The sermon below is one that I preached at my home congregation, House for All Sinners and Saints on August 19, 2012.
Audio Text: God Shows Up
Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the Triune God. Amen
I really struggled with this week’s gospel text. I wrote an entire sermon about how the Gospel passage that we just heard pertains to Holy Communion, but I couldn't help to feel like there was more here. So I kept writing. Four more drafts. I do think that a Eucharistic interpretation is a perfectly valid way to look at this text, but one could also approach it from an incarnational perspective. A clear sign that God is present in the world and knows the fullness of human experience through the person of Jesus Christ. In other words, God Shows Up.
Yes, today’s Gospel is about Holy Communion, but I think that it points to something even beyond that, the promise that we affirm each time we take communion. The Eucharist is the celebration that Jesus is the Word of God incarnate and that we are no more prisoners to sin and death. The celebration that through Jesus all things were brought into being, and by means of his life, death, and resurrection, a new creation is born. The language in today’s Gospel is clearly Eucharistic and can be seen as pointing to Holy Communion, and certainly all the pieces are there: the body, the blood, the blessing, and the promise…but what if there are other meanings here as well? What if Jesus is talking about drinking in and consuming all of the promise of who He is?
John’s gospel starts out with some very familiar words:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…
Several verses later comes: “ And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
The central claim of John’s gospel is that God chose to take on human form, in the person of Jesus. And through the actions and words of Jesus, God can be known. However, also running throughout the Gospel of John is a theme that the people could not see Jesus for who he is…the incarnate God.
Today’s Gospel reading is a prime example of this. Those listening to Jesus ignore the first part of what he is saying, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven” to jump to the scandalous part, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” They argue among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” In their disputing, they miss the best part of all, that the bread of heaven, the incarnate God, is right in front of them, and by taking in all of him, they will live forever.
This got me thinking about where else I am distracted by the broken world and fail to see the promise of an incarnate God who refuses to be destroyed even by death. Where else might we all do this? One week ago I finished a ten-week chaplaincy internship at St. Anthony Hospital. I was assigned to the Neuro and Trauma intensive care units. My patients were some of the most ill in the hospital, and there were many, many hours that I spent just sitting with families in unimaginable pain, as they grieved what could have been and what was to come. I was angry that young people, full of promise, were rudely taken from this world by car accidents, indignant that parents were outliving their children, and incredulous that in an instant, people’s lives could be changed forever by a single choice made by them or someone else. I often found myself wondering where God was in all of this and the only thing that I could offer to my patients and their families…and myself…was that God Shows Up. God knows suffering. God is here. And as the summer unfolded, so did my understanding of the incarnate God.
I spent a fair bit of my summer accompanying families in the initial moments of their grief as they sat at the bedside of their recently departed loved ones. In the minutes just before death and those immediately following, the presence of the Holy cuts so deep that it can be felt in your soul. The palpable presence of something outside the bounds of this world is in the room. And in the intimate moments just after a death, the absence of that person’s soul can be felt, as if carried away, but the room itself is still filled with the deep presence of God. You could almost taste it, drink it in.
As we take in all of Jesus, nothing can destroy us, even death. We can know that neither life, nor death, nor anything in all of creation can separate us from the love of God. Because God is already among us.
I think we are all like those gathered around Jesus, sometimes blinded to the truth that is right in front of us. Blinded to the incredible promise of what God is trying to show us. We carry the burden of past mistakes and don’t see any way that we could ever be “good enough” again. We built walls around our hearts when we have been hurt. We get stuck in jobs where we aren’t happy and know that our gifts could be better used elsewhere, but we make a comfortable salary and it seems safest to stay right where we are. We run relentlessly from one hobby to another trying to find that one thing that might make us feel complete. We try to understand God’s will for us and in this vain attempt at control, we miss the incredible promise that is presented to us at the Lord’s Table, a living God present with us right here, right now, and forevermore.
The good news is that God keeps relentlessly pursuing us. God knows that we aren’t all good, all the time, and yet…loves us unconditionally anyway. We have a God who continues to offer Godself to the world, even to the point of death on a cross.
God in Jesus came into the world not because we were good or because we deserved it or because we would understand why, but precisely because we needed salvation from ourselves.
Like those who were the first to follow Jesus, we too live in our own little worlds and are sometimes downright oblivious to what God is doing right here, right now, in our midst. God continues to show Godself, we just need to look up from what we are doing, step away from our assumptions about what things mean, and take some time to eat. The Word became flesh and lived among us. God in Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood, literally consuming the totality of me, will have eternal life…” God knows that try as we might, we will never understand the gift of life that has been given to us through Jesus Christ, yet it is still freely and continuously and abundantly given. And God promises to continue to pursue us doggedly in the midst of grief and pain and distraction…and that is promising news indeed. Amen.