If you think about it, we do some strange things in the Episcopal church. Every week we get together, listen to some stories, say some prayers, eat some bland wafers, sip some pretty good wine and then we go home. When I was growing up I had a sense that church is supposed to be solemn and serious and that anything we did here is very important, and in many ways I was not wrong, but what I have learned over the years is that there is far more packed into what we call the liturgy than could ever be explained in one sermon, but as is usual for me, challenge accepted.
Over the past few weeks the gospel according to John has discussed bread from heaven in multiple ways. Molly pointed out last week that eating and being fed is a rich metaphor and that Jesus urges us to look beyond the feeding of our bodies. The theme of feeding continues in this week’s readings and spoiler alert, it will continue next week as well. One of the problems with how we split up the readings for each week, is that many passages of scripture get taken out of context, so we can easily lose the broader picture.
Two weeks ago, John’s Jesus said, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” in this passage Jesus is talking about God providing for the physical needs of the people by giving manna or bread from heaven. God provided manna for the people as they fled Egypt and until they were ready to enter the promised land. In this brief sentence John has Jesus use the word gave, which is past tense. In addition, John has Jesus use the word He when referencing God, which is a relatively impersonal pronoun to use and a indicates a sense of distance.
In the same passage, in fact one line later, Jesus says “My father gives you the true bread from heaven.”, which uses the present tense to indicate that God never stops giving the Hebrew people what they need to survive, and because John has Jesus use the term “my father” Jesus has now directly connected himself with God the creator and by using a parental reference indicates he comes directly from God. This has two purposes, one is to establish that God’s liberating power is ever present, at every point in time and space and second to establish that Jesus is in fact directly connected with God. The use of the past and present tense is an attempt by John to set the stage for the entire point of today’s gospel, in which he has Jesus say, “The bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh,” this is not only in the future tense, but Jesus is now referencing his own ability to provide for the people; however he is not talking about food for the stomach, which brings us to the metaphor Molly spoke of last week. It would be very easy to assume that John is referring to the eucharistic meal with this passage. The eucharist being when we ask God to bless the bread and wine and imbue it with the Holy Spirit, we then symbolically sacrifice the bread by breaking it in half. As John does not discuss the last supper anywhere else in his gospel many scholars believe that it is with this story that John explains the eucharist by equating the life of Jesus with the bread of heaven.
Earlier I mentioned that John uses word tense to establish the connections between God the creator and Jesus. At this point in the story Jesus is continuing to explain what he means by his flesh being the bread of the world. He of course does not mean that we need to eat him, what John is saying is that the flesh of Jesus is imbued with the wisdom or the Word of God. The entire Gospel of John is dedicated to explaining the divinity of Jesus, which is why his gospel begins with the words “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word is the divinity that was embodied in the human Jesus. The Word was there before God created the universe, The Word was there when God did create the universe, The Word was there when God created you and me, The Word was there when God sent manna from heaven to feed the Hebrews as they wandered the dessert. So when John has Jesus say eat my flesh he means listen to my wisdom, listen to my message because it comes from The Word and if you do listen and take action based on what you have heard you will not only have a love filled life, but you will receive new life. That my friends is the hope of Christianity, not just life after death, but life in the here and now. Jesus has given us a way out of our dull and stress filled existence, but it is up to us to seize the day and invite the Holy Spirit into our lives. Although simply inviting is not enough, we need to embrace the wisdom of God and let it take control. I am reminded of the Carrie Underwood song, “Jesus take the wheel”, which is a song about a young woman who is so tired and frustrated she just throws her hands up in the air and asks Jesus to take over. What the writers of this song probably did not know is that this is exactly what we are supposed to do, just turn ourselves over and let God have control.
I began my ramblings by mentioning that we do some strange things and I want to return to one of them briefly to drive my point home. When we gather around the altar and the priest says the eucharistic prayer we are retelling the Christian story. We recount the wonders of God’s creation, we hear about the coming of Jesus and we ask the Holy Spirit to be present to us in the bread and the wine. When you receive the host, which by the way is from the Latin word Hostia, meaning victim (but that is another story, ask me at coffee hour if you are curious) the clergy say “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven”, which depending on your own reading of scripture and personal theology could mean several things, but for our purposes today and the scripture we are endeavoring to engage with it means receive the love of God as passed to us through The Word, through Jesus and know that through that love you are safe for all time. So as we gather at the table this morning remember that the liturgy of the table, the eucharist is far more than eating a bland wafer and some good wine, it is an invitation to remember all that we have been taught by Jesus, and it is an invitation to the Holy Spirit to fill us, to nurture us, and to guide us in all that we do.
