Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sermon: Jesus Fills

Sermon for August 23, 2015
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 
(Proper 16)
The Rev. Vicki K. Hesse
St. Philip’s In The Hills, Tucson, AZ
Listen to this sermon here.
Lord, open our lips, that our mouth shall proclaim your praise.  Amen

I didn’t know I was hungry.

Years before I joined any church,
my friend invited me to the mid-week service
at Grace Cathedral in SF.  Church was his thing-
he was scheduled to serve as Deacon. 
I didn’t really want to go with him,
but he promised lunch in the city afterward. 

I didn’t know I was hungry.

Awkwardly, I walked into the big Cathedral. 
Looked like a big museum to me. 
We went into a side chapel.  Just three of us:
the priest, my friend the Deacon, and me.

They shared the readings,
talked a bit about the Gospel
and 20 minutes later, we shared communion.

I didn’t know I was hungry.

But, as the bread was placed in my hands,
my heart swelled up.
Rivers of tears flowed down my face,
through the lines in my mouth,
making Jesus taste salty. 

The wine touched my lips and in that little sip,
in that moment, I realized how hungry was. 
In that moment, Jesus filled me up.

I don’t remember our lunch in the city.

The GJohn does not recount the Last Supper,
but it bursts at the seams
with Eucharistic images.

Jesus continually speaks of himself as
“the bread of life”
And he invites his followers
to “partake of this bread.” 
Then he gets pretty gruesome, urging them to
“eat his flesh and drink his blood.” 
You don’t have to be a good Jew
to want to avert your eyes from such an image and
to cover your ears at such language. 
It offended many of his disciples;
they didn’t know they were hungry.

Author BBT said while Jesus had at his disposal
“… the conceptual truths of the universe,”
he did not give them something “to think about”
when he was gone,
he gave them concrete things to do
specific ways of being together in their bodies. 

He said, “do this in remembrance of me”
not “think about this.”[1] 

Jesus taught an in-your-face confrontation
with the incarnation.[2]
He spoke not of a disembodied spirit
but the opportunity
to encounter his flesh and blood.

In Hebrew, the expression “flesh and blood”
meant something like our,
“body, mind and spirit.” 
So, for the many disciples,
to receive Jesus meant
receiving his whole “flesh and blood”.

And this got their attention.
Many of them turned back.
Many of them complained.
Many of them were offended.
They didn’t know they were hungry.

And so it is with us. This teaching is difficult. 

The startling imagery of
eating flesh and drinking blood
cuts through our liturgical refinements. 

One of my colleagues tells a story of
saying the familiar words during communion,

“This is my body, broken for you.
This is my blood, shed for you,”

when a small girl suddenly said in a loud voice,
“Ew, yuk!”
To which the congregation
stared in a horrified way,
as if someone had splattered blood
all over the altar,
which was, in effect
something like what the little girl had done
with her exclamation.[3]

I think we ought to wrap the altar
with “caution” tape before Holy Communion.
“when we receive Jesus, when we partake,
his life clings to our bones and
courses through our veins. 
He can no more be taken from our life
than last Tuesday’s breakfast
can be plucked from our body. 
And this is the ultimate communion –
the coming together,
the union of the Savior and the saved.”[4] 

And that changes everything, does it not? 
But sometimes
we don’t know how hungry we are. 

Aside from the gruesomeness of
eating flesh and blood,
the implications are difficult. 

For as we receive Jesus,
we cannot separate his life in us
from our life in him.  

We receive this precious sacrament
and take him into ourselves. 
It means we love one another as Jesus loves us.
It means we are called to deny ourselves
and take up the cross. 
It means we give up our possessions
and our obsessions.

When we receive Jesus, we become a disciple –
and that changes everything. 
It means we reach out and help each other.
It means we trust one another.
It means we seek reconciliation.
It means we feed the hungry, clothe the naked,
heal the sick, give water to the thirsty,
visit the prisoners. 
The implications are difficult.
We are offended.
Sometimes we don’t know how hungry we are.


Over and over in the Gospel of John,
Jesus offered images of himself
as the bread of life,
meant to strengthen and
encourage the community.

Seeing how many disciples turned back,
Jesus asked the twelve apostles,
“do you, too, wish to go away?”
And Peter takes the cue,
transformed in that moment by the offer so dear.
“Lord, to whom can we go?
You have the words of eternal life.”

In other words, Peter said,
You are the only one
who can satisfy our deep hunger.
You are the living God.
You are the one who holds us together.
You are the source of Love and Life.
Peter confessed how hungry they were
and Jesus filled them up.

And not only those disciples,
but generations of Christians.

“The first thing the world knew about Christians
was that they ate together.”
At the beginning of every week,
Christians everywhere
celebrated the day the whole world changed and
toasted the resurrection.
They shared a meal and offered
prayers of thanksgiving,
or eucharisteo, for the bread and wine.”[5] 

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians,
“when you gather to eat,
you should all eat together.”[6]
As they gathered,
they remembered Jesus’ presence among them.
Some early communities began
to send a piece of the bread from their communion service
to other gatherings of Christians
to be added to their meal. 
They knew how hungry they were and
offered that bread
to fill and strengthen the bond of unity
between all Christians,
like our Lay Eucharistic Ministers
do on 2nd and 4th Sundays.[7]

These early Christians
knew how hungry they were,
They knew that Jesus filled them up.

Does this offend you? 
Do you, too, wish to go away?
Are you hungry?

The good news is that even today,
Jesus strengthens and encourages our community. 
Jesus is the only one who can
satisfy our deep hunger. 
Jesus offers us his body and his blood
every week, every day, every moment.

When we receive Jesus
into our mind body and soul,
into our pain, struggle, and loss,
into our joy, enthusiasm, and hope,
when we receive Jesus,
we are The Saved in union with The Savior.
When we receive Jesus,
we know him in our body and our blood.
Jesus fills us with unmerited grace. 

And so we come to receive him. 
We come:
vulnerable, kneeling,
hands cupped and surrendering,
in a public confession of hunger. 
“The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven”
and Jesus descends into our hands. 
“The Blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation”
and Jesus slips into our lips.[8]

In response, we proclaim
that great mystery of faith –
Christ has died, Christ has risen,
Christ will come again.

Come, bring your deepest hunger,
and Jesus will fill you up to overflowing.


[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar In The World: A Geography of Faith, (New York, HarperCollins, 2009), 44
[2] Inspired by Martin Copenhaver’s sermon “Eating Jesus” cited at
[3] Ibid. Copenhaver
[4] Ibid. Copenhaver
[5] Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church, (Santa Rosa, Thomas Nelson Books, 2015), 125
[6] 1 Corinthians 11:33
[7] Ibid., Evans, 127
[8] Ibid., Evans 142-143