Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Cost of Discipleship


Mark 8:27-38

 

        In April of 1945, days before the allies liberated the concentration camp in Flossenburg, on direct orders by Heinrich Himmler, a Lutheran pastor named Dietrich Bonheoffer was executed. In the late 1930’s Bonheoffer had joined the German underground convinced that it was his duty as a Christian to work toward the defeat of the Nazi State. His best known book, The Cost of Discipleship was written in 1937 and published posthumously in 1947. Listen to his words. “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow upon ourselves. We preach forgiveness without requiring repentance, administer baptism without church discipline, serve communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship. Costly grace is a gospel which must be sought over and over; it is the gift that must be asked for; it is the door at which we must knock. It is costly because it cost a man his life. It is grace because it gives us life.

        Anytime I read Mark 8:27-38, I pull Cost of Discipleship from my bookshelf to help me comprehend what is a scandalous passage from Mark’s gospel. First there is the startling prediction of Jesus’ suffering and death. Second, Jesus defines discipleship as being one who is willing to lose her life for the sake of another.

        Martyrdom is something we uniquely hold up as praiseworthy. On Memorial Day we take a break from the rigors of our labor to remember those whose lives were lost to insure our freedoms. This week, during the 17th anniversary of 9-11, it was announced that due to respiratory disease, the number of first responders who have died since the attack is greater than the number who lost their lives when the twin towers collapsed. 

The decision of going to war makes the forfeiture of one’s life a possibility. The only mathematical table used in war is subtraction.

One who rushes toward a collapsing building knows that her life expectancy has been instantly changed.

When a young theologian speaks out against tyranny he is well aware the repercussions can be life changing.

But few folks consider going to church to be dangerous. So why does Jesus insist on talking about self-denial?

It is hard to put others ahead of ourselves. The mantra of the day is, “If I don’t take care of myself, how can I be expected to take care of others.” That is wise saying. But sometimes aren’t we all a little guilty of worrying too much about ourselves.  Maybe that is why, from its infancy, the Presbyterian Church has celebrated Elders.

Now I am not just talking about old people. I am speaking about the folks who are elected to serve our congregation. Every year twelve folks take on the obligation of putting you ahead of themselves. Imagine how hard that sometimes can be?  Elders have the task of juggling two hundred balls in the air with only twenty four hands. An Elder has to be both the voice of reason and imagination. An Elder has to be able to hear dissenting voices. He has to hear his own voice and wonder for whom he is speaking. She has to have the courage to occasionally confront the minister and question his motivation. In other words, our Elders are charged to further the peace, unity, and purity of the congregation by serving Rockfish Presbyterian with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.

        Anyone who has served as an elder can tell you that can be quite a cross to bear. But I also believe anyone who has served as an elder at Rockfish will confirm that even in those few moments of disagreement or discontent, as you sat around a table with those other eleven people, you never doubted their desire to accomplish God’s will. The greatest compliment I can give our session is it is not identified through individuals but rather as a group known for its extraordinary work.

Peggy, you are returning for a second term. Dana, Ken, and Wendy, I ask you to come forward with Peggy, denying yourself to become part of something greater than us all.

INSTALLATION AND ORDINATION OF ELDERS.

       

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Sometimes It Takes More Than Hearing to Believe


Mark 7:31-37

 

        Growing old is not for the faint at heart. When you get to be our age the hardest thing about exercise is getting up off the floor once we have finished. Of course that is just the beginning of our problems. Remember when we had a lot more energy. Remember when we never forgot where we left our car keys.  Of course the universal malady of folks our age is loss of hearing. I took my grandson to a baseball game in Washington last month. Because of his age he is required to ride in the back seat. Because of his excitement he talked almost the entire trip. Because of his soft voice and my aging ears, my response was always, “Uh-huh”. I have no idea what he said or what I agreed to do. When I later complained to Deb that Andy speaks too softly, she rolled her eyes as if to say, “Who’s calling the kettle black?”

