2009-08-06 by Rina Terry
There are weeks when I do not get my sermon done until Saturday night. Maybe this week's blogging helped me along. In any case, I finished the homiletical race in record time this week.
So, here is the First Draft of my Sunday Sermon. I'm not certain if the formatting will be maintained:
August 9, 2009 Sermon
Who Do You Think You Are?
Cape May UMC
John 6:41-51; Ephesians 4:25-5:2
(I have drawn heavily this week from Scott Cowdell’s sermon, “Christ, Ethics & Church Leadership,” on this text in Lectionary Homiletics, Vol XX, No 5)
In my growing up era, we did not have Ipods. Nor did we have boom boxes. We had transitor radios, little battery-operated ones that you could take along with you. There were even ones you could hang on the shower curtain rod. If you had one that you needed to plug into an outlet, you carried it from room to room so you didn’t miss anything your favorite DJ might want to tell you was really cool. And, in the car, you turned on the radio to your favorite station. Sometimes, if you had the money, you to went to Woolworths and got a 45 of an absolute favorite and came home, pulled up the little plastic gizmo on your record player, that slipped down when you wanted to play an LP album, and played that same song over and over and over. You could do that if you left the other little gizmo up in the air instead of stacking your 45s. Now if you are so young that you think I was just speaking another language, go home, turn on your computers and keyword in some of what you didn’t understand, or ask your friends on face book or twitter what I was talking about. Dang, times sure change, don’t they?In any case, because of my 45s record case, my head is full of song lyrics. I sometimes think in song lyrics or movie quotes. Remember this one? Mr. Big Stuff, who do you think you are? Mr. Big Stuff, you’re never gonna get my love? Umm huh, Motown, ya gotta love it!
Our text says, “Then…they began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread of life.’” Who does he think he is, anyway? Mr. Big Stuff! He’s just Mary and Joseph’s boy. Probably can’t make a table or chair that doesn’t wobble. His parents could use his help and he’s out running around Galilee like he’s one of the great prophets or something. You know, Jesus, we have thousands of years of tradition behind what we do. We don’t need you to tell us how to worship our God.
Scott Cowdell reminds us that “The Jesus we meet in this passage is anything but the benign teacher of universal wisdom so many people prefer. Jesus for them is a symbol of tolerance and compassion, or else a champion of conventional values, but he isn’t expected to challenge and disrupt our habits of mind.”
Fortunately, if you like a good challenge, and unfortunately if you don’t, that’s is just what we see Jesus doing in John’s Gospel today. Jesus tells the guardians of the religious status quo that the way they practice their religion, based on old ideas from their tradition, is the beginning and not the end of God’s plan for humanity.
Who do I think I am? Well, let me tell you and listen well as I do. I am the bread that came down from heaven. You want to talk about Moses, the old days, the manna. God didn’t stop sending the bread that brings you life, God sent me. I am the bread of life. Not only that, When you eat of the bread I bring it won’t just keep you alive in this life, it will give you eternal life beyond the physical. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…Oh, my. That’s Jesus. Refusing to be intimidated. Refusing to back down from the task he had been sent to accomplish. Refusing to allow the powers that be to interfere with the will of God. Refusing to allow anyone who said they believed in God to think what they had learned in the past was sufficient for what God was attempting to teach them in the present. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.
Is it possible that most Christian communities wouldn’t like Jesus any better if he showed up today than the religious stalwarts liked him when he showed up then. Jesus basically tells the religious folk to stop focusing on themselves—what they think, what they know, what they want, and to focus on him. The Bread of Life, up close and personal, using the very same name for God their ancestors knew, “I AM.”
It is not the effete Aryan Jesus, Werner Salman portrait of the 1940s speaking here, the image we have had indelibly stamped on our Christian consciousness for nearly seventy years, it is the real Jesus—the Middle Eastern Jesus, the Jewish Jesus, Jesus born of Mary, the Jesus who had no where to lay his head, the Jesus who ticked off the religious leaders by everything he did and said, the real Jesus who knew as none other knows the essence of the divine creator. It is that one, offering himself to those who are getting their noses out of joint at the way Jesus is speaking, at the things Jesus is doing.
We want a safe religion. One that makes us feel content, sure, certain, at peace, good about ourselves. We want a religion that agrees with what we think and we’ll learn those scriptures and choose the ones that make our point. We want Jesus at our disposal. We don’t want a faith that rocks our boat. We don’t want to be told that our Jesus whom we love and exalt is aggressive. We don’t want to be told that our Jesus whom we revere and walk in the garden with might tear down our church buildings so we could see the world that so desperately needs our help. We don’t want to be reminded that the people who most annoy us are the people who are most like us—just sinners in need of God’s grace. We don’t want to be told that what we worship is often the version of God we made up and not the one who set the earth at a spin and cast the stars into the firmament. We don’t want anyone to dare tell us that we have turned other institutions and activities into sacred realities that our God, our Jesus, would see as idols we worship above God—like nation and race, like commerce and militarism. The problem is that Jesus would tell us just that and does tell us just that and most often when we hear a prophetic voice speak such words we say, “Mr. Big Stuff, who do you think you are? Mr. Big Stuff, you’re never gonna get my love!”
