Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sermon, Proper 15, John 6:51-58

How's life? Do you ever get that question? More importantly, how do you respond when you are asked that question? I'm guessing that most people who ask that question don't really want to know how your life is. Most people don't want to hear a litany of aches and pains and surgeries and medications, or of bad in-laws and ungrateful kids. Most people just want to hear a simple, "Fine, thanks," and then move on.

I like to confuse people every now and then just to see if they're paying attention. Someone asked me the other day, "How's life?" and I responded, "Oh . . . a little above par." They thought that was a good thing. And sometimes I'll answer, "Which life? Do you want to know about my home life, work life, church life or something else?"

We all have multiple and various facets to our lives; small parts that make up the whole that is us. Sometimes it can be hard keeping them in balance. Sometimes our work life messes up our family life. It's not always cut and dried, and sometimes things will get out of balance. Staying in balance, I think, is one of the most important things we can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Taking naps on the couch or enjoying a football game with chips and dip is one thing. But if all we do is plop down on the couch every morning, noon and night, it won't be long before we don't have any energy to do anything except lift the remote. Not to mention what that lifestyle does to our weight and heart.

We need to balance those times of inactivity with times of activity. Some kind of exercise to keep us in shape -- walking, running, biking, hiking, working out, something. Even Bobby manages to get out for a walk once a day. But we can also go overboard with that. We can spend all our time focusing on trying to build the perfect body. Some people become so obsessed that they begin using certain drugs to improve performance and looks. Take a break. Take a nap. Watch a football game with chips and dip.

As we balance our activity and inactivity, we need to balance our diet as well. Now, to be honest, I am probably the worst person when it comes to paying attention to what I eat. I tend to like pie and ice cream and Ding Dongs more than I should; but at the same time, I don't live on them. My wife has me looking for low fat, reduced cholesterol stuff -- well, at least when it doesn't affect the taste. And we almost always make sure to have vegetables with dinner.

Again, by paying attention to what we eat, and the quantities we eat, we will be better off for it. A healthy balance of food helps our bodies physically and mentally. If we eat healthy, we have a better chance of living healthy.

Which brings me to today's gospel passage. If we spend time working to maintain a proper balance in our lives through various means of exercise, rest and proper diets, if we work to maintain our overall physical well-being, are we working just as hard to have a properly balanced spiritual life? Are we spending time with God in prayer? Are we feeding on the holy and spiritual food of the body and blood of Jesus Christ on a regular basis?

Today's gospel is a difficult one for us to contemplate. Early Christians were accused of cannibalism and infanticide because of this passage. Some priests ignore this passage, preferring instead to preach on Ephesians (like I did three years ago) where they might be less likely to offend a newcomer to the church who might happen to wander in on this particular Sunday.

As always, there is more than one way to look at this passage; but if we look at it sacramentally I think it's easier to deal with. During the course of the Eucharist, the regular elements of bread and wine are mysteriously changed into the holy sacrament of the body and blood of Christ. Their physical properties do not change; put them under a microscope and they are still genetically bread and wine. But by the great mystery of the infusion of the Holy Spirit, these simple elements reflect and become the real presence of Christ. And it is in the eating and drinking of that sacrament that we abide in him and he in us.

Just as Jesus broke the bread for the 5000 and multiplied it so that all were fed and none were left behind, so too his body was broken and is multiplied so that all might be saved and even those tossed aside might be gathered up. He is our spiritual nourishment that feeds us and strengthens us as we live out our earthly lives.

Just as the right food and exercise prepare our bodies for the rigors of hard labor or a difficult climb up a mountain, this sacramental food of body and blood prepares us for the rigors of spiritually laboring in this world and the difficulties we sometimes face that can seem like mountains. If we are nourished with this food, if we are strengthened by it, if we allow Jesus to abide in us, then we know that we live in Christ; and we know that we are his forever, to be raised up on the last day.

This is vitally important as we are faced with difficult situations in our lives. And it can be particularly helpful as we are faced with the death of those we love, such as the death of Pam last week. Just because we are spiritually nourished and healthy doesn't make those losses or situations any less difficult or easy; but I believe that we can more easily maintain our balance by our participation in this heavenly community and our eating of this sacramental food.

So . . . how's life? Some days are good and some bad. Some days are exceptional and some are devastating. Chris and his family and friends are having a tough time right now. However, this place, this community and this meal can offer shelter, comfort and nourishment for them and for us.

Our lives need balance -- physically, mentally and spiritually. May we all continue to partake of the spiritual food of Christ. May we all continue to be nourished by the spiritual food of Eucharist. May we all continue to seek a holy balance in our lives, abiding in the love and fellowship of the Triune God. And may we seek out others who are searching for that balance and invite them to join with us in the spiritual bounty that is the body and blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and into a relationship where we are raised on the last day.



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