        In Mark 7 Jesus encounters a man who cannot hear. His lack of hearing left him with the inability to speak. Imagine his world of silence. For those of us who are able to both listen and speak, choosing silence can be a remarkable gift. Often my favorite part of worship is when we take time after announcements to just sit quietly. It is as if we are saying, “OK God, we have done all the preliminary stuff. Now we are ready for You to enter our space.” It seems more and more silence has become a luxury. It is good to have a place we can cherish quiet holy moments.

But for this man, silence was a curse which defined his very being. When one cannot hear, vocational opportunities are limited. Being deaf excludes a person from the normal activities of everyday life. But being deaf was even worse in the culture which in which this man lived. Many folks believed his illness was the result of immoral behavior. Because he was deaf he was shunned and excluded. He never had the chance to experience common decency.

But something else we often take for granted was eliminated from him. Imagine life without music. Tuesday I was traveling back from Charlottesville after visiting a jail and nursing homes. The stories I hear can sometimes suck the very life out of my soul so I turned on our very eclectic Public Radio Station. Right on cue the DJ announced, “I think we all need a breath of fresh air”. She then played twenty five uninterrupted minutes of Eva Cassidy. While that name may not be familiar to some of you, I suspect each of you with ears to hear has adopted one or more particular artists who transcend any chaotic moment with melodies that must have been crafted in heaven. This poor deaf man had never experienced such joy, until Jesus arrived.

Jesus did more than just heal the sick. He gave them hope. Furthermore, Jesus always healed in public because there was a lot of other healing and joy that needed to be spread around. Before Jesus healed the man, he didn’t give him a lesson on morality.  To everyone else the man was unclean, even untouchable.  But Jesus reached out and placed his hands on the man’s ears. This gesture was done for the sake of the community. Jesus did not see the man as a sinner. By ignoring the purity laws Jesus confirmed that the man was, and had always been, a child of God.

We can snicker at the ignorance of this primitive culture but don’t laugh too loud. Even as advanced as we are in the art of civilization we are still social isolationists. Sometimes when a person can no longer care for herself she is seen as a burden to society. I am so grateful to the many of you who visit hospitals and nursing homes. The infirmities of folks who are sick cannot compare with the isolation they often experience. But when you visit, when you call, when you send a card, you remind them that they have not been forgotten. I was with Nancy Small at the Martha Jefferson Home Tuesday. On leaving she said to me, “Louie I haven’t been to Rockfish in so long do you think people still know who I am?” I pointed to the birthday cards many of you sent which are displayed by her door. I smiled and said, “They remember you.”

The words and actions of Jesus were music, not only to the ears of the man who was deaf, but to the hearts of the people who witnessed the miracle. They were overwhelmed by the presence of Jesus the Healer. They lived in a culture that demonized a man because of a physical ailment. Jesus broke cultural protocol by touching him. Then Jesus defied the laws of logic by restoring his hearing. The witnesses not only wanted to proclaim the miracle, they wanted to declare Jesus as the Christ because he was destroying cultural traditions and barriers with a single word. Their entire lives they had been told to obey the law. Now this teacher with the power to heal introduced them to a new song.

And that brings me back to Eva Cassidy. In her brief musical career she seldom sang her own songs. She took classics that had been recorded numerous times and somehow made it her own.  Everyone here has heard Judy Garland sing Over the Rainbow. Garland sang it as a child and it was probably the encore for her last concert.  It was The Great Diva’s signature piece.  Twenty years ago a friend gave me a copy of Songbird. He told me the CD had been recorded by a little known singer in the DC areas who had died two years earlier of cancer. Posthumously her version of Over the Rainbow was played on a London radio station. Instantly Eva Cassidy became an international star.  We had heard the songs she sang before but we had never heard them sung quite that way.

