SERMON ON JOHN 6:35, 41-51 AND EPHESIANS 4:25-5:2, FR. TONY MOON, SAINT AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA
John 6:35, 41-51
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 8th, 2021
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It was an old wooden farmhouse out in the middle of an Oklahoma wheat field. The house was simple. You enter a mudroom with a short hallway where a deepfreeze was housed, and passing by the one bathroom in the house you enter the kitchen. Off the kitchen were a living room and three small bedrooms. I remember the kitchen had sheet linoleum on the floor, and the other floors were wood. Being in the middle of the wheat field, the house was quiet. It was just so quiet out there—maybe all that was to be heard was a slight breeze coming off the wheatfields whipping through the open screened windows, curtains rolling in the breeze.
This was the home of my older brother’s in-laws. I don’t know how long they’d lived there, but I do know that my sister-in-law grew up there, and the house felt like a comfortable old chair that had been set in for decades. My sister-in-law’s dad was an old farmer, but then, I was only 12, so he may have been 45 or 50. It was her mother, Hattie, that I remember best. Before our family drove the 30 or 40 miles to their farm, Hattie would have been up preparing ducks and chickens for lunch, vegetables from the garden, and baking cakes and pies and bread. Hattie was one of those farm wives who was absolutely certain that if you didn’t eat everything in sight, you’d surely fall over from starvation. “Here! Finish this pie,” she’d insist after I’d already had a large lunch and too much dessert. I’d look up to see that she was talking about “just finishing up” half a peach pie. “Oh, no thank you! I couldn’t,” I’d politely protest, knowing full well that my little 12-year-old voice could never convey strongly enough my desire to not pop on the spot. Before my words of protest had left my mouth, however, Hattie already had a slotted spatula under a quarter of the pie, heaving it onto my plate. Resistance was futile. I knew I needed to be prepared to eat this and then quickly slip out of the chair to get away before the other quarter of the pie landed on my plate—something Hattie would do almost absent-mindedly as an aside as she talked with my Mom. Food was Hattie’s love language. Feeding those she loved was her way of showing love. Of course, I was too young to know that then. I just thought she was a nice woman who liked to get rid of leftovers and saw my stomach as the most direct route.
Food is a theme that shows up again in today’s Gospel lesson, just as it has for the last few weeks. We’ve been having a string of these food-focused lessons—including the feeding of the 5,000, the crowd seeking out Jesus for more food, and today, where Jesus tells his followers that he is the living bread.
To get to this Gospel lesson of living bread, let’s enter first through the Epistle reading where St. Paul writes to the Ephesians about a “rule of life.” He tells them who they are to be and he tells them what they must do to live this new life in Christ. As Christ followers, he speaks to us, as well, giving us this rule of life.
In essence, St. Paul tells us to put away falsehoods and speak truth to others. He acknowledges that we may have feelings of anger, but we shouldn’t let that lead to sin. He suggests that anger should be short-lived; we should not bring the anger of one day into the next day. “Thieves,” Paul directs, are to give up stealing and do honest labor, giving to the less fortunate from their wages. And here, Paul likely is not specifically addressing those whose job description is “thief”—like bandits lurking in the dark of night with little racoon masks tied around their eyes, but Paul is addressing any of us who take or covet anything that is not rightfully ours.
St. Paul cautions us to not speak ill, but to build up others, letting our words give grace to them. Similarly, Paul bluntly tells us to keep away from negative emotions and negative actions in favor of being kind, tenderhearted and forgiving. It’s almost like Paul is among the world’s first psychologists, promoting solid values and behaviors. He acknowledges that poor behavior comes back on us when Paul states, “we are members of one another”—acknowledging that our lives are all interconnected, woven like a fabric. And, when we cause damage to the fabric, we cause damage to ourselves.
Paul’s teaching to these followers in Ephesus comes close to sounding secular until we come to the concluding verse, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Paul is no longer speaking secular psychology or social psychology; he is no longer simply speaking of holding honorable values, but is casting his vision for Christ followers. He’s saying, ‘here’s a rule of life for you: “Imitate God—see through God’s eyes; hear through God’s ears; think with God’s mind.” “Live in love” which is another way of saying, “live in God.” “Love as Christ loves us.” “Live as selflessly as the one who gave himself up for us...” “Walk in love,” or “Walk as God.” This seems to sum it up: Walk in love.
Just as St. Paul tells us through his words to the Ephesians who we are to be and what we are to do, St. John in today’s Holy Gospel, gives us the “how.” How can I do that? How can I walk in love? Just how can I get there?
St. John records Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Essentially, whoever joins with me—sees through my eyes, hears through my ears; thinks with my mind, will be spiritually fed. You will never be spiritually hungry or thirsty—a human condition which can be every bit just as real and difficult as physical hunger and thirst.
The words, “Whoever comes to me” kind of conjures up the image of consulting with someone. I’ve had lots of clients as a therapist and consultant who “came to me.” We’d do our work, and then we’d part company. This kind of encounter is not what Jesus has in mind, but unfortunately, is too often how we interact with Jesus--I’ll check in during this crisis, and then Jesus and I will depart from one another. To re-orient from checking in, to that of living a life with Christ, to living as Christ, we must focus on Jesus’ statement, “I am the bread of life.”
In these words, St. John is setting the stage for what is to come at the Last Supper when Jesus tells his followers to take this bread, which Jesus has identified as his body, and eat it: Consume me. Let me nourish you; let me be in you, just as the Father is in me.
As we’re getting clearer on what we are to do and about who we are to become, today’s Gospel lesson offers the key to making these things happen: Join with me. Be in communion with me. Become as I am. …The what and the who will then fall into place.
You heard that Hattie’s love language was food. This is true for Jesus, also. Jesus wants us to feast on him, to bring him into our being physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, so that our whole being will be filled up with Jesus. Jesus will not force more food onto us, but invites us to be nourished with him. The decision is ours to make. So, let us enjoy the feast and live this life in Christ that the Father calls us to! As our Psalmist says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.”
~Rev. Anthony Moon, Saint Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.