Sermon - 11 Pentecost
In the Name…
I forget who it was who said that when two people meet, six people are present. There’s the me I think I am; the me you think I am; the you I think you are; the you, you think you are; and the real me and the real you and