When Jesus arrived he did not say anything new. He regularly quoted Jewish Scripture. He told stories that many folks had already heard. His material was not unique; it was just the way he delivered it.  The Rabbi would come out on the Sabbath and proclaim, “You shall not do this and you shall not do that.” Jesus would say, “If you have two coats and someone is in need, keep them from becoming a thief by giving them your second coat.” The Pharisee would proclaim, “The Sabbath is holy. You shall not prepare food on the Sabbath. You shall not wash dishes on the Sabbath. You shall not do anything that brings joy on the Sabbath.” Jesus said, “God gave us the Sabbath in order that at least one day a week we might relax and celebrate each other.”

You would think that everyone would listen to Jesus and ignore the voice of the Rabbi and Pharisee. But the Bible has been preached rather than sung for so many years we have become deaf to the good news.

The Bible has become a hammer rather than an ointment that soothes our wounded souls. It has become a voice of condemnation rather than an instrument of peace and reconciliation. Folks who only lecture the Bible have become deaf to its liberating songs causing folks to run from the Church because they are tired of being damned. Do we really need another shrill voice filling our ears with holy condemnations based on narrow-mindedness and inaccurate readings of God’s Joyful Word? So many erroneous interpretations of the text have left us deaf.

  For the last two years, once a month I visit Jessie Crossain. He is an inmate in the Buckingham Jail. He was sentenced to 30  years for a capital crime. He will receive no parole. As a youth Jessie occasionally went to Church. In jail he has studied Buddhism and Transcendental Meditation.   Six months ago he told me he wanted to read the Bible from cover to cover. I asked him why? He said he had a lot of free time on his hands. He read Genesis and told me it was the biggest BS he had ever encountered. I told him to read it again with his ears and eyes wide open, expecting to be surprised with every turn of the page. The next month he came back and said, “Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph were worse than me but God still loved them.” As of last week, we have made it all the way through Esther. Next month we start of Job. For Jesse, the Bible has become good news in an angry and dangerous world.

Sometimes we stumble upon moments when we cannot hear God. Sometimes the words folks claim God is speaking leaves us weary. Sometimes the so called Good News just seems like old news repackaged.  Then sometimes we hear the Bible in a way that reminds us of Eva Cassidy singing Over the Rainbow.

That is when we are brave enough to pick up our Bible again. That is when we dare to come to the text with curious eyes and open ears. With all the white noise and clutter on your personal airways, perhaps you are finally ready to listen to an old tune sung to an entirely different melody. Come talk to me and we will do it together. Come to SS at 9:00 and you can do it with others. Just pick the Bible up prepared to encounter more than the same old story. You will be amazed with what you discover.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Mr. Facing Both Ways


Mark 7:1-8; James 1:17-27

 

       I will make the assumption that all of you washed your hands before coming to church this morning. After all, cleanliness is next to godliness. But how many of you brought a little bottle of sanitizer with you so that you might freshen up before taking communion? I need to confess, I left mine at home. Not only that, since coming into the sanctuary I have handled a bulletin, two hymn books, my music folder, and this sermon before me. I shook hands with three different folks and patted one person on the back. I share all of this because I not only will be participating in communion, I will be the person breaking the bread. What would Miss Manners say? More importantly, what would a good Pharisee say?

       Our text this morning begins rather oddly. The Pharisees notice that the disciples of Jesus failed to wash their hands before eating lunch. Now I know that it always best to wash before one eats but this complaint seems so trivial. Half these guys were fishermen. They had been eating with soiled hands their entire lives. You would think Jesus would have ignored the criticism and continued with the meal. But Jesus wasn’t very good at turning the other ear. He called the Pharisees a bunch of hypocrites claiming they had no idea what it meant to follow the commandments of God. What on earth is going on here?

