By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 29, 2021
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James 1:17–27 (ESV)
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
We have spent a great deal of time discussing the concepts surrounding bread over the past few weeks. For some of us this might have been slightly annoying because what can we really learn from bread. For others I hope it has given you a greater understanding of what the sacred meal, and every meal really means to us, both physically and spiritually.
The elements of communion are more than a ceremony but they are an invitation. An invitation from God, to sit at his table to discuss, among other things, peace and reconciliation. I love this image. It is such a real and tangible thing to grasp, but I think we have made it ritualistic, and in some ways emptied the symbol of all its real transformative power. Once something becomes routine, we often forget, why it is even there. This is why I gladly support the Friends view of things. Not because I reject the use of traditional elements, but because I want us to focus on the reality behind and within what is going on. And that reality is always available because the Spirit of God is ever present.
Last week, I mentioned that the eating of the flesh of Christ and the drinking of the blood has deep meaning. The blood of a living creature represents life, and it was sacred no matter what kind of animal it was. All blood belongs to God and was not to be eaten by those who were part of God’s people. They took this command seriously. Blood was collected from the animals that were being processed for food, and this blood was to be buried in the ground. This burial represents the giving back to God the things that are His. God gave all living creatures life, so that organ that represents life is returned to the earth from which God had called it from in creation.
The concept surrounding this giving of the flesh and blood to be consumed is deeper than just a meal. When we share a meal, we share life. This gathering together around a table is more than just maintaining the energy to survive, but it is a building of community. Those that share a table are at peace with each other. For a family to eat together at a table, is a testimony to each one present and anyone else that may observe that we are in this together. I share that which maintains and sustains life both within the food, but this also extends beyond the table. If we share a meal, if we are at peace with each other, we proclaim that we will support and encourage their continued wellbeing. A meal is to be shared. A meal should be a time of celebration and community. It should be a testimony of our dedication to the one that gives life and a statement that we will do what we can to support life together.
Bread is more than just bread. Bread is life, bread is the word of life, bread is the source or the beginning of wisdom. We do not and cannot be at our best without food in our bellies. When children come to school hungry, they are unable to concentrate and therefore are at a disadvantage to learn. There is a direct connection to hunger and the ability to process knowledge. When we feed our children, we support and maintain a brighter future. But what type of future do we desire?
Last week I mentioned a passage in James, and we are going to look deeper into this book for the next couple of weeks. I Like the letter of James. It is often regarded as the first of the catholic letters by scholars. Which is something that we might find as odd, but when scholars say catholic, they mean universal, or general. The protestant reformation caused many to reject the use of this word, so many evangelical scholars call the catholic letters the general epistles, meaning they are not written to one particular church, but were letters written for the general encouragement of all the churches. Even though James is the first in our list of general epistles, it was one of the last books of scripture to be generally accepted by the church as being part of the cannon. There are many reasons for this, mainly because of who is believed to have been the author. Tradition tells us that James, the brother of Jesus, wrote the letter. But the reason this is called into question is because it is written so well. I find that funny. We question the validity of something because it is written too well. They have a point. James, the brother of Jesus, was not an educated man in the standards of the world, so when a letter attached to his name is written so well it does beg to question if he wrote it or someone else wrote it. This does not matter. Every book you buy today may be written by an author, but before it gets to your hands, the words written have gone through a collaborative editing process. This means that someone with language knowledge meets with the author in some manner and helps the author convey what they had written in a more coherent manner. James was regarded as a very important individual within the church of Jerusalem. If James was as important as scripture says he was in Jerusalem, there would be people working with him to make sure what was said and written clearly expresses what James wanted the churches to know.
There are other problems though. Martin Luther, one of the greatest theological minds within the church especially among protestants, did not like James. He felt that the words written with this letter contradicted the teachings of Paul. Especially the core tenet of reformed theology that a person is justified not by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. This view, though not widely accepted since we still have James in our bibles, was taught really until recently. And the most recent scholarship has found that Paul and James simply had a different approach in speaking. James largely spoke from a community sense, where Paul spoke largely on an individuals place within the community.
