Archive for August, 2015

Jesus IS Living Bread — FOR Us!

Rebecca Sheridan

Sunday, August 16, 2015

John 6:51-58

We’ve been making our way through the sixth chapter of the gospel of John, and by now you’ve probably noticed a theme as we continue to hear about Jesus being the bread of life for us. First, we heard about Jesus feeding the five thousand. The next Sunday, Pastor Rich reminded us that Jesus satisfies our hunger like nothing and no one else can. Last week, I talked about how Jesus is always available for us, unlike regular bread that can get moldy or stale. Jesus’ presence with us lasts! But honestly, when I thought about a sermon theme or title for today, the first thing that came to my mind was, “Jesus gets weird.” He sounds almost like a vampire or a cannibal when he says, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” I suppose we could find it a little comforting to know that Jesus doesn’t want to drink our blood or eat us. He instead offers us his body, broken & poured out for us. Still, we have to admit, that sounds pretty weird!

It makes me wonder if we in the church have made communion, like so many other things that we do, into a routine, going through the motions, without really stopping to think about what Jesus is saying communion is, and what we are doing! I don’t think Jesus intends for us to celebrate this holy meal casually, but to see it for the gift AND the shocking counter-cultural practice it is! Certainly those who are following Jesus and listening to his teachings have to stop at this point in John and say, “Wait a minute…am I following a lunatic, or is this guy still worth paying attention to?” It’s passages like these that led to rumors being spread about early Christians, that they practiced strange cannibalistic rituals, drinking their God’s blood and eating his flesh. I have to say I’m more comfortable with human metaphors for Jesus – good shepherd, teacher/rabbi, son of God, son of man, root of Jesse – than “bread of life” if it means I have to think about eating another human being.

Historically, Protestants have reacted similarly to the Jews in John’s gospel when Jesus compares his body & blood to bread & wine a little too literally for most human beings’ taste. You may remember from your confirmation classes that Lutherans distinguished communion as Jesus being truly present, in, around, under, above the bread and wine but not actually the bread and wine, separating themselves from the Catholics slightly. Other reformers like Zwingli and Calvin went even further, so that denominations like Baptists still today believe that the bread & wine at communion is a remembrance of the Last Supper, a symbol of what Jesus did for us on the cross, but in no way connected to Jesus’ actual body & blood.

In the midst of these different ways of thinking about communion, I think our forefather, Martin Luther, can help us understand a little bit better Jesus’ difficult words in the gospel this morning. Luther reminds us not to think too hard about what communion actually is, or how we might celebrate it most properly. Instead, he asks us to focus on WHY Jesus gives us his body and blood in the bread and wine…what it is FOR. Luther starts by focusing on a simple, two-letter word (well, in Latin it’s three, but in English it’s IS – is). Luther argues against his fellow reformer Andreas Karlstadt, insisting that Jesus is truly present each and every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. I guess a sign that you should think about being a pastor when you read a 50+ page essay on the word “IS” and you enjoy it! Yep, Luther wrote pages and pages of arguments on that two-letter word, “is.” Not to worry, I’ll summarize it for you in a few sentences: Jesus takes the bread, says “this IS my body, given for you. This IS my blood, poured out for you,” Luther notes. Why make it more complicated than what Jesus actually says? We might still be uncomfortable with the bloody, cannibalistic image that entails. We might suspect that what we’re doing here is taking a risk, by continuing to trust in and follow this Jesus guy. The flip side is the tremendous comfort and absolute reassurance those words from Jesus can give us especially when we have doubts, when we are having a difficult time in our lives, when we’re just plain tired and hungry: This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you. That is Jesus’ promise to us today, and every day we celebrate communion. Jesus is here, present with us, still. And why is he present? FOR us.