        As you are well aware, Hebrew Law includes many laws concerning ritual purity. There are exacting regulations on how food is to be prepared. I for one refuse to argue with the results. A couple of weeks ago I devoured a pastrami sandwich in a Kosher restaurant off 44th Street in downtown Manhattan.   It was the best pastrami on rye I have ever eaten. I assume my hands were clean but I can’t swear to it.  No one behind the counter checked me out before I wrapped them around that glorious piece of heaven. All they seemed to care about was me paying the bill at the end of the feast.  But something different was going on with Jesus and the Pharisees and it had nothing to do with the food. The Keepers of the Law were determined to catch Jesus breaking the Mosaic Codes. Instead of backing down, Jesus lambasts the Pharisees for making a big deal over the trivial while turning a blind eye to what actually mattered.

       Jesus said, “It is not what you take into yourself that makes you unclean. It is what comes out.”

       Please understand that Jesus was speaking philosophically. I don’t want any of you running to your doctor and telling them Jesus said a low salt, low fat diet is just a bunch of nonsense made up by folks who want to make us miserable. What we eat is important. Washing our hands before lunch is imperative. But the point Jesus was making was, “Lip service too often replaces real service.” Or as the writer of James liked to say, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”

       What frustrated Jesus was he knew the Pharisees were students of the Law of Moses. Jesus preached that the primary reason for the Law was to inspire folks to live a full life loving God and loving their neighbor. But instead of embracing the essence of the Law found in the Book of Exodus, the Pharisees skipped over to the Book of Leviticus.  Anyone here actually read the Book of Leviticus?  The first 15 chapters talk about which animal you can sacrifice in the tabernacle. Most of the folks to whom Jesus preached never owned an animal much less sacrificed one. The next five chapters talk about clean and unclean food but again, most of the folks listening to Jesus ate whatever they were lucky to have on their plate. The Book of Leviticus has little meaning for folks doing their best just to make it through life.  The core of the Law of Moses, i.e. Exodus and Deuteronomy, explains how God desires me get along with that guy down the street. But that can be hard stuff. The Pharisees found it much easier to worry about table settings and hygiene. But then who can blame them. Hasn’t it always been easier to place ritual ahead of principles?

       Risk is hard and what greater risk can there ever be than getting out of our comfort zone. There is a character in the John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress called Mr. Facing Both Ways. Mr. Facing Both Ways weighed every issue, understood its moral implication, then always took the easiest path, especially if it happened to benefit him. After all, what could be more difficult than addressing problems with moral implications? The Pharisees acted like Mr. Facing Both Ways. They knew the laws about caring for the weak, the widows, and the orphans but decided it was easier to worry about which meat was kosher. I guess you could say they washed their hands of anything that might be the least bit important.

       We live in an imperfect world which daily confronts us with opportunity to address moral issues.  This is difficult because some issues can fracture even a holy community. The author of the Book of James understood this dilemma. Yet he courageously warned his folks that you have to do more than just sit quietly and hand out sanitary wipes. Perhaps he remembered the Prophet Jeremiah who wrote, “The Law of God is written upon your heart. You know what is right and what is wrong. Blessed be the one who listens and responds.”

       Many of us went to church yesterday. John McCain could have picked anyone to have spoken at his funeral but he chose four men who had absolutely nothing in common. Henry Kissinger was the architect of the Vietnamese strategy that McCain never understood. Bush and Obama were the two men who kept him out of the White House. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat turned Independent was McCain’s first choice to be his vice-president. But it was more complicated than that. Kissinger was a non-practicing Jew, Lieberman an orthodox Jew, Bush a converted evangelical and Obama attended the United Church of Christ.  Why these four men? Because McCain wanted folks who would do more than eulogize him. He wanted speakers who had agonized over tough decisions, even decisions with which McCain disagreed, and then acted in ways they believed was good for the country they loved.  

       Hearing the word is easy. Manipulating the word to serve our purposes is not all that hard. But doing the word for the sake of the common good is Holy. It is so much easier to wash our hands. But Christ calls us to a higher standard. When you pick up the phone and call a shut-in, you are getting your hands dirty. When you drop by a neighbor and ask them if they need something at the grocery store, you are usually going out of your way. When you stop to talk to a widow or widower who is walking down the road, your voice might be the only one they encounter all day. But maybe McCain’s final request is the hardest of all. “Even when I know I am right, I owe it to myself, and those I love, to listen to a conflicting voice before I act. It has never been about what is good for me.  It has never been about what is easy.” Christ implores us to do the hard work for the good of the orphan, the widow, the outcast and ourselves.  TGBTG.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

What Happens When the Church is No Longer Safe?


