August 19, 2018

What does it mean to eat this flesh?

What does it mean to eat this flesh?

THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
JOHN 6: 51-58

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 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 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

SERMON

HOW MANY OF YOU HAVE A MORNING ROUTINE?

FOR ALMOST FORTY YEARS, I HAVE HAD MY MORNING ROUTINE. I GET UP EARLIER THAN ANYONE ELSE IN THE HOUSE. I PUTZ AROUND FOR A LITTLE WHILE, CHECK MY EMAIL AND THE NEWS. FIX MY BREAKFAST, AND THEN GO OUT TO THE FRONT YARD AND GET THE MORNING NEWSPAPER.

I LOVE TO READ AND I LOVE TO READ THE NEWSPAPER. I LOVE THE FEEL OF THE PAPER, THE LOOK OF THE NEWSPRINT. ALWAYS THE SPORTS PAGE FIRST. THEN THE VARIETY OF STORIES: INTERNATIONAL, NATIONAL, LOCAL, BUSINESS, ENTERTAINMENT AND, THE OLDER I GET, THE OBITUARIES.

ALTHOUGH I KNEW IT WAS COMING, THERE IT WAS IN BLACK-AND-WHITE ON THE FRONT PAGE OF LAST SUNDAY’S POST-GAZETTE.

“IN TWO WEEKS, THE POST-GAZETTE TAKES A DRAMATIC STEP INTO THE DIGITAL FUTURE OF NEWS, TRANSFORMING ITSELF FROM A MEDIUM STEEPED IN PRINT INTO A FRESH NEW PROFILE COMMITTED TO ALL THE POTENTIAL OF THE NEW COMMUNICATION WORLD.”

THE EXECUTIVE EDITOR GOES ON TO SAY, “BY ELIMINATING TWO DAYS OF PRINT THE WEEK OF AUGUST 26TH AND UNDERTAKING A FULL-THROTTLE COMMITMENT TO THE DIGITAL DELIVERY OF NEWS, THE POST-GAZETTE IS REFLECTING PITTSBURGH’S OWN TRANSFORMATION FROM TRADITIONAL MANUFACTURING INTO A HIGH-TECH CENTER.”

AND HERE’S WHERE IT HIT HOME FOR ME: “ALLEN BLOCK, CEO, ACKNOWLEDGED THAT FOR MANY PG READERS THIS FIRST STEP, AND THOSE LIKELY TO FOLLOW, WILL BE JARRING AND DISORIENTING, A DISRUPTION OF DECADES-OLD RITUALS AND HABITS THAT MANY OF OUR CUSTOMERS CONSIDER A CHERISHED PART OF THEIR DAY.”

“WHY ARE WE DOING THIS?” MR. BLOCK ASKED.

“PRINT IS GOING AWAY. IF YOU PROJECT EVEN FIVE YEARS INTO THE FUTURE YOU CANNOT IMAGINE THERE’S A PRINT BUSINESS THAT WILL BE VIBRANT NATIONALLY OR INTERNATIONALLY.”

HE CONCLUDES: “WE HAVE TO RECOGNIZE THAT AS MUCH AS WE WISH IT WERE OTHERWISE, PRINT IS IN A DEATH SPIRAL….IT IS TOTALLY BEING DESTROYED BY THE DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY REVOLUTION AND THE MARKETPLACE. TO IGNORE THIS TRUTH WOULD BE STUPIDITY AT THE HIGHEST LEVELS.”

OH, NOW HE’S CALLING ME STUPID!

I UNDERSTAND ALL THIS AND, LOGICALLY, IT MAKES PERFECT SENSE. BUT EMOTIONALLY—IN TERMS OF MY COMFORT, MY ROUTINE, MY PLEASURE, MY SENSE OF CONTROL OVER MY LIFE AND MY PREFERENCES, THIS IS, AS MR. BLOCK SAYS, “JARRING AND DISRUPTIVE TO MY DECADES-OLD RITUALS AND HABITS.”

