Sermons from St Faith's     

You are what you eat!
Rev Sue Lucas, Sunday, August 16th, 2015

‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.  Lay aside immaturity and live, and walk in the way of insight.’ (Proverbs 9.6)

You are what you eat!  It’s a familiar saying – but a slightly uncomfortable one if, like me at the moment, you are trying to lose weight!  All you have to do – apparently – is put less in your mouth.  You might also see me at the moment running round Crosby in my pink gear – I was always a runner, and I’m trying to get back to it for the other bit of what you’re supposed to do ‘eat less and move more’!  So watch this space – although I hope I’ll occupy a bit less of it soon, I do feel a bit like Lady Jayne in Iolanthe (she plays the cello, like me!) – ‘there will be too much of me in the coming by and by!’

The Gospel readings over the last four Sundays have all been about becoming what we eat – they have focused on Jesus as the Bread of Life.  It has great and obvious Eucharistic resonances for those of us in the catholic tradition.  And these meditations on the Bread of Life follow hard on the heels of two of the most familiar miracle stories – Jesus walking on water (6.16-21) and Feeding the Five Thousand (6.9-11)  They are stories that we tell children – Jesus is God’s Son, and he can do cool stuff! 

But it shouldn’t surprise us that there’s more to it than meets the eye.  Throughout, Jesus is linked with Moses, the Bread of Life that he gives with the manna God’s people ate in the wilderness.  Jesus is shown as the new Moses, the one who leads people into liberation and fullness of life.

Immediately after the miracle stories, and before the reflections on the Bread of Life, Jesus withdraws –and people are looking for Jesus. When they find that he’s gone from Capernaum, they follow in a veritable flotilla of little boats.

They’re seeking Jesus – energetically and determinedly – and so, presumably are we.  Isn’t that what’s brought us here today?  To seek him in the scriptures and the breaking of the bread?  And isn’t it exactly what we should be doing?
So Jesus’ response is a little surprising: he doesn’t affirm them for seeking him, he tells them off: ‘you are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.’ (6.27)

In other words – the disciples are seeking him to fulfil their own needs and desires, their own sense of identity and belonging.

And it is very easy to make our faith – even our catholic, sacramental faith – into this.  In our late-capitalist, neoliberal world, we are conditioned to be consumers – to find our identity in what we consume, to be shaped by what we have – we take in, and are taken in, because, so one advertising slogan goes, we’re worth it.  Faith can easily become something else we consume – to meet our needs, to build up our identity, to reinforce our sense of our place in the world.

This is not what our faith in Christ crucified is: for what we are offered in today’s Gospel – and at the altar in every Eucharist -  is a scandal:  the flesh of the Son of Man and his blood. It was an affront to the Jewish purity laws to mix flesh and blood – and it was an affront to the idea of the Messiah that Jesus was crucified – a method of torture and death reserved for common criminals.

This scandal then is what we consume and become: for indeed, we become what we eat: and what we become is the Body of Christ, the Church – the community precisely of the excluded, the aberrant, the great unwashed, the ritually unclean; we’ve seen an authentic church in recent weeks, in the makeshift tented church in the midst of a refugee camp in Calais – here, amongst some of the most marginalised and excluded people on earth, God has found a place; truly, they are the new Israel, fleeing, like Israel from various forms of oppression, and living in tents.  For the Body of Christ is not a safe, settled community of those like us, those with whom we agree, those with whom we have chosen to identify.  And it can feel very scary – because it feels like death; but that is precisely the point – after all, we are baptised into the death of the Lord, called to share in the scandal by taking up our Cross.  To feed on Christ in the Eucharist is to learn to die – to live with our own mortality and limits without resentment.

Except most of us don’t, entirely; to a greater or lesser degree, mostly we’re comforted by what makes us comfortable, by the safety and security of what we like, and what is like us – including, of course, our faith.  Most of us, most of the time, find our baptismal calling too difficult. 

Thankfully, it isn’t all up to us; thankfully, long before we are in a place really to seek him out, Christ comes looking for us; with gentleness, with tenderness, with understanding for our weakness; but also with challenge – with a sharp message; and always, with the relentless, unconditional love that enables us, little by little, to lay aside the ways of immaturity, and makes us, eventually, walk in the ways of insight - able to die, and ready to live.  Amen.

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