The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost, August 15, 2021

The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
August 15, 2021
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

     From St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, “Be careful how you live … Be filled with the Spirit … giving thanks to God the Father at all times for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.”

      There is an old adage that says, “Watch how you live: you might be the only Bible someone reads.” I thought of that phrase when reading today’s portion from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul urges the church to be mindful of how one lives everyday life because, truth be told, one’s choices, one’s values, one’s responses to those in need or to life’s circumstances, are far more telling about one’s relationship with God and God’s relationship with us, than anything we might say with our lips.

     And that got me thinking: If our lives were an actual book – a type of Bible so to speak - what would it tell the reader about God and our relationship with God, today?” See, ever since Paul said “Watch how you live…” the church has been divided over what it means to live truly Christian lives. Sadly, and more often than not, those divisions are over outward actions – a scorecard as it were as to how well one keeps a list of dos and don’ts, rather than, if one consistently responds to life’s situations, responds to people, responds to temptations, as God in Christ responded. Do we demonstrate God’s grace and mercy? Do we exemplify what our Lord describes in today’s gospel reading as “dwelling in him and he in us?”

      Understanding that throughout his letter, Paul has warned against addictions that can destroy life and there is great wisdom in his words, and yet, some interpret Paul’s words to mean that we are to shun life as if life is somehow sinful and evil. There is a sense within some facets of Christian theology that because this world is fallen and, therefore not our true eternal home, we need not be concerned with the plight of others, nor should we partake in what I call the good in things in life. I remember as a child being taught that if something feels good it must be evil, must be bad, because only through suffering can one experience the true joy of life in Christ. (Interesting theology there.)

     But St. Paul is saying the opposite. He encourages the celebration of life as a sacred gift from God to be enjoyed and lived to its fullest right now because the Christian life is marked by union with God today - right now: a union that not only seeks but restores wholeness and forgiveness, and reconciles us not only to God, but to, and with, each other right now. That’s the kind of Bible our lives should proclaim. When Paul says, “Watch how you live” he has been urging the Church to change her destructive behavior: to stop putting each other down and spreading rumors that sap the joy of our faith and the gift of life away from each other. Instead, live a grace-filled life, a mercy-filled life. In fact, Paul says, if there is something wrong between you and another member, make peace with them before you come this table. Don’t shun life, engage it: allow God’s spirit to fill your hearts with joy so that in every – every - aspect of your daily life you and others will see the works of God’s grace; See Christ in every person – even that person you don’t like. Paul knows that God is active in this world forever redeeming, recreating, and reshaping all of us into the image of Christ. So, Paul urges the Church to celebrate life as a banquet of God’s grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, and welcome; to live life in all its intended fullness and abundance that comes from the realization that the presence of God is active all around us and in us.

     Now, if you’re like me, when I first heard today’s Gospel reading I wondered if I had somehow stepped into the Twilight Zone (or worse yet, maybe I’d had a stroke) because it sure seems like we heard those same words last week. And we did. In fact, we will hear those same words in some form or another over and again for about four consecutive Sundays. And I have wondered why? Why now? Why all this repetition? Especially since, in today’s reading, Jesus is so insistent that his followers actually eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have life. The whole concept sounds so bizarre, so grotesque. What is going on here?

     Well, as 21st Century Christians we understand the dual message of this particular chapter in the gospel according to John. On the one hand, in giving his flesh and blood for the life of the world, we understand the extreme costs of our redemption. That, in the words of John 3:16-17, the only way to restore heaven and earth and earth with heaven, was for God to give God’s only Son not to condemn the world, but that through him, through his death, the world – all of us – might be saved. On the other hand, we understand the connection between flesh and blood and the bread and wine of the Holy Eucharist: that banquet, that feast, where our souls, our very spirits, our lives, are both nourished and then sent forth to be as Christ, to be like Christ, to the world.

     But I am going to take things a little deeper here this morning and invite us to consider Jesus’ words in light of Jewish teaching. See, throughout the Hebrew scriptures, flesh and blood refers to the whole person, not just our hearts and minds, but also, our thoughts and desires, our hopes and dreams, our worries and fears, our own spirits. Flesh and blood refers to everything we are. Jesus says that in giving his whole self - his flesh and blood for the wholeworld, and in our eating his flesh and drinking his blood God comes for our whole selves – all that we are just as we are. God comes to redeem all creation and Jesus says that those who will receive him will dwell, will abide, will rest, will endure forever in God and God, in turn, will dwell, will abide, will rest, will endure forever in us. God comes to his people in order to redeem the whole of our lives, in order to save, in order that we might have life today and always. God comes in order that we might be one with God, and that God might, indeed, dwell in us and we in him. So much so, that our very lives – the whole of our lives - become a sacrament – a visible and outward sign of God’s spiritual grace within us.

     In our Old Testament lesson this morning, God comes to Solomon. It is important to grasp that it is God alone who takes the initiative in this story. And Solomon responds in faith and in so doing, once again, reminds us that is all God has ever asked of his creation: that we respond to God in faith and, therefore, live accordingly as God’s people – as imitators of God - in every aspect of our lives.

     And that brings us back to St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. See, God’s coming to us is at the heart of St. Paul’s letter. God’s plan has always been to reunite all humanity so that we live, we abide, in God’s pure love, to restore all flesh to unity with God and one another in and through the Messiah, the Word of God made flesh and blood, Christ Jesus our Lord. For God will dwell in them who dwell in him. Paul says, “So watch how you live for the whole of our lives, our flesh and blood, should reflect God’s grace, love, mercy and forgiveness in all things.

     So what about that book that describes your life this morning? Well, St. Paul says that the Christian life – our book - is not about what we don’t do, but rather, how we Christians engage life in all the fullness that God intended. A fullness that even in times of grief and hardship proclaims thankfulness not because things never go wrong like finding ourselves in the midst of a recurring pandemic, or that we never experience the pain of loss, but rather, in thanksgiving that God has joined God’s own self to us and the circumstances of our lives, through Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh given for us.

     You know, the Psalmist proclaimed, “God’s … righteousness endures forever. The Lord is gracious and full of compassion. He gives food to those who fear him, and his covenant is forever. He has redeemed his people.” That, my friends, is an apt description of what the book of our lives should invite others to experience. It is the good news – the gospel - of our Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself – his whole self - his flesh and blood - for us and the whole world. It is life.

     Watch how you live you might be the only Bible someone reads. In the words of this morning’s collect, may God enable our whole lives to be an example of the fullness, love, mercy, and grace of God. An example that invites the world to come, to taste and see, that the Lord is good. Amen.