Sunday, August 12, 2018

Jesus is the free gift from God the Father

Sermon for August 12, 2018

Proper 14 B- Track 1

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 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.”
Are you experiencing a little déjà vu in todays gospel reading?  We start todays gospel reading where we left off last week.  With the first instance of Jesus’ “I AM” statements.  The declaration that he is from God and is God.  As I mentioned to the good folks at St. Paul’s last Sunday by Jesus declaring that he is the “I AM” is startling to the crowd.  The crowd knows their Hebrew Scriptures well, as we have been hearing them discuss the story of Moses in the wilderness and the providing of mana to feed the people.  They remember that when Moses asked God to give Moses his name so he could tell pharaoh who sent him God said that he is “I AM”  I AM the God of your ancestors.  The God of the Prophets.  I AM the God of all people. 

The people are obviously not at all happy with Jesus declaring that he is the I AM.  I AM the bread of Life.  The response of the people is so predictable.  After all Jesus is the same flesh and blood that they are right?  The crowd knows his earthly father, mother, brothers, and sisters.  The crowd watched him grow up and learn to be a carpenter from Joseph.  They crowd likely witnessed the child Jesus behaving in childish ways.  So how can this carnal Jesus whom they know be the incarnate God. 

I am willing to bet that you have had similar reactions to your encounters with God.  I know I have.  When God enters into our lives and leads us out to do God’s work we perhaps wonder “why me”.  There are other more literate people in theology that would be better equipped to spread God’s love.  There are people who our more eloquent in their preaching and in their conversations, better able to pull up bible texts to prove their point about God than I am.  After all God is God and well – I am very human.  With faults and imperfections. 

The crowd sees all of that in Jesus and is amazed at his claim to be the “I AM” the one who is not only fully human but is also fully divine.  This is not the God that they are expecting.  This is not the God who was promised who would overthrow the human economy of empire that was keeping them oppressed.  How could this human Jesus – son of Joseph and Mary – be the one to provide this new mana from heaven that would give them eternal life?

David Lose, a preacher I follow said, “Think of the audacious claim that Jesus is making. Who ever heard of a God having anything to do with the everyday, the ordinary, the mundane, the dirty? Gods are made for greatness, not grime; they supposed to reside up in the clouds, not down here with the commoners. I mean, who ever heard of a God who is willing to suffer the pains and problems, the indecencies and embarrassments of human life? It’s downright laughable. No wonder the crowd grumbles against Jesus’ words, for such words seem to make fun of their understanding of God’s majesty and, even worse, to mock their own deep need for a God who transcends the very life which is causing them so much difficulty.”[1]

This audacious claim of Jesus, that he is the Bread of Life who will give them everlasting life is crazy.  But that is the good news.  The God we worship and believe in came to us in human form.  It is a gift from God - un earned and unasked for gift.  God has worked through the millennia to get our attention.  He worked through Moses to rescue the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  He worked through David, who we have seen in the past few weeks is flawed and human, to establish God’s reign in Israel and Judah.  God has and still is working through prophets to call us up short when we fall short of God’s dream. 

God in Jesus became fully Human while retaining his full divinity to show us the way.  To show us that ordinary things – bread, wine, water and ordinary people – you, me and all of our neighbors are called to bring about God’s dream of an economy where all our fed. 

Unfortunately, this part of the Gospel of John can also be taken as a clobber verse.  As you perhaps noticed while we repeated the end of last week’s Gospel reading we handily left off a few verses.  In those verses Jesus says “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.’”  These verses – along with the ones we heard in our Gospel reading today can be used as exclusionary verses.

I don’t read them that way, but others have flipped them to say that anyone who has not believed in God through Jesus is destined to that fiery place – to eternal damnation.  But the reality is that like the mana that came down from God to feed the undeserving, and grumbling people in the wilderness, so Jesus is a gift to us.  A gift that we have received as undeserving and grumbling people.  A gift that keeps coming to us again and again.

Part of my theology is that God keeps pursuing us with love throughout all of our lives.  God keeps providing the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation to us over and over again.  God dreams that we will accept his grace – his free offering of salvation and repent of our sins to help spread that gift.  To help turn our world into a different world.  A world where love of God and love of neighbor is the highest law of our lands.  It is not about everyone claiming that they have a personal relationship with Jesus – and therefore they have been saved.  It is about us having a relationship in community with Jesus and with God.  It is about leaving the task of judgment to God.

We help offer the bread of eternal life to people when we are the hands, feet and heart of Jesus in our communities today.  We do that when we work to provide food to the hungry – as we do on this campus with the amazing ministry of River City Food bank – where people are fed without a litmus test of a personal relationship with Jesus.  Where we go out in our communities and instead of seeing aliens and enemies – as it seems some do. We see our neighbors – and that we follow the commandment to love our neighbors – regardless of their religious status, regardless of their politics.

