Sermon August 2, 2015
Ephesians 4:25-5:2, John 6:35, 41-51
If you have been in worship the last few weeks, you may be getting tired of John 6. I wonder how much we can possibly say about bread. It is interesting that of all the ways Jesus could refer to himself, he chose something as basic and ordinary as bread. Yet even in this discourse where he calls himself the bread of life, he manages to offend his hometown people who know his parents and aren’t impressed with Jesus saying that he came down from heaven. They were annoyed that one of the neighborhood kids has gotten a big head.
When Jesus spoke about large spiritual matters, he used ordinary elements to get his point across. Bread is as basic as it gets. Food is essential to our survival and bread can be found most anywhere. Jesus is available to all. And yet, feasting on this basic element enables us to encounter the eternal nature of Christ among us. There is an invitation to wonder at Jesus calling himself the bread of life. We are invited to feast on this bread and experience eternal sustenance.
It is interesting that there are so many references to bread and feasting in the Bible. Rolf Jacobson says “food is the central way God says, ‘I love you’ to us…In times of tragedy we feed each other. It’s the best way we have to say, ‘I love you’ when no words will fix it. Where did we learn that? From God. The main image we have of God’s abundant blessing is the feast.”
Rolf tells about having bone cancer as a teenager. He lost both legs and missed most of his junior year because he was in the hospital or at home. “Whatever tragedy strikes us – cancer, losing our job, getting arrested, going through a divorce – we can find ourselves isolated from our community at the time we need it most. He talks about Emily McDowell, a cancer survivor, who has created a snarky line of greeting cards. Emily said the most difficult part of cancer wasn’t losing her hair, being called sir by the Starbucks barista, or chemo. It was the loneliness and isolation she felt when many of her close friends and family members disappeared because they didn’t know what to say. Being the body of Christ means we show up for each other. We bring food. Food is the best way we have to say ‘I love you’.” (http://s52.podbean.com/pb/7555c3658cf24dff20c25d5ea3536304/55c3d53d/data1/blogs60/767503/uploads/B37Proper14Jacobson_MP3_128kbit_44kHz_stereo.mp3)
When my friend David was hospitalized with cancer, he developed some cravings – one was for Snapple. People would show up in his room and bring Snapple and it became the outward way of saying, “I love you. I’m here with you.” My friend’s mother died this week. That evening, a group of friends showed up with dinner and instruments. They ate and sang her mother’s favorite songs. I’ve been thinking about how we say, “I love you” with food. While I am not a cook, I know how deeply loved I feel when someone cooks for me. I know the beauty of a meal together and the way it brings healing and love forward. When I turned fifty this spring, I knew I wanted to have people I love come to dinner. The meal was a way to honor relationships and this rite of passage into a new decade. I love how sitting around a table together is a powerful way to express our love for God and one another. My family eats dinner together most evenings. It is there that we really listen to one another and learn what is happening in our lives. I love this church’s deep commitment to eating together at monthly potlucks and weekly fellowship. Andy brings food to our text study each week. We take cookies to the Jefferson staff to say thank you. We feed those who come to a memorial service. People stop by during the week asking for help and we give them food.
While John gives us the table as a glimpse of community, the writer of Ephesians continues with lessons about being the body of Christ. There are some very specific guidelines. We are supposed to tell the truth and deal with our anger in healthy ways. We are called to speak with grace so that we build up the body. Thieves are called to find work that allows them to help others. We are called to be kind and forgive one another. The text ends with the words, “Be imitators of God…and live in love as Christ loved us…”
So, to boil it down to a simple command: “Imitate God and feast on Jesus.” What in the world does that mean? I wonder if we can begin our mornings by reflecting on how we can imitate God in the day to come. Perhaps we open our calendar to see what we have coming up this day…ah yes, there is that hard conversation we have to have with someone who is really difficult. How would we imitate God in that conversation? Note that the text doesn’t say, “Don’t get angry” rather it calls us not to sin when we are angry. If we know that we are going to get angry, what choices can we make to work through our anger in ways that are healthy?
There is a strong emphasis on forgiveness in this passage. It has been said that, “Forgiveness is the hallmark of the Christian”. God breaks through into the world in powerful ways when we forgive one another. When the Amish schoolchildren were killed in 2006 the world seemed to be more scandalized by forgiveness the community showed than the shootings themselves. We talk about forgiveness, but witnessing this community practice it firsthand was stunning. We saw it again this summer when the families of the Charleston shootings forgave Dylan Roof. They did not excuse his actions, but they chose the way of forgiveness. Forgiveness does not come easily to us, but over and over we are called to forgive. I don’t think the repeated references to forgiveness are intended to make light of it, but to acknowledge how important it is that we not give up and do everything we can to forgive one another.
Imitating God in that sense is forgiving others as we have been forgiven. Each week, we pray for the grace to do that. It is one of the most difficult things we do. Yet, the inability to forgive costs us so much. As someone said, “not forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Clearly Jesus recognized what an impediment it is when we cannot forgive. When asked how many times we should forgive…seven perhaps? He responded, “Seventy times seven”. (Matthew 18:22) We will be given many opportunities to forgive in our lifetime.
The Railway Man tells the story of Eric Lomax, a British Army officer who was captured by the Japanese during WWII and sent to a Prisoner of War camp where he was tormented and forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway. Decades later, still suffering the trauma of his wartime experiences, Lomax and his wife Patti discover that the interpreter responsible for much of his treatment is still alive. He returns to confront his tormentor, Nagase, and is given every opportunity to torture the man who tortured him years before. Instead, both men begin to talk and tell the truth about what happened. Lomax realizes that while he had come to even the score, what he really needed was to be free of the war that continued to rage inside him. He left without harming Nagase. His tormentor wrote an apology and acknowledged that he carried the pain of the torment. He had not forgotten Lomax. Lomax returned to meet Nagase again. Nagase bowed and told Lomax how sorry he is. He too, wanted to be free of the torture he caused. Lomax handed him a letter that says, “I have suffered much and I know you have suffered too…While I cannot forget what happened, I assure you of my total forgiveness. Sometime the hating has to stop.” There is a very emotional scene as the two men embrace. They became friends in the years they had left.
Where do you need to offer forgiveness in your life? Can you imitate God in your actions showing mercy, kindness, and forgiveness? It is a life’s work for some of us. It took Eric Lomax decades. Yet forgiveness can set us free. The bread of life invites us to a feast of freedom and forgiveness. When you sit at the table with others, know that Christ is there too. Feast on his mercy and wonder at God’s amazing grace.