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Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:9-14; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58
“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” (Eph. 5:15) Last week, my older brother and I spent several days working to prepare my Mother’s home for sale. Her home has been vacant, and for the most part untouched, since Dad passed away a year ago. My mother lives now in Phoenix, in an Assisted Living Facility near my brother. I am sure you can imagine what last week’s task was like for us.
After a few days of sifting through old memories, I began to experience a rush of emotions, which included both joy and sadness. The task of sorting through my parent’s lifetime of memories left a profound spiritual impression on me. Because of this experience, the lens through which I now view life has focused my attention more acutely and now, I am more than ever aware, of what in life is fleeting, and what is life giving.
If you have had to face a similar task, and I imagine many of you have, you may have asked questions like, “What do I have sitting on shelves or in boxes that are never even seen: old papers, trinkets, clothes I no longer wear, or books I never read.” Are those things merely taking up space, or are they truly symbols a life filled with joy, sometimes heartache, wonderful family times, leisure, and hard work? Maybe some of those things have served as distractions that were carried throughout life, and now have lost their usefulness.
Maybe the stuff we accumulate just keeps us from the life God intends for us. Maybe our stuff numbs our self-focused lifestyle, which distances us from God and each other. Maybe our stuff serves as a sedative from joy-stealing memories that cloud our thoughts and sense of self, or provides a tranquilizer from old hurts that hinder our ability to forgive and experience peace. As the community of faith, the Body of Christ, the gathered followers of Jesus Christ, living as wise people and making the most of our time, means we must every day, examine what is important, what gives us life, and what truly feeds our soul.
In American culture, consumption serves as a temporary prescription for a spiritual ailment that has the capacity to steal joy, shatter peace, and undermine grace. A 2012 article in Scientific American reported, “With less than 5 percent of world population, the U.S. uses one-third of the world’s paper, a quarter of the world’s oil, 23 percent of the coal, 27 percent of the aluminum, and 19 percent of the copper.” (1) Consumption is so much more than the American dream revealed; it is a distraction to spiritual health.
We acquire, and we try to fill our lives. We consume in order to satiate an eternal appetite, which cannot be quenched except by an intimate abiding with and in Christ. Neal Emerald in his PhD dissertation for Virginia Polytechnic Institute asserts, “Consumerism affects the psychological health of the individual through erosion of the true self and replacing it with a false self, and the spiritual health of the individual by eroding our spiritual connections with nature and replacing it with consumption of goods and services.” (2)
The spiritual life in Christ, life in community with others is the only antidote for that divine chasm we all possess, and being in community is the only way to feed the soul and satiate the appetite we have for a relationship with Christ and each other. Nonetheless, we often avoid the banquet to which God invites us, and we settle for the light snack, the manna of goods and services. “Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Manna takes on many forms. Manna can be more than mere goods and services, and it can be more than mere retail therapy.
“Think of manna as the aspects of the church life that are suitable and grace-full but fleeting. Manna (could be) the preaching style of a certain pastor, but what do you do when a new pastor comes along with a different style? Manna (could be) the program ministry of the congregation, or the church’s music, both wonderful and beneficial, but it can be sometimes a source of disagreement. Manna (could be) the small group to which you’re attached but people move away and the group magic just disappears. Manna (could be) the congregation you love – that you would rather NEVER change. Our walk with Christ can be hampered, even ruined, when we allow impermanent aspects of church to define our spiritual journey. (3)
Congregations often feast hungrily on wonderful liturgy, exquisite vestments, expansive and awesome architecture, theologically entertaining sermons, and glorious and beautiful music, but if we are not feasting on the Bread of Life, if we do not host within the community, a banquet of spiritual depth, growing faith, divine trust, and personal commitment to our Lord Jesus Christ, then we are literally, spiritually, starving to death. The community of faith can only be sustained by the Bread of Life, and that bread is found through our intimate connection to Jesus Christ.
The Bread of life is the Life of Christ lived in us. Christ feeds us anywhere, anytime, in ways, we can barely fathom. Jesus said, “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.”
