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Sermon: Flesh and Blood. August 22, 2021

August 23, 2021

This is the sermon I preached on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, IL. You can watch the worship service and view the bulletin, too. The picture is my family at Wrigley for the Saturday game. I was there on Sunday, too, to see the Royals complete the sweep.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. The divisions between human beings are often so obvious they hardly need to be noted, but that doesn’t stop people. A number of people good-naturedly pointed this out to us yesterday as we were walking to Wrigley Field. “Hey, a house divided!” they’d call out as they saw us coming, me decked out in Royals gear, the boys proudly sporting their Cubs regalia. Erika and Greta, perhaps choosing the better part of valor, declined to represent either team. Unlike the three of us, they were dressed as normal human beings. At any rate, the game was more fun for me, with the Royals beating whoever those guys are in the Cubs uniforms these days. We were a house divided, at least for a few hours, and it was fun to banter about this division with some of the people around us.
  2. Many divisions are not so benign, of course. With the onset of another COVID surge, the ever-present political differences among us are cast in even starker relief, with decisions that could be life-and-death being made as the new school year begins. And life-and-death divisions are all the news out of Afghanistan as people, both Afghan and otherwise, flee what will surely not be the inclusive reign the Taliban wants the world to believe is their intent. I could go on, but there’s no need. We humans excel at dividing into groups, declaring who’s in and who’s out, and it’s a good day when the worst that comes of it is a baseball game. We have a bad habit of doing far worse.
  3. Today, Jesus’ lengthy discourse on the Bread of Life concludes, and it does so with division. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them,” Jesus proclaims. While he ties such eating and drinking to eternal life, his teaching nevertheless turns off a great many of those who had so far been his disciples. It’s not hard to understand an initial sense of revulsion. Is Jesus teaching cannibalism? He wants us to eat him, to drink his blood? This would have been even more difficult for his original audience. His own people, the Jews, did not eat food with blood in still in it. That’s what pagans did. But even pagans would balk at drinking blood. No doubt for this reason many Protestants have long believed that Jesus only sort of means what he’s saying, both here and in the Words of Institution. It’s just bread and wine, people, they assure us. Yes, Jesus’ teaching is offensive, divisive. But he also knows that he’s just getting started. “What will you think,” he asks, “when you see the Son of Man – crucified and raised, dead but now alive – ascend back into heaven?”
  4. Yes, it is difficult to understand Jesus, even more challenging to believe in him. The root cause, however, is not the content of his teaching but our need for it. Our need for Jesus offends us.. Those who eat and drink Jesus will live. Those who don’t, won’t. Jesus is declaring that apart from him, the Word of Life, there is no life. We do not have life on our own. We are not in control of our own destiny. And nothing attacks the old Adam or Eve more than this, the simple fact that we are not in charge; that we are not autonomous; that we are not free. There is nothing more seductive than the echoing voice of the serpent: Ye shall be as gods. We yearn for control, not a reminder that we are needy, empty. The preacher Amy Howe writes, “We like to think we are in control of our lives, our destiny.” She goes on, with words I can relate to: “When things are spinning out of control in my world – deadlines looming, neighbors needing, a chronically ill child – I stop and clean my house. I do not have control over the other, but I can bring order to the chaos of my kitchen!” Preach, preacher! Never is the Lyle home cleaner than when other elements of our lives are out of control, when other, more complex, tasks beckon. But control is an illusion, and freedom is not loudly insisting that we can do whatever we want. Freedom begins when we realize our utter, total dependance. And that is what this whole Bread of Life thing has been about the whole time. In the words of the inimitable Frederick Buechner, “We don’t live by bread alone, but we also don’t live long without it. To eat is to acknowledge our dependence – both on food and on each other. It also reminds us of other kinds of emptiness that not even the blue-plate special can touch.”
  5. We are dependent, needy, empty, even if we spend so much time pretending otherwise. Life has a way of sneaking up on us from time to time and reminding us just how needy we are, through a challenge at work, an unexpected diagnosis, a long-felt grief. Where shall we turn? Jesus has no self-help on the menu today. There’s nothing for us to do. He is the Bread of Life, but no one is coming to Jesus unless it is granted by his Father. Eight chapters later, on the night before his death, Jesus will tell these same disciples that no one can come to the Father except through Jesus. We can’t come to Jesus except through the Father; we can’t come to the Father except through Jesus. What are we to do? Where are we to go? We are trapped, but Jesus makes a way. Jesus, as we’ll hear in that later moment, is the way. Seeing our hunger, and our inability to do anything meaningful about it, Jesus simply feeds us. As he is Life, Jesus feeds us with himself. With his flesh, offered freely on Calvary’s cross; with his blood, poured out for the salvation of the world.
  6. Our divisions so often become matters of life and death. But Jesus names our unity, which begins in our need, our sinful brokenness, our dependance – things we all share. To feed the world, he gives himself. To create unity, he reverses our direction and undoes what we have done. With Jesus, it’s a matter of death and life. In his death, our death meets its end. In his rising, we live. In Jesus, we declare our dependence and find both joy and freedom therein. Freedom that does not mean we can do whatever we want, but that finds joy in putting both God and neighbor before ourselves. Christ divides us from our division, creating unity on the other side of death in the abundant feast of resurrection. Here, there is room enough for all of us, for each of us is only here by Jesus’ invitation. There is room enough for new members, who join us today and make better our fellowship. There is room enough for refugees, including the family of five we welcome this week. Where once there was room for no one, now there is room enough for all, for Jesus welcomes us in. Jesus dies to let us in, and the table of God’s abundance is set now for a feast.
  7. What are we to do? We could not come to Christ or to the Father, but the Father has sent Christ to us. We could not feed ourselves, but Christ is given as the Bread of Life that is more than enough. We could not do anything, but there was nothing we needed to do. Put on whatever footwear seems appropriate and go, preach the gospel of peace. With Jesus’ authorization, give ‘em Jesus. Set aside all other false hopes, all illusions of control and the myth of self-centered freedom. Join with Joshua and his whole household, serving the Lord alone. Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. Come, friends. Come, eat of his flesh; come, drink of his blood. These gifts are truly given and truly shed for you. Come, feast, and live. Amen.

And now may that peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

From → Sermons

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