By The Rev. Pamela Porter
When Jesus’ friends and neighbors encountered him at the synagogue, they saw only Mary’s son, James and Joses’ and Judas’s and Simon’s brother. They saw a kid they had known all their lives.
They saw nothing of the fire in him or if they did they chalked it up to craziness or, I don’t know, being too big for his britches. What’s the big deal? It’s just Jesus. Mary’s boy.
They saw nothing of the authority in him that allowed him to cast out demons or to sleep without fear in the midst of a storm or to lift a people. Nothing of the authority of God’s covenant love that conceived him, and anointed him and prepared him for nail and thorn.
They did not see Holy Jesus, son of God, come down from heaven to offer the way of salvation to both the suffering and the sinful people of his age. They did not see Holy Mary, mother of God, either, since the implication of calling Jesus Mary’s son and not Joseph’s was that he was illegitimate. They did not see Jesus, Son of Man; the Human one, raised and seated on God’s right hand with authority to judge both the living and the dead.
They saw only Jesus; someone they knew perfectly well and had since he was this big. So they were taken aback by his teachings. And he could do no deed of power there; only cure a few sick people. And he was amazed at their disbelief.
After this stunning disconnect, Jesus turns and sends out his disciples, imparting to them a measure of the authority he had been given to cast out demons and lift the people.
All summer, since Pentecost, we have been following Jesus on his gospel adventures. It’s what we do in the long green season which lasts from the first Sunday after Pentecost all the way to the Last Sunday after Pentecost which falls around Thanksgiving and which we call the Sunday of Christ the King.
In the lectionary readings from Advent to Pentecost, we recount the events of Jesus’ life; his birth, his baptism and his earthly ministry, his temptation, his challenge to the principalities and powers, his passion death and resurrection, his ascension in into heaven to sit at God’s right hand, the hand of action, which the psalm reminds us, if full of justice. Essentially, during the program months of our church calendar, we are recounting the events encapsulated in the first two parts of our creed.
We believe in God the Father, who loves us as a father loves his own; Almighty Maker of all that is, seen and unseen
We believe in Jesus Christ his Son, our Lord.
His Son; (I’m going with the pronouns given here. Gender issues and language matter to me, but I want to come at them another way than via pronouns right now, so please stay with me.) His Son, meaning his beloved representative and agent; One who acts with the full authority and compassion of the Father to establish his loving, liberating and just order, his kingdom, Jesus called it, on earth as it is in heaven.
Our Lord, which is to say, the one to whom we who call ourselves Christians pledge our ultimate allegiance.
Who came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit, born of Mary and became fully, completely human to live among us, to suffer as we suffer and die as we die and who did suffer under the earthly rulers of his age and was put to a grisly death by them. Who died and was buried but who was not stopped or defeated by any of it but who was raised up from the grave to be seated at the right hand of God—the hand of God’s justice—from whence he will come again in the spirit of God’s justice to judge both the living and the dead.
Then there is the third past of our creed which in our calendar year coincides with the season of the Holy Spirit; the long green season; these Sundays after Pentecost, when we reflect on what it means for us to live in the power of the Spirit. We reflect on what it means in our time and place to be followers of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
After the telling of Jesus’ story during the seasons that make up what we call the program portion of the church year we come to Pentecost and the part of the story where we come in. And then we all go on vacation.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against vacation. It’s as close as we come, some of us anyway, sometimes, to experiencing heaven on earth. But it is a glitch in the way our calendar works that just when we get to the pat of the story where we come in; the part where we get serious about what it means to be followers of Jesus in his earthy ministry and heavenly mission of love; just when we get to the part where we receive the gospel teachings on what it means to be followers of Jesus, we vacate.
If it were happening today, the gospel reading might go something like this:
Jesus came to his home town. (That’s what the church is, in a way, these days. We are Jesus’ home town. After all, haven’t we known Jesus since he was a baby?) Jesus came to his hometown and his disciples followed him. And when he went to the local church on Sunday morning to teach, everyone was away on vacation, so he could do no deed of power there.