Theologian Paul Stroble, captures the meaning of “Living Bread” in his Christian Century article titled, Whose Casserole? He wrote, “The word bread can also stand for sustenance; in the Lord’s Prayer, our daily bread generally means “what we need for life.” Flesh and blood can also mean a vital, actual life. So Jesus’ bread of life is his own life, his own vitality. He gives us his life freely. He gives us grace for living. He gives us access to God, forgiveness of our sins, eternal life and much more. We share life with him more deeply than we share our lives with our relatives and friends.(3) Our focus must be on Christ, the life of Christ, the life-giving connection to God who walked among us, lived, died, and rose again.
If the church is not focused on feasting on the Bread of Life sacramentally in the Eucharist, functionally in how we care for one another and the least, lost, and lonely in the village around us, and spiritually through our personal and corporate practices, those things which provides a trellis upon which to grow, then we are settling for mere appetizers, little tasty tidbits, and the sugar buzz of spiritual hard candies and the sweet treats of ecclesiastical Twinkies.
Those things are wonderful and honestly, life would not be the same without the occasional indulgence of fine Godiva chocolate, sumptuous Starbucks hazelnut lattes, and yes, an occasional decadent slice of Key Lime Pie. These are the things that make life sweet, but we all know that if we feed on merely these things, we cannot sustain our lives. We need a substantial feast in order to live fully!
Programs, preaching, small groups, and all the rest are absolutely necessary and essential in the faith community. They are the sweet things that help us to see little glimpses of God’s grace, but they alone do not have the staying power to fuel a community of people committed to a life, truly following the one who said of himself, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Jesus promises life abundant, life everlasting, both in some time to come, but most definitely life right here, right now, today. We must feast on the right spiritual diet in order to feed our souls. What feeds your soul now will feed the souls of those who come after us. Going through the memories and personal effects of a parent who has passed on, reveals so much about their life, about what was important to them, about who they were, and about the legacy of formation they passed on.
My friends, in ten, fifteen, and even twenty years from now, when the next generation of Christians gather together as St. Boniface Episcopal Church, I wonder what will they have to sort through, examine, reminisce about, and I wonder, what will they decide to keep, to give away to others, or just throw away? What legacy will we leave? What trinkets, memories, practices, institutions, groups, or other markers will we give the next cohort of Christians, which will help them understand what it means to be a disciple in this place.
Will there be precious snapshots of spiritual practices that mirror a community who walked close with Jesus? Will there likewise be traditions, memories, or other small reminders that may have to thrown away, because they are no longer useful in that context down the road?
The writer of the Letter to the Ephesians reminds us of what truly is important, useful, and essential for a community of disciples; those lasting markers we should pass on. “Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Be filled, sing, give thanks, and do everything in the name of Jesus.
Maybe you’re thinking that the epistle writer’s advice is just a little naive, maybe the exhortation is a bit too simplistic, or maybe it lacks theological panache, glam, and flash, but isn’t it in the simplest of ways that God chose to reveal Godself? God came among us not as a representative of human power and influence, but as a poor day laborer, a common man who hung out with fisherman, tax collectors, prostitutes, and other folks on the very fringe of so-called good society. Jesus invites ALL to the table my friends.
The banquet to which Our Lord invites us is the only sustenance, which will fill the spiritual hunger within each of us. Therefore, if the community of faith is going to be a faithful witness to the grace of God in Christ, a witness to the different way of living in this world to which Jesus calls us, that is as witnesses to God’s abundant love for all, then we better fuel up, fill our plates, take a “to go” box if we must, and indulge on the Bread of Life, which will feed us and make ready us for the work ahead. The banquet of the Lord awaits my friends. Eat up, take your fill, there is plenty Jesus for all, for the journey ahead is long and treacherous, and we must be ready for what is to come; life everlasting.
(2) Consumerism, Nature, and the Human Spirit, By Neal D. Emerald http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/theses/available/etd-12272004-133514/unrestricted/capstonefinal11-29-04.pdf
(3) Stroble, Paul. “Whose Casserole?” The Christian Century 123.16 (2006): 17. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 5 Aug. 2015.