11 Pentecost—Proper 13-B
August 5, 2018
Exodus 16:2-4,9-15, Psalm 78:23-29, Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6:24-35
I imagine most parents would agree with me that we learn more about ourselves and life from raising our kids, than our kids learn from us! My daughter’s here today and that certainly applies to her, just as it applies to her brother, Andy: I remember when I took Andy out to the tennis club to hit a basket of balls, and at one point I thought his attitude could use some improvement, and pretty soon it was clear my attitude could use some improvement. Things started melting down from there and I finally said to him in exasperation, “You’re acting like a child!” and he looked up at me and calmly said, “I am a child.”
Which was true—he was ten!
So he had an excuse for not acting like an adult, but what was my excuse since I was 41?
Paul is writing to adults at the church in Ephesus, when he says, “We must no longer be children….”
Paul isn’t trying to shame these Gentile Christians, but to instruct them to guard against being deceived by those who would lead them away from Christ and back into the shallow end of the pool with the babies who can’t swim.
Paul calls them to grow up into the “Unity of the faith”. This unity for Paul starts in the local church, as a sign to the world that through the cross Jesus tore down the walls dividing humanity. What an enormous scandal it is, therefore, for Christians to act as if the wall was still there! What a scandal if, as used to be said, 10 o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America–at the local church.
Paul says quit acting like children in a sand box who refuse to play with the new kid, who doesn’t look, sound, and think as we do.
Paul then calls the Ephesian Christians to grow-up into the “knowledge of the Son of God”: We grow in our knowledge of Christ not only by reading about Christ, as important as that is, but also by putting into practice what Christ models for us.
Paul says drop the illusion that we learned all there is to know about Triune God when we were in confirmation or CCD classes and live into the truth that discipleship is a lifetime project.
Paul certainly knows that practicing unity is hard, but exciting, when we step out of our bubble to relate to someone who sees the world from a different perspective.
He knows growing in our relationship with Christ is hard, but exciting, when we finally decide to read the Bible and mindfully rest in Christ’s loving presence every day, even if for only 5 minutes.
Growing in the unity and knowledge of Christ are practices that cost us time, energy, and comfort, but under the direction of the Spirit they lead us toward maturity, which Paul describes as, “the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
But Paul’s vision includes but is much bigger than individual Christians getting more mature and the local parish breaking down more barriers. The vision driving Paul to make those dangerous missionary trips by land and sea is not the desire to start a new religion, called Christianity, which will compete with Judaism. Not at all—Paul never for one second stops believing in the God of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, and the Prophets. After Christ is revealed in him on the road to Damascus, what changes and re-centers everything, is that Paul now believes that the Crucified Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah of Israel and is the savior and king of the world.
What drives Paul, as N T Wright says in his wonderful new biography of Paul, is the belief that Christ has called him to implement, “an experiment in a new way of being human, of being human together, that had never been tried in the world before.” Loc 1667
“An experiment in a new way of being human, of being human together.”
This is what we are called into as followers of Jesus Christ. It’s not about making a name for our church, or having lots of programs, or even filling pews—rather it is about “a new way of being human, of being human together.”
When we continually expand the variety of people who are welcomed into our hearts and into Christ’s church and when we grow in the love of Christ Crucified, then we are practicing CHRIST’S new way of being human, of being human together.
My son had a good excuse for his behavior that day on the tennis court: he was a child, dealing with a father who had “not attained to the fullness of the stature of Christ.”
I take comfort that this is also true of all of us who follow Jesus; because our world keeps feeding us cultural assumptions, a spiritual junk food that is meant to keep us immature, so we can be easily manipulated by the Powers that Be.
There are numerous destructive ideas our culture feeds us so it can control us: such things as “blaming others for my feelings and failings”; “seeking revenge instead of practicing forgiveness”; “serving self instead of serving the Common Good”; “building community through the scapegoating of strangers”.
In the reading from Exodus, Israel has to decide if they’d rather be in Egypt, eating junk food of slavery or be in the desert eating the Manna from God as free women and men, which is a foretaste of the Eucharistic banquet where every week we take into ourselves the enfleshed vitality and vision of Jesus Christ.
We were talking about these same readings Thursday night at the prison, and I asked the four Roman Catholic prisoners how they understood the metaphor of Jesus saying “I am the Bread of Life”.
One of the guys quietly says, “For me, it’s not a metaphor. I eat the Body of Christ every week at Eucharist. I bow to the Jesus in the tabernacle every time I enter the chapel. No, it’s not a metaphor for me.”
In his life and especially in his death Jesus shows us what HIS “new way of being human in community” looks like. Jesus’s solution for saving the world from violence and fear is to create communities filled with his Spirit that are willing to live, love, and serve as Christ.
Raising kids, or working with kids, or just being around the inner child in everyone, opens us to the painful self-knowledge that we are always in need of growing up, that we have not yet grown into the full stature of Christ.
So we like the children of Israel, need bread for the journey.
When we come to the altar in a few minutes with our hands outstretched, we are not coming just for a metaphor but for the very life, energy, and vision of Christ for we believe Jesus when he says:
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”