AS I HAVE MENTIONED PREVIOUSLY IN A SERMON, FATHER TOM KEATING, THE WISE SPIRITUAL TEACHER, OBSERVES THAT EACH OF US EXPERIENCES AN EMOTIONAL DEFICIT IN CHILDHOOD.

A DEFICIT IN SAFETY AND SECURITY.

THIS MIGHT COME ABOUT IF PARENTS DIVORCE, IF THERE’S NOT ENOUGH MONEY, OR IF THE FAMILY MOVES AROUND A GREAT DEAL.

OR A DEFICIT IN ESTEEM AND AFFECTION.

AN EXAMPLE MIGHT BE A MAJOR DISCONNECT BETWEEN PARENT AND CHILD, WHERE THE CHILD EXPERIENCES A LACK OF LOVE AND ATTENTION AND INSTEAD EXPERIENCES CRITICISM AND DISDAIN.

A THIRD AREA OF NEED COMES FROM A DEFICIT IN POWER AND CONTROL.

IF PARENTS ARE OVERLY RIGID AND DEMANDING, CHILDREN EXPERIENCE BEING POWERLESS TO MAKE DECISIONS AND DO NOT LEARN TO STAND THEIR OWN TWO FEET. THEY GIVE UP THEIR OWN PERSONAL POWER TO MAKE SURE THE OTHER PERSON IS ALWAYS OKAY.

BECAUSE OF THESE EMOTIONAL WOUNDS, KEATING PERCEIVES THAT WE EACH DEVELOP A FALSE SELF. WE ATTACH TO PEOPLE, PLACES, AND SITUATIONS THAT PROPORT TO GIVE US MORE OF WHAT WE THINK WE NEED.

AND WE DEVELOP AVERSIONS TO PEOPLE, PLACES, AND SITUATIONS THAT SEEM TO THREATEN OUR DESIRE FOR MORE AND MORE SAFETY OR ESTEEM OR POWER.

IN DOING THIS, WE CONTINUE TO PROTECT A FALSE SENSE OF SELF AND ATTEMPT TO GET MORE OF WHAT WE NEVER GOT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

WHEN THE FALSE SELF PURSUES FALSE ENDS, WE ONLY END UP CAUSING OURSELVES AND OTHERS PAIN AND TURMOIL. AND GETTING MORE DOES NOT HEAL US.

KEATING CALLS THESE THE THREE FALSE EMOTIONAL PROGRAMS FOR HAPPINESS.

AND SO, THE TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGES SWEEPING THE WORLD AND THE DECISIONS MADE BY THE POST-GAZETTE ON THE LOCAL LEVEL, HAVE DISTURBED MY FALSE PROGRAMS FOR HAPPINESS: SECURITY, PLEASURE, CONTROL.

JESUS, IN HIS RELIGIOUS GENIUS, HAS BEEN THREATENING THE EMOTIONAL PROGRAMS FOR HAPPINESS OF THE JEWS FOR THESE LAST THREE WEEKS IN HIS CLAIM THAT HE IS “THE BREAD OF LIFE, THE BREAD COME DOWN FROM HEAVEN.”

IF THIS IS TRUE, THEN THE ENTIRE RELIGIOUS WORLD OF THE JEWS IS THREATENED: THEIR BELIEF SYSTEM, THEIR RITUALS, THEIR LITURGIES, THEIR LEADERSHIP, THE WAY THEY ORGANIZE THEIR FAITH COMMUNITY. FROM TOP TO BOTTOM, JESUS, IN ONE SIMPLE STATEMENT THREATENS EVERYTHING THEY KNOW.

AND, AS WE HEAR AGAIN THIS MORNING. THE JEWS FIGHT BACK. SCRIPTURE SAYS, “THE JEWS THEN DISPUTED AMONG THEMSELVES.”