It’s interesting that John is the only gospel writer who doesn’t actually describe the event of the Last Supper like Matthew, Mark, and Luke do. Instead, when he’s talking about communion in this passage he emphasizes Jesus’ words that he is the living bread from heaven: “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh,” Jesus says in John. Living presence, life for us – not death! As Lutherans we believe ultimately that we are not just remembering how Jesus died for us on the cross in the past, his body broken, his blood poured out for us, which is a sacrifice worthy enough – we celebrate too that Jesus continues to feed us with his body and blood, with LIVING bread so that we and the whole world might have life now and life eternally! Jesus is here, now, for you and for me. Jesus feeds us, here, now, why? To give us life eternally, life for today and life for tomorrow. God is here for us in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, in the bread and wine we eat and drink today.

When we receive that life in eating and drinking the body & blood of Christ, we are also then sent out into the world to be the flesh & blood grace of God for others who are hungry for personal contact and connection. There are so many ways for us to be connected without actually needing to face another human being today, right? We can know what our friends are up to and look at their photos on Facebook. We can email or text rather than sit down for face to face conversation. One of my best friends lives in Sweden, and we schedule regular Skype or Face-Time chats. It is SO much better than sending letters back and forth like in the old days! I get to hear her voice, see her face, and see & hear how her little boy who’s almost two is growing and changing. But there’s still nothing like when she’s visiting the States and we’re able to get together in person! We can’t hug each other over Skype, I can’t squeeze her baby boy, we can’t cook a meal together or go for a walk like we enjoy doing in person. Being present with and for others, flesh and blood, matters. It’s important. It feeds our souls and gives us life.

So here it is today, Jesus in the flesh and blood, real bread and wine, truly present for you…not a picture or a text message or even a FaceTime video, but something you can eat, drink, and be satisfied. Transformed by Christ’s gift, now the question is, how can you be that real, flesh and blood connection to God for others, in your own relationships? Amen.

Jesus Satisfies Our Spiritual Hunger

Rebecca Sheridan

Sunday, August 9, 2015

John 6:35, 41-51

When’s the last time you’ve been really, truly, hungry? As you might guess, I am hungry almost all of the time these days, eating for two! Some of you know that I failed my first glucose test where they check for gestational diabetes, so I had to go back for another round of tests where you end up fasting for about 16 hours. I was very hungry by the time that was all over! I’ve learned to carry snacks in my purse at all times for those moments when I can’t eat at my regularly scheduled mealtimes or if there’s a lot of food served that pregnant women aren’t supposed to eat. In addition, I’m tracking what I eat to try and eat more healthily for a healthy baby. I’ve been paying more attention to what I eat than I used to!

So, maybe the last time you were hungry was when you got busy and forgot skipped a meal, or you had to fast for a doctor’s test, or you intentionally were dieting or fasting for a spiritual reason. Maybe, as we get closer to lunchtime, you’re feeling hungry right about now! Eating is such a part of our daily routine, like sleeping & drinking, that unless we need to pay attention to our diet more closely, or are without any access to food, we don’t even think much about it beyond grocery shopping, planning what to cook for dinner or what restaurant to go out to. We know we need to eat to live, and we make sure to plan so that we are able to eat food regularly.

But what about spiritual hunger? Can you think of a time when you were spiritually hungry? Spiritual hunger is a lot harder to put our finger on. We don’t necessarily feel a hunger pang for connection with God like we do in our stomachs when they’re empty. We might even enjoy a break once in awhile from the regular weekly church routine. Unlike breathing, sleeping, or eating, connecting with God through worship, prayer, Bible study, and so on isn’t something that we just do daily without thinking about it. So often, it’s after someone else points out our need for God, or that it’s been awhile since they’ve seen us at church, that we realize we kind of miss our faith community, or that we do indeed long for communion or prayer or hearing words from scripture, or whatever it is that feeds our souls.