This is important. We are individuals but we are also a community. We do not exist in isolation. We cannot exist in isolation. Our mental and physical health requires that we maintain some contact with other human beings. Everything about our human existence requires community to exist. I have mentioned that there is a myth that we often perpetuate in our American culture, of the self-made individual. This is a myth because no one is self-made. Your education was community based, even if you did not attend school, the knowledge you have was passed on to you by others, and you have built on that knowledge that was given to you. Your financial success was not made in isolation, even if you manufacture or provide a service yourself, you make those products and provide serves to someone. Your community has made you who you are. And what you contribute to others can either encourage or discourage the growth of the community.
James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
You are here for a reason. God wants you here. Though the generations of history that has gone before and the generations that will come after, God has worked everything out for you to be in this place at this time. This might sound a bit like predestination, but here me out. God began something in creation that he has not given up on. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and on the sixth day of creation God created mankind. He placed them in a garden and walked with them in the cool of the evening. God created us to participate with him in the joy of his creation. But mankind in that perfect place, within that communion with God, listened to another voice, the voice of the serpent. This serpent convinced them that maybe they could gain something they wanted, even needed by taking what was not given to them. This is what we call the fall. I want us to think about this for a moment. Could it be that the knowledge that Adam and Eve so desperately desired, was the knowledge that God wanted them to possess? Could it be that the knowledge was not the sin but the sin was that they sought to obtain the knowledge outside of God’s original plan?
This is what James is suggesting. The term Father of Lights is only used in this letter, and most scholars believe that by using this term James is speaking about creation. But the phrase speaks not about the creation of humanity but the creation of celestial bodies, or heavenly beings. These heavenly beings were created as part of God’s family or community. God has always wanted a community. And when creation occurred God spoke with these heavenly bodies to collaborate with how to continue creation. Let us make man in our image. And God placed them in a garden, in the garden. He placed them in that place where heaven and Earth met. God placed Adam and Eve within the place where God lives.
The beginning of creation begins with light, and God created that light with a word. Words are the vessels of wisdom. We use words to transmit knowledge from one to another. And the beginning of this transmission of wisdom was the utterance of the words to create light. Light, word, and wisdom have always been connected. And light, words, and wisdom have always been connected within the ancient world with the gods.
It was God’s desire that we would have the knowledge he created us to obtain. James says that every good gift is from the Father of Lights. “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” We were created to be God’s ambassadors over all of creation. We were created to be the administrators, the carriers of God’s wisdom to all creatures. We were God’s final creation. The greatest creature. Over the angels, created to be God’s voice and the transmitters of God’s truth. But the fall of humanity occurred when we desired to obtain that knowledge outside of God, we listened to the creatures instead of the creator. The serpent in that story, could be one of those heavenly bodies created by God. They had knowledge but were giving it out in a way that was not approved by the Father of Lights.
Even though our first parents fell, God did not change his plans. He continued to encourage us and guide us in the knowledge of the world. But our relationship was changed. We no longer had communion with God in the way that we once did. Death had entered the world and the Father of Lights the creator of life cannot be approached unless the stain of death is alleviated.
This is our rightful place. We were created to walk with God. We were created to attend to creation as God’s voice and instruments. But we in our desire for immediate gratification listened to other voices and the fruit we were created to bear became bitter.
“Knowing this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
We were created to be in relationship with God. We were created to have all the knowledge of creation so that we could move forth from the Garden and bear the light of truth to the world. But we got in a rush. We misused that which God gave us and were banished from the Garden because within that Garden was another tree, the tree of life. We could not have access to that tree, because we did not know how to use the knowledge, we now had access to.
Everything we have access to is a good and perfect gift from God. This world is filled with great wonders. Every single day we discover new uses for things that at one point we considered to be useless. Every day we discover and uncover more knowledge, but how do we use it? Humanity discovered fire. An amazingly wild energy source. We used it to make food more palatable. It provided protection from predators, and it illuminated the darkness. But it did not take us long to use that amazing source of energy against those we regarded as enemies.