Jesus is the free gift from God – unearned and even unasked for.  It is not what was expected by the first century crowds and it is not what is expected today.  That our God would offer to us mana – the bread of the Gods if we only will accept it.  And as we shall see again next week this is not an easy gift to accept.

For now that us give thanks that Jesus showed us that God wants only to feed us.  To feed us physically and to feed us spiritually.  To provide a heavenly banquet to all of God’s beloved children.  Even when the bearer of that gift is unexpected or deemed unworthy.


Saturday, August 11, 2018

Homily for the Repose of the Soul of Karen Jones

Homily for the Repose of the Soul of Karen Jones

[Note:  the Scripture readings chosen by Karen are in italic font the homily begins after the readings] 

1 Corinthians 13:1-13
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Matthew 5:1-10

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

We are a peculiar people in the church.  The focus on this service is not one of grief and despair but of hope and love.  We do not wear the black of Good Friday but the white of Easter.  This is an Easter service.  A service of resurrection. A service that recognizes the promise of eternal life.  We remember that even at the grave our song is one of Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.  A service that celebrates the promise of resurrection and of new life.  A service where we remember that Karen has gone to the place “where sorrow and pain are now more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.”  This does not mean that you are not mourning Karen’s departure from this mortal life.  It does not mean that you will not grieve her leaving.  But as the peculiar people that we are the mourning and grief can be tempered with the knowledge that Karen has escaped this mortal life in the promise of her savior that resurrection into eternal life is real. 

All one has to do is look at this service to see what Karen believed.  She designed this service knowing that cancer was taking over and that she would be departing those she loved.  Karen did not want any lessons about grief.  She wanted only lessons that talk about the love of God. 

The first lesson – from First Corinthians is one that is commonly used at weddings.  In it we are reminded that God is love.  And that when we speak and act if we do not do so in love then we are a clanging cymbal.  A loud raucous noise.  It is when we are able to embrace the great Commandment and to Love God and Love our neighbors that we speak in the tongues of angles.  It is the promise that when our work is done on this earth that we will be taken up into the eternal love that is God.  Karen’s choice to focus on God’s love speaks volumes about her beliefs and her life.  The love of God that is supreme.

The second lesson – commonly known as the beatitudes shows us how God works.  It describes an economy that is so different from our own economy.  It turns our understanding of how the economy of the world is supposed to work right side up.  In the transliteration of the bible by Eugene Patterson – called the Message he translates the beatitude this way:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family
 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
When I read this version of the beatitudes I see how countercultural they are.  They point us to the economy that is created from love and points to Love.  They remind us that our focus should be on the radical acceptance of God and the radical gift of God’s love to us. 
Karen’s love of creation – her involvement with Native American spirituality – as evidenced by Deacon Powell’s smudging with sweet grass today even goes into Karen’s choice for the prayer that we will say at the Great Thanksgiving.  Karen choose to use Eucharistic Prayer C – which some Episcopalians call the Star Trek prayer, which has at its focus on God’s Good creation and our job as stewards of that creation – this Island Home or Fragile Earth.

While I have known Karen for only a short time – first as an intern at St. Matthew’s several years ago and more recently at the end of her life and in both instances I saw the Love of God in her.  Karen talked about her journey into the arms of the church – as she put it - and how it became more meaningful to her.  At St. Matthew’s over the years she became involved in various roles including Sunday school, hospitality, and involvement with varied cultural groups.  Including with the ongoing Hispanic ministry program at St. Matthew’s as well as the Native American ministry group that used to meet at St. Matthew’s.  I see that Love Karen has for all in her son Adam and daughter in law Jasmine as they gathered to be with Karen as she prepared to say good bye.

We gather today to remember the life of Karen Jones.  We are here to grieve that she will no longer we with us on this side of the veil.  We are her to mourn that she will no longer be there to call or to visit with.  But we can take heart that Karen believed that she was going to that place where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.  Karen knew that her body was failing her and that her time was coming to an end -so she designed this service to remind us that God is all about Love.  And that Love she shared for her family, friends, and God’s creation is a wonderful thing. 

Take time to mourn.  Take time to grieve.  I read a wonderful thing that said that grief is not about stages, or about reaching certain milestones.  Grief is a journey.  A journey down a river of love.  A journey where you will be caught up short in your love for Karen by something you hear, read, or even some distinctive smell.  A journey that will bring a tear to your eye, a smile to your face and a warmth in your heart – sometimes all at the same time.  Welcome those moments.  And remember that Karen believed in the Love that is never ending and wishes nothing more than for us to bask in that Love just has she is basking in the eternal embrace of her savior.  For even at the grave Karen made her song – alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!