When I was a missionary in Slovakia, in between college and seminary, I felt really alone for the first few months. My closest American colleague was an hour and a half train ride away. Few people in the church where I was serving spoke English, and we only had three weeks of intensive Slovak language training. I couldn’t express what I was feeling and thinking beyond “I like ice cream” and “What is your favorite color?” kinds of conversation. The worship service, although in Slovak, was comforting to me because like a lot of Lutherans around the world, there was an order that was familiar. It was the same rhythm to the Lord’s prayer, and the creed, which I could say quietly in English. Even some of the hymn tunes were the same. But we only celebrated communion four times a year at this church – the first time was at Christmas, so for months I went without it.

It was around Thanksgiving time, and some American Lutherans in Bratislava, the capital, invited those of us who were much further away for a few days together which included a traditional Thanksgiving meal with pumpkin pie, turkey, and stuffing, all things that were hard to come by in Slovakia. I hadn’t realized how hungry I was – not just for familiar food, but for deeper conversation in my native language – real friends! And then the best part – the ELCA missionary pastor led a short communion service for our group, with the old green book (LBW) liturgy and real bread & wine. It was like I was home again. I hadn’t taken communion in months, or worshipped in English. It was ironic – I was serving as a missionary – planning and working with church activities every day. My prayer life was actually better than it had been during my busy college years because I certainly had time and isolation on my side to connect personally to God. I hadn’t realized how spiritually hungry I was for God to sustain me not just through my individual prayers but also through a community and through food until that Thanksgiving Day. God knew my spiritual hunger deeper than I recognized it in myself, and God gave me just what I needed for that vulnerable time in my life. All I can say is – what a gift that was!

Again this Sunday we hear those powerful words from Jesus, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus, the bread of life, can satisfy our spiritual needs better than anything else we try to fill our lives with. But even more than that, Jesus connects us to God by satisfying our spiritual hunger when we can’t even put our finger on what exactly is wrong, where the disconnect is. Jesus knows what we need even better than we know ourselves. Jesus tells us today that “not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.” This perplexes the Jews, because faithful Jews in Jesus’ time believe God is in heaven and never able to be fully seen, but here Jesus is saying that he has seen the Father and through him, we can be connected to the Father in heaven, too. God is walking around in the ordinary body of Jesus, on Earth, from heaven. God eats & drinks with the people, feels hunger, too. Through the body of Jesus, God is willing to give himself for us to be food that lasts forever for us spiritually. This is some pretty intense stuff! Jesus feeds us, body and soul. Our whole lives matter deeply to God.

Can you think of a time when God intervened in your life, to wake you up to your spiritual hunger and feed you with the bread of life from heaven? I’ve heard veterans describe in the middle of battle finding a sense of peace with a strong sense of God’s presence with them, right there, in the moment when they’re most afraid. I listened to grieving families mourning the passing of a loved one who even in the depth of their grief are able to name a particular moment when they knew God was right there with them and their loved one. Shut-ins who are not able to make it to church deeply appreciate communion brought to them, or a short visit from one of you all. Certainly God can meet our need for spiritual nourishment in more mundane ways – a quiet morning walk at sunrise, a run-in with an old friend at the grocery store, a scripture verse or hymn that seemingly just pops in your head. The thing is, unlike regular food, Jesus is always available to us and always present for us. Jesus, unlike bread, doesn’t get moldy, stale, or run out. Jesus’ love for us is free – no need to put “pick up some more Jesus” on our grocery shopping list or wonder whether we’ll need to work a few extra hours to make sure we have enough Jesus on the table! Jesus is present to satisfy our spiritual longings at all times.

Whatever you may be hungry for – a deeper personal connection with God, stronger prayer life, better knowledge of the Bible, etc. it all begins and ends with Jesus, our bread of life. Jesus reveals to us who God is in ways we can understand. We may lose just about everything – our financial stability, our families & friends, our health & mental faculties – but Jesus will remain with us, granting life with him forever. Jesus is what matters most, and we matter most to him – beyond food, beyond family, beyond life itself. It doesn’t matter how small we start in taking spiritual nourishment, whether it’s opening the Bible for five minutes or talking with a fellow Christian about questions you have about faith. You can believe that Jesus will show up to satisfy the deep hunger you have, and show you the way forward with him. Amen.


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