August 8, 2021 The 11th Sunday after Pentecost

August 8, 2021, The 11th Sunday After Pentecost
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin 

Readings: 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

From the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John, “(Jesus said) I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” I speak to you in the Name of God. Amen.

     Holy Scripture tells us there was a time in human history when we had it made! Our world was a garden and God’s presence was with us, and walked among us. It was an incredible place filled with natural wonder and beauty. It was called the Garden of Eden and in that garden everything necessary to meet all the needs of humankind was not only available, it was abundant. The only thing asked of us – the only “thou shalt not” God commanded - was that we nevereat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But a crafty serpent came along, as described in Genesis chapter 3, and convinced our ancestors that the reason God said don’t eat of that tree was because in eating of its fruit, our “eyes will be opened” and we “will become like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4b). And so we ate of that tree. And the whole course of human history changed forever.

What followed that moment of decision, that moment of disobedience, was exile and eventual slavery and abuse. Brother rose up against brother; people schemed against one another; broke their promises and treated their neighbor with disdain. Oh, there were plenty of good people around – people who truly tried to live loving and caring lives – but the world was changed. The garden was gone.

     We get a sense of just how badly the world had become in this morning’s Old Testament lesson. As foretold by the Prophet Nathan earlier in 2nd Samuel, David’s decision, David’s choosing, to give in to his adulterous passion with Bathsheba followed by his scheming to murder her husband in an effort to cover up their infidelity, their sin, destroyed not only David’s family, but resulted in a civil war that split his kingdom as his son Absalom fought against him for the crown. In today’s particular reading, David faces the reality that his wrong and yet, fully conscious choice – just like some wrong choices today – will result in life-lasting grief and life-ending death. And it all goes back to that moment when humankind could not keep that one commandment: “do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

     But there was another tree in that Garden of Eden: the Tree of Life. And scripture says that eating from it would ensure humankind would live forever (Gen. 3:22). As my colleague, the Rev. Rick Morley says, “Obviously, we ate from the wrong tree! We were never told we couldn’t eat from the Tree of Life … but we chose to eat from the tree we were told not to. We could have lived forever. In that Garden. With God. We were so close. It could have been great.” (Rev. Rick Morley, Reflections on John 6). But in that moment, that chance for eternal life, that promise, was gone.

     In today’s reading from John Chapter 6, Jesus doesn’t talk about trees, but rather, about bread. “This is the bread that comes down from heaven,” Jesus says, “so that one may eat of it and not die” (John 6:50). Jesus goes on to reveal that he is talking about himself whom he describes as divine “living bread” that gives his life for the whole world. And those who eat of this bread, those who believe and abide in him, Jesus says, “will live forever.” Jesus offers the world – offers all of us, regardless of what happened in Eden long ago, or what happened in our own past or even yesterday, or who or what we are – Jesus offers a new creation, a new garden, a new Tree of Life. He offers humanity a fresh start: a chance to begin again. And what I find fascinating about this living bread, this new Tree of Life, is that at the Last Supper we don’t hear, “thou shalt not ...” but rather, God incarnate saying, “Take … eat … This is my body broken, my body given, for you.”

    And therein we find one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith. See some people say God doesn’t care about everyday life. If God did care then there would be no famines, no hunger, no homelessness, no pandemics, no needy. Many people have asked, “How can God allow poverty and disease?” Desmond Tutu was asked that same question once. He responded, “How can God allow it? The greater question is how can we allow it?” (Food for thought!)But, no, many think God is way up there divorced from human reality and never present in the ordinary things of life; not bread, not trees, and certainly not common people like us. So, like the crowd John describes in our Gospel lesson, some wonder how Jesus, this common, every day, carpenter’s son, this mortal like you and me, can claim to be “the bread that comes down from heaven,” claim to be the Son of God? But those words of Jesus affirm what God has said and shown time and again throughout scripture: God is forever present in the midst of the ordinary, the mundane and common. The life of Jesus reveals that where we expect God to come in might, God comes in weakness; where we look for God to come in power, God comes in vulnerability; and when we expect God to come in vengeance and with judgment, God comes in mercy and with forgiveness. God comes not despising the ordinary, the common, the mundane, but blessing it and embracing it, and so, beloved, should God’s people.

     See, one of the great truths revealed in the sacraments is that God embraces all that God created - the common everyday things of life – ordinary water, bread, and wine - just as God blesses all those who come to God and this table. For those who do come, those who eat of this bread and drink from this cup find God’s promises fulfilled: God’s promises to take hold of us, to offer to transform our very hearts and minds, to make us God’s own, and never again let any of us go. That is the promise and power proclaimed in the Holy Eucharist which we celebrate this day.

    But today’s scriptures are more than a lesson about the sacraments, more than a promise of eternal life, more than bread itself. They go to the heart of what it means to truly follow the Christ. See, God’s sacramental grace doesn’t stop with us, nor does it stop at the conclusion of worship services on Sunday mornings. The bread of life while feeding and nourishing our souls, is anything but comfort food. For we get up from this table, from this holy Communion, sent forth to share him whom we have consumed, to be just like him whose body we have now become. And being Christ’s body every moment of every day is something we have to consciously choose to embrace and demonstrate.

          St. Paul, in today’s reading from Ephesians, gives us a glimpse of what people who embrace and demonstrate everything Jesus taught look like. Paul says that those who eat of this living bread, those who abide in Christ and in whom Christ himself abides, put away all falsehood and speak the truth; they put away all bitterness and anger and wrangling and slander, and are kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving as Christ has forgiven them, forgiven me and you. Paul urges the church to remember that the Christian faith is a faith of action, of change, of redemption. It is not about feeling comfortable, but rather, about going forth into the world – into the midst of those who, because of their appearance, or need, or country of origin, or their politics or religion, often make us uncomfortable – and demonstrating to them God’s justice, God’s grace and mercy; God’s endless welcome and forgiveness, God’s love.

     Much has been said this past week about Covid-19, the Delta variant, and the continuing reluctance by some to not only get vaccinated, but wear a mask – as if requiring masks is somehow an affrontery to one’s civil liberties. And this is especially true in some parts of the Christian Church. Those of us who have been vaccinated and now choose to wear masks, have been labeled by some supposedly “Christian” brothers and sisters as somehow less Christian – or not Christian at all –and therefore, unsaved, less than human, less worthy of dignity and respect. But for those who embrace the Christ and all that he taught, those who truly follow the Christ, in the words of St. Paul, treat others with compassion. They do everything possible to protect the health and well-being of their neighbor. See, every time we eat of this living bread and drink of this cup, we affirm that the lives and circumstances of our neighbors, of our communities, matter: matter to God and, therefore, matter to us. The bread of life, Jesus said, has come down from heaven for all and at this table, God’s table, all means all!

    The hard truth is, beloved, the sacraments, while complete in themselves, will always remain incomplete in us, remain an incomplete expression of our faith until they are lived out in our everyday lives. There is no separation between receiving the bread of life and how we choose to live. We are sent forth as Christ’s body to make a difference in this world; sent forth to make our Lord’s prayer, “thy kingdom come” more than a prayer; sent forth to make God’s kingdom a reality wherever we are and wherever we go right now. But making that prayer a reality cannot and will notbegin until each of us, until all who claim the name of Christ, choose the right tree: Choose to consume and then become that living bread of heaven to this community and the world.

     May God grant us the grace and the wisdom to make the right choice: to be living bread, to be as Christ, always. Amen.