We can use the knowledge we have for good or evil. And at times we cannot even distinguish between the two. James tells us to be quick to hear. What does it mean to hear? Light and Word are often used in reference to knowledge and wisdom. Sight and hearing are the sensory devices our bodies use to process light and sound. These are the processes we gain wisdom.
James tells us to be quick to hear. We should have a desire to gain knowledge. We should seek it out, devour it in many cases. Because that is what we were created to do. We need the knowledge so that we can take our place at God’s side over creation, but what do we do with that knowledge? Slow down. Our fall was a result of our desire to act before we processed knowledge. We wanted the fullness before God had a chance to reveal what we needed to know.
One of the greatest aspects of being a pastor is when I see, during a conversation, when something clicks into place within someone’s mind. I am sure this happens with many teachers in other fields as well. But when that single piece of information clicks into place, suddenly there is a rush of understanding. When I first became a pastor there was one student in the church’s youth group. I spent a great deal of time with this student. We would have bible studies that would often last three hours. He was home schooled and his parents worked nights so they were glad that he was with me instead of somewhere else. We would have these discussions and we would call them Bunny trail bible studies. One thing would lead to another and that would lead to something else and then at the end of three hours we would try to come back to the point and figure out how or why all of this was important. We must do that last part or we have failed.
“Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Anger is the use of knowledge, or the misuse of knowledge. I want you to think of a time you were angry. What were you angry about? What prompted the anger? When I have an argument nearly every time it is because of a lack of communication. Somewhere along the line either I did not hear or convey the knowledge and as a result I reacted without full knowledge. I know this is true. We make assumptions as humans. We assume that someone knows, what we have not confirmed. We assume that our spouse knows that we need something but we have failed to confirm that. When they go to the store and fail to purchase the item, we assume they knew we needed, we get angry. Why? We did not take the time to confirm that the knowledge was transmitted. We like to say that finances are the number one cause of divorce. The truth is that assumptions are the number one cause.
Be slow to anger. Process the knowledge we have and ask questions. Do your best to not act until you have a clear way forward and that those around you also possess the same knowledge. Be slow to react, so that we have time to process the situation. Be slow because our actions have consequences that affect more than we might be aware of. We need to slow down because we do not exist in isolation. We live within communities, every action we enact ripples through the community in some way. And that action can either encourage or discourage someone in their lives. James encourages us, “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” These are the actions that we do that are done without regard for those around you. These are our selfish desires. When we pursue these things without considering others, we risk causing harm. Is it wrong to fulfill the desires of our body? No but when we satisfy those desires without considering others around us, we can cause harm. Is it wrong to protect my family with force? No, but there is a line where protection can cross over into revenge and revenge can start a cycle of hatred and disregard for human life which is war. Be slow to anger, be disciplined in our actions and reactions and focus on what is most important.
The most important thing is to participate in what God initiated. The Father of Lights created all things and gave them to us as gifts to be used for his pleasure. We as humans in our rush to obtain and to move things along listened to the voices of lesser beings and took was not ours to be had at that moment and we caused our own destruction. From that moment on God has tried to rebuild and reverse the injury we have caused and has called out to us to join him in that process. But all too often we misunderstand and are quick to act without full knowledge. So, God became the offering of peace for us. He sent His unique son to dwell with us. And Jesus, the incarnate word, reveals to us what God really wants. Jesus, the incarnate word, provided the means and the way to restore us to our rightful places among the community of Lights, through his death and resurrection. God, incarnate, defeated death for us and through him we can be restored to life. But why? Why did Christ do this? He did this because we were created to care for world that God created.
James concludes this section by saying, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” I want that to soak into our minds and spirits. This is a call for holiness yes, but it is more. It is a call to communion and peace with God. It is a call to turn away from the selfish pursuit of knowledge that causes harm and a return to the slowness of community where we walk together in truth. It is a call to return to God, and to participate with Christ in the restoration of humanity, where we can once again manage creation in the light and truth of the Father of Lights. This is a difficult task set before us. It is also a necessary task. There is pain and brokenness all around us, but we cannot be instruments of healing until we are quick to hear, and slowly process how to move forward together.