DISPUTE MEANS TO ARGUE AND DISCUSS HEATEDLY. TO CHALLENGE, CALL INTO QUESTION, DISAGREE WITH, TAKE ISSUE WITH, CONTRADICT.

THE OPPOSITE ACTION WOULD BE TO ACCEPT.

THEY ARE HEATEDLY CHALLENGING, DISAGREEING WITH, CALLING INTO QUESTION, TAKING ISSUE WITH BECAUSE THEY ALREADY HAVE INVESTED THEIR RELIGIOUS LIFE IN DOING THINGS A CERTAIN WAY. THEY HAVE THEIR TRADITIONS, THEIR RITUALS, THEIR LITURGIES, THEIR RELIGIOUS ANCESTORS, THEIR EMOTIONAL PROGRAMS FOR HAPPINESS.

AND JESUS, IN HIS VERY PERSON, IS SUGGESTING THAT THERE IS A NEW WAY OF APPROACHING RELIGIOUS LIFE APPEARING ON THE HORIZON THAT OFFERS ETERNAL LIFE.

BECAUSE THEY ARE SO THREATENED—IN THEIR ATTACHMENTS AND THEIR AVERSIONS—THEY EVENTUALLY HAVE TO PUT HIM TO DEATH TO TRY AND PUT AN END TO HIS PATH TO ETERNAL LIFE….

A UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR WENT TO VISIT A FAMOUS SPIRITUAL TEACHER. WHILE THE SPIRITUAL MASTER SERVED TEA, THE PROFESSOR TALKED NONSTOP ABOUT WHAT HE KNEW AND WHAT HE THOUGHT AND WHAT WAS IMPORTANT TO HIM ABOUT HIS RELIGIOUS LIFE. THE SPIRITUAL TEACHER POURED THE VISITOR’S CUP TO THE BRIM AND THEN KEPT POURING.

THE PROFESSOR WATCHED THE OVERFLOWING CUP UNTIL HE COULD NO LONGER RESTRAIN HIMSELF. “IT’S FULL! NO MORE WILL GO IN!” THE PROFESSOR BLURTED.

“THIS IS YOU,” THE MASTER REPLIED, “HOW CAN I SHOW YOU A NEW WAY UNLESS YOU FIRST EMPTY YOUR CUP?”

THIS IS ME WITH MY HANDS FULL OF THE POST-GAZETTE. IF I AM GOING TO MOVE INTO THE NEW DIGITAL AGE OF RECEIVING MY NEWSPAPER VIA MY COMPUTER, MY TABLET, AND MY PHONE, I HAVE TO LET GO OF THE NEWSPAPER OR I WILL BE HOLDING OUTDATED NEWS.

IF I AM LIKE THE JEWS IN THE STORY, I WILL DEFENSE AGAINST ANY CHANGE OR TRANSFORMATION AS MR. BLOCK CALLS IT, BECAUSE THE POST-GAZETTE’S TRANSFORMATION THREATENS MY FALSE EMOTIONAL PROGRAMS FOR HAPPINESS.

AND THEN YOU WILL FIND ME FIVE YEARS DOWN THE ROAD SITTING AT MY BREAKFAST TABLE WITH A YELLOWING NEWSPAPER DATED AUGUST 19, 2018….

MARTIN LUTHER DIES IN THE EARLY MORNING HOURS OF FEBRUARY 18, 1546. HIS FINAL WORDS WERE “WE ARE BEGGARS. THIS IS TRUE.”

THE LUTHERAN WAY IS TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT, LEFT TO MY OWN DEVICES, I WILL PURSUE FALSE PATHS THAT DO NOT LEAD TO HAPPINESS. FALSE PATHS THAT LEAD ME FURTHER AWAY FROM THE LIVING WORD OF GOD, JESUS CHRIST. PURSUING FALSE PATHS OF MORE SAFETY AND SECURITY, MORE ESTEEM AND AFFECTION, MORE POWER AND CONTROL. ONE WAY OF SPEAKING ABOUT SIN.