I Kings 8; Ephesians 6:10-20
 

        When Solomon, the tenth son of David ascended to the throne, he accepted the task of building a Temple. His father had wanted build the first edifice to Yahweh, but tradition tells us this honor was given to the son. Tradition also tells us the prophet Nathan predicted that the Temple would be more for the men who ran it than the God it was suppose to honor. Some could make a good argument that Nathan was right. With the Temple, the Mosaic cult of the wilderness quickly dissolved into an institutional religion that adopted many of the customs of the Canaanites. Solomon’s Temple became both the central place for worship and a symbol of the nation. The Temple was destroyed by foreign invaders three times and rebuilt twice. Today, the site of the original building is the foundation for the famous Muslim shrine, The Dome of the Rock.

        Solomon’s idea was to bring tribal worship under one roof. David had attempted to establish a nation but Israel remained divided into twelve tribes. David had hoped to unite the people when he established Jerusalem as the capital. Solomon wanted to continue this unification by centralizing the worship of the nation. On completion of the Temple, Solomon erected a new Palace beside the Temple. The symbolism was unmistakable. The King and the King’s God stood united.

        Solomon, allegedly the smartest man in the kingdom, somehow wasn’t smart enough to figure out that God doesn’t go out on double dates. Solomon filled the Temple with men loyal to the King. The religion of the Wilderness was based on a strict moral code. The religion of the Temple was established by the man in the palace. Those who occupied the Temple quickly learned two things. Their first allegiance was to maintaining this new institution. Their allegiance was rewarded with wealth and power. So what happens when a house of worship is turned into a institution bent on self-survival? It collapses upon itself.

        The Apostle Paul knew his Bible. He speaks of the conflicts that arose between the prophets of Israel and the men who occupied the Temple. As a Pharisee, he originally was persuaded that Jesus was trying to tear down the religious establishment. But once Paul he saw the light, he realized those occupying the Temple were more interested in self rule than God’s law. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes that the church was established to celebrate God, and warned against it becoming a house overrun by corruption. Using the image of a Roman soldier, Paul paints a vivid picture of a follower of Christ. “You are to fasten the belt of truth around your waist. Adorn yourself with the breastplate of righteousness. Grasp the shield of faith, wear the helmet of salvation, hold onto the Word of God and proclaim the Gospel of Peace. Begin and end your day with prayer and supplication, always giving praise to the one who is Lord of us all.”

        Paul implores this congregation to stand strong in their convictions, strong in their faith, and strong in the Godly moral code of the wilderness which always lifts up the powerless, the young, the widow and the orphan. This focus on being a people of integrity, this desire to maintain a pure heart, upholds the original intentions of the early prophets who warned that the way of God has nothing to do with maintaining institutions and everything to do with conforming to God’s tender mercies. 

Maybe congregations should start listening to Paul because I believe our clergy leadership is failing us.

        As someone who has dedicated his whole life to the purity of God’s church you cannot even imagine how horrified I was to wake up to the news that Bishops in Pennsylvania tried to hide the molestation of over 1,000 children by more than 300 priests. We know that number is low because in the past years we heard similar reports from Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, Portland, Denver, and Washington. Children are abused and churches keep covering it up to protect the reputation of the institution. If this is all the church stands for, I am amazed folks keep showing up on Sunday Morning.

        Monday I heard a Cardinal remark that his thoughts and prayers were with the children who had been molested. While I am a great believer in the power of prayer, his remarks fell on deaf ears. A child who has been molested needs more than prayers particularly if those prayers are spoken by the institution protecting the predators.

