Lectionary Reflection for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost
August 19, 2012
Just in case you havenâ€™t â€œgotten itâ€ after four weeks of bread-themed lessons, Jesus invites us into a way of living and being that is at once both wise and weird. It is wise by divine standards; in fact, it is not only wise but also â€œthe wayâ€ to life abundant and everlasting. Yet by the worldâ€™s standards this notion is wacky and weird. What Jesus proposes is a total life commitment that opposes the very foundations both of first century and twenty-first century culture.
Try to hear the words of Jesus from Johnâ€™s gospel without your â€œchurchâ€ ears on. Eating flesh and drinking blood? Sounds suspiciously like cannibalism and vampirism doesnâ€™t it? The bare language is more than a bit revolting once we take off our rose-colored lenses of faith and theological understanding. Sure, we good church folk know there is much more to those words than what they literally say, but have we gone too far in sanitizing and sweetening them? In making them palatable and acceptable, have we watered down the real impact?
Let me ask you this: do the complex notions of consubstantiation and transubstantiation turn raw images and words into safe bits of bread and wine? Does a memorial supper celebration have the same impact of Jesusâ€™ words â€œVery truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in youâ€? No matter your theological understanding of Christâ€™s meal or what you call it, when we try to bury these words in our worship practice, weâ€™re missing an important part of what Jesus may be saying to us, because consuming Jesus doesnâ€™t happen only at the altar rail.
Living, breathing, and abiding in Christâ€™s body each hour of every day is no wimpy way to live but rather is our countercultural calling as Christians. We are to show Christ to the world through our words and actions, every day of our lives both individually and as worshiping communities. Having consumed and been fueled by Christ into full communion, we in turn offer the experience of his saving grace and boundless love to others. We become â€œlittle Christs,â€ part of the heavenly food chain and circle of endless and abundant life.
This means a whole lot more than one or two segmented hours once a week along with a bit of bread and sip of wine or juice. This means instead of devouring what the world tells us we need to consumeâ€”the latest fashions, the largest entertainment package, as much fast food as we want whenever we want it, bigger and better houses, anything to boost our perceived status and retail salesâ€”we need to nourish body and soul with Jesus. We must be intimately acquainted with his words, his actions, his promises, and his love. We must dwell in his house, be part of his people as the Body of Christ, and allow our own will to be subsumed into the divine will. We are not our own, but we are what we eat.
Just as the United States is facing severe health, environmental, and economic crises caused by our poor choices, bad habits, and unbridled consumption, so too we face a spiritual crisis when we choose to feast on the lures and lies of the world rather than the promises of Christ.
Yes, we feast on Christ at the table, but we must make our very lives a banquet of hope, grace, and love. We are stewards of the Good News and consumers of Christ. We must live with a radical gratitude and a holy hunger, always willing to pull more chairs up to the table. If we are what we eat, then weâ€™d better imbibe that grace, ask for seconds of our Lordâ€™s love, and pass the promises of God. Come to the feast! Come eat and live!
Consider using Wendell Berryâ€™s poem â€œPractice Resurrectionâ€ as part of your worship, either as a meditation after the sermon accompanied by a slideshow of images or as a dramatic reading. You will find the complete text here.
Consider this passage from the work of writer and farmer Wendell Berry:
â€œI do not mean to suggest we can live harmlessly or strictly at our own expense; we depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration …in such desecration, we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.â€
How can we relate our process of growing, harvesting, sharing, and consuming food to this weekâ€™s gospel lesson (John 6:51-58)?
Do you have a master gardener or farmer in your community who might be willing to talk to the youth about the process of growing, harvesting, and marketing food? If not, you might want to show this video.
One simple activity is to bring in some garden fresh tomatoes or other fresh produce (peaches, apples, or whatever is in season in your area) and bring in a comparable selection from the grocery store that has been shipped in from miles away or even from another country. Talk about how tomatoes are picked green, sprayed, and shipped. There is no comparison in taste.
Consider talking about food deserts, local food movements, sustainable agriculture, and other topics related to food and eating. How as Christians can we eat, live, and share justly?
Finally, how does choosing to â€œconsume Jesusâ€ (in Holy Communion and in all aspects of oneâ€™s life) instead of various cultural replacements ensure life and health?
Itâ€™s time to talk about throwing a partyâ€”a WISE Party (We Invite Seekers Everywhere)
If possible set a small table with the very best china, linens, and flatware. Include flowers as a centerpiece. Talk to the children about how when we invite people to a feast, like Wisdom does in the reading from Proverbs, we set the table with the best that we have and we serve the best food we can in order to show our guests true hospitality and welcome.
Make the connection that Jesus does this with us in Communion. Not only does Jesus invite us to a feast, he invites us to live as his children, learning to love God and others, to serve one another and the world, and to feed all who are hungry, inviting them to also learn about the food Jesus offersâ€”love, grace, and forgiveness.
Consider starting a program where in addition to offerings children and families are invited to bring non-perishable food, paper products, and toiletries for a local food pantry or related ministry. Have the children bring the offerings of food forward each week with the regular offering as a tangible reminder that just as Jesus feeds and cares for us, we feed and care for others in his name.