SO, WE NEED SOMETHING OUTSIDE THE SMALL, PATHETIC WORLD OF OUR EGOS TO BRING US TO SANITY.

AS THEY SAY IN AA, “IT DOESN’T MATTER WHO YOUR HIGHER POWER IS, AS LONG AS IT AIN’T YOU.”

IN THIS STATEMENT IS A SURRENDER AND HUMILITY THAT ACKNOWLEDGES THE NEED FOR SOMETHING OR SOMEONE OUTSIDE MYSELF.

AND, PERHAPS, THE CORE ORGANIZING PRINCIPLE OF LIFE THAT NEEDS RE-THOUGHT IS HOW WE THINK ABOUT GOD.

LUTHER SAYS GOD IS A HIDDEN GOD. LUTHER DOESN’T THINK OF GOD’S HIDDENNESS AS ONE ATTRIBUTE AMONG MANY. LUTHER DOES NOT SUGGEST THAT GOD IS LOVE, GOD IS OMNIPOTENT, GOD IS GOOD, AND THEN ADD THAT GOD IS ALSO HIDDEN.

NO, IF LUTHER DID USE HIDDENNESS IN THAT WAY IT WOULD SIMPLY REVEAL THE OBVIOUS FACT THAT GOD IS INVISIBLE. ANY CHILD KNOWS THAT GOD CANNOT BE SEEN.

IT IS NOT SO MUCH THAT GOD CANNOT BE SEEN THAT CONCERNS LUTHER, BUT THAT GOD ACTUALLY AND ACTIVELY HIDES. GOD HIDES IN ORDER NOT TO BE FOUND WHERE HUMANS WANT TO FIND GOD.

GOD HIDES IN ORDER TO BE FOUND WHERE GOD WANTS TO BE FOUND.

GOD IS NOT HIDING IN HEAVEN. GOD IS HIDING IN THIS WORLD. BUT NOT WHERE WE THINK GOD WOULD BE FOUND WHICH IS IN OUR FALSE EMOTIONAL PROGRAMS FOR HAPPINESS.

HONESTLY, DON’T MOST OF OUR PRAYERS CONSIST OF ASKING GOD TO FULFILL OUR FALSE PROGRAMS FOR HAPPINESS?

THIS IS EXACTLY WHERE GOD CHOOSES NOT TO HIDE. GOD HIDES, IN PART, TO DEFEAT THESE PROGRAMS. TO SHOW THAT THERE IS NO SATISFACTION IN CERTITUDE, AFFIRMATION, FAME, SUCCESS, FINANCIAL SECURITY, AND PERSONAL POWER OR CONTROL.

AS ST. AUGUSTINE SAYS, “OUR HEARTS ARE RESTLESS UNTIL THEY REST IN GOD.”

SO, WHEN JESUS SPEAKS OF EATING HIS FLESH, THE BREAD THAT BESTOWS ETERNAL LIFE, JESUS IS PICTURING HIMSELF AS REPRESENTATIVE OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE FULLY HUMAN. HE IS REPRESENTING WHAT EVERYONE IS NOT AND WHAT EVERYONE COULD AND SHOULD BE.

AND THE JEWS TAKES OFFENSE.

WAIT A MINUTE, JESUS! WE ARE THE GOOD PEOPLE. WE FOLLOW THE TRADITIONS HANDED TO US BY OUR FAMILIES, WE PARTICIPATE IN OUR LITURGIES AND RITUALS, WE ALL VOLUNTEER AT THE SYNOGOGUE, WE ARE PURSUING OUR EMOTIONAL PROGRAMS FOR HAPPINESS WHICH WE BELIEVE GOD SUPPORTS.

WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?

WHAT’S GOING ON IS THAT THEY ARE NOT WILLING TO BE TRANSFORMED.

SO, EATING THE FLESH IS ALLOWING ONE’S SELF TO BE WORKED ON BY THE LIVING SPIRIT OF GOD SO THAT WE BECOME WHO WE COULD BE AND SHOULD BE.

