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August 26, 2018 (Proper 16, Year B)

    Aug 26, 2018

    Passage: John 6:56-69

    Preacher: Rob Donehue

    Series: Sermons for Year B (2017-2018)

    Category: Sermons for Year B (2017-2018)

    Detail:

    Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (2018)
    August 26th, 2018
    St. Anne’s, Conway SC (Lackey Chapel) 

    1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11], 22-30, 41-43 Ephesians 6:10-20 John 6:56-69

    But will God indeed dwell on the earth?

     

    In the lesson from the Old Testament this morning, we have Solomon asking one of the most pointed questions that we get in the whole sweep of scripture. Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Solomon was asking this question in the context of having built the first temple in Jerusalem, and the question touches on whether or not a place is able to contain or communicate the presence of God. And the answer that we get from within the scripture is, No and Yes. We find the “no” where Solomon says, “Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain” God, much less the temple he has built! But in the next breath, Solomon refers to the temple as the place about which God said, “My name shall be there.” So we’re left with the sense that the temple is indeed the place where God is, even though it’s impossible to contain or locate God completely in one place. 

    As soon as your head stops spinning, I hope that you won’t mind if we switch gears a bit and look at the question of “whether God will indeed dwell on the earth” as it relates to the Gospel lesson from this morning. Because I think that the question can help us get to the very heart of what’s going on in Jesus’ words about being “the bread that came down from heaven.” What we see in the Gospel lesson is Jesus making the claim that God’s presence has come to dwell on earth in a tangible and real way. Even further, Jesus is saying that God’s presence is available to those who are willing to see the spiritual reality - what I’d call “the more real reality” - of what he’s talking about when he says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”

    I will grant you that, on the surface, these words might sound very disturbing - as if Jesus is advocating for cannibalism. And, if we look back at the history of the early church, the accusation of cannibalism was actually aimed at early Christians on a regular basis. It was just such accusations that caused early Christians to try to explain the church’s worship and rituals to outsiders. I won’t go into detail about how early Christians defended the church’s worship; suffice it to say that the explanations usually refuted the charge of cannibalism by drawing attention to the deeper spiritual reality of what was going on in the Eucharist - and how it was through the Eucharist that Christ’s presence came to dwell in each individual believer and in the church as a community of individuals. In essence, what early Christians were trying to explain was how God did indeed dwell on earth. And the question is still a live one for us here today: How does eating a small piece of bread and taking a little sip of wine become for us the reality of God’s presence in and among us? One way of answering that question is to look at bread itself.         

    When I was growing up, we would regularly visit my grandmother, who lived in Lexington, SC. She was a typically no-nonsense rural southern granny whose primary concern for anyone who came to visit her was whether they’d eaten. And she was an amazing cook. When we’d visit, she would get up every morning around 4am to make breakfast. Usually it was sop gravy and biscuits. On occasion, she would make the biscuits from scratch, and I have to tell you they were divine. I’m told that granny’s secret was evaporated milk, but for the life of me, I can’t duplicate her cooking. In any case, I can distinctly recall the smell of fresh biscuits coming from her kitchen, and to this day, that smell makes me think of visiting with her and feeling right at home, in a place where love and hospitality smelled and tasted like fresh biscuits. Looking back on those visits, I know that that sense of being cared for was not fully contained in a biscuit, but in some sense, I do think that her love for her family was locally present at the kitchen table. 

     

    The analogy I want to draw here is that I believe that God does indeed dwell on earth, and that it is possible to believe that God can be present locally even though nothing on earth or in heaven can ever hope completely to contain God. The church claims that somehow, mysteriously, God’s presence is with us and in us and among us when we celebrate the Eucharist; and that in our worship, it is true - absolutely, objectively true - that God’s presence is with us even if we’re not able to understand or appreciate it. And the church believes that our lives are changed because of God’s presence among us.      

     

    I would say that if you want to know how your life can be changed be receiving a little bread and wine, once again bread itself provides a good analogy.    

     

    I don’t know if everyone here has had the experience of making bread from scratch, but if you’ve had the chance to do it, then you know what an involved process it can be. And it tends to leave tell-tale marks. A number of years ago, one of my jobs involved baking bread every week. So I got to know the process quite well. And I learned quickly that bread making does leave unmistakeable marks. If you work with flour, then it’s almost impossible to keep the flour from getting on your clothes - even if you wear an apron. Pats of dust on your sleeves and hips are clear indicators that bread is being made. 

    If you mix flour and water by hand, that process usually leaves you with a thin layer of dough that sticks to your hands and is exceptionally hard to wash off. The dough gets under your fingernails and sticks in clumps to the hair on your wrists. And it’s hard to ignore.  

    And when the bread is baking, there is always the moment near the end of the baking time when the smell permeates the kitchen and house in such a way that anyone walking through the door must immediately know that there will be fresh bread at the next meal.  

    Apart from these signs, bread bakers know that your hands begin to change. Over the years, your hands become stronger. The skin on your hands begins to look different. And others tend to notice that you have “baker’s hands.” In short, if you make bread, the evidence of it leaves little room for doubt. Baking bread leaves a mark. 

     

    And, by way of analogy, the same goes for what we’re doing here. In receiving the eucharist, the hope is that it will leave a mark. You should go from here, covered in flour. With sticky dough on your hands and under your nails. Smelling of bread. And over time, others should begin to see that there’s something different about you; that you have the “baker’s hands” of a follower of Jesus. 

    My hope, then, is that if you’ve come here wondering whether God will indeed dwell on the earth, you will begin to see that the answer is yes. And the place where God chooses to dwell is in you.