Sunday, August 2, 2009

I Am the Bread of Life

Sheepscott Community Church

2 Samuel 11: 26 -12: 13a

Ephesians 4: 1-16

John 6: 24-35

I Am the Bread of LIfe

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“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” What good news on a Sunday morning, and we are all here to hear that good news. Beyond that hearing of the word, we will together consume the living word on this Communion Sunday. Jesus has not left us orphans. He gives us his Spirit again and again, and this sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to remember him by.

Is that reason enough to come to church? As if that weren’t enough, we partake of this good life, of the Bread of Life himself, in each other’s company and through each other’s company. At times I regret that there aren’t more of us here to celebrate the mysteries of the Christian faith. It isn’t the idea of numbers per se. It is the idea, the fact that we would all of us be better off, the more of us who come together to share and worship, as in, the more the merrier.

Each of us has a unique calling and the gifts that attend that calling, which we bring with us wherever we go, including to church. As is recorded in Ephesians, which we heard read this morning, we come together “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.... From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

And what is that work of God? While our members are not on the street corners of Alna and Newcastle and Walpole handing out Bible tracts, Lily, Sylvia, Dot, and Sonnie were on the sidewalks of Damariscotta last week––maybe even with sandwich boards, I don’t know––selling the church cookbooks. And they sold over 30 of them at Serendipity and in front of Yellowfront. I think these women could sell irrigation systems in Maine this summer, that’s how effective they are as salespeople. Why? Because they are a witness of contagious joy, and who wouldn’t want to be part of that? For my money the joy of their fellowship is better than a thousand bible tracts, worthy as the word is. They, these women, are the living word, proof that Christ is alive and well on planet earth. I can attest that you only have to spend five minutes with any one of these women to find yourself in a celebratory mood, with no birthdays in sight, just as a result of the joy they spread. Evangelism comes in many forms, and their witnessing with cookbooks in hand through the fun they have is evangelism at its best.

But all that is beside the point. What they do, what they did is for the church, which is to say, for us. And speaking of us, Bill Ussery was the first one to volunteer selling two weeks ago, our neighbor from the South, who with his wife Shirley, joins us for summer worship. What a generous spirit this couple shares with us.

And what about George and Ted? They have agreed to join our choir-beyond-all-choirs to share their voices with us, to enhance the worship. If we share our gifts with each other, whether salesmanship, a happy heart, a beautiful voice, if we share the Christian life together, and not just on Sunday, we become increasingly aware of each other through the week, thinking about each other, praying for each other, remembering the laughter, and the tears, that made us feel like  family and make us a family. A worshiping family of brothers and sisters in the worldwide family of God. And we’ll want others to join us. Come, come and see what we have. The Bread of Life, the living word, who is among us, who is in us.

But is it all smiles and sunshine? No. We have only to look at this morning’s first reading from Second Samuel, wherein the prophet Nathan confronts King David about his sin in taking Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah deliberately set up to be slain in battle. The writer does this through an allegory about a ewe lamb, the one treasure of the poor farmer taken by the wealthy man who owned a large number of sheep and cattle. David “burned with anger,” as the scripture says, against the wealthy man, and when Nathan told him that he, David, was that man, he was immediately convicted of his sinfulness, and humbled. He said, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

The line is reminiscent in feeling of the line delivered by Eli, the high priest in the temple at the time the prophet Samuel was a boy and received his first word from God. If you recall, Eli demanded that Samuel tell him everything that the Lord had spoke n to him or thus- and-so would be done to the boy. Reluctantly but fearing whatever constituted that thus-and-so, Samuel told the old man that God was displeased with the sinful acts of Eli’s sons and with Eli’s failure to restrain them, and that God’s judgment would be on that house forever. With what sounded like a shrug of the shoulders, Eli said to Samuel, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

With both men, there is a recognition of their own sinfulness and an acceptance without complaint of whatever will follow. No self-defensive posturing. When we are in a difficult place, suffering from the results of our own bad choices or foolishness, or, as likely suffering from the bad choices or foolishness of someone we love, it is an inestimable consolation to come to church, to be with others who are, well, human, and understand the essential sadness and joy, beauty and sacredness of the condition. Otherwise they wouldn’t be here. To be able to give a sign of peace to one another, to look into the eyes of another and know, yes, this one understands. And that is not an illusion, or wishful thinking. That is the Body of Christ in action, alive and well in this church today on the hill in Sheepscot, Maine. 

We have chosen to be here rather than in any number of other places we could be, and God is blessing us for that coming, for choosing God rather than something else. How can we begrudge that God who loves us to no less distraction than he loved David, how can we begrudge that One our listening presence? We are all on the way to surrendering our lives more and more completely to this God who loves us and who can be trusted with us. What makes our journey toward greater and greater surrender to Christ, the fulfillment of which is termed sanctification, whereby Christ does not  put something into us, but is himself in us––what makes our journey toward sanctification possible and immeasurably more fun is that we do it in each other’s company. Otherwise we could degenerate into self-righteous scrupulosity that is no fun at all. We make it more possible for one another, easier, more desirable even. We are sinners together who forgive one another, and so, can believe we can be forgiven by God, recognizing our human condition as part of the larger holiness of existence, despite our stumbles along the way. 

Van Gogh, whose death day was on July 29, expressed a desire to paint in men and women something of that quality of eternity which used to be symbolized formerly by a halo. If he were here, I think he would see the shimmering halos everywhere. You may think me a fool; if I knew who you really were, I would not say such things. Ah, but I have glimmers of who you are and would say the same, with van Gogh, again and again. Halos all around. People trying to live good lives. People coming together to accept one another as they are, to love one another into greater life.

We are the Body of Christ. And we do build each other up, and we do that in each other’s company. We have this great gift of the communion that Jesus left us to remember him by, and which we will share this morning. Let us remember when we eat the bread and drink the cup, the great work which we, no less than the apostles are called to do: to embody Christ on this earth, for us ourselves to thereby become, the bread of life. To bring his healing love abroad, and by that I don’t necessarily mean Mexico, Haiti, Africa or the Philippines. I mean abroad in our own households, our own neighborhoods, on the streets of Damariscotta, not to discount foreign missions; far be it from me to say we aren’t called there. My point is that service is here and now, in front of our faces, whatever opportunities God presents, and we will recognize those opportunities as our lives are increasingly surrendered to God because we will have the Christ mind.

That involves saying, yes, okay God. Whatever you want, I trust you. I cast my lot with you. Living my life under my own steam has produced fruit but it is worm-eaten fruit. I want to bear good fruit, the best fruit I can bear. And I need your life in me to do that. 

And you don’t have to do it alone. Here we are. All of us here are on your side, cheering you on, needing you to be one with us even as you are one with God, and we will help you on your way, by praying for you, sharing with you, loving you, and we trust that you will do the same for us. Take and eat, this is my body. Take and drink, this is my blood. This is my communion, my community.

I have said this before, and I continue to believe that God is doing a great work in this church at this time, and we are all invited to make it happen, to be part of it. What a privilege. By God’s grace, may we come to see it that way: as a gift and privilege and not a burden. Amen.

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