IT MEANS INTEGRATING THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS, AGAIN, SO THAT WE CHANGE THE WAY WE APPROACH LIFE.

JUST ONE SMALL EXAMPLE: JESUS SAYS, “DO NOT JUDGE OR YOU, TOO, WILL BE JUDGED. FOR IN THE SAME WAY YOU JUDGE OTHERS, YOU WILL BE JUDGED, AND WITH THE MEASURE YOU USE, IT WILL BE MEASURED TO YOU.”

NOW JESUS WOULD NOT HAVE TO TEACH ABOUT NON-JUDGMENT IF ALL OF US DIDN’T HAVE THE INSTINCTUAL DRIVE TO JUDGE OTHER PEOPLE FOR WHAT WE THINK IS WRONG.

I HAVE OFTEN FOUND CHURCH PEOPLE TO BE THE MOST JUDGMENTAL OF ALL—OF ONE ANOTHER, OF THEIR LEADERS, OF PEOPLE OUTSIDE THE CHURCH.

IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT THE CHURCH IS THE ONLY INSTITUTION THAT SHOOTS ITS WOUNDED.

BUT GOD IS HIDING IN THE WOUND.

ULTIMATELY GOD IS HIDING IN THE SUFFERING JESUS ON THE CROSS—BEATEN, RIDICULED, CHALLENGED, QUESTIONED, ARGUED WITH, AND FINALLY REJECTED TO THE POINT OF BEING KILLED.

GOD IS HIDING IN THE WORLD IN THIS SEQUENCE OF SUFFERING, DYING, AND BEING RAISED TO NEW LIFE.

ISN’T THIS WHAT IS SO HARD TO SWALLOW?

THAT GOD IS IN THE BROKEN PLACES AND IN THE BROKEN PEOPLE. GOD IS FOUND WHERE WE LEAST EXPECT TO FIND GOD: IN OUR OWN EXPERIENCES OF BEING NAILED TO THE CROSS OF OUR OWN EXPERIENCE IN THE WORLD.

BUT, BY GOD, UNTIL WE ARE UP AGAINST IT, WE WILL CONTINUE TO FIGHT TO PRESERVE WHAT WE THINK WILL SAVE US: THAT WHICH GIVES US COMFORT. OUR EMOTIONAL PROGRAMS FOR SAFETY AND SECURITY, ESTEEM AND AFFECTION, POWER AND CONTROL.

WITHIN THE SPIRITUAL PRACTICE OF CENTERING PRAYER, THERE IS WHAT IS CALLED THE WELCOMING PRAYER. IT GOES LIKE THIS:

WELCOME, WELCOME, WELCOME

I WELCOME EVERYTHING THAT COMES TO ME TODAY

BECAUSE I KNOW IT IS FOR MY HEALING

I WELCOME ALL THOUGHTS, FEELINGS, EMOTIONS, PERSONS, SITUATIONS AND CONDITIONS.

I LET GO OF MY DESIRE FOR POWER AND CONTROL.

I LET GO OF MY DESIRE FOR AFFECTION, ESTEEM, APPROVAL, AND PLEASURE.

I LET GO OF MY DESIRE FOR SURVIVAL AND SECURITY.

I LET GO OF MY DESIRE TO CHANGE ANY SITUATION, CONDITION, PERSON, OR MYSELF.

I OPEN TO THE LOVE AND PRESENCE OF GOD AND GOD’S ACTION WITHIN. AMEN.

THE WELCOMING PRAYER IS PRAYED IN THE FACE OF ALL THOSE SITUATIONS, CONDITIONS, THOUGHTS, FEELINGS, AND PEOPLE WHICH WE WANT TO REJECT. THE SITUATIONS, CONDITIONS, THOUGHTS, FEELINGS, AND PEOPLE WHERE GOD IS HIDING AS THE BREAD OF ETERNAL LIFE

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