True Bread, True Life

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

John 6: 48-58   August 16, 2015

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.

Prayer:  O living God, O resurrected Christ, may your Holy Spirit abide in us even as we abide in you.  Amen.

For the last several Sundays in a row, our biblical texts enabled us to ponder and discuss the metaphor of bread.  We explored how strength comes to us as we spiritually consume God’s bread, and how that spiritual strength is helpful on our journeys of life and faith.  Today we push it a little further and connect bread with God’s wisdom, and certainly, we connect Jesus as God’s bread for us to eat in order for us to live.

You know, wisdom is interesting.  It’s different than knowledge; it’s not facts, per say.  It’s more than information.  We have tons of knowledge and facts.  We have lots and lots of information about anything and everything, especially in these days, thanks to the Internet and social media.  Things can happen on the other side of the world, and we know about within seconds after they happen thanks to fiber optics, light speed communication, and the Internet.  It may be quick, but are we any wiser?  People upload videos of anything and everything going on in their lives, they tweet, they pin pictures, they make comments, often without discretion.  It may be entertaining at times, but does it show that we practice thoughtful discernment?

Having wisdom is precious.  Wisdom doesn’t come quickly most of the time.  It often goes against the ways of the world, and is defined differently.  Wisdom often comes from the “school of hard knocks,’ doesn’t it?  Life can be a painful teacher sometimes. Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post and Huff Post Live, the online news agency, has known extraordinary success, especially in terms of money and power.  But, from her own experience, those two measures of success were not enough.  In 2007 she suffered a collapse due to sheer exhaustion.  That collapse caused her to redefine what success is and see life differently.  She now includes wonder, giving thanks, and the need to slow down among other things as her newmeasures of success.  She grew wiser.  Arianna came to learn that life is wisdom’s breeding ground where we can learn something from everything, especially from our struggles (http://www.christiancentury.org/sites/default/files/downloads/resources/080515.pdf, retrieved August 14, 2015).

We can tell from our 1 Kings text today that wisdom is important and valued.  True wisdom has its source in God; indeed, several ancient books of scripture and other sacred writings indicate that wisdom was with God in the act of creation.  Wisdom and God existed side by side (Proverbs 8: 23-30).in the creation of all things.

So when Solomon is given the chance in a dream to tell God what he wants, and from the sound of it, God indicates that the sky’s the limit, God is pleased because Solomon doesn’t ask for selfish things like wealth or power or long life.  He doesn’t ask that his enemies get wiped out.  Instead, in perhaps what is the wisest thing he ever did, Solomon asks for wisdom needed to govern this pesky people that God has him leading.  And because of that unselfish request, God blesses him not only with profound wisdom, but with all the other things he didn’t ask for as well.

Now just as God granted Solomon wisdom and spiritual insight, jump forward about 1000 years, and we have Jesus on the scene sharing God’s profound spiritual wisdom as well.  But Jesus is different.  God granted Solomon wisdom, from the outside going in but Jesus IS God’s wisdom. His wisdom comes from the inside and goes out. He is the true metaphorical bread from God that everyone can consume (and by that I mean ponder, take in, incorporate, and live… believe it, have faith in it, and live it) and find a meaningful life is what consumption is in this case.

I believe Jesus wants us to believe in him and to take him into our spiritual lives, much as we would eat a piece of bread, digest it, and incorporate it into our bodies.  Jesus invites us to trust that he is the true bread that has come from God, and this true bread gives true life to the world.  Not to a select group of people.  No.  Jesus offers himself so that the entire world could have life with God, abundantly now and eternally.

That’s why I struggle so much with churches that put restrictions on

who can and can’t have Holy Communion, which is, of course, sharing in the metaphorical bread of Christ’s body given for the life of the world.

Last week I read the delightful story that editor and publisher of The Christian Century, John Buchannan tells.  One Sunday he was preaching at a Roman Catholic mass where his extended family attends.  Several of his other family members attended that Sunday. All Presbyterians.  Then came the time for Holy Communion—the moment Protestants dread in a Catholic church.  Should I stay or should I go?  But, the answer became clear as his granddaughter Rachel who has Downs Syndrome, didn’t hesitate.  She went right up to the communion station, ate the wafer and took a large gulp from the cup.  Then, she went over to the communion station on the other side and had another drink!  How about that?  Leave it to a babe in the woods to teach about ignoring 20 centuries of divisiveness and simply gather with Jesus’ friends at his table (Buchanan, John, “Communion Thirst, http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2015-06/communion-thirst, retrieved, August 16, 2015).

On the other hand, in response to John Buchanan’s editorial, another pastor wrote in: “It was in the late 1970s when a I was asked to preach in a Roman Catholic Church during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  It was the customary ecumenical service in mid-January where various clergy from various Christian churches were present.  I preached on the text prescribed that referred to the unity of the church, including Jesus’ prayer in John for the disciples and the church that “they may all become one, as we are one.”

Following the sermon, the priest of the church stood up and thanked people for coming, and he thanked me for my sermonThen he gave instructions on how to receive Holy Communion, adding the words: “I know that during this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we speak a lot about unity, but the real fact is we are not yet united.  Therefore, I would ask that those of you who are not Roman Catholics refrain from participating in Holy Communion.”  [Whaaat?!?]  The pastor wrote, “I don’t remember how many non-Catholics followed his instruction, but what remained imprinted in my memory was the fact that my wife, upon hearing that, sat down and cried” (Max Surjadinata, www.christiancentury.org comment, retrieved August 14, 2015).

I dare say that such divisions like that self-inflicted one in the church stop Christ, the true bread, from being able to offer God’s true life for the world.  I dare say that humanity’s forces of evil and mean-spiritedness stop Christ from offering God’s true life for the world.  I sense this mean-spiritedness when large Confederate flags are flown from vehicles going down the highway.  We see this mean-spiritedness as ISIS beheads unarmed hostages.  We see it as violence erupts in the wake of police brutality.  We see it in the suffering inflicted when people hold hatred in their hearts for other people of different races or religions.

Perhaps we, as people nourished by the true bread of Christ, are invited to help make the true life God offers more of a reality in our world.  We may not be flying Confederate flags from our cars, or be involved with ISIS, or experience police brutality.  We may even hold no hatred for others.  But, all of us I think have the challenge of sorting out how we, as faithful people, are to respond to those issues.  Perhaps we stand the tallest when we face those kinds of challenges with God’s love and grace.  I encourage us to hold on to the belief that love is stronger than hatred.  Hold on with faith that grace is stronger than evil forces.  Trust that the true bread of Christ brings true life with God, now in this life, and always in the life to come.

Perhaps, by consuming the true bread of God, we will find ourselves better able to see the wisdom of being the hands and feet of Christ in our lives, and extend his ministry through our actions, our worship, and our learning opportunities.  Perhaps, energized by the true bread, it’s a cinch to see that Christ’s way IS the way of healing, of hospitality, of peace, and true life with God.

Christ’s life in us becomes a part of our inner consciousness, second nature, so much so that we reach out to others in need because we see the need. We help each other graciously because we’ve been helped by grace; we care for the welfare of another because God has cared for our welfare.  And we do so, even in the face of destructive forces, with compassion and firmness.

Do you see now that God is our wisdom?  Our strength?  Our food?  Christ is our true bread...?  Who offers our true life for us and for the world?  Amen.