        I am aware that no one wants their Sabbath disrupted by such horrific thoughts, but the truth is silence has been a co-conspirator in this evil. Imagine how many children spoke, only to have their words silenced by those who found the truth too horrible to hear.

        Four years ago our Personnel Mission Team, led by Amelia McCulley, Bill Nevill and Sue Fulton began the tedious task of developing guidelines to assist folks in breaking the silence should an abusive situation occur in our congregation. We know that this epidemic is not just something going on in the Catholic Church. Each denomination has its horror stories. Two years ago a booklet outlining the policies of our session was complete. Many of you have taken a workshop to be introduced to the document. It can be found on our web site. Yet some still wonder if going to this extreme was really necessary.

        Ask any of those children from the Pittsburg area. Ask Ann Mische or Wendy or Ron Culberson who were members of Vienna Presbyterian Church. Ask any woman who has felt uncomfortable in her minister’s office. Ask one third of the Irish population who have stopped attending Mass in the last ten years because of clergy abuse.

        This place, this holy place, from the beginning was created to be a sanctuary for the weak and the broken. It is where we come to be lifted up and restored. It is a place where trust is paramount. Only a few have betrayed that sacred confidence. But what does it matter if 99% of our clergy are trustworthy if you have encountered the 1%.

        I grieve that churches are hiding behind silence to protect the institution. I grieve that that many predators have been relocated to other churches. I grieve that the clergy cannot monitor itself because silence is easier than confrontation. Most of all I grieve that I have to preach this sermon. Members of my vocation, not you, are the guilty. So I ask, no, more than that, I beg you to be both mindful and watchful. If at any time my words or actions seem inappropriate, please tell me. If I ignore your warning, tell Sue Fulton, our Clerk of Session.  It is my job to earn your trust. It is my job to insure my reputation is unblemished. 1% of my colleagues have eliminated any forgiveness or second chances for the rest of my peer group.  Clergy has proven that it is incapable of reporting colleagues. So it is up to you. For the sake of our children, for the sake of members both male and female, for the sake of God’s church, do not be silent. For if we are silent, our grandchildren will never enter this temple we claim to be holy.       TGBTG      Amen     

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Word Becomes Bread


John 6:51-58

 

        At a local coffee shop a rabbi, priest, and minister regularly meet for breakfast. Good friends from different traditions, they enjoy poking fun at each other’s beliefs.

The rabbi begins, “Why do you insist on taking an amazing Jewish child and insisting he was God. Not even King David was perfect?”

The minister explains, “St. Paul claimed God became humbled, taking the form of a human, in order that we might know how to perfectly live.”

“Ah yes Saul of Tarsus, another Hebrew boy committing the sin of trying to define the Master of the Universe.”

The priest offers his wisdom. “I don’t think any of us claims to know God completely. But while we see dimly, we still want to expand on our vision.”

 “Like calling Jesus, the Bread of Life?” the rabbi asks.

 The priest and the minister give each other a high five as if they are finally helping the rabbi expand his understanding of their savior.

But the rabbi is far from finished, “So when you participate in your Holy Feast, which by the way you stole from my tradition, is the bread you consume the actual body of Christ or is it a symbolic act?”

Trying to be as diplomatic as possible the minister explains, “As you know this is one of those places where my good friend and I might have a difference of opinion.”

The rabbi continues, “Oh I understand completely. What I don’t understand is this. Do you believe Christ, the resurrected Bread of Life, to be real or symbolic?”

The priest reaches over and picks up his friends check.  “That is the question which you will never find my answer satisfactory, but at least we can still break bread together.”

Remember the old days when Christians, Jews and Muslims were never in a conversation together. Truth is those were also the days when denominational affiliations kept us out of any serious conversations. In days past Catholics were seen as papal followers, Presbyterians associated with predestination, and Baptists were just trying to make sure no one saw them having a good time. My how the times have changed. This congregation is a salad bowl made up of a lot of denominational flavors. I could invite an Imam or a Rabbi to come speak and you would welcome either with open arms. In this house we have expanded our understanding of other faiths and no longer limit God to our particular religious persuasion. Yet we still cling to the one we faithfully call The Bread of Life.

