Calling All Christians

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a | Psalm 51:1-13 | Ephesians 4:1-16 | John 6:24-35

One of my downtime go-to’s, like many people’s, is to watch a show on Netflix. If I could, I’m sure I’d be one of those folks who binge-watches an entire season or four in a day, but my life doesn’t really allow for that. So I enjoy watching a show now and then, and I really like it when I get to share that time with my family (which is usually when I watch something). Recently, a new season of “Anne with an E” came out, and I’m delighted to watch this show with my daughter. Not only do I feel like it’s created beautifully, but it takes my love for Anne of Green Gables from when I was a child and gives me a medium to share it with at least one of my children. In this new series, they’ve taken lots of creative license to flesh out the characters and further develop the side stories that I don’t recall in the books (most likely because they’re not there). One of those stories is about Gilbert Blythe, with whom Anne has a love-hate relationship in their adolescence. The series portrays him attending a birth in a foreign land where the ship he’s working on is at port. There’s something in his presence of mind, skill, and success in that moment that plants a seed for what’s to come, that being his interest in medicine and his eventual profession as a doctor. One might say that he has a “calling” to be a doctor, just as I have a calling to be a priest, Krista a musician, others teachers, nurses, attorneys, care-providers, parents, analysts, managers, and on and on. We all have a vocational calling, whether we are able find it and live into it or not. We have gifts, talents, and skills particular to us to help fill a need in our world.

But have you ever thought about your spiritual calling, “the calling to which you have been called,” as the letter to the Ephesians says? Each of us has been called to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” and to participate and grow in the Body of Christ in love. Fortunately, this calling aligns with our mission: “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

Chances are, we don’t sit around the dinner table and check in with each other about how we’re doing with this calling, with our mission, but that’s why we come to church–to get a Word from God and be fed by Jesus. Because we know that things are out of kilter in our world, in our lives, and as we strive to live a life centered and grounded in Christ, we know we need not only God’s continual mercy but also the help, protection, and goodness that comes from being a part of something much bigger than ourselves.

While I hope it’s not the case for any of us here, we know that there are people for whom the story of David resonates. David, as called as anyone, if not more so because he was chosen by God to be king, is a leader of nations, is beautiful, mighty, and powerful: so powerful was he that he not only had what he needed, but he took what he wanted. He did not ask God’s consent in taking Bathsheba; we don’t have account that he even asked Bathsheba’s consent. David certainly didn’t ask God about taking Uriah’s life, either. David, called and anointed to be king over Israel, in our reading today gets called out by the prophet Nathan. Perhaps it was only through a parable that David could so quickly judge, so blinded and ensnared had he become to his own wrongdoing. But when the wrong of another was understood, then Nathan held up the truth of the matter like a mirror, saying in all boldness and righteousness: “You are the man!” David admits to Nathan: “I have sinned against the LORD.”

It’s easy for us to see how David had disrupted the unity among God’s people, going against the calling of our lives lived in God. What’s done is done, but we hear in Psalm 51 the repentance, David’s turning toward God in prayer. It’s easy to imagine the voice of a king, so proud and powerful, actually taking on the posture of body and spirit with humility and gentleness. When any of us lose our way, that’s what repentance and reconciliation offer us, the means through which to acknowledge the error of our ways and the path toward a life lived worthy of our calling as children of God.

Many of us get on unstable ground when we start thinking of our worthiness of God’s grace and mercy. I attribute this largely to the fact that many of us were taught that God’s grace and mercy are conditional; only if we do or don’t do certain things are we assured to receive God’s blessing.

Fortunately, God is greater than our fragile egos and misshapen theology.

Even though Jesus seems to be getting a little irritated with the masses, his compassion never wavers. They came to Jesus in their illness, discontent, dis-ease, and/or curiosity. They were fed, and Jesus calls them out for coming back to him for more food to fill their bellies. (Maybe they’re even more like sheep than he originally thought!) But these are children of God, too, who are called to be fed and nourished by Jesus Christ. These are people for whom Jesus came to show the Way of Love; they are people called to live in unity, giving glory to God. The thing is that the people don’t know their power. They probably don’t know their worthiness, either. In a culture where only the high priests approach the altar, where sacrifices were required for atonement, where there were probably more limitations as to what one could do rather than possibilities, it’s understandable that they wouldn’t see their potential, their calling to be a vital part of the spiritual presence on earth.