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By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 22, 2021
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John 6:56–69 (ESV)
56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
The past couple of weeks I hope I have challenged how we think about some of the traditional icons of Christian worship. When we mention things, in a meeting for worship, like bread or blood our mind usually goes to the sacramental elements. And for those of us that have been part of Friends for a while know that these elements are not common in our tradition of worship. For those of us that have not been part of Friends for long or have only attended a meeting for worship a few times might have noticed these things are not common among Friends.
I want us to know the deepness of what Jesus is telling us. Life is deep. The words that we use within a conversation are usually chosen to convey a specific meaning to those that we are speaking to. I grew up in a very rural part of North Central, Kansas. I will sometimes joke about where I lived as being a mile from the middle of nowhere because on a rainy day my uncle and I were bored and we got a map out and found the spot near where we lived that was the central point between the towns in our area, that point was about a mile from my house. And its also fun to say because I also grew up not far from the geological center of America. If you were to make an x across the United States where the lines meet is about twenty miles from where I lived. I mention this because it is very rural, most of the people in my class in school were in the same classroom with the same students every year from kindergarten through their senior year of high school. I was not that student. My family moved back home after my mother completed her degree, so I transferred into elementary school in my hometown in the third grade. When I first started, I did not know many people. I could not laugh at the same jokes, because I did not have the context of what was being said. I spent that first year of school struggling to make friends, because the only people I knew were my cousins.
All of us have been in that position. When we start a new job, we must learn the language of the workplace. When I moved from Walmart to target it took a year of constant corrections from my team leaders before I was able to refer to the patrons of our facility in the proper way. Just so you know Target does not have customers they have guests, Sam’s Club has members, and customers go to Walmart. Its all the same but until you really learn the difference of the language you feel like an outsider. Maybe you joined a social club and someone made a comment that you did not understand and everyone laughed except you. In that situation you might have felt as if those around you were making some reference to you personally, but the reality is that you were outside the inside joke.
I bring all this up because sometimes we use and see words being used and we consider the words in a context that may or may not work. That is what happens with the passages we have been reading the past couple of weeks. Jesus speaks about bread and automatically our minds are drawn not to look at the words on the page but they are taken to a tradition practiced by expressions of faith. Jesus says he is the bread that comes down from heaven, our minds think communion and we miss the context.
I have spent the time focusing on these things. We need to know why bread, flesh, blood, and drink are important in the context of those within Jesus’s contemporary culture or we will miss something. And the things that we miss skew our perception of faith.
Again, we begin where we left off last week. Jesus says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” First off this is an extremely shocking statement, not only because of the obvious cannibalistic image it gives, but because Jesus was saying consumes my blood. Today it is not as shocking because we have romanticized vampires to such a degree that they are no longer horrific legends but instead the heart throbs of teen magazines. Is Jesus wanting us to become vampires? See how easy it is to begin looking at scripture out of context. But vampirism is not why I say this is shocking, the shocking part is the concept of consuming blood in general. This was forbidden in the dietary laws of Israel. The blood was offered to God in sacrifice, and what was not offered was to be buried in the earth. The taboo of consuming blood was so important that kosher meat is often rubbed with salt, so that the salt will draw out the most minute amounts of blood left within the meat. Why was such great care given to this one portion of the body? Blood symbolized the life force.
We can understand that concept, but do we understand the significance? I do not think we fully understand the concept in our culture today. My ancestry comes primarily from England, with some seasoning from other European regions. In England they do not hold blood in the same regard. I have never even been to England and do not even know much about their colorful history but I can say this knowing I am right for one reason, the traditional English breakfast. The traditional English breakfast consists of bacon, sausages, eggs, black pudding, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, toast, and a beverage like tea. This does not sound too bad, except beans on toast sounds a bit weird. But what is black pudding? To put it simply it is a type of sausage made from blood, why they call it pudding is beyond me, but I will let someone else tackle that. The bacon and sausages are not the thing of this traditional breakfast that would make Hebrews quiver, even though we all know that pork products are not kosher, but the black pudding. There was a different approach to handling of this one organ.
