August 22: The Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost

The sermon for Sunday, August 22, was preached by the Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews, vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. It was delivered based on the manuscript below as a response to John 6.56-69.

We’ve reached the end.
Five weeks of John six.
Loaves and fishes
and walking on water.
Bread that is true and real;
bread that lasts:
no more big gulps
no more fast food.
Believe in Jesus
the bread from heaven,
God’s revelation.
Eat Jesus’ flesh
the bread from heaven
that gives life to the world.
“The words that I have spoken to you
are spirit and life.
But among you
there are some who do not believe.”

In today’s conclusion to John 6,
John shows us
that the twelve
mentioned as such for the first time here
have been among the crowds
to whom Jesus was addressing
this Bread of Life discourse.
Coming back again
to the theme of belief in Jesus
putting one’s whole heart, trust, and faith
that he is the Son of God
made flesh
some of the twelve
have a hard time.
Like the Israelites
groaning and mumbling against Moses
they say it’s hard to take.
this is Jesus the carpenter’s son.
How can he have come down from heaven?
Jesus asks,
“Is this too hard for you?
How then shall it be
when you see me raised up
from the dead
and back to my Father?
It is the Spirit that gives life;
the flesh is useless.
The words that I have spoken to you
are both Spirit and life.”
Rather than this being
a separation of the body and the soul,
a separation between matter and spirit
Jesus and John are again
calling the disciples to hear
that the higher nature,
life in Jesus,
is what brings fullness of life.

We want to do good,
we want to do the right thing
we want to believe
to put our whole life, heart and trust,
into Jesus.
And we’re not God.
We make mistakes
individually and collectively,
sometimes when we’re trying to go good…
sometimes when we’re just being careless.
Living in society together,
we’re bound up in one another.
Living in representative democracy,
the works of our governments
are our works too.

Our normal lives,
our human selves,
our trying to be our best
yet always somehow missing the mark
aren’t what brings life.
As Raymond Brown comments,
“Thus in verse 63
Jesus is once more affirming
that [humanity] cannot gain life
on [our] own.
If Jesus is divine revelation
come down from heaven
like bread to nourish [humanity],
[Jesus’] purpose
is to communicate to them
the principle of eternal life.
We see the ways
that we fail individually and collectively
around us all the time.

The heartbreak we see in Afghanistan
makes us wonder what we could have done differently
and how God will be present
with those who are suffering.
The suffering in Haiti,
not yet recovered fully from the least earthquake
or this one
and then facing a tropical storm
tears our souls in two.
As much as I want to have an
“I told you so” mindset
about places being ravaged, destroyed
by the Delta variant,
the Spirit —
not myself —
calls me to compassion
for those who have been and are being
taken advantage of by those
who are lining their pockets
and puffing their own political aspirations.

Any goodness or self control I have
comes not from myself,
not from my flesh,
the way I want to live
the way I want to feel
better than or above other people.
It is the Spirit that gives life.
The flesh,
my default state,
is useless.
It is Jesus
God incarnate
crucified, dead, buried, raised, and ascended,
God’s gift to us freely given
and freely offered
that brings life to us
and brings life to the world.

While this is difficult for the disciples to hear
and difficult for us to
especially when we want to be in control
and / or want to celebrate
how good we’ve been and are.
Yet, when they hear this
many disciples break away
and no longer follow Jesus.
Raymond Brown points out,
“The reaction of incredulity
and the refusal to come to Jesus
fits in well with what we know
of the theme of personified Wisdom
which colors [John’s]presentation of Jesus.”
Jesus is God, Wisdom,
and his teaching is bread
that feeds souls
and brings eternal life.
“The invitations of Wisdom
to come and eat and drink in the Book of Sirach
are not accepted by all;
there is always the fool who rejects
Wisdom and turns away.”

There are, however,
those who accept,
those who continue to follow Jesus,
who seek him and stay with him to the end.
Jesus asks those who remain
if they too want to go
want to strike it on their own
and save themselves
or find another messiah.
Peter, rather than being brash
rather than insisting to build booths
at the transfiguration
or wanting to walk on the water
rather than showing everyone
how much he gets it
Plaintively and longingly says to Jesus,
“Lord to whom shall we go?
It is you who have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and know
that you are the Holy One of God.”
Jesus is the Holy One of God,
who brings life to the world.
Despite that being
a difficult teaching,
Jesus has disciples to follow him
who accept wisdom’s invitation
to feed on him,
to heed his teachings,
to live like him,
to put their hearts, souls, and trust
in him.

Jesus makes that same offer to us,
when we’re tired from long weeks
and fatigued from a pandemic
that just won’t end
and didn’t have to be the way it is
at this point in it.
Jesus, God Incarnate
invites us to the banquet,
the feast of Wisdom.
Jesus doesn’t invite us
because of how good we are
or how good we try to be.
Jesus invites us
because the Spirit is what gives life,
not our broken, fallen attempts
at saving ourselves or the world.

As we watch the news
or read our news aggregators
our hearts break
for so many people
as God’s love moves through us
and we have compassion for others.
Afghanistan and Haiti are a mess
and we have responsibilities
to help however we can
from giving to recovery
or holding our elected officials accountable.
Right now we repent
of the evil we have done,
the evil that enslaves us,
and the evil done on our behalf.
Sometimes that evil
is simply inaction or intentional ignorance.
It is the Spirit that gives life;
our flesh, our normal orders of being,
are useless.
The words Jesus has spoken to us,
that he is the True Bread of Heaven
bread that lasts and will not fail,
bread that sustains us and brings everlasting life
are both Spirit and life.

As we’re feeling
tired and fatigued,
pressed or abandoned,
Jesus is asking us, like Peter
“Do you also want to go away.”
If we open our hearts to the Spirit,
we can answer like Peter
Tenderly, plaintively, and longingly,
“Lord, to whom shall we go?
It is you who have the words of eternal life.”
Whoever eats this bread
will live forever.
For the bread that I give
for the life of the world
is my flesh.

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