Saturday, August 25, 2012

Not Every Meal Is Just About Food

Sermon for Pentecost 11/Proper 14, Year B
St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, Denver, CO ~ August 12, 2012

John 6:35, 41-51
35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 
41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I 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.” 

A week before the Olympics began, we watched the final episode of Bachelorette.
(I can’t believe I admit watching that). The show featured a capable and sensitive woman who was very publicly looking for her “Mr. Right.” 

Since we were unavailable the exact night that the last episode aired,
we “streamed” the episode the next day on the station’s website.  This meant the show was punctuated by two, 30-second commercial clips. The same ads, every time. To watch the show on the website, we were obliged to see the ads over and over.
And over. Has anyone else experienced this?  
Both commercials positioned their product next to food. 

The first commercial began with the image of a kind woman’s face –
softly, out of focus, while Al Green’s song,
“Let’s Stay Together” played in the background:
“I, I'm so in love with you / Whatever you want to do / Is all right with me”

As the song played, the image of Lays potato chips appeared. 
We heard the refrain lyrics, straight from the Gospel of Al Green:
“ 'Cause you make me feel so brand new / And I want to spend my life with you…”

The advertisers cleverly positioned the ordinary potato chip with a familiar love song.
What stood out for me was this explicit linking of love and food…
to let it “do what you want to do” because it “makes you feel so brand new.” 

It was a bit ridiculous, aligning potato chips and love …

The second commercial began with the image of a bank’s logo
flashing across the screen. Quickly, the image transitioned
to a soft black-n-white video. We watched two very cute five- or seven-year-olds
run towards a booth at a diner, their father in tow trying to keep up behind them. 

They slipped into a booth, laughed, and folded their fries
before stuffing them in their mouth for a fun time with their dad. 
Meanwhile, Thin Lizzy’s song, “The Boys are Back In Town” 
played in the background. You know the one:
“The boys are back in town /the boys are back in town….”

Very quickly, the logo of the bank re-appeared on the screen with the words,
 “Not every meal is about food. ” We saw the father paying his check with that bank’s preferred credit card. The narrator closed the commercial by saying, 

“Why not make lunch more than just lunch? With our card you get two times the points at every meal…not every meal is about food / With our card you may be tempted to say yes to more meals than you thought.”

The advertisers cleverly positioned the ordinary credit card with a take-the-kids-out-for-lunch scene.

What stood out for me was the explicit linking of family love, product and food.
So that “not every meal is about food” I wondered – who says that every meal is only about food anyway?

Both of these commercials included food to position their product. Why?

Elementally, we humans hunger.  We need to eat, physiologically. We have hungers and thirsts, physiologically and metaphorically.   Advertisers know that.  They connect their product to satisfying that hunger.  This approach has been going on for hundreds of years. 

Even Jesus, in today’s Gospel reading.  When Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” he connected the people’s elemental hunger – what was needed for life – to himself. 

Jesus turned things upside down (once again) by raising at least three key issues: 
Who is “I Am,”
Who and what is “The Bread” and
Who draws people to Jesus. 

Jesus’ statement “I am the bread of life” was a bold self-revelation.  Last week, Dennis explored fabulously how in that bread we find Jesus – the one who we meet at the Communion table.   Today’s reading opens with this statement “I am the bread of life.” It’s kind of the biblical version of Jesus’ logo flashing across our screen. 

Just so you know, this won’t be the last time Jesus says  “I am.”Spoiler Alert!

Five times in the Gospel of John we read
I am…the light of the world.”
I am…the gate for the sheep.”
I am…the good shepherd.”
I am… the resurrection and the life.”
I am… the way, the truth and the life.”  

In so doing, Jesus used common symbols of ancient Near Eastern religious and
human experiences.   In these “I am” statements,  Jesus declared how religious and human longings are met in him. He used a variety of symbols because not one of them
can totally describe who Jesus is.   Each one presents a different lens through which Jesus meets human longings.

The loaded phrase “I Am” must have resonated with the scholars and Jewish people gathered there. They probably knew their Hebrew Scriptures and knew Exodus 3,
when Moses asked God what name to use to describe God to the Israelites?

“God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” … “Thus you shall say to the Israelites,
‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”

So when Jesus said, “I am… the bread that came down from heaven,” he aligned ordinary bread with himself and with the scholarly name for God (I AM) from texts of his tradition and his people.

Jesus positioned himself as The Bread.

Bread, made from the ingredients of the earth (flour, water, salt and yeast) and
prepared in three steps (mix, rise and bake), which people ate daily.
Bread, that people also used in the religious rituals of meaning and in offerings to God. 
Bread, like the manna that their ancestors ate in the wilderness (but died).
Bread, in the person of Jesus, was different than that old time-limited manna. 
Jesus, as The bread of life – was God’s once-for-all living gift to the world.[1] 

Who draws people to Jesus?

See, the people of this synagogue were familiar with how Rabbis were supposed to act and when “proper” teaching about God’s heaven was not being followed. 

They knew “about” Jesus – they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph,
whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”  They complained about his statements …“coming down from heaven,” –
how can he say that? That didn’t fit who they understood Jesus to be,
the son of Joseph.

We can all relate to this shock they must have felt. How many of us have known someone in one context, only to learn about them in another context and been flabbergasted at who they then became.  Like me, taking a yoga class from my sister –
my “little” sister – who is a really gifted teacher! 

The Jews gathered there murmured gna gna gna... So Jesus responded to them,
“Do not complain among yourselves.”  Then, he elaborated.  There’s more going on here. 

“No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me…” 

Jesus diverted the attention away from himself to God, the source and power of life. 

“No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me…” 

What did Jesus mean, “drawn by the Father”? Augustine has helpful words to say about this: 

“See how he draws. Not by imposing necessity” but by grace – enabling the “inner palate” of the soul to find it’s greatest “pleasure” and “delight” in partaking of the truth. It is not, Augustine cautions, for us to judge who is drawn and who is not, but rather to realize that our preaching is only noise to the ears unless listeners are drawn
by [God’s] love to hear it.”[2]

In other words, God draws hearts to Love.  God draws through grace. God satisfies our inner palate.

What are you hungry for? What is your deepest longing? 
What is really behind that hunger & longing?

Is it to be enough? accepted? understood? forgiven? loved?

In Jesus, the I Am, we know God. In Jesus, incarnate and ordinary as bread, we know God.  By the grace of God’s drawing, our palate is satisfied in Love.   

As members of this faith community, we are called to love others as we are loved.
Today’s good news reminds us that we are called to invite others to know God, just as we are drawn to know God. It is not for us to convert or to change others, simply to invite.    

We know Jesus in this messy, ordinary, incarnational human experience. Jesus, the bread of life that comes down from heaven, continues to feed our hungers and our thirsts. 

Maybe this week, for St. B’s, Jesus is the peach of life – juicy, messy, tasty.

Can you invite Jesus to satisfy you?  
Can you invite others to experience the Love of God found in this place? 
Perhaps the advertiser has got it right –
sometimes a meal is not just about food.

Can we join in this meal of ordinary bread and wine,  and together, through Jesus, be drawn closer to Love.


[1] New Interpreter’s Bible, Commentary on John 6, p. 603
[2] Christopher Morse, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting On The Word, Proper 14, p. 336