One group took great care in removing all traces of blood from animals prepared for human consumption, and then disposed of it in an almost ritualistic manner to bring honor to the animal that gave its life to feed a family. The other group looks upon everything as food. One group expresses honor and the other consumes. I do want us to let that sit in our minds for a moment. The handling of that one organ within the body speaks volumes into the differences within the cultures.
The Hebrew people respected all creatures with blood. Those creatures were given life by God and that life which was given to them by the same God that created us should be honored and respected. One should not take life unnecessarily and when we do, we should still honor the life and praise the one that gives all life.
There are other cultural groups that express this type of ritualistic honor toward animals. And I respect that concept. I am not saying that I am vegan, far from it. But I respect life and the one that gave life. As I mention often, I grew up in rural Kansas, and one of the greatest attractions to Kansas is the wildlife. Every year people from all over the country will make special trips to Kansas to have the opportunity to hunt pheasants. I have participated in pheasant hunting, but in my mind, chicken is a whole lot easier to obtain. I have this bad attitude mainly because I am left-handed which meant that I was always delegated to a certain side of the group. If you have not hunted pheasants, you might not understand, but when there is a group hunting together, they will usually form a line and walk through an area. I was left-handed so while walking I would carry my gun differently which made all the right-handed people nervous. I was put on one end. The problem was that if I was on the end, if I shot a bird so did everyone else. I rarely claimed anything. But there were times I did kill a bird. When this happened, I always felt something profound, yes, I was going to eat this creature, but I also respected it. Pheasants are beautiful birds, one of the most beautiful birds in North America. There was one year when I was hunting and I was unable to find the bird that I shot. This was laid heavy on my heart. I had taken life in vain. That animal lost its life without honor and I felt wasteful. I am not advocating a diet plan but we should not waste meat. Those creatures that gave their lives so others can survive should not have their lives wasted, but they should be used properly.
Jesus said he is the bread from heaven. As I studied bread, I realized that there was more to that statement than mere bread. Jesus was saying that he was the one that sustained life. He was also saying that he was the one from which wisdom came from because the manna became a symbol of the wisdom of God which also sustains life. But it does not stop there, bread was also a significant part of the worship, along with flesh. Jesus moves on from speaking about bread, saying that the bread he gives is his flesh. I connected the bread and the flesh with the one offering to God that the worshiper fully participated in, the peace offering. Which represented the worshiper and those invited, sharing a meal with God. Jesus is saying that he is the one that came down from heaven, and that he is the bread and the flesh. He is the peace offering.
But there is more to it. He says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” Blood was not mentioned until the end. Why, because blood is life. During this whole conversation that Jesus is having with these religious leaders he is telling them, using their own symbolism, that he is God incarnate. He gives and preserves life, but he does this in a strange way.
For me I just wished Jesus would have said it simply, it almost offends my Quaker testimony of simplicity that Jesus uses so many words to express what could have been summed up in three. He could have just said, “I am God.” But he does not do that. He forces them to think about it what he is saying. And then he goes into this weird tirade about eating him. What does that all mean?
Those that listened to him during that conversation had trouble as well. They responded, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” And many turned away from Jesus at that time. Who wants to be associated with this weird guy that talks about people eating human bodies and living forever? Even the twelve were confused.
It is deep. Who gives life? Who sustains life? How do we obtain the things that maintain our life? Who do we share those things with and why? Many will say that everything spoken in this passage is speaking of the ceremony of the Eucharist or the elements of communion. Many would say that Jesus is introducing the idea of his own death and resurrection in this passage even though this is many chapters prior to the last supper. But I do think it is connected to some degree, and I say this as a Friends pastor.
I make this distinction for a reason. Our faith tradition emerged during a troubled time in England, the English civil war. During this time people of faith were battling to the death over expressions of faith and how to do them properly. There was a great deal more than that as well but the church was right in the middle and the clergy were inspiring the people to participate in the cause of war. Our spiritual ancestors were seekers during this time. Seeking to make sense of this troubled world. They were asking where is God in all of this? George Fox and the others found that if we truly seek God and are silent before him, he will be our ever-present teacher and guide. These early Friends formed a group or society that would meet to worship in silence expecting to be led by the Spirit of God. Many would be inspired to speak and to teach others were inspired to start businesses or ministries to promote greater devotion. But everyone developed an understanding that rituals of faith are empty unless the Truth is not in it. They were watching Parliamentarians and Monarchists battling against each other and both battling under the banner of their faith. They both claimed Christ, but where was Christ? Their faith was empty because their lives and lifestyles did not reflect the words they uttered by their mouth. Those early Friends lived lives of faith. They promoted simplicity, peace, integrity, community, and equality three hundred years ago and we still promote that today. And we do this because that is what we believe Christ taught.
