Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Reloading and Resurrection

This post has been at least in my head in process since I was driving from Alabama to California, the week after the shootings in Aurora, CO. During that time I saw many different people say many different things about gun control, how awful it was to be politicizing the tragedy so soon, how we can't help but politicize it because it is a political issue and our faith lives require us to engage our society's politics.

Most of the posts were from the same people over and over again, seeming to get louder and louder as they posted. However, watching my Facebook feed, I noticed some other trends around the Christian faith as it was indirectly related to gun violence in the US. While there were certainly those being explicit (usually arguing for more gun control as a life issue), there were those who drew no correlation between their desire to have their guns and their faith, but the trends of whose posts certainly link the two.

My observation of many of these posting was that the people who might claim to have a deeper faith because they regularly post prayers requesting miracles were also the ones who posted most from a place of fear concerning who can carry weapons. I felt a dissonance between expecting logic and reason to be defied as someone prayed for cancer to be poofed away, despite what medical professionals may be saying, in one posted and insisting they needed to be able to arm themselves to protect themselves from others.

This understood need to protect themselves from others seemed to stem largely from a fear of death. My understanding of much of the Bible is that Christians are instructed to not live in fear. A poster I used to see, and I have no idea if this is factual, said " 'Fear not' is in the Bible 365 times - one for every day of the year.' " If we can rely on God for miraculous cures for cancer, why do we feel as though we need rely on ourselves to protect us from death?

The perceived need to protect ourselves from death throws me some, too. While this isn't something I'll claim many people are happy to say that we're a "Christian Nation." Those are, at least among my Facebook friends, the same ones who are so insistent that we have guns to defend ourselves - from the bad guys (who, I'll point out, are still created in God's image, whether we like it or not). This fear of death does not resonate with one of the core tenets of Christianity: that dying Christ destroyed our death and rising Christ restored our life; Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs bestowing life.

For a Christian Nation, we seem to be awfully scared of something that we believe doesn't have any power over us. We seem quite content to rest on these ideas, promises, thoughts, and beliefs when people have died, but how do we realize Easter while we're alive? I think that we're probably more likely to live fuller lives now (cf. John 10.10) if we aren't worried so much about holding on to it. Liturgical Christians at least annually acknowledge that they will die ("Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return") but we don't sit in that.

Neither do I think that we should live only thinking about the afterlife. Rather than being a motivator for what we do now, I think the promises that those in the tombs have been given life should release us of fighting to stay alive by not taking risks and fearing that we're always about to die. Acknowledging that it's a possibility is probably a good thing, but fearing it isn't, I don't think.

How do we engage and realize Easter in our day-to-day living? Do we believe that in baptism we have been buried with Christ into his death so that just as he was raised we may be raised to new life (Rom. 6.4)? If we do, and we have faith that we will be raised, and have faith the cancer can be cured miraculously (which not all of us do), why do we fear for our lives? Why are we willing to rely on God for healing but not protection, particularly protection from something that Christ has already defeated and has lost its sting?

Does "Christian America" and its need for hand guns actually believe in the Resurrection?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Bread of Life is Not Hollow Audio

Here is the audio of the sermon I preached on John 6.35, 41-51.

Click to download an MP3.

The Bread of Life is Not Hollow

The Rev. Joseph P. Mathews
12 August 2012
Proper 14, B
John 6.31,41-51
Christ Church, Portola Valley, CA

As an undergraduate I spent a lot of time with the same people. College life pre-makes friends for you; people start out new together and finish together. During the four (or more) years it takes, you have to eat, so you may as well eat with people you like.

Our time together didn’t usually end when we’d finished eating, though. We would go to our college ministry’s building and watch TV, do homework, or engage in Bible study. Often we would spend from lunch until time for bed with one another.

Far too often, though, we found ourselves in the kitchen between meals.

Despite how much we may have eaten in the Saga – the campus dining hall – or how much pizza from Hungry Howie’s we ate, we were hungry again a few hours later.

In time we came to have a term for describing the food more than the subsequent hunger: hollow. Hungry Howie’s was hollow. Saga was hollow. A friend at another campus ministry’s lasagna was hollow.

There was a lot on the outside, but there didn’t seem to be anything on the inside. The food was hollow and we were hungry again.

In today’s Gospel text, Jesus is offering an alternative to hollow food: the Bread of Heaven, his very flesh.

Two weeks ago we heard of Jesus feeding the five thousand. After he left them, they followed him and went looking for him.

Jesus said to them last week, “You are only following because you’re hungry, not because you actually believe in me. Don’t work for chase and gorge yourselves on hollow food. Find the food that lasts forever.”

They listen to him and ask him to give it to them always and he replies by telling them that he is the bread of life, and whoever comes to him will never be hungry or thirsty.

And today he amps it up: He is the bread of life, and not only will those who eat him not be hungry, but they will live forever. While his initial hearers may have recoiled at the idea of eating Jesus’ flesh, John’s community didn’t.

As Taylor Burton-Edwards points out, Jesus is the bread of heaven. Jesus – the incarnate Word living and breathing among them – is clearly flesh. He is the bread who in giving of himself gives flesh for a feast.

Following Jesus, these early Christians – and we today – presented themselves in the bread and wine.

Following Jesus means following him to the end, which he starts to foreshadow today.

Jesus’ saying, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” is John’s community reminding itself that Jesus gave up himself.

He placed us first, and following Jesus means giving ourselves up to God and for one another.

When we make Eucharist together we model this and remind ourselves of it.

We offer ourselves to God and to one another.

About the Eucharist St. Augustine said, “Be what you see, and receive what you are.”

The bread and wine we present to God are somehow transformed by grace into Christ’s Body and Blood. The earliest Christians didn’t try to explain how it happened, they just believed it as they gathered, having been transformed by grace in their baptisms, into Christ’s Body.

As Christ’s body in the world we live now meeting needs – physical and spiritual – just like Jesus did.

In living now, we look for the age to come, but don’t wait for it as the world around us crumbles. The crowd Jesus is talking to in our passage followed him because he’d fed their hunger.

Jesus’ promise to never be hungry is an offer for a fuller life dependent on him and relying less on ourselves as we continually give ourselves to God and of ourselves to those around us, in meeting needs of stranger and friend without though or expectation of payment or reciprocation.

As Derek Webb prays for his fans, may the bread on our tongues leave a trail of crumbs that brings the hungry back to this place that we are from.

This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die…whoever eats this bread will live forever.