The Scripture Texts for Proper 16, Year B, Track 1:
1 Kings 8: 1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43 | Psalm84 | Ephesians 6:10-20 | John 6:56-69
John 6:56-69: Jesus said, “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.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
What comes to your mind when you think of the word “dwell”?
It’s a lovely word to me, one that seems to pull the mouth into a smile just by forming the word. And the smile is naturally appropriate as it also makes me think of both my sense of home and well-being combined into one.
For most of us, what comes to mind when we consider where we dwell is that place we call home, that place where we are comfortable, where we can be who we are without pretense, without being judged. And because we are comfortable there,we remain for a time, staying however long we intend, hopefully on our terms.
Our home is our dwelling, our nest of well-being.
Often we shape the space around us to match our personalities or our aim for productivity. Sometimes, as is the case for architects ro designers, dwelling places are created for others.
I suppose King Solomon was an architect of sorts,overseeing the construction of a temple, the Temple that would by no means contain God but would at least be worthy of housing the name of God. The ark of the covenant–which is said to have held the very tablets that Moses carried–could reside in the Holy of Holies, and when the faithful needed a place to turn toward God in prayer or move toward God in pilgrimage, they could turn or move toward the Temple. The presence of God dwelled in that holy place but not only there.
“The glory of the LORD filled the (whole) house of the LORD,” and “even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain” the LORD our God.
God is too immanent, too transcendent for any one house or dwelling place.
Even though God is too big, we still try to put God some place, don’t we? It’s easier if we keep God stationary so we can feel like we’ve got something figured out, but maybe our ancestors were keeping God’s dwelling a little too separate, exercising personal piety a little too vigorously, or allowing other gods–pagan or material–to get in the way of true relationship with God. We as humanity needed a different understanding of God, so God came along and shook things up for us by sending Jesus.
Jesus defies what we thought we knew about God, exceeding the limits of our understanding. God can’t be just all out there because Jesus is all here, too. As Episcopalians, we have a leg up on being a both-and kind of people, but in the days of our forefathers and foremothers, Jesus was rocking the boat.
Jesus, Son of God, Word made flesh, did not cloister himself in a curtained room in a temple or in a place set apart. Sure, he retreated for prayer, but what we mostly have are accounts of Jesus in the midst of the people–and not just with his inner circle but also with those with whom he shouldn’t mingle.
So, where did Jesus dwell?
Both Matthew and Luke capture Jesus telling a would-be follower that “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mtw 8:20, Lk 9:58). Jesus never really stayed any one place for too long. It wasn’t like he had a private jet or a chauffeur taking him from place to place, either. He walked.
The experience of your environment changes as you walk: you see, hear, and smell things you hadn’t noticed before. Your sense of distance shifts, as you realize that it’s not really possible to do everything you thought you needed to do in one day.
If you’re lucky to have sidewalks, you notice how well-maintained they are . . . or aren’t, especially if you’re pushing a stroller or cart or are dependent on a wheelchair.
You notice trash and the weather and the condition of your own body. Perhaps you feel the glances or stares of the people passing you by. You’re vulnerable not only to the elements but also to the hospitality of others, particularly if you’re homeless. This is the way Jesus took, walking along the paths of the people, without a comfortable bed to call his own.
Where did Jesus dwell, then?
I venture to say that while he lived and walked among the people, he truly dwells in the Father. It is in God that Jesus has his true home and well-being. Jesus tells us that if we eat him and drink his blood, we dwell in him and he in us. The only thing separating us from dwelling with Jesus is our own willingness to take him fully into our lives.
This teaching is difficult, as the disciples themselves said. It goes against some basics of Jewish tradition on one hand and common sense on the other. The flesh is reserved for the offering in the Temple, and the blood, the essence of life, was God’s alone. Observant Jews wouldn’t think of eating the flesh or drinking the blood. And now Jesus is also saying, “Consume me to dwell in me and I in you.” We are to eat our dwelling?
Jesus doesn’t say take a nibble every now and then. The Greek word (TρωγωΝ) means to chew. Take him in and chew, ingesting fully. Take Jesus all into your life, your being, for it is the only way to dwell in God.
Jesus means what he says.
Where does that leave us?
It leaves us where Jesus says it does: God dwelling in me and me dwelling in God. Anywhere. Everywhere. There is no place that we can go or will go that God isn’t there or hasn’t always been.
The God of Solomon that we couldn’t conceive of containing is the same God that’s telling us, showing us, that God exists in the confines of our physical reality, too. God’s presence is all-inclusive, fully transcendent.
When we allow ourselves to dwell in the spiritual realm, we, too, transcend to experience unity with God, dwelling with God. Our awareness doesn’t generally allow ourselves to stay long in this divine union, but knowing that it’s possible, that it’s ours to claim–it’s what the mystics ultimately proclaim and what our psalmist today yearns for:
to dwell in the presence of God.
It is with and through God that we seek to live our lives because that is the only assurance of joy we have, where our happiness resides.
Like Peter, we’ve discerned that there is nowhere else to go, no one else to follow because we have experienced the presence of God, tasted the sweetness of the Breath of Life. Once we believe and know — like Peter and the faithful disciples —that Jesus is the Holy One of God, we realize that even if we turn away from the hard road ahead, we will know no peace, we will not find the beloved dwelling of God, no matter where we live physically or with what we surround or preoccupy ourselves.
It is no insignificant thing that we come together on Sundays and other occasions for the sacrament of Holy Communion. We come to the table to eat the flesh and drink the blood, and if we never thought about it before, we know now that one of the consequences is that we dwell in Christ, and Christ dwells in us. We are willingly saying with our outstretched hands,
“God, dwell in me.”
We, who have been marked as Christ’s own forever, are one way through which Christ moves about in our world today. We don’t enclose ourselves in the church as if it were a fortress, but we do, like Paul says, put on the whole armor of God and walk out of this place knowing the Lord dwells within us.