The rituals are empty without the truth. The early Friends did not wish to diminish the truth. They saw countless people confessing faith and participating in the rituals of the church on Sunday, and on Monday they were out brutalizing and extorting the others. As a result, they took the advice of James, show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works. How can one claim Christ and eat at his table on Sunday and live contrary to the Spirit of Christ? Those early Friends removed the rituals, not because they opposed the truth but because they loved the reality of the truth to such an extent, they did not want to minimize it.
The truth of the bread and wine is that there is a real presence of Christ in and among all things that sustain and maintain life, because life is in them. We should honor that life and praise the life giver. We should do this privately at every meal, and we should do that when we eat within a group. But even that is too small. When Jesus speaks of eating, he means even more. He asked his disciples if they too wanted to leave, and they answered you have the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God. Eating is more than maintaining life. Eating is sharing life with others. If we share life with Christ his life becomes ours and when we share life with others, we share Christ. This is what James means about faith and works. Life with Christ should compel us to live for Christ and share the grace that he has given. You are what you eat.
No, we do not make it a custom to serve the elements of communion as a ritualistic part of our worship, because the reality is that God is with us already. We are not the ones that bring home the bread, but it is God. We have him in the words of scripture and in the prayers of the holy ones that speak his name. He is present as we share a meal around a table on Thanksgiving, and in the breakroom at work. God is with us if we believe, if we repent, and walk with him. And we can do this because Jesus became the peace offering for us through his life, death, and resurrection. Amen.
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By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 15, 2021
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John 6:51–58 (ESV)
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Last week I encouraged us all to look at the study of scripture not as a task, but as an adventure. A journey of exploration and discovery. When I think of this sort of thing my mind is often filled with images from various stories, I have either read or watched on a screen. It is a journey of exploration or a quest. When I think of it as a quest my mind is immediately drawn to the story of King Arthur and the knights of Camelot. I am not a great scholar in the matters of the Arthurian lore, if I want to be totally honest most of my knowledge of Arthur comes from Monty Python, but there is a quest. A quest is more than a simple journey of exploration, when you are sent on a quest your intention is to find or achieve the task set before you. In the case of the Arthurian legends the quest was for the Holy Grail, the cup of Christ, the cup that brings life.
The quest image is what I want us to consider today. Those individuals that are on a quest will not stop for any reason. They are driven to obtain the completion of the quest or to die trying. The reason behind this drive is the understanding that the completion of the quest has great benefit. We have heard of medical researchers that have been pursued their research with a quest type of fervor. They do this because they once knew someone or were possibly related to someone that contracted a disease. That individual they knew either lived in constant pain or suffering, or perhaps they died because the doctors did not know what to do. These researchers saw this happen and something inside of them flipped a switch and everything in their lives changed. They were almost duty bound to find the cure, and they would give their lives to achieve that goal.
That is the type of drive I want us to have when we approach scripture. I want us to look at the words on the page and see them not as good words, but as the words that give life.
There is a problem with this. The words of scripture were not written in English or Swahili. They were written in a language that very few of us really know. And we all know that sometimes things can be lost in translation. At times there are not good words in one language that can fully express what we would like to say so we use the next best thing, but when we use that word, we lose something. We will often see the word love in English, but that word could be several different words in the biblical Greek text. It could be one of four different words that convey a deep affinity but are acted out in a different manner. If we do not take that into account, we risk misinterpreting or misunderstanding how this exceedingly important word should be expressed in our lives.
