Saturday, August 15, 2009

Feasting on Jesus

John 6:51-58

We continue reading portions of Jesus’ bread of life discourse in the Gospel of John. The way the lectionary is structured, we rarely get to spend week after week thinking about one of Jesus’ speeches. This presents a challenge for preachers to find new things to say each week, but also a delight as we look at small segments of a discourse and talk about the message in more depth.

We should not lose sight of the fact that the event for this discourse is the feeding of the 5,000. In our text, Jesus is still explaining that people cannot live by bread alone, but must also depend on God. We can read this text in at least two ways: it is the closest John comes to telling the story of Jesus instituting Holy Communion, with its references to bread and wine. You may recall that in John’s gospel, the last supper is a meal, but not a Passover meal. We may also say that this text is a reinforcement of the encouragement to closely follow Jesus and believe in him.

If we remember that in John most of Jesus’ conversations mean many things at the same time, I see no reason to believe it has to be one or the other. Instead, I think it’s both, and a lot more. It has to do with feasting on the Bread of Life, Jesus.

Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. If you eat this bread, you will live. If you drink my blood, you will have eternal life.” The people listening to him took him literally and were aghast. They thought Jesus was talking about cannibalism. For Jews, the notion of drinking blood is an abomination. Blood contains life, and it’s forbidden to consume it. Jews, including modern Jews who keep Kosher, drain all the blood out of their meat before cooking it. So, Jesus was asking the folks to something they would never in a million years think of doing.

We who read the story 2000 years later have a different perspective. We can look at the whole story, from four different gospel writers, who each tell the same story in different ways, to different audiences. The way John tells the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we learn more and more about who Jesus is, one encounter at a time, one layer of meaning at a time. At this point in the story, Jesus is just beginning to develop his message. This discourse occurs long before the disciples hear the last supper discourse, in which Jesus makes it clear that God abides in him and he abides in God, and that Jesus and God are one being.

Those who believed in him 2,000 years ago grew slowly in understanding and faith as they followed him, or learned from him. Others living in the same time and place refused to understand and believe. For them, what Jesus said was blasphemy, and nothing more.

Jesus still invites us into a relationship with him in which we dine on Jesus, both in body and blood, and in spirit. We feast on him through the meal of Holy Communion. And we feast on him whenever we spend time in Jesus’ presence. Both of those understandings undergird the rest of the sermon today.

Last week Mike and I attended an educational event called “Teaching Spiritual Formation in the Congregation.” That fancy title really means helping people spend faithful time in God’s presence. A key understanding is that people pray in lots of ways, including some ways we may not normally think of as prayer.

Prayer is any way in which we connect with God’s presence and divine will. We pray with our words; we pray with our hearts; we pray when we sit in silence. We pray when we study scripture; we pray when we sing; we pray when we sit with a sick person. We pray when we give food for the food pantry; we pray when we offer a ride to a friend; we pray when we give thanks; we pray when we share a meal. We pray when we quilt, when we knit or crochet, when we mow the lawn, and when we cook. We pray when we clean, and when we change light bulbs. We pray when we teach, and when we learn, and when we take a turn in the nursery. We pray when we give our financial resources.

During the week, we did a lot of activities related to prayer. I’d like to share one of them with you, as we give thanks for the bodies we have and the many ways we can use them in prayer.

Let’s start by looking at our hands. Your hands may not look like they did when you were younger but they are your hands. Look at your hands. … Remember the texture of the things your hands have touched, hard things, soft things, fuzzy things, scratchy and rough things. … Remember the other hands and bodies your hands have touched. … Remember the things your hands have made. … Say a prayer of thanksgiving for your hands.

Now look at your feet. Your feet may have just a few miles on them, or be ready for a retread, but they are still your feet. Slip your feet out of your shoes if you wish. Feel them as they touch the floor, as they move around in your shoes. … Remember when your feet moved fast, and when they moved more slowly. … Remember walking on grass, on sand, on concrete and asphalt, on tile and carpet. … Remember the places your feet have taken you, near home and far away, up north and down south, out west and back east, in America and to other countries. … Say a prayer of thanksgiving for your feet.

Put your hand over your heart so you can feel it beating, or find a pulse point on your wrist or neck. Your heart may never have skipped a beat, or it may have had some damage. It may need some help to keep it beating regularly. It is still your heart. Feel your heart beat. … Remember the times when your heart beat fast with excitement and anticipation. … Remember the times your heart beat fast in fear. … Remember the times your heart beat to keep up with your activity and movement. … Remember the way your heart just keeps beating, a signal you are still alive. … Say a prayer of thanksgiving for your heart.

There are so many ways in which we can feast on Jesus and enjoy being in his presence, and so many ways in which we can be his presence in the world. They are all called prayer. Several months ago I invited you to pray more. I gave you no specifics about what to pray for, although I suggested praying for Hope and what we are called to do in this time and this place. Many of you have said you were doing just that.

Now I invite you to be more aware of how you pray. Your challenge this week is to pay attention to what you are doing, and how it could be considered a form of prayer. I believe many of you will realize you are praying a whole lot more than you thought you were.

Please pray with me. Jesus, help us to feast on you, on your words, on your body and your blood, and to drink deeply of your Holy Spirit. Share your presence with us, as we share it with others in so many ways, each and every day. Amen