Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost / August 12, 2012 / Gospel Text: John 6: 35, 41 – 51
Message by Rev. Carol Haynes Kniseley / Title: Comfort Food for What Offends
If you found yourself stranded on an island out in the middle of nowhere….and lucky you, found that you had somehow managed to salvage one type of food….what would it be? Some folks call it “comfort food”…for lack of better words…but speaking personally, I could only imagine living on one type of food. My mom’s banana bread. No one…makes banana bread (from scratch) like my mom does. Ever since I was a little kid, I can remember watching the banana’s on the kitchen counter turn just a wee bit riper with each passing day. Until finally, they would be gone! And in a matter of hours, the entire house would be filled with the mouth-watering aroma of warm banana bread. Spread a little butter on top of a freshly sliced piece right out of the oven….and you would swear you had died and gone to heaven. And if that’s not what life is all about…then I must confess…I don’t get it.
Well, apparently, the folks in today’s Gospel lesson don’t quite get it either. There is something much bigger going on here…and for that reason, Jesus will risk “offending” folks in order to make his point.
Once again, we find ourselves in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, sometimes called “the bread” chapter. Beginning several weeks back with the feeding of the five thousand, you’ll recall that Jesus fed them all with two scrawny fish and five loaves of bread. And still had twelve baskets of scraps leftover. But, as the story goes, there is more to this life than eating our fill of bread and fish.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus labeled it eternal life…and the only way to receive it (again, according to Jesus) was by eating his flesh and (as we will hear next Sunday) drinking his blood. In truth, a more literal translation would read: “Those who chomp my flesh…and guzzle my blood…have eternal life; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” If Jesus were trying hard NOT to offend anyone…you would have to say he failed…and perhaps even on purpose. In looking at today’s text, we can see that Jesus chose to speak the truth…even when it turned out to be offensive to some.
To state that He himself had actually seen God face to face…and had been sent from heaven so that all people could be drawn to him by the Father…was frankly more than many folks could swallow. The same can be said of folks in our day and time. We try so hard NOT to be offensive to anyone…that we tend to fall all over ourselves just trying to be politically correct and socially polite. But according to Jesus, there are some things that need to be spoken out loud…and yes, face to face.
Offense #1: Jesus trumps Moses and the Law…every single time. Why? Because Jesus comes from God…and Moses only heard his voice and caught a glimpse of his back side. Not the same by a long shot. Which is probably what ticked off those who were listening to Jesus in the first place. As far as they were concerned, Moses had been God’s representative here on earth….and Jesus was just the son of their neighbors down the street, Mary and Joseph. He could not possibly have “come down from heaven”…yet here he was equating himself with the great “I am” (i.e. God) who would raise people from the dead on the last day. He might as well have just torn off a piece of his flesh right then and there and handed it to them to eat.
It was shocking. It was offensive to say the very least. But it also begs a question that needs to be asked. Is the real offense…the one that we can’t quite get our heads around…that God had to stoop so low as to become one of us in order that the relationship between us and God would be forever changed? I wonder. Changed in what ways? Relationally for sure. As stated in the Nicene Creed (that we all profess to believe): For us and for our salvation…he came down from heaven.
Apparently God was no longer satisfied with the status quo. God was no longer willing to remain “at a distance” (to borrow a title from Bette Midler song a few years back). Up close and personal was what God was proposing in this new relationship…and it would involve consuming real flesh and blood. Bite by bite. Nibble by nibble. However way it takes us. The point being: Jesus wants to become an intrinsic part of our whole being. Including what sustains us…comfort food or not. After all, we are…what we eat….or so says Dr. Oz.
I once knew a lady who ate nothing but large bags of raw carrots….trying to lose weight. If you eat a lot of carrots….guess what happens? You may no longer need glasses….and you might walk with a slight “hop” in your step….but the truth is, your skin begins to turn a nice shade of….orange. Which is great if you’re a Tennessee Vol fan…but otherwise, it’s not so appealing. Neither was the thought of spending an eternity…a part from God. According to Jesus, it’s not the carrots that need to be passed around. But instead, the living bread.
During Holy Communion…at the exact moment when the Pastor places the bread in each person’s hand…specific words are spoken outloud that for some….may be offensive. Do you know what those words might be? “The body of Christ…given for you. The blood of Christ…shed for you.” Martin Luther said that it is when those two words…for you…make the incredible journey from your head all the way down to your heart ….and you BELIEVE that what is being said is true…FOR YOU, right then and there the Holy Spirit is at work.
And Jesus….the bread of life….becomes real. Real food….for a world of hurt. Comfort food….when the world can be far less than consoling. The real thing. Coca Cola…He is NOT. Living Bread…He is. Believe it…..and live. Amen