We are on a quest. Our quest is to know what scripture says because these are the words revealed by the Spirit to teach us of the Word. They are the words given to us to convey the knowledge or wisdom of God. What is said in this book shows us what life with God is and reveals to us how we fit into that life. We are, just like King Arthur, given the quest to find the holy grail, the cup or the vessel that brings life.
We are called to this quest but often we are met with challenges. Many of us have started to read scripture, but we often get to a point where we do not understand what we are reading and we are discouraged and we stop. We look at the pages and it no longer appears to be the grail we seek, but instead it becomes a chamber of secrets. We do not understand so we step back in fear that we might unleash some terrible heresy that will condemn us and entrap those we care for. We stop pursuing the quest we once began and we leave it to those that are stronger or wiser. We then put our trust into those stronger and wiser individuals. This is not entirely bad. Even Arthur that legendary king had companions that assisted him on his quest. The key there is that we assist, we do not walk the path for you. Each of us must walk our own pathway, we each must take that journey ourselves, but the journey is more enjoyable when we have friends to walk with.
Today, as we walk the pathway toward that vessel of life, we come to one of those areas that will often cause people to stumble and stop their journey. It is not surprising even during the days of Jesus many struggled with the words Jesus spoke. John chapter six is a turning point for the ministry of Jesus. Prior to this the questions were largely to determine if they should embrace the teachings of Jesus. Yes, there were times that there were misunderstanding, but by in large those that asked questions were seeking clarification. They were not thrilled with Jesus’ approach, but they could not outright reject what he had to say. But somewhere within this chapter things change.
On the surface we may not really notice what changed. We might simply see some people following Jesus because he has the power to make bread. We can understand this. Who would not want to follow someone that could provide for their basic needs of life? I will be totally honest, if I was offered a job where housing and meals were included with my salary, I would probably take the job. The rule of thumb we are often taught in our society is that we should not spend more than thirty percent of our income on housing. Thirty percent. That is basically one third of our paycheck goes toward keeping rain from our heads while we sleep. The next largest expense in our life is food. In the United States we spend on average six percent of our income on food. On average in the United States right from the start we thirty-six percent of our income is spent on just keeping our immediate needs covered. This ratio unfortunately is not static. The less you make the greater the percentages are and the more income you have the smaller the percentages are. If we were to look at the value of the home of the wealthiest individual in America, the amount spent on their housing each month would be far below thirty percent, where it would be common for many low-income families to be spending over half of their income on rent alone. For many Americans they are required to spend most of their income on supplying the basic needs of life. If I were to be offered a job where these basics of life were provided along with a salary, I would most likely take the position because likely the salary offered would be greater than the amount left over after I paid for the basics of life.
The people were following Jesus because they sought the benefits. That is not faith it is survival. And there is nothing wrong with survival, many of us trust God because we live in a survival mode, we have needs and we do not know where to get them so we have no other option but to trust that God will provide. But what happens when we can provide for ourselves?
The tribes of Israel wondering through the desert were provided with manna from heaven. Their needs were provided for, but as soon as they entered the land of promise that manna stopped coming from the sky and they were required to survive off the produce of the land. In the desert once the grumbling generation had died, all that were left were those that only knew the provision of God. They entered the land with faith, but gradually over time the faith of Israel diminished as they saw themselves as their own provision.
This brings us to today’s passage. Again, we begin this week where we ended last week. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Jesus says. “If anyone east of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
This is where contention emerges. This is where most of us become confused as well. We have a basic understanding of bread. We even understand that Jesus by connecting himself with the manna from heaven is telling us that God is the true source of our provision. But we struggle with the last phrase of that verse. “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The religious leaders disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” In their mind Jesus has just presented something profoundly vile. Cannibalism? Yet, Jesus lets them continue in this line of thinking, even though they have misunderstood the words he has spoken. What is the flesh that Jesus gives?
Last week I mentioned the peace offering. I mentioned that this is the one type of offering where the people giving the offering were invited to participate in it. The offering included bread and flesh. A portion of the bread was given to God to be burned on the altar, and the remaining bread was to be eaten by the worshipers. Then the animal was ritualistically slaughtered and choice pieces of the body were given to God on the altar, and the remaining meat was given back to the worshiper to be eaten and shared in a celebration of peace with God. This offering represented intimacy between God and the people. It represented God sharing a meal with his people. And when we share a meal together there is peace and friendship.