I wonder how many people feel that way today. Or, if people do open up with humility and gentleness, patience and love, I wonder how many are overwhelmed and turn away from the suffering and turn toward the imaginary stories on t.v. from the comfort of our homes.

No matter what we’ve done or what we don’t know, we all now know that we are called–from our baptism–to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called. We are born of the image of God to maintain the unity of Spirit in peace and to build up the Body of Christ–the Church–in love. It’s so simple that it’s hard because we might find ourselves like Paul, a prisoner in the Lord, bound in willing servitude to glorify God, freely giving our lives over to God’s will.

There’s not one right way to do this.

At the vestry retreat we had last weekend, I asked our Vestry if they had ever done a spiritual gifts inventory. They all just kind of looked at me, and our Senior Warden kindly reminded me that their vocational world isn’t necessarily like mine, where my vocational and spiritual callings are intertwined. I also asked if the Vestry had thought about their leadership strengths and weaknesses in relation to their service in the church. Most hadn’t, even though many have been using their strengths already. The first step, though, was creating an awareness of gifts and strengths that are readily available, if not already in practice. Next steps include identifying where, when, and how those gifts might be shared or required.

In all this talk of “calling,” we’re likely to miss the crucial component of listening. David’s pride could have prevented him from hearing and truly understanding Nathan’s parable. Jesus’s call to the people that he is “the bread of life,” that all who come to him will never be hungry and all who believe in him will never be thirsty, could have–and may have–turned away those who only had ears to hear promises of fast food and quick fixes.

So as you’ve listened this day and been made aware of your spiritual calling to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace and to build up the Body of Christ in love, what do you hear the Holy Spirit stirring within you? What gifts do you know that you have? Are you curious to know more? (Because we’ll do a similar spiritual gifts inventory in Christian Education within the next year.) Do you need the exercise of repentance and reconciliation to get back on track, or do you just need to engage in the knowledge that your life–each of our lives–have value and purpose in building up the Body of Christ?

God knows I don’t have all the answers for myself or for each of you, but God knows that I am a willing participant and patient shepherd, fed and nourished like you by Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.

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Jesus Feeds His People

Sermon at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 2 August 2015

The Scripture Texts for Proper 13, Year B, Track 2  are:

Exodus 16:2-4,9-15 | Psalm 78:23-29 | Ephesians 4:1-16 | John 6:24-35

Jesus has a way of attracting the crowds, doesn’t he?

It’s true that if you offer food, people will usually come, and those who have a specialty tend to gain loyal followers. Jesus always seems to get his hands on some bread. We don’t have accounts of him making it (I’m sure there’s a Martha or Mary on hand for that), but Jesus will take the bread, give thanks for it, and share it with those around him–whether it’s five or five thousand people.

We can imagine breaking off our portion of the loaf, dipping it in the oil, enjoying the company of others. There is such contentment in being fed, being comfortably full. There’s no doubt that Jesus fed his people.

But the contentment of being full wanes as hunger rolls around again. After their digestive lull in which they seemingly miss Jesus walking on water, the crowd of five thousand wakes up to presumably realize that they are hungry again and that their meal ticket has moved on.

With a nagging and growing hunger, they pursue Jesus, the one who not only healed people but fed them. When they catch up with Jesus, he confronts their hunger head on. They don’t really want to talk about a prophet or rabbi; they want some more food.

When Jesus offers the true bread from heaven, that’s what the people want–the good stuff that endures for eternity and gives life to the world.

“Sir, give us this bread always.”

I wonder if they could comprehend what they were receiving.

I am the bread of life,” Jesus says. “Believe in me and never be hungry, never be thirsty.”

Really, Jesus? Just believe and hunger goes away?

