At this point I heard a noise in the corner, and turned to see Annie staring at us, wide-eyed. She loudly proclaimed YEECH!, then she threw up.

Most of us “old” folks are so accustomed to hearing liturgical language about the bread and wine being the Body and Blood of Christ, that we no longer really hear the crude, primal, visceral nature of such language.

At least not the way Annie heard it; not the way Jesus’ audience heard it when he said to them: 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.

When the text says they “disputed among themselves” about this, that is putting it mildly. The better translation would be “argued violently/angrily.”
As we will see in next week’s Gospel, many got so upset, they left off following after and listening to Jesus all together.

This business of eating flesh and drinking blood was indeed the most offensive thing you could say to a Jewish person. Many of the Hebrew Kosher laws have to do with the avoidance of drinking blood, or eating flesh with blood still in it, etc.

How are we to understand this? What are we to make of such language? What is John trying to tell us with this chapter 6, filled as it is with “Bread” stories?

We’ve got the feeding of the 5000, the many references to the wilderness experience and God’s provision of Manna from heaven and Jesus’ claims to be the true Bread from Heaven and now this, this crude, cannibalistic reference to eating and drinking Jesus himself.

It’s all a bit much for our modern, antiseptic sensibilities.
It sounds too much like snake-handling and poison-drinking and being slain in the spirit and all those overly enthusiastic things some remote Christians are rumored to engage in.

We prefer our religion neat and clean and appropriately done and appropriately metaphorical if you please.

And, so did many of the people to whom John was writing when he composed his Gospel. They were not only offended at this language about eating and drinking Jesus; they were offended by the very idea that Jesus was really human. They preferred to think that he was a sort of ghost who only appeared in human form, but was really all spirit.

There was an idea about that the body was bad and the spirit was good and that true religion consisted of being really spiritual and escaping the body. So many who became Christian with this idea decided that Jesus, the ultimate Spiritual Person, wasn’t really human, was really real, I guess.

John’s emphasis on Jesus’ fleshiness is meant to counteract this notion. The word used here SARX denotes meat, flesh, whereas SOMA just means body. John is making it clear that Jesus was a real live human being who ate and slept and went to the bathroom.

This was important then, and it’s important now. If Jesus just appeared or seemed to be human, then his death was not a real death, his suffering was not real suffering and his resurrection was just a show, a trick, an illusion.

For the economy of salvation to really work, it is necessary that Jesus be a real human being who lived and taught and was tried and suffered and died and went to hell and was brought back to life by the power of God.

Otherwise, it’s just a nice story and it really doesn’t affect anything, in the end it doesn’t communicate anything to us about God’s love and our life.

Thus Jesus say, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh (sarx)”

In his book Written in Blood Robert Coleman tells the story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. For various reasons, the boy was the only donor whose blood could save his sister. The doctor asked, “Would you give your blood to Mary?” The little boys lower lip began to tremble, then he took a deep breath and said, “yes, for my sister.”

After the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, the little boy began to look very worried, then he crossed himself, then he looked at the doctor and said, “When do I die?” Suddenly, the doctor realized that the little boy had thought that to give his blood to his sister meant he had to die, and miracle of miracles, he was willing to do that for his sister.

Jesus did that for us. That’s what John wants us to contemplate. It’s not a metaphor, not a parable, not a mythological construct about dying and rising gods. John is clear about that and wants his readers to be clear also.

Which is why we have the language about eating Jesus flesh and drinking his blood. John uses a word for eating which is probably better translated “gnaw” or “chew”. Again, he wants to drive home the point of the grounded reality of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.

Which is why he says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; . . “

As we come to the table this morning, we are to be mindful of Jesus’ presence in our midst. It was a real presence then and it is a real presence now.

The Gospel is that Jesus really, truly came down from heaven to live among us as the fleshly love of God.

The Gospel is that Jesus really, truly died upon the cross, giving up his flesh and spilling his blood, to save us from our sins.

The Gospel is that God almighty really, truly raised him from the dead, brought him out of the grave to a new and eternal life.

The Gospel is that God almighty really, truly has just such a future in store for each and every one of us.

And the Gospel is that when we come to the table,
we really truly take a bite out of that future,
we really, truly drink deeply of that promise,
we really, truly receive into ourselves
that love which will never let us go.
Amen and amen.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Well, I safely returned from across England, a bit lighter and hungrier than when I left, both of which are good things. I traveled 20 daylight hours on Saturday and then preached on Sunday in Highlands, so I have been a bit jet-lagged this week; plus I filed an over-due report with a granting agency and prepared a workshp for this week-end in California (I can hear the violins tuning up now) anyway, I'm not preaching Sunday, so I haven't done a lot on the texts, but, I feel like I ought to give you something, so here's a piece from my recent early morning readings which hit me pretty much where I live. Every once in a while, the only truthful response to a truly preached word is "ouch, that hurt!"

"Discipleship is commitment to Christ. Because Christ exists, he must be followed. An idea about Christ, a doctrinal system, a general religous recognition of grace or forgiveness of sins does not require discipleship. In truth, it even excludes discipleship; it is inimical to it. One enters into a relationship with an idea by way of knowledge, enthusiasm, perhaps even by carrying it out, but never by personal obedient discipleship. Christianity without the living Jesus Christ remains necessarily a Christianity without discipleship; and a Christianity without discipleship is always a Christianity without Jesus Christ. It is an idea, a myth. A Christianity in which there is only God the Father, but not Christ as a living Son actually cancels discipleship. In that case there will be trust in God, but not discipleship." Dietrich Bonhoefffer, from Discipleship

And, on the theological front: I saw in the papers when I returned home the resurgent debate about the Triune name, all those proposed ideas, so here's mine: Paper, Rock, Scissors. It's Triune, it's non-gender specific, and it has lots of Biblical and theological metaphorical, symbolic, like you know, stuff. The Word of God, (on Paper) The Rock of Salvation, Jesus is my Rock and Rolls my sin away, The Spriit or something cuts like a two-edged sword, etc. I think it'll work.