But seriously, these readings for the Sundays after Pentecost really are set up to give us Jesus’ teachings on what it means to follow him. And one of the things it can mean is being unrecognized in your own home town.
All along the gospel way, the way of love, as our Presiding Bishop called it in his opening remarks at our general convention, all along the gospel way we have heard the stories of Jesus’ encounters with one person after another who, looking deeply at him, seeing for themselves just who he is and whose he is; what authority he represents—are made whole; restored, forgiven, reanimated.
But when he comes to his home town all they see is some kid they have known all their lives and who does he think he is, anyway, stirring things up like that?!?
And he could do no deed of power there.
It’s a teaching about the power of faith, don’t you see? A teaching about seeing in Jesus not just the son of Mary who lives and dies as one of us, but also the Son of God, the agent of God’s loving order of mercy and justice on earth. And also the Son of Man, the Human one, who by the power of love is raised up as judge of both the living and the dead.
It’s about the miracles that are made not just of God’s intervention but of human recognition and acceptance and ultimate fidelity to God’s agenda of love and salvation for us and all he has made.
God’s agenda works through our devotion, body and soul, in our worship and in our world—even to the ends of the earth as the Psalmist said. The world needs our faith!
Our creeds begin, I believe or We believe, but the word in Greek is not about an act of the mind alone. The word is Credo. It means I give my heart to. I pledge my deepest loyalty to. I follow Jesus, body and soul.
I want to share with you a web site I learned about recently called ReclaimingJesus.org.
Have you heard about it? Reclaiming Jesus is an ecumenical movement of church elders, among them our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, and other whose names you might recognize such as the Rev. Jim Wallis, Father Richard Rohr, and Old Testament scholar Walter Breuggemann. In response to the deep divisions, distortions and crises of our time, they have felt compelled to produce a statement of faith, a credo, that I would like to share with you. I will let it speak for itself about what it means to fulfill God’s commandment to God and neighbor and follow Jesus on the Gospel way of love.
This is a statement is a summary and I encourage you to go to ReclaimingJesus.org to read the full statement. You will find there other resources from these leaders and elders that address the crises of our times.
By The Rev. Pamela Porter
Jairus must have loved his daughter very much. After all, he was a leader of the synagogue, a man with a front row seat, who played by the rules and did everything in the proper way. Yet seeing Jesus, which is to say, seeing him for himself, seeing with his own eyes, just who Jesus was and what authority he represented, Jairus humbled himself and begged for the life of his daughter.
It was proper for a man of standing to humble himself in this way when asking a favor of a man of superior rank. It was proper for a male to request a favor on behalf of a female It was proper for an adult to request a favor on behalf of a child. The shocking thing is that Jairus is humbling himself before Jesus who you and I know from previous episodes in the adventures of Jesus on the Gospel way, is a marked man. Jairus must have been crazy for his little daughter. He must have been desperate to have risked his entire reputation—his status and standing in the community, all that kept him respected and secure, for the sake of saving the life his precious child. What but love could make a man do something so crazy?
Jairus was a man who could expect to get what he wanted if he played by the rules and demanded his favors in the proper way. And sure enough, Jesus goes along with him. For the sake of his little daughter. The crowd follows, pressing closely on Jesus. Weighing heavily on him, you might say.
The crowd is an important and sometimes overlooked part of this story. Last week Jesus crossed a stormy sea to perform miracles of healing on a Gentile shore. That reading spoke to us of crossing the boundaries of nation and tribe to extend the reign of God to all peoples. The sea is the chaos out of which God in Jesus is calling a new creation in which there is no longer a division of hostility between Gentile and Jew.
This week the chaos is in the crowd. This week’s story is about healing the divisions of social order and status within the nation in which one person is elevated and another is outcast. These stories tell us not to fear the chaos of the crowd any more than the chaos of the sea. Because, Jesus tells us, by all that he is and all that he says and all that he does, God is all about bringing healing order, love alive, out of both.
The last time I had the opportunity to preach on this reading, which in our lectionary line up is Proper 8 in Year B, was back in the early 1990’s. Back then we heard a very different story than the one we heard today. In those days, the gospel reading appointed for Proper 8, Year B, was Mark, Chapter 5, just like today, but the verses were 22-24 and then skipped to 35-45. In other words, the story of Jairus and his little daughter was all we heard. The woman with the flow of blood was cut right out of the middle of it! Her story was considered an unnecessary and redundant distraction from the main story, the important story, of the temple leader and his little daughter.
