Sunday, February 16, 2014

Distributors or Roadblocks (Sermon)

John 6:35-59

Many of us have restricted diets. Jesus’ words about salt or bread bounce off us as we think about low sodium, paleo, gluten-free, heart-healthy, or the many different ways our diets are different from the diet of a first century Palestinian. However, for Jesus, his followers, and for most people around the world, bread is the stuff of life.

Separate bread in your mind from what it takes to make bread. Flour, salt, water, maybe yeast. What do you need to have those things? What’s required for flour? Wheat or some other grain. So you need stability to grow, tend, and harvest that. You need strength and maybe tools for the threshing and grinding.

Water needs to be clean. You need a well or a clean water source. You need a vessel to carry it in and a place for safe storage. Salt requires drying or discovery. You need time and space for this. It requires patience and expectation.

All of these are gifts that God gives us in Jesus- stability, growth, strength, community, safety, a body (for storage), patience, time, space. Let’s dwell on and in that understanding. The reality of bread is much, much more than the loaf in front of us. The gift of Jesus- God with us- is more than have either or physical or spiritual needs met. He is the embodiment of God’s desires and plans for you, for me, and for creation.

This is the point where my sermon derailed on Saturday night. I was thinking about God’s desires for us- the realities of being able to receive and eat the Bread of Life. Then I read the news about the conclusion to Michael Dunn’s trial for the murder of Jordan Davis. In November of 2012, Dunn asked an SUV full of teenagers at a gas station to turn down their music. When they refused and prepared to leave the station, Dunn fired at the SUV, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

At the conclusion of the trial yesterday, Dunn was convicted of several counts of attempted murder with regard to the other teens in the car. The jury ended up hung on the murder conviction for Jordan Davis. Do you think it matters in this case that Dunn is white and that Davis and the other teens were black? What would have been the outcome if a black man had fired into a car full of white teens for exactly the same reasons?

We live in a society, in 2014, where not all lives have equal value. Where people’s worth is judged based on their color, their race, their religious expression, their gender expression, their sexuality, their physical or mental abilities, their age and a variety of other factors. There are people in this congregation who regularly worry about their children or grandchildren, not in the way that we all do, but because of their color or other factors. We cannot pretend this doesn’t happen. We cannot pretend it doesn’t affect us. We cannot pretend that we can’t help.

We have said things- security, growth, strength, peace, community, bodies, safety, time, space- are God’s desires for creation as evidenced in Jesus as the bread of life. I assume we mean that they are God’s desires for all people, all people. Give us this day our daily bread is prayed by millions and millions of people. The inability to have bread- spiritual or physical- is not impaired by God’s willingness to distribute it. God has already shown that willingness by sending Jesus. The ability for all people to enjoy that bread- spiritually and physically- is impaired by how other people facilitate or get in the way of God’s distribution.

It matters greatly that the Bread of life is both a physical and a spiritual experience. It’s not just spiritual because there are real, concrete things our bodies must do as followers of Christ. It’s not just physical because there we have real, concrete spiritual needs that must be addressed and fed. If we have them, all people have them.

            We cannot listen to today’s reading, Jesus explaining about all who come to him being fed, and not feel some responsibility to respond and to help others respond. We cannot, we must not, listen to the news about the Dunn verdict and not feel any responsibility to respond and to help others respond. We cannot allow the forces that oppose God and God’s desires to make us believe that this problem is isolated to Florida or doesn’t have anything to do with our faith lives.

            If anyone, anyone, anywhere, anywhere, is afraid, is persecuted, is unable to imagine a better future, is isolated, is killed, then there are realities that are getting in the way of the Bread of Life. This happens in Anchorage. Schools have unequal resources. City communities receive unequal attention. Certain populations are profiled. Young adults do not believe they have valued potential.

            This goes beyond how we pray today. Either we are action takers, on a day to day basis, through the help of the Spirit, allowing our hands, our feet, our voices, our votes, our dollars, to be a way of distributing the Bread of Life. Or we aren’t. If we aren’t, then what are we doing? And who are we doing it for?

            In Jesus’ time, this teaching was scandalous, mainly because of what he says about blood. Jews did not eat blood. It was the life force of an animal. Therefore, it was forbidden. For Jesus to give instruction to drink his blood and eat his flesh, therefore to consume his life, this was disgusting and very off-putting to many, many people who heard him.

            It’s critical for us to hear those words today, though. If we understand that Jesus is present in our neighbors, the senseless killing of people around us- both actual killing and things that keep life from flourishing- we are witnessing the blood of Jesus being spilled, without life coming from it. We are witnessing the exact opposite of God’s desire and intention.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are the fruits of the Spirit. They grow from the nurturing of the Bread of Life. God’s plan for Jesus as the Bread of Life is to help creation enjoy peace, stability, growth, strength, time, space. As people who receive that Bread, physically and spiritually, we are called to be a part of how all people receive the Bread of Life. If you come to communion today, if you are praying today, if you are giving thanks for the forgiveness of sins today, you have entered into a covenant, a contract with God, in which you have agreed to respond and to be used for God’s purposes in the world.

Knowing that, believing that, will that change what you do? Today? This week?

            Stability, growth, strength, community, safety, a body (for storage), patience, time, space- required for bread, results of the Bread of Life. Bread that is intended for all people. We are definitely partakers for ourselves. When it comes to others, others like Jordan Davis, are we distributors or are we roadblocks?


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