It’s demanding to preach the Word of God. If you don’t think I’d like to be liked by everyone and petted and fussed over as though I were everyone’s Spiritual Sweetheart, think again. I’d much prefer smiling, adoring faces than scowls, raised eyebrows or pursed lips. As I read Scott Cowdell’s take on this gospel text, I really stopped short when he said, “…and intense focus on Jesus can free us from a life dominated by ideology or self-interest.” It is when our commitment to Church and sacrament focuses on Jesus that we are freed from making up our own version of God, and other things into sacred realities.
The statistics say that mainline religious traditions are in severe decline, membership in decline, finances in decline, participation in church activities in decline. Instead of condemning the world out there, perhaps we are called to focus on Jesus and do far more than mouth our Christianity and insist that others do it the way we’ve always done it. We blame society, the younger generation, the pastors we’ve had, the leadership of our denominations. We rarely blame our individual selves. Let’s try looking in the mirror tonight after we brush our teeth for bed and saying, “I’m the reason people don’t come to my church.” Then, let’s pray our selves to sleep and weep tears of contrition and beg God’s forgiveness. Are we BIG enough to do that?
Jesus was trying to tell the people that if they had heard and learned God’s voice in their scriptures, they would have recognized God’s fulfillment in Jesus. He, after all, was the only one who had direct communion with God. And I believe we are meant to take it beyond that to realizing that God is still trying to teach us things through the Living Bread that still comes down from heaven to dwell among us.Our Ephesians passage points us toward the kind of Christian life we are meant to live when we continually feed on the Bread of Life. When we know who Jesus is, then we know who we are and realize how we are called to serve. When we serve the living God, when we focus on Jesus, we become imitators of God not because we are anything special but because of what God did for us in Christ, forgave us for being the only thing we can be on our own, sinners. It is only then that we are able to put away…all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven [us]. AMEN AND AMEN. Rev. Rina L. Terry
The Bread of Life and Death
2009-08-06 by Rina Terry
Yesterday morning, I visited an elderly couple. He has been active in the church his entire life and recently became homebound. When I asked Bill how he was doing (he sat in a wheelchair with his oxygen tank nearby), he said, "Great! I'm doing better than expected."
We had a lovely visit. He shared his grief about giving up driving--he had been a driver even in his military career. He spoke of what he loved about the church and how he missed it. He was fully aware that a few folks in the congregation were already criticizing the "new" pastor. He said he regretted that. He went on to talk with me about our mutual understanding that, at the end of each day, one's prayer should be that one had done what was pleasing in the eyes of God. He reminded me that it is impossible to please everyone in a congregation.
We played with the cat, Mimosa, and she even tried to join us for Communion but refrained as I prayed with my eyes open and kept her at a distance with my arm against her purring side. It was an exceptionally gratifying visit and filled me with peace. The way he looked at his wife of 62 years, as I was leaving, made me get a lump in my throat. They took each other's hand and then I moved toward the door.
Quite early this morning, the parsonage phone rang and his wife said, "Pastor, Bill has left us. I am so thankful you were here yesterday. He was in great spirits and even enjoyed his dinner last night which he had not done for a long while. It was quick and he wasn't in any pain that I could tell. Thank you so much for being here yesterday."
The Bread of Life nurtured Bill yesterday in life and in death--and he had some left over to offer me. I am humbled.
Bread and Poetry
2009-08-06 by David von Schlichten
Rina Terry has been generous with her posts as our guest blogger this week. Please scroll down to take in what she has written for us and for God. She's been working hard down in Cape May.
I find delightful and wise her story about her grandmother's reverence for bread. I also cherish Rina's use of literature in her posts.
I've been taking classes for a PhD in English, so I haven't even started my sermon yet. With great need I will be drawing from the Holy Spirit via Rina.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Mid-Week Stretch or Idling the engines
2009-08-05 by Rina Terry
As with the seventh inning stretch in a baseball game (I'm a S. Jersey girl so a lifetime Phillies fan), by mid-week I need a little break from the text.
Right now I'm just reading and watching. Last night I watched, for the xxx time, Antwone Fisher.
Jerome Davenport: "Regard without ill-will despite an offense." That's Webster's definition of forgiveness.
I'm reading a few things: rereading Stookey's book, Eucharist: Christ's Feast with the Church. Also reading interpreter of maladies a book of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. And, Robert Browning's Jocoseria.
...a few lines from Browning's poem "Jochanan Hakkadosh"
"Of knowledge? Eden's tree must hold unplucked Some apple, sure, has never tried thy tooth, Juicy with sapience thou hast sought, not sucked?
This is idling time...
2009-08-05 by Rina Terry
There's an interesting intersection where complaints-needs-temptation-grace all
I'd love to give an answer as good as Jack's question but I think my reality is that I am tempted to manipulate the gospel to salve spots that have been rubbed raw by just the type of complaintants he mentioned. When I'm able to clear my head, I realize that they do not want to be satisfied. Their mission is to complain, stir things up, and draw attention to themselves in the way that's most effective for them.
And, then, there are folks who have way too much time on their hands; believe they could do the job better than the pastor (Monday Morning Quarterbacks, yes--well, Monday Morning Pastors). For the most part, I think they are to be pitied not appeased and invited to come up with solutions to their problems.
I had a boss once who told me never to bring him a problem to which I did not have at least three solutions. Smart guy.
So, I answer all complaints with questions which addresses someone's need for attention:
Maude, where do you see God working in this?
Harold, how do you believe Jesus is present with us in this?
Hortense, what has your prayerfulness revealed to you about this?
Perhaps that doesn't overtly offer grace but it's far more gracious than giving in to my temptation to say what's really roiling around on this flaming weapon called my tongue.
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