His little daughter who was just 12 years old. The exact same age as the number of years this intrusive woman had been hemorrhaging.
The rules, of course, did nothing for her. Quite the opposite. She had done everything she could to be restored to health. She had spent everything she had and had only become destitute and homeless in addition to being afflicted. Jairus was a person who by his station could expect the rules to work for him. That is what it means to enjoy social privilege. But the same rules that ensure Jairus’ status and security have just the opposite effect for the unnamed woman with her persistent the flow of blood. The more she followed the rules, the more isolated and vulnerable she became. What’s more, she was alone and there appears to have been no one who would intercede for her. It was no wonder she took matters into her own hands.
Now the story tells us that this woman had heard about Jesus. In her state of shame she had probably never gotten close enough to see him for herself, but on the strength of what she had heard she risked everything. For if Jesus was anything like what she had heard about him; if he was only half as great as they were saying he was, she said to herself, “I only have to touch the hem of his robe, and I will be made well.”
So this woman pushes up through the crowd. She pushes way up from behind and doesn’t dare to demand a favor to the holy man’s face. She just sneaks up from behind and reaching out, just for an instant, touches Jesus’ hem.
Flash back to Trinity Sunday and Isaiah, sitting in the temple, humbled by the hem of the garment of the Almighty. There is a connection there. We know there is.
But this woman doesn’t need to be humbled any more. She is already so humbled that for years we cut her out of the story altogether.
Jesus, perceiving that power had gone out of him, turns back to the crowd and asks” Who touched me?” To which the disciples reply, “You have got to be kidding! You see this crowd pressing all around you and yet you want to know who touched you? Forget it. Let’s go. We’ve got the attention of somebody important here. Stay with him. Maybe he can do us a favor, and Lord knows, we could use one.
Can’t you just hear them? They don’t really say all that, of course, but isn’t it what the gospel implies?
Jesus is undeterred by their disbelief. He turns all of his attention to the sea of people pressing in on them from every side. And the woman sees from the look on his face that there is no way to hide. Maybe what she sees in the look on his face is that here is no need to hide.
Jesus’ response to her must have been truly astounding to the hearers of his age. It is not for nothing she was terrified. She had reached her hand across a terrible boundary, as terrible a boundary as any we could think of, when she, an unrelated and unclean woman had stretched out her hand to touch the garment a man, a holy man, and lay claim to some benefit of his healing power. He might have been furious at her effrontery. He might have had her beaten and hauled off to be locked up, or worse. But instead he says this, “Little Daughter, your faith had made you well. Go in peace and be well.”
‘Little daughter,’ Jesus calls her, the very words Jairus used for his own beloved child. ‘Little daughter,’ he says, and lifts her with the title to a level of dignity we believe is due to every human being. Jesus must have loved her very much. And her faith in that love, Jesus tells her, has made her well.
Imagine how different our story would be right now if the guards posted at our boundaries, the ones inside us and all the other ones as well, were able to look across all that divides us and respond to the people on the other side in the way Jesus responded to this unnamed woman.
Little daughter, Little son, Child of God, go on your way. Your faith in the power of love has made you well. Now that would be a miracle.
Meanwhile, what about Jairus? Is the story of the woman’s miraculous elevation by faith a lesson taught at Jairus’ expense? Is the story of the woman’s elevation a put down to the religious leader?
No, not at all! And that is the beauty of it. According to the order of man, as we used to say, a win for one is a lose for the other. If the woman is lifted up the man is put down. But the Kingdom of God is no zero sum game and in the economy of God’s love all are lifted up to life. Jairus is not condemned or rejected or sent away empty any more than is the unnamed woman. All that he asks for in this encounter with Jesus is granted; all that he asks for and more.
The same faith that restores life to the woman, restores Jairus and his little daughter to life. By the power of their faith in the love of God in Jesus Christ, the miracle of life is restored to both the leader and the least.
I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have the woman with the flow of blood restored by our lectionary leaders to her proper place in the gospel story. It speaks of a change in our church, a change in our way of seeing things; a change in our way of seeing the love of God in Jesus Christ, that gives me hope in spite of the perils of our times.
What else but the power of love, as our Presiding Bishop has said, what else but our faith in the power of love can lift us out of the nightmare divisions that work for our destruction, and the destruction of our nation and the world, into God’s dream of life and liberty and wholeness for us all?
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