[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.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man 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 Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, 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.”

John 6:51-58

Pastor Marc's sermon on the 11th Sunday After Pentecost (August 16, 2015) on John 6:51-58. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

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So - as you can see from the art behind me and out in the narthex - we had Vacation Bible School this week. 16 kids, half a dozen adults, five youth helpers, art, crafts, songs, and snacks - we had it all. We started each morning here, up front, in the sanctuary. And after a short time of worship, we headed through that side hallway into our two classrooms. Now, those rooms are our parent and infant room and the nursery, usually ready to welcome any infant or child who needs a minute before they come back to worship. So the rooms are covered in murals, pictures, and even stickers depicting a few of our more epic bible stories. Our own Lois Hainsselin’s vision of the animals heading into Noah’s ark is awesome. We gathered in these rooms, sharing stories about Mary, Martha, and Jesus for the entire week - all while under the watchful eyes of these images. The kids couldn’t help but notice them. And then they started asking questions - like who’s that? Why is there a whale up there with a person inside? And why is their a unicorn on that ark?

But my favorite question of the whole week was one that I didn’t have an answer to at first. Some of the kids saw that big image of Noah’s ark - and they asked me: what’s Noah’s wife’s name? 

Think about it. We know about Noah. We know about his sons. But the name of Noah’s wife isn’t on the tip of our tongues. And if we turn to the story of Noah and the flood, her name isn’t recorded. Her name actually isn’t in the bible. Now, overtime, she was given a name. They’re all listed on Wikipedia. She’s known as Emzra, Hayek, Barthenos, or Naamah. She’s given many names but in the actual text, she’s nameless. She’s only know as Noah’s wife.That raises some hard questions. Why is her name not included? Why was her name not passed down? Why was her voice, her perspective, not included in Scripture? When we start to dig into God’s story, getting into meat of God’s word, we can find really beautiful things - and also discover questions that might unnerve and concern us. We’re forced to engage - fully - with the whole of God’s story - with the details that are included and the details that are left out. 

Today’s gospel reading is, again, from John chapter 6. We’re in the fourth week of our five week journey in this chapter that started with Jesus feeding 5000 people. But since then, there’s been a lot of talking. Jesus keeps spouting words about, heaven, eternity, and something about being the bread of life. Now, bread of life is a pretty good slogan. I can kind of visualize seeing that as some kind of marketing tagline - like maybe on the side of a donkey as it passes through town, with this big banner saying, JESUS: Bread of Life. There’s something reassuring about that phrase. Bread - straight out of the oven - warm - a nice crust - a loaf like that might bring back memories of amazing dinners, awesome thanksgivings, or just a vision of what an authentic home should be like. Bread, if we can eat it, just feels safe. So Jesus: the bread of life. I can believe that. 

But whenever we start feeling safe - start feeling comfortable - Jesus seems to throw some kind of wrench in there. And today, in our first verse, Jesus just has to make things awkward and starts talking about flesh. He moves from what’s safe - what’s comfortable - what can be kept clean - and moves straight into flesh. Straight into meat. Into what our bodies are made of. He’s talking about the muscle on our arms. The junk on our belly. The parts that jiggle more than we wish they did. Jesus starts talking like Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant in Venice or like one of the undead extras in a b-rated Zombie film. There’s nothing clean or gentle or safe about what Jesus is talking about here. He’s talking about what physically make us who we are - the meat, the bones, the blood, and the guts. Jesus moves from bread to flesh. 

Gross.

And it gets worse. Because Jesus seems to double down on this eating flesh thing. Our translation today sort of misses that. When the crowd hears what Jesus is asking them to do, they’re kind of weirded out. They wonder how Jesus can give them flesh to eat. But that phrase “to eat,” in the biblical greek, is the polite way to say “to eat.” It’s like when I open my fridge, stare inside at the piles of food, and complain that there’s nothing to eat. Now, I’m talking about eating - but it’s almost rhetorical. Or if we’re asking someone out on a date, asking them to go grab a bite to eat, we tend to use the phrase “to eat” in a safe, comforting, clean way possible. We’re not pointing at the messiness that comes from actually eating. 

But Jesus does. In verse 53, Jesus changes the polite. The “to eat” there is all about the physical nature of eating. It’s like when we devor a watermelon at a picnic or tear into some babyback ribs or splurp an unbelievable bowl of pho - we grab onto that food. We taste it, smell it - we feel it. We’re invested into it. That’s eating. That’s connecting with what’s in front of us. That’s running the risk of doing something unsafe, something new, something we haven’t done before. Trying a new cuisine, finding some other culture’s comfort food or stew - that thing where our friends say “don’t ask what’s in it - just try it - it’s good!” The physical part of eating makes us vulnerable but it’s also what makes that connection to our food so amazing. Jesus isn’t asking us to just be polite when it comes to meeting him; Jesus is asking us to go all in, to get physical, and to not play it safe. When we encounter Jesus - we’re not getting a savior who plays it safe; who only desires what’s comfortable; and who only meets us when we’re safe. Jesus isn’t offering the crowd bread. He’s offering flesh. He’s offering an encounter with God that is so physical, so real, so human - that it can’t be anything but uncomfortable and risky. Because when God walks the earth, when Jesus decides that it’s worth living like we do, Jesus doesn’t come to play it safe. 

When we look at our stories - it’s easy to get too comfortable with them. It’s easy to settle into that safety - to see the Ark with the animals, two-by-two; to see Noah, his sons, and their wives - and not see the storm they rode through. It’s easy to remember Noah and forget his wife. It’s easy to even forget to wonder if she even had a name. 

But Jesus doesn’t ask us to play it safe. Jesus doesn’t ask us to stay in comfort. He calls us to spot the uncomfortable thing; to spot the nameless women, to hear the unheard voices. Jesus invites us to look for the flesh - for the meat, for those uncleaned places, and to get right in there. We’re to ask the uncomfortable questions, to seek the uncomfortable answers, and to bring a light to the dark places inside our lives and in our world. Jesus invites us to dig into the space we are in, to find the meat of our lives, of the lives of our neighbors, and of the lives of the strangers God has called us to love. The questions we ask might not be pleasant; the stories we hear might challenge and change who we are. We might find ourselves not believing what we’re hearing now - or what we heard before. But we don’t go into these places alone. We don’t listen to these stories by ourselves. We don’t find the people who don’t look like us, talk like us, or watch the same news shows like us expecting them to become like us. We go into different spaces because Jesus came into our space. We walk new roads because Jesus walked ours. We offer our flesh to those who hunger for justice, health, and love because Jesus gives us his flesh first. We don’t settle for comfort because Jesus isn’t here for comfort; he’s here to love. He’s here to nourish. He’s here to invites us to his table, to say “take and eat,” because as we join with him, he joins with us, just as we are, to give us, and everyone else, life.

Amen.