Ephesians 6: 10-20 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
John 6: 56-69 August 23, 2015
“It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
Prayer: O Holy Spirit of God, please open our inner consciousness to the depths of truth you wish us to perceive. Amen.
Boy! The last several Sundays have had Bible readings with metaphors galore, haven’t they? And Paul’s letter to the Ephesians for today is no different—it’s filled with them! His effort in using metaphors is commendable—he’s reminding believers of their privileged standing in Christ and is encouraging them to behave in a manner that is consistent with Christ in the heart of their lives. And as they stand together in Christ, they can face forces of evil and destruction that strive to undermine their faith.
And, of course, over the last several Sundays, we’ve been munching on the metaphorical “bread” that Christ offers us to eat. Again, in our 2nd lesson, we have Jesus’ building on his outrageous claim that he is the bread of life… he is the one that God sent from heaven, and for us to eat of his bread is eating for eternal life.
In verse 60, we read that several of his disciples, not the inner core of 12, but the larger group not only found this teaching difficult, but the Greek language suggests that they found it offensive. Eating Jesus’s flesh? Drinking his blood? They were Jewish after all, and they had strict dietary laws about eating flesh and blood. In other words, these disciples were caught up in a literal meaning of Jesus’ words instead of taking them metaphorically.
It appears to me that Jesus flat out refutes their literalism when he says essentially, “Come on! Do my words offend you? You’re so caught up in the literal meaning of the words focusing on the physical that you lose sight of the spiritual meaning. Of course, it’s the spirit that gives life; the physical flesh is useless to do that. So, take my words with belief and faith.” But they left Jesus anyway.
If Jesus meant us to take his words literally here, then yes, I would leave, too! It’s nonsense to think that Jesus is promoting cannibalism.
There are plenty of places in scripture where it’s nonsense to take the words literally. Spoiler alert, here! I might shock some of you when I say it’s nonsense to think that God created the universe, our sun, our earth, and all life within it in six 24 hr. days.
It’s not credible to think that Adam and Eve were literally the first two humans on our planet. Among other refutations, scripture, in fact, refutes that idea. There are two creation stories in Genesis—in Genesis 1 (the 1st creation story), human beings are created together, male and female. In the second one (Genesis 2), Adam and Eve were created. And of course, Adam and Eve’s first two sons are Cain and Abel. Cain kills Abel, and his punishment is that he is banished from the garden of Eden. So, he must go out, find a wife, and start his family on his own. See the conundrum? Where did Cain’s wife come from if Adam and Eve were the first two humans on the planet?
Some biblical commentators get caught up in literalism, too. One said this about Noah and the ark: “God tells Noah to build an Ark because there was going to be a flood caused by rain. Keep in mind,” writes the commentator, “there had never been any rain prior to this, so Noah had no idea what rain was” (https://reuelwilliamsstriving4more.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/god-sense-vs-common-sense/, retrieved August 212, 2015). What? That’s nonsense!
So what do we do with literalism and nonsense? I think we must apply faith that the Spirit gives life to our understanding - that’s what. It takes faith in the power of God’s Spirit to push us beyond the non-credible and find what’s meaningful. It takes faith in God to find the meaning in the Genesis creation stories deeper than the poetry of the authors. Faith and our intellectual curiosity I think pushes us to deeper meanings and more applicable connections of scripture to our lives.
This is one reason why I think that faith formation and worship go hand in hand on Sunday mornings. In worship our faith gets nourished by God’s Spirit. Our faith in God receives life. In the learning opportunities of faith formation classes, aka Sunday School for all ages, this is
where God’s spirit helps us discern what scripture should be taken literally, and which ones should not. We also can explore what meaning exists for scripture metaphorically. We learn from each other’s experiences in life as we apply scripture’s meaning to our lives, our day, our culture.
I believe faith in the Spirit of God is needed, so that what sounds like nonsense to our intelligence actually reaches the shores of our inner life as God-sense to our inner spirit. For example, when Jesus offers God’s wisdom in the form of “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” that sounds like nonsense to our rational human minds. Apply faith in God’s spirit, then those words move us within, especially when we see it practiced, like when the Amish people prayed for and forgave the killer of their children in the horrific events at the Nickel Mine school shooting nine years ago this October. I was moved by God’s spirit that day watching Jesus’ words come to life.
It takes faith in the Spirit to make God-sense out of Jesus telling us that if we want to get more out of life, we must give more. If you lose your life for Christ’ sake, you find it. If we want to be great in God’s realm, we must be a humble servant before God. If we want to be uplifted, we must go down low and help those who are disadvantaged. You want to have true life in the spirit, you won’t find it by focusing on the your physical needs… instead, have faith that it is the spirit that gives life. These words, says Jesus, are spirit and life. The Holy Spirit truly makes us alive, even when the flesh is weak.
This is shown wonderfully in the real life story of Bethany Hamilton. When she was growing up in Hawaii, Bethany had developedchampionship caliber surfing skills. She hoped one day to become a professional surfer. But, one day in 2003, a shark attack left her without one arm. She was devastated. She thought she would never surf again. She felt that she lost everything, as if she had died.
But she clung to her faith in God and she began to grow through her ordeal gaining health and mobility. Eventually her story was put into a movie called “Soul Surfer” that traced her life’s surfing story and her recovery because of her faith in God. She wanted to show the world, especially those with disabilities that with faith her spirit was alive, andadversities can be overcome. In the movie, there was one scene which showed Bethany, responding out of faith and on the beach in Thailand shortly after the 2005 tsunami had devastated the local village. She noticed that no one was in the water for a new fear of the ocean had taken hold of them. But, Bethany coaxes a little lad into the water with her, and then onto her surfboard. Then she encourages him to ride the board on the small waves. Eventually, others on the beach start to applaud and then they also get into the water, overcoming their fear.
Bethany says that she’s learned that surfing isn’t the most important thing in the world… that love is. It’s more powerful than any tsunami, stronger than any fear (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxya0p6tIAE, retrieved August 21, 2015). That makes total God-sense to me.
“It’s the spirit that gives life,” says Jesus. “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” You know? That makes God-sense to me, too.
So, let’s open ourselves to God, with faith in the spirit, togive life. It’s God’s grace and wisdom and love that are greater than any fear we may have and deeper than any struggle we may face. Have faith in the spirit that God’s words of life will reach you in the heart of your deepest need. Amen.