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Sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost - August 19 2018

Sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
August 19, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

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

King Solomon asked for wisdom. St Paul told the Ephesians, “Be careful how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”  He also said, “Be filled with the Spirit, sing and make melody, give thanks to God at all times and for everything.”

This is wisdom, then: to be filled with the Spirit, in good days and evil days.  It is, in short, the best response to evil times.  Being filled with the Spirit makes it possible for us to sing and make melody, and to give thanks to God at all times and for everything.

Being filled with the Spirit … is a powerful attractor for others.  We all know someone, or some people, whose very presence brings a sense of lightness and love.  We see them on the street and hurry to smile and wave and greet them.  They bring out the warmth and the smiles within ourselves.

The sun always shines where they are – yet it’s not just shiny; we know they care for us, and for others, for all the people in their lives, for all kinds of people and things and life itself. 

They are sensitive to our moods, they are concerned with our concerns, they listen and hear and think and hold in the light the world around them. They are, in Paul’s language, “filled with the Spirit.”

And yet, they are still human, and all the ones wo have this effect on me or on you, still have their own problems, their own times with darkness, their burdens of disappointment, their fears and their sorrows.  But somehow, they are willing to be vulnerable to all these things – and is because they are open to being vulnerable, they are also able to receive … the Spirit.

For most of us – or at least for me – it is only when our situation, whether job, home, health, finance, relationship, is so bad that we finally realize we can’t make it right, no matter what we do.  When we admit our vulnerability, then we face the choice between despair and dissolution or asking for help and seeking hope.

Some choose one; some choose the other.

Those who walk the paths of despair are no more vulnerable than those who walk the paths of hope.  Anyone who is vulnerable can be either manipulated by evil or strengthened by good.

The ones who have yet to learn they are not alone will desperately seek out community, wherever it is offered.

Let’s not forget, sometimes the first community that is offered is evil.  This is the voice that says, “there is nothing really wrong with wrong with you; you are right to feel victimized by the world, because “they” are “out to get you” and to “take you down.” Find someone to blame for your setbacks, someone outside, and don’t let go of your anger. Keep it focused on “them” (and ignore the person in the mirror).  Even in cases where you are the victim of oppression or violence, you do have some ability to make healthy choices, and not yield to the negative.

This is how crime families, murder cults, hate groups, and gangs come into being and maintain themselves – by drawing from a bottomless well of despair.

But what if a person at their most vulnerable, at the end of their rope, hears first from the voice of hope instead?

This voice is honest enough to admit the possibility that our choices might not have always been the best for us, but today is a new day and we can make a new choice today.

The voice of hope says “you are loved” and “we are not alone” and we can get through this, whatever this is, because others are walking with us. 

And, as Christians, we know our ultimate hope comes from God, the one God who lays it on the line for us every day – in that weird way that the crucifixion opens the door to eternal life even as the savior dies.

“Yea tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”

We know that if we ask for her in our vulnerability and hope, the Spirit of God will fill our spirits to overflowing, “as we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs together, singing and making melody to the Lord in our hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything … [good and bad] … in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

How does that work?

One of the reasons we are Episcopalians is because we have access to the body and blood of our Lord as often as we need it, want it, or choose it.

Now, when Jesus claims that we must “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood” in order to “have life in [us]” – that is a scandalous thing to say.  The ewwww factor is really high.  I can’t blame the Judeans for finding it excessively gross.

But Jesus responded to their questioning by doubling down, not by retracting his words, or even explaining them.  He said, “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”  Furthermore, he said, “Whoever eats me will live because of me.”

Now this would ordinarily be the point where I could tell you about the nature of the presence of the Lord in the elements of bread and wine, and follow the great theologians down one rabbit hole after another, trying to define exactly how that works.  I may yet, but for today, I would only say that the Lord is present in the Sacrament because the Lord promised to be present in the Sacrament.  How that happens is the subject of much debate that I won’t get into now.

Today, I want to take a closer look at this idea of eating Jesus’ body and drinking his blood.  Since we are not cannibals, why does he use this language?  What is he trying to convey to his listeners?

Well, maybe you see a friend who has a new baby, and the baby is really, really cute, and you say, to the baby, “Oh aren’t you so sweet!  I’m going to nibble on your fingers and nibble on your toes!  I could just eat you allllll up!”

Sound familiar? 

How about this one?  When I was 8 or 9 years old, like so many other girls of that age, I developed an interest in all things to do with horses.  Driving across the country on our first long camping trip, I would imagine myself riding a horse across the plains, through the forests, and over the mountains.  It is safe to say that I would devour any book about horses I could get my hands on.  I really sank my teeth into Black Beauty.  Anyone? 

Now in neither case are we actually eating the baby or chowing down on library books.  Instead, the language of eating has gone beyond the mere physical act of consumption and on into the realm of our desire to completely absorb everything to do with the object of our appetite.

So, no, Jesus wasn’t saying we should become cannibals.  He was saying that we need to take him into our being:  body and soul, heart and mind.  Maybe he knew that “we are what we eat.”  Maybe that’s what he was trying to tell his followers and his doubters.  And maybe some of them took him literally, and were repelled.

If we are what we eat, who are we and what have we eaten when we indulge in hate?  If we are what we eat, who are we and what have we eaten when we are filled with the Spirit of the Lord?

Brother Geoffrey Tristram of the Society of St. John the Evangelist asked,

“What do you most long for – what is your deepest desire? When you come to receive holy communion, offer that prayer, that intention to God.  For it is in the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ that we can know the most profound moment of encounter with God.”

Let me repeat that:  “It is in the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ that we can know the most profound moment of encounter with God.”

Why is that the moment?  Because that’s what Jesus said – when you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will become a part of me and I will become a part of you.

Be vulnerable to your powerless ness, accept the risk of admitting that, and follow the path of hope, seeking the Spirit of the Lord.