Not Nice, Not Pretty, Just Real

August 19, 2018 (20th Sunday in Ordinary Time/Proper 15)

Service for the Lord’s Day

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

Psalm 111

John 6:51-58

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

 

6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “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. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51-58, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Living God, you are the giver of wisdom and discernment, guiding those who seek your ways to choose the good. We pray that you will grant that we, your people, feasting on the true bread of heaven, may have eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

No, you have not gone back in time in a time machine.  No, you are not hearing things. Yes, we are talking about Jesus being the Bread of life, again.  Last week George did a great job explaining communion.  This week we get another text about communion, but Jesus takes it a step further.  He goes into to some very graphic details which makes me wonder is this real or is Jesus exaggerating.

 

One of my best friends in all the world is a great storyteller with one exception, he tends to exaggerate.  We used to kid him as he would tell a story.  Many times, we would stop him mid story and ask what the REF (Richey Exaggeration Factor) was for his story.  For example, if he told a story about fishing and the size of the fish he caught, then we had to ask if it was really a 20-pound bass or more like a 20-ounce minnow?  Exaggeration sometimes helps to make the point in a story.

 

Jesus is exaggerating when he exclaims that he is “the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”[1]  Then he doubles down going even deeper into the flesh-eating metaphor “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. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.”[2] There is a reason that these verses are not the words of institution.  Who wants to really think about eating flesh and drinking blood?  It is not particularly inspiring or faith producing.

 

It is important to look at the words, the language, the construction of this story beyond the shock value of Jesus.  The more ordinary word “to eat” in Greek is (phagein) but in verse 54, the writer of the Gospel of John uses the Greek verb for “eat” is “tro-go” which means, “to gnaw, nibble, munch, like a herbivore, such as a mule, or a deer.”[3]  The writer uses the conjugated verb (trogein), which carries the connotation of “chewing with your mouth open.”[4]  Jesus uses this gross description to remind his followers that what he is talking about is life and death.  Not just anyone’s life and death but his own.  Jesus is not tossing around empty words or meaningless rhetoric.  What Jesus is talking about is really a matter of life or death.

 

I think that most of us when we think about the bible and Jesus we think everything is neat and polished.  We put on our Sunday best when we come to church, we show respect and reverence which is all good but in this story Jesus peals away the pretense and gets real.  He is using visceral images to emphasize how important being in relationship with him is.

 

John uses a metaphor by Jesus to state that we are eating the flesh and the drinking of blood of Christ. It is just strange, isn’t it?  Talk of eating flesh and drinking blood suggests horror movies, and cannibalism not exactly the love of God or appropriate for Sunday morning worship.

 

That is, perhaps, part of our problem – this great mystery of faith, with its bewildering imagery, the confusing and far-fetched theology — real egg head stuff.  I imagine that most of us don’t spend much time thinking about these things.  So, what!   So, what does it matter that Jesus is talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood?   What does that have to do with our everyday living?   What does it have to do with the things that really matter, our hopes and fears, our loves and hates, our living and our dying?   What does it have to do with us, here and now, two thousand years later?”

 

What I believe Jesus is getting at is faith in God, belief in Jesus isn’t always pretty and nice and easy.  It is not about dressing up in our Sunday best and coming to church to check the box.  This interchange tells us it is much more than that, belief in Jesus means that deep in our bones, the deepest recesses of our soul, we trust that we are not alone.  It means that we know our life is more than what appears to us now.  Life is more than going through the motions Life is more than illness, pain and suffering.  Life is more than the same damn thing over and over and over again. In Christ, through Christ, with Christ— life is hope.  Life is hope that with Christ there is another way.  Jesus has born the pain of this world for us.  He knows grief, he knows physical pain, he knows betrayal, he knows death and whatever world can through at you.   He has been there.  He has experienced it.  So, when we take the bread, we are remembering that Jesus’ body knows our pain, our fear, our sins, our shortcomings.  We know that his pain, suffering and death was real, there is no dressing it up.

 

What Jesus is offering us is Life Eternal, a taste of the very Life force that pulses as the heartbeat to everything that exists, that ever existed, or that ever will exist.  For those who receive Jesus, the whole Jesus, his life clings to our bones and courses through our veins.

 

This is the promise which God makes to us in the Sacraments: to be one with us and for us…forever, to stick with us and even in us no matter what.  It is a great mystery, the mystery made plain in Jesus, the same Jesus who on the night when he was handed over, accepted it all with honesty, strength, courage and trust.   Trust that the God who brought him into the world would be with him.   And that trust is with us.

 

[1] John 6, NRSV.

[2] John 6, NRSV.

[3] http://lectionarygreek.blogspot.com/

[4] Reverend Scott Hoezee, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-15b/?type=the_lectionary_gospel