Did Jesus Really Mean It?

1 Kings 2: 10-12, 3: 1-14             Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

 John 6: 51-58  August 19, 2018

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven… But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Prayer:  O living bread, please give us your life… again… and again… Amen.

 These days there is always something more that is smart.  We have smart phones, smart cars, smart TVs.  We have smart tablets, dishwashers, refrigerators, washer and dryers.    We have smart people working in smart companies making smart sensors to detect your smart devices as soon as you walk into the room, or drive up to your garage.  Some have smart houses!  Intelligence and smarts are big and growing concepts in this, our technologically advanced age, right?  Our smarts are in the limelight a lot.

 Yet, for all our smarts, I wish that wisdom would grow more… would get more play in the limelight within our culture and society.  Because wisdom is not smarts.  Wisdom is not intelligence.  There is a difference between being smart and being wise.

 Wisdom is the development of conscious discernment.  It’s the ability to grow in insight, to see more deeply, to understand the spiritual side of life.  Wisdom is letting experience and maturity assist in helping us  see meaning behind the facts, understanding beneath the story, and a discerning mind in words of metaphors and similes.

I think wisdom is necessary when interpreting scripture.  It helps us know what parts to take literally and what parts metaphorically.  That’s why prayer and worship are vital to discerning God’s wisdom as we approach scripture.  But, we have to use our smarts, I think, and resist taking things in snippets and out of context and in sound bites, as is practiced so much these days.

 I like to think of Wisdom as a part of God…  In our Christian tradition, we know God in simple, yet complex terms, such as the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or as functions—Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.  Those terms are the basics, but we often identify God in more than three ways.  So, I affirm that God is Wisdom, as well, or if you will, Diviner, or a Revealer.  There are several passages in the book of Proverbs, the psalms, and in the “Wisdom books” that affirm that Wisdom was alongside God in the beginning of creation.  Wisdom was with God in the creative process right from the start.    It is the non-physical reality, the non-material part of life that provides food for the spirit and depth of meaning in life.

So Solomon, at approximately age 20, humbly prayed for the wisdom he needed to lead a whole nation of people.  He could have asked for riches and luxuries and all this material stuff to go with being a king and having a kingdom.  But, he didn’t.  Solomon prayed for something not in his own self-interest but was in the interest of others and the natyion.  He needed an understanding mind to help him govern this people Israel.  And, his prayer touched God’s heart.

Solomon not only got the wisdom he asked for, but he got the riches, the luxuries, and the material stuff he didn’t ask for, too.  He didn’t need any of that, but it was sure nice to have all that...  And, he could keep it, as long as he kept God’s laws.  (And, let’s be careful here, this is not a formula for riches—just pray for wisdom, and you get rich.  Nope.  It doesn’t work that way!)  But, let’s remember his humility when he offered his prayer… his sincerity.  Remembering that, see what’s next!

 In our passage from John’s gospel, we pick up where we left off last Sunday.  The people who were complaining and protesting when Jesus said he was the living bread that came down from heaven are the same people who are disputing among themselves when Jesus said that the bread he will give for the life of the world is his flesh.

They just weren’t getting the wisdom, Jesus’ metaphorical meaning.  To them, his words sounded like a direct violation of Moses’ law… the law of eating unclean flesh, let alone the horror of what sounded like cannibalism.  Did Jesus really mean cannibalism? Seriously?  Of course, he didn’t!

 But, does Christ Jesus really mean that all who hear his words can look beneath those words and find a pearl of wisdom that says anyone who participates in his life finds life?  Does he really mean that just as easily as we can take food in physically, we can take Christ in spiritually? Of course he does.

 I think that anyone who comes close to God shares in the life of Christ.  Each time we share in Holy Communion, we are consuming Christ, participating in his life and his ministry, by being flesh and blood extensions of his ministry in the world.

 I think that means that each time we come close to God—in prayer, in worship, in singing songs of praise, in listening to glorious music played gloriously, in saying grace before meals, spending time with God in daily devotions, we are taking in Christ.

And, it’s not just the ‘religious’ moments, either. each time we paint a wall or pound a nail for the Community Place on Washington, each time  we make and serve a meal for the hungry in Lancaster,  each time we bring diapers in for Women’s, Infants and Children, each time  the WIC van is here,  each time we meet as a Consistory, or as a commission, or committee, or small group, each time we participate in justice and witness opportunities, we are consuming the life of Christ, the living bread. We’re taking him in.

 Each time we not just say “You are welcome here,” but practice it, we are participating in Christ’s life.  Each time a guest, or a visitor, or a newcomer arrives here and experiences that welcome feeling from us, but also gets the message that “My church is your church; you can participate fully here, you have equal access to God’s table of grace,” as anyone we are abiding in Christ and Christ abides in us.  We live in him.

Friends, the number one reason why we do all these things… the number one reason why we are developing  best practices toward being an all-inclusive church is that these best practices  reflect deep faithfulness to God and to the gospel of Jesus Christ!  It is a powerful way that we are eating and taking in the living bread from heaven, participating in Christ’s life.

Let’s ask ourselves… are we trying to become an Open and Affirming congregation that welcomes not just the LGBTQ community but all marginalized groups of people because it’s trendy?  Are we trying to upgrade our sanctuary assisting those who have hearing and sight issues with new a sound and projection systems because we love technology?  Are we trying to find a way to put an elevator in here, making our whole building accessible to everyone because it’s exciting?  Are we striving to be sensitive to often excluded groups in our written and verbal language because it’s the thing to do these days?

No, we’re developing these and other best practices because we really believe that Jesus meant us to learn and deepen our ongoing faithfulness to God!  Only God!  Not anything else!   I think Jesus really meant it when he invited people to eat the bread he offers which is bread for the life of the world.  And the world means everyone—the world reflects the full diversity of God’s creativity.  We’re being faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ which is offered for the life of the world.

I believe Jesus really did mean all that he lived for, and died for, and lives again for… that he is food for the world.   He is our food.  He is our life and our way to live forever with him.  His words and our conscious discernment of his wisdom fortifies us spiritually—and we grow closer to God in Christ in Christ.

 But, we also grow in faithful witness—a new determination to resist forces that blight the promotion of spiritual health, wholeness and well-being for all people.

The blight of the abuse and the predation by several priests of the Catholic Church we heard about this past week should give us all a moment, not only to pray for those victimized and abused and now suffer from PTCD—Post Traumatic Church Disorder, but also to pray and discern out best practices for a Safe Church.  Yes, we have a policy in place, but perhaps evaluating and if necessary, updating it and changing our practices might be a good idea?  Nothing should get in the way of any person experiencing the joy and safety of being in God’s house because Jesus really did mean it when he said, “Let the little children come unto me… do not hinder them, for to such belong the kingdom of God!”  And, aren’t we all children of God?

Our deepest wisdom comes, not from our smarts, not from our common sense, but from God when we seek God’s wisdom.  Jesus really did mean it when he said, “I have come so that you may have life and have it fully and abundantly.”