Living Bread, Singing Hearts

TEXTS:  Psalm 111, Ephesians 5: 15-20, John 6: 51-58

John 6: 51-58 – Crowding around or following Jesus
A crowd followed Jesus wherever he went.  A crowd crowded around Jesus wherever he went. But did they really follow Jesus? Or were they enamored with Jesus? Or want Jesus for their own benefit? Or want to criticize Jesus?

Crowding around Jesus and following Jesus are two different matters.  Jesus was teaching them the difference between being the crowd and being followers. Crowds turn on you in sacrificial violence. Hosannas quickly become crucify. Here in chapter 6 of John’s gospel is flesh and blood testimony to the difference in Jesus. It is symbolized in bread, embodied in bread, enacted in bread.  Jesus identifies himself with bread, Living Bread. John 6 begins with the crowds following Jesus and crowding around him in Capernaum. Hear this portion.
Jesus went on to say, ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’
The Judeans then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Human One and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living [Abba God] sent me, and I live because of [Abba God], so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.’

This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Scandal of Jesus
The whole Living Bread teaching is testimony to God’s entry into the world in Jesus. We are reminded that we do not come to worship to be made comfortable with Jesus. The God we worship is revealed in God’s Word and Table. This God is not domesticated or made nice and safe.
“God’s word is present in the flesh of human life. We may not want God this close, but we have no choice. This is the way God chooses to be present – incarnate in human flesh,”
It is no wonder that those closest to God’s revelation…became engaged in disputes over the crucial issue of God’s revelation: ‘How can this man give his flesh for us to eat?’ As if this wasn’t offensive enough, Jesus heightens the reality with yet another ingredient of human life: ‘Unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the [Human One], you have no life in me.’ Again, still more offensively, Jesus speaks about eating his flesh, using the word that describes a wild animal gnawing…on a bone. The word is used four times in these verses to describe the intimacy of God’s presence in the lives of those who believe [and follow Jesus]”
(Paul S. Berge, “John 6:1-71: The Bread Which Gives Life to the World”, Word & World, V. 4, N 3. P. 317).

God pursues us and is present with us in love to overcome our discomfort and rejection. Jesus is the scandal of God turning the world upside down. Jesus gives his own life in love reversing the world’s way of taking another’s life to save ours. This is scandal today as it was that day. Jesus’ as God’s flesh and blood intimately confronts us with scandal. It is a life and death matter that leads to true life, eternal life beginning now. It is embodied in Jesus Christ forever. Can we ever fully understand it? No, but we enact it so that we embody it and live it. It happens here in worship at Word and Table. “Jesus is Wisdom’s true divine feast….Jesus is the bread of life…”(Peter Feldmeier, “Flesh and Blood,” America, Aug 13, 2012).This is not about full understanding. There are layers of simple and symbolic truth here. It is truth about life and death for us – true life that does not end with death. The pattern and rhythm if Jesus’ life revealed is life-death-resurrection.

Life and Death encountered this week
Garrison Keillor closes his classic radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” with the refrain: “Well it’s been a quiet week in Lake Woebegone, my hometown….” It has not been a quiet week; it has been an intense week. A week when life and death are intense and intensely real, revealing true life. Three deaths faced me this week that I want to share briefly. All three embodied Jesus, were not scandalized by Jesus but lived the scandal of Jesus. They received the Bread of Life and became the Bread of Life for the world.

Richard Regier was a Mennonite pastor in Oregon who retired a few years ago. Rick was a great pastor with great humor. With Rick around our annual conference and pastor-spouse retreat was never dull.  One day when I was in Oregon I stopped by his church Zion Mennonite to see him. He showed me a book that has become a favorite: Istvan Banyai’s Zoom. Rick told me, “Zoom is theology in a nutshell….all the theology you’ll ever need.” It has no words, only pictures that keep enlarging our view of life calling us into God’s mystery. Rick had cancer that went very fast; he died in early August at age 71.

Margaret O’Gara was a catholic theologian from Toronto. For 37 years, with humility and passion, Margaret lived ecumenical dialogue local and global. She embodied dialogue among Christians to overcome divisions and become one in Christ. Her book The Ecumenical Gift Exchange, expands dialogue beyond learning from each other to recognize that all Christian traditions have gifts to offer and receive from each other. In our mutual exchange of gifts we grow into our unity in Christ. I first met Margaret when we were on sabbatical at Saint John’s Abbey in 2001. She was a board member of the Collegeville Institute and of our Mennonite Catholic Bridgefolk.  She could not attend Bridgefolk a few weeks ago because she had just gone into hospice care. Margaret died of cancer on Thursday at the age of 65.

Ladon Sheets final celebration of life began on Aug 6, with a final breath on Aug 9, ten yrs ago. Aug 6 is the Feast of Jesus’ Transfiguration and the 1945 bombing disfiguration of Hiroshima.  Thurs eve I joined Ched Myers and Elaine Enns and others on a webinar remembering Ladon. For 2 hours we grappled with “Transfiguration or Disfiguration” emboldened by Ladon’s life. In the 1960s Ladon was a rising star executive in IBM’s rising star technology days. He met Clarence Jordan at Koinonia Farms in GA and in 1967 left IBM to join Clarence at KF.
Several years later Ladon left KF and became an itinerant prophet peacemaker for life. I first met Ladon when he spoke at Whitestone Mennonite Church in Hesston, KS in Oct 1973. I last was with Ladon at St. Benedict’s monastery in Snowmass, CO in October 1997. For 30 years all the “possessions” Ladon had he carried in a well-worn backpack. Ladon lived a rich and full life as Jesus’ bread for the world. Ladon died of cancer on the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki at the age of 68.

I could tell stories about Rick, Margaret, and Ladon who received and became living bread. There are other encounters this past week that bring me face-to-face with life and death. I suspect that is true for you too. I am brought face-to-face with the mystery of life and love with new granddaughter Soren. We spent Friday afternoon and evening with our beloved granddaughters Soren and Olivia. Today is Macaulay’s first birthday and yesterday was Aven’s first birthday. In June Oliver celebrated his first birthday and Samuel was born, all our beloved children.
In the face of death the preciousness and mystery of new life is on my heart and mind. Those at the beginning and end of life as we know it on earth have much to teach us. A few days ago I edited and submitted my presentation on peace given to the American Benedictine Academy two weeks ago. The heart of it is stories of children affected by war. In a nutshell I said that war is war on children and that it is impossible for us to love our children and grandchildren and sacrifice other children of the world. It is time to embrace life and end war.

This brings us to Jesus Christ the Bread of Life and to this very feast at the Lord’s Table. we receive bread to become bread with Jesus. We choose transfiguration with Jesus rather than disfiguration with the nations and world. This bread broken for us, this wine poured out for us, makes us Christ’s body and blood. Jesus promised, [You] who eat this bread will live forever.’ Death is not the end for our God of life. Come to the Table of our Lord to receive and become with Jesus the Bread of Life. The Lord’s Table is a table of transfiguration. To eat this bread and drink this cup of Jesus Christ is to enter into transfiguration with Jesus. To receive the body and blood of Christ is to refuse to participate in disfiguration that breaks bodies and sheds blood of anyone else or of God’s creation. Here we are people of transfiguration not disfiguration.