The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost: August 16, 2015
Preacher: The Rev. Katharine Flexer
Before I begin this sermon, I want you to stop and remember a meal. Not just any meal. I want you to remember a meal you had, big or small, that tasted really, really good. Maybe it was a fancy meal out at a restaurant; maybe it was something simpler made at home. Remember how it tasted; remember the circumstances; have it all over again in your mind.
Got it? Mmm. Yummy!
There are a lot of meals that come to my mind, but one that stands out is this one: after 24 hours of labor with my first child Frances, during which I was allowed only clear liquids (and I hate Jello), I was presented with a turkey sandwich. Two pieces of whole wheat bread with a wad of thin-sliced turkey meat in between, and a tube of mayonnaise on the side. I smeared the mayonnaise on the bread, and I ate the sandwich. I have never, before or since, had a sandwich that tasted that good.
Now, maybe you remember something a lot more fancy and gourmet than that. Maybe you remember sparkling company and witty conversation, loving hands preparing the food, candlelight and music and all of those other things besides the food that make a meal special. But that turkey sandwich stood out for me for none of those reasons. It stood out because when I ate it, I was really, really hungry.
So why have I got you thinking about food? We just heard more from the gospel of John (and we’re not done yet) about food, about how Jesus is the bread of life. The people around Jesus, who were listening to him go on and on about being the bread of life, I would wager were thinking about food. They were people who knew what it was like to be hungry. Peasants, soldiers, merchants, fishermen. If they were to eat, they had to do a lot of work to get and then prepare the food. There were no corner stores to buy it in; there was never too much of it; there was rarely enough of it. Certainly the poor suffered hunger as they do now; but even those more well off did not have the over-abundance of food that we are used to. So, many among Jesus’ audience were probably hungry while they were listening to Jesus and his metaphor about living bread. And his metaphor in today’s reading gets even more graphic: Eat my flesh and drink my blood. And Jesus doesn’t just say ‘eat’ in the original Greek, but gnaw, chew my flesh, rip it off the bone and crunch on it. We might think, Ew. They thought, ew. But at the same time, a hungry person accustomed to scarcity, listening to that language about eating, chewing, drinking, being filled and satisfied and satiated with plenty – that would go pretty deeply into that person’s hearing. They would not forget Jesus’ words. They would feel in their bones what he was offering them, how deeply God’s love would nourish them.
For us, however, we have a hard time entering the mental space of being really and truly hungry. I’m sure most of us have felt hunger, after a long walk or in the morning before breakfast. But we are surrounded by an abundance of food all the time, a glut of food really. Our obesity rates are at epidemic levels because we have so much cheap, readily available food all around us, right there to pop in our mouths every time we want it. We don’t even really notice being hungry, often enough. We just eat because it’s time to do so, or because there’s nothing else to do. We don’t have to do much work to get the food, and we can always eat too much of it. So while we can all understand hunger, and the deeper message of spiritual hunger that Jesus is getting at, ‘the bread of life’ doesn’t hit in the visceral way that I think it must have hit his first-century listeners.
So I wonder, what is it that we lack and crave so much that Jesus could speak to us as compellingly as this? What is it that we always feel scarce of, that if Jesus could offer it to us we would say yes gladly and with our whole heart? Well, I have one answer for this, though perhaps you have others. I’m thinking of time. We never have enough of it. We always want more of it. If we only had enough of it we could do all kinds of things that we can’t do because we never have the time. These days it is much easier to get someone to write a check to you than to volunteer their time. Time is the thing we’re stingiest with, because it is nothing like abundant for us. We hold it tight because there is never enough.
It’s bad for us for all kinds of reasons, this anxiety about time. And the very beginning of Scripture makes it clear that we’re supposed to treat time differently. We are supposed to offer God a whole day of every week, the Sabbath, time to spend in worship and prayer and sharing a meal with our family. 24 hours not to be spent running errands, or texting, or staying up late catching up on work email. Even in the summer vacation months, how many of us can say truthfully that we have done this in the last week? And this disobedience hurts us – is killing us, even. When we live each day running from task to task and distraction to distraction, when we cram our minds and lives and our children’s lives full of activity and input and direction, when we never stop to sit, to be still, to talk in an unhurried way with someone we love, it takes a toll. Studies on multitasking are showing that it is making us stupider and slower, not faster and more efficient. Evidence in our children is showing that attention deficit disorders and hyperactivity correlate to too much media input and stimulation. Experience of our young adults is showing that overly scheduling children’s lives makes it hard for them to find their own direction when they become adults in charge of their own time. Families are suffering because they never spend time together without a screen to watch. And so on. It is bad for us, this constant starvation diet we live on. We need more time, each and every one of us.
So imagine if Jesus stood before us and said these words: I am time, enough and abundant. I am the Sabbath. Your ancestors got too busy, and they died. Your ancestors stayed late at the office every night, they put too many things on their calendars, they made their days one long to-do list of tasks to get done. Your ancestors never unplugged their iPhones and Blackberrys, they couldn’t sit still, they were always on, and they were always hungry for time. I am time. If you wallow in me, if you stretch out and drift off and think deeply in me, you will find eternal life. This is the time that comes down from heaven. If you take this time, you will live forever.
Actually, Jesus does say something like this, in another gospel (Matt. 11:28-30): Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
So I invite you right now to have some of that rest. Get comfortable. Turn off the device. No one on Facebook needs to know you’re here. Close your eyes, and sit. Take your time. Take the time God is offering to you, free and abundant.