Can you imagine how odd the words, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” must have sounded to new converts within the early church? Think about how odd those words must have sounded to folks taking a critical look at this strange new cult called Christianity. Today, when we take communion, we use a variation of those words and seldom see them as radical. Yet to our Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters those words are beyond scandalous because they simply do not believe God walked among us.

Increasingly, they are not alone. Forty some years ago when I began my ministry as a Christian Educator I would never hear folks questioning the divinity of Jesus. This is no longer the case. Biblical scholarship can make a solid case that the idea of the physical resurrection of Jesus was not introduced until fifty years after his death. I understand this is a discussion best suited for the Sunday School hour rather than this monologue where I control the microphone, but there is no denying that in cultures with advanced economies and a higher standard of living the idea of God becoming flesh and walking  among us is no longer taken for granted. I might even suggest there are some sitting with us today who find this idea puzzling.   So let me suggest something that may or may not be helpful as we address this scripture in John. Perhaps the writer of John’s gospel was not only thinking of the sacrament of communion but also the appearance of manna in the wilderness.

You remember the story. The Hebrew people escaped Egypt and made their way into the wilderness. Having left in a rush they soon began to run out of food and water. As was their nature, they turned to Moses and began to complain. They even accused Moses of bringing them out into the wilderness to die. Soon they were reminiscing about their wonderful times of slavery in Egypt. Moses’ only response was, “God will provide”. 

The next morning, all throughout the desert, appeared the Bread of Life. It was only there briefly. If not harvested, it melted in the morning sun. If not eaten immediately, it became sour. This bread of life had to be consumed or it was worthless. Those who would not go into the fields or complained the manna was not enough, went hungry. But those who ate were given the strength needed for the coming day.

John begins his gospel by claiming Jesus is the Word. In chapter six he expands on this idea by calling Jesus the Bread of Life. Like the manna in the field, the Word become Bread in order that it might be consumed. No one is excluded. All are invited to the table. Those who refuse go hungry but those who eat, live.

It is at this intersection that the theological discussion begins. Some of our Christian friends understand this to mean accept Jesus as your personal salvation and live eternally. But perhaps it is more. I like the phrase, “You are what you eat.” It is painfully apparent that I am a walking billboard for that axiom. While I am selective when it comes to vegetables, I never met a candy bar I didn’t like. What if consuming Jesus is the starting point to being more like Jesus. We have all read the gospels. How did Jesus spend his days? If people were hungry, he fed them. If people were sick, he healed them. If people were downtrodden, he lifted them up. If people were lonely, he stopped to talk with them. If people were full of guilt, he lightened their burden. From an ethical perspective Jesus was a very good Jew. Come to think of it ethically he would have made a fine Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or even agnostic.  

Maybe our problem is when we eat the Word, when we consume the Bread of Life, our discussions and our disagreements center on the future, not the now. Why should I be so concerned with who someone thinks Jesus is if that same person is living a life which compliments who Jesus was. I keep falling back on the quote by Gandhi. “I’ve read the teachings of Jesus. I find them to be wonderful. My problem has always been with the way Christians follow those teachings.”

Perhaps the writer John is saying to us, “Consume the Bread of Life and be consumed by God.” Jesus wants his bread to reach our stomachs. Jesus wants his bread to be digested in order that it might flow though our veins, nourishing our hearts, our souls, and our minds. Jesus wants us to sit across the table from a neighbor and love them. Jesus wants us to acknowledge an enemy and at least listen to them. Jesus just wants us to break bread together.

So the next week the rabbi, priest, and minister showed up at their regular spot for breakfast.  After the usual pleasantries the rabbi picks up from the following week. “So, did you boys decide if you are real or symbolic Christians?”

As if rehearsed the priest and minister replied, “Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu Echad,” which translated means, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One.” The rabbi reached over, picked up their checks,  and then said …….. Amen.