The Bread of Life, by Pastor Noel

August 25 & 26, 2018    Proper 16B

 

      “I am the bread of life,” Jesus says. How can we have the life that he promises?

      From the beginning God has reached out to us—the part of God’s creation that can knowingly respond—has reached out to us with love.

      That love has been shown in tenderness, mercy, forgiveness….(I could go on) and in the fierceness that calls us to respond and follow.

      God’s reaching out to us and giving himself to us is what we experience in Eucharist—it IS a holy communion, a meeting of God and God’s people.

      It IS also true that in Scriptures we read of a God who is angry, vindictive, punishing. That is God from OUR point of view—since we are often angry, vindictive, punishing, we think that God must be that way, too.

      So we try to make God like us, rather than trying to be like God. If we are afraid of God, think that God will punish us, just wipe us out—then we respond to God’s call not with love, but by being angry and fearful, by being bullies.

      And by turning our backs on God. And why not, if our ideas of God are so negative!

      But if we see God in Jesus, and in the prophets long before him, I hope we respond with love.

      God’s love is not for us alone, but for all people, for all Creation in fact, so if we truly answer God’s invitation for love, we share it, everywhere.

      It sounds so simple, doesn’t it! God loves us, we love God, ourselves, and everyone else. It may be simple, but it’s not easy!

      The Israelites came to the promised land, and when Joshua reminded them of God’s goodness in their lives they promised to put aside the gods they’d been worshiping and follow the true God.

      And we read in Scripture how they usually didn’t follow God—and when that brought trouble they blamed God. They didn’t want to say they were wrong, it was their fault, so let’s blame God.

      So they often broke the covenant they had made with God. A covenant is a contract between two parties and the covenant Joshua reminded them of was God’s saying “I will be your God and you will be my people.”

      Covenants were often sealed with blood—like two young kids pricking their fingers to become blood brothers or sisters.

      Jesus tells us that in the Eucharist we drink his blood of the new covenant. This new covenant is not so much a contract based on a set of rules, but a way of life based in love and forgiveness. We are reminded in this new covenant that when Jesus was executed, God did not retaliate in kind, but responded with forgiveness, redemption, new life.

      It is in this new covenant that we are invited to follow Jesus—to abide in him as he abides in us.

      In the bread and wine of the Eucharist we have God’s promise of unconditional love for us, and our promise to God is to abide in Jesus—so let’s look at how we might do that.

      We have one idea from Paul in his letter to the church at Ephesus—put on the whole armor of God. Should you be so inclined, you can buy “armor of God” pajamas complete with helmet, shield and sword. That’s a rather simplistic way of understanding Paul—and a rather self-centered one, too! God’s promises to us are not for us individually, but for all of God’s people and creation.

      We can look to Jesus and get some ideas from him—feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, take the gospel good news into all the world.

      Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.”

      Bonhoeffer knew what he was saying—as you may know, he was a Lutheran pastor who opposed Hitler and was sent to a concentration camp. He gave his life so that a young father could live.

      Not all of us are called to such severe measures—but we all are called to do something to be God’s people.

      There is a Jewish tradition called Tikkun Olam—that means “restoring” or “healing” the world.

      This tradition tells us that each of us has a spark of God within us, and when we work together to do God’s will all those sparks just light up the world with God.

      That doesn’t tell us what to do, but how to do God’s will.  As we do it together we truly become the Body of Christ.

      Teresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, Yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now but yours.”

      Again, no specifics, just an invitation.

      And I’ve mentioned before an invitation from our Presiding Bishop to follow Jesus in the Way of Love. That sounds like a lofty and maybe impossible goal—so there are guidelines to help.

      We looked at these a few weeks ago. Turn away from whatever is keeping us from following Jesus and turn toward him. Learn about him. Pray and be connected to God. Worship to remind us about God and Jesus. Go and share this with others. Rest because we are no longer slaves in Egypt but God’s free people. And God rests.

      Like Paul, Bonhoeffer, Teresa of Avila and tikkun olam, these guidelines don’t tell us exactly how to but rather what to do for our part of the Way of Love.

      We can start here with our Eucharist. This is our thanksgiving feast of bread and wine—simple things that God blesses to feed and fill us.

      God’s part is to give himself to us, our part is to give ourselves to God and God’s creation.

      That is the Way of Love. That is the promise of Jesus as the bread of life.

 

     

 

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details