Do you want to be the one to explain that to one in five children in the U.S. who suffers from food insecurity, children who don’t know where their next meal is coming from? It’s no wonder the people started to ask for another sign, because it’s crazy talk to ignore the needs of our bodies. We have to be physically nourished to do any kind of work, and we have to work to provide nourishment to our families.

We spend a lot of effort just trying to survive.

But you know, the crowd is listening to Jesus.

In his presence, they attend to his words and hear his promises to give life, to do the will of God, and never to drive away those who come to him or to lose those given to him. He promises eternal life and resurrection. (This is primarily in the verses we skip between this week and next in the lectionary.)

We’re listening hard, just as they must have been in Capernaum.

Our bodies are not eternal. Jesus knows that. Jesus lived in the flesh, in the confines of the physical body. We all are bound to the temporal world and live and die as mortals. Jesus knew and knows our hunger in the physical body. Jesus knows hunger, knows pain as we know it, though on a scale that we cannot fathom.

Jesus knows hunger as we know it, and maybe he saw it as one of the few ways we can understand true desire, true longing.

If you have ever felt within you a fullness of life that swells your heart and threatens to overwhelm you with joy because you feel Love, then chances are you have been in the presence of Christ. There is a fullness and wholeness that come from being in this presence that envelops us with a peacefulness that does pass all understanding, and words fall short.

Stillness. True contentment. Things of the world tend to fall away. Remember hunger? Aren’t you hungry? Oh, yes. But there’s plenty of food, enough for everyone. So content are we feeding on the presence of Christ, the bread of heaven, that we eat a bit and pass it around. There is an abundance, which is enough for everyone.

When we operate from this place of abundance, we are in the good days, quite aware of Jesus in our lives. “Give us this day our daily bread,” we pray. We do the work of believing, as Jesus said, so that we can be fed with enough to live in this precarious balance between the temporal and spiritual. We come close to loving God, neighbor, and self, living in right relationship with each other.

But we are of this world, and our awareness shifts in any given moment, our focus easily distracted. It’s natural to get hungry and need to eat. It’s wonderful to be full, take a nap and go into what I call digestive auto-pilot. What isn’t in our best interest is to be separated from God. Separation sets us up for bad days.

We can get separated by lack of belief sparked by tragedy or apathy. We can get in our own way. As soon as we put ourselves first, focus on what we want, think we are in control or can judge others, we lose focus on the presence of Christ that is still, as always, right before us. Unless we sustain our belief in the one whom God has sent, we will hunger, we will thirst. There are many ways to suffer. We can be so hungry that a snack pack looks like a feast and so empty that we can eat and eat and never get full, the void being so great.

We need to be reminded sometimes that our heart and soul has known the fullness of Christ and was created in God’s image. Having known the peace of God, we want to return to it, we long for it. We ask for ourselves and for others, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

It’s already been given. It’s up to us to see it, and we don’t have to look far or try to imagine anything. It’s here and now. We can expect to see Jesus, if we first believe he is here. Those of you at Women’s Institute heard Bishop Stephen Charlston say that in matters of Spirit, we are more accurate to say “believing is seeing.” It is up to us to do the work to find the bread of life in our midst. It is our responsibility to do the work of believing.

I know that wherever I could have gone after seminary, I would be able to find Christ, but I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now. In this place, the hard work of believing is being done, and that belief radiates from our very being.

As I get to know you better, you’ll teach me the ways you sustain your faith, how I can work with you to strengthen our belief. I look forward to what we’ll learn and share together in the upcoming Faith Journey class, to which all are welcome. Already, in this place, I see life being shared. With gratitude and generosity, our abundance is shared with those who come searching.  Look at the eyes of those who are working and of those who are searching, and we cannot help but see that Jesus is here.

Any and all of you who were here Thursday night in body or spirit know the power of this community, the significance of coming together to be fed. Hope and healing were on the menu that night. Nearly two hundred were fed.

There’s plenty more to feed, and there’s more than enough to go around.

Jesus is still feeding his people.

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