Jesus says that he is the bread, but changes the wording a bit, morphing the bread away from bread the basic staple of life, into flesh the more luxurious aspect of the meal. In the United States, we have a skewed understanding of nutrition. We, by in large, have access to a balanced diet. We do not always take advantage of this access but it is there. We may not have a high protein source of food at every meal but we will most likely have at least one meat a day. In many areas of the world the availability of meat is scarce. To have meat at a meal in this ancient time was a celebration, it was a sign that the worshiper trusted God enough to share the meat.
Jesus turns from the bread to the flesh of the meal. We can look at the Olympic metal counts and see how important the availability of meat is to the physical success and well being of a culture. But I want us to keep in mind the sacrifice or the offering image. The worshiper is bringing the bread and the flesh. In our minds we are the ones that offer worship, we are the ones that come to God with our petitions and our praise. This is no different from the teachings of those ancients in Israel. Many of them believed that if only we were more righteous Messiah would come. They would dedicate their lives and lifestyles merit God’s favor, with the hopes that the kingdom of God would come.
Jesus says that I am the living bread, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. Remember that the bread of worship was a symbol of the wisdom from God, Jesus is saying that he is the source of that wisdom when he is saying that he is the bread of life. He is the source of wisdom. But there is more, John begins his gospel account with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word being spoken of is the term logos. Logos is knowledge or wisdom. This term logos was symbolized in the bread of worship. John goes on to say that through this divine wisdom, logos, everything was created, and nothing was created without this wisdom. Then in verse 1:14 John wrote, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The wisdom of God became flesh. The bread of God became the flesh of God. And that flesh became the peace offering that brings mankind and the divine back into the right relationship. Jesus is the peace offering.
Jesus by speaking those words were telling the religious leaders that their righteous labors were empty. They were rituals performed with empty hopes because the focus was not on the proper place. They were providing offerings from the economy of mankind. The things that we can do and create. What are the deeds of men in relation to the creator of the universe? What is our gold and currency to a being that in a breath can speak the entire world and everything within into existence? Their rituals were empty because they were focused on themselves. We are good enough and God should want to eat with us. The reality is God provides the bread and the meat. God became flesh and lived among us, not because we were good enough but because he loved us anyway. He came full of grace and truth.
Jesus loves us anyway. If we were to look at all the sacrifices, all the rules, and all the laws we can see one thing. We are completely unable to stand before God. The sacrifices were not there to take away the sins, but they were there to keep the impurity of humanity from infecting the places set aside for God. The things labeled unclean many times were things that we have absolutely no control over, and in many cases were human functions that God created within us. Is a child born with a deformity destined for hell? No, but they were not able to come into the sanctuary of God because they were a symbol of the imperfection of humanity brought about from the sin of our first parents. Jesus loves us anyway. We are imperfect, and God knows this so God provides what we cannot give ourselves. We cannot make peace so he does it for us.
The religious leaders still grumble, because Jesus tells them that those that ate the bread of the sacrifices still died. But those that eat the flesh of Christ, the bread that came down from heaven, will live forever. Those that rely of themselves will remain in the same state that they have always been in. But what if we turn? What if we were to take on or eat the flesh of Christ. What if we become like Christ and begin to live within his wisdom? That is what it means to eat the flesh of Christ. It is not necessarily eating but becoming putting on his lifestyle or armor as Paul tells us. When we put on Christ or partake of his life he stands where we cannot for us. His perfection redeems our imperfection. And our imperfection and weakness become his strength. I stand here not in my own strength; this is the last place I want to stand in myself. I know who I am. But I stand because I know that of Christ overcomes. I was once dead, I once lived without a relationship with God, but through Christ I have been changed. I now have peace with God. In Christ I now have friendship with God. And God has sent me on a quest to explore the wonders of who He is.
Will you join the quest and sit at the table he is calling you to? We do not bring anything to the table, but there we do have to respond. God has made peace with us through Christ but we must accept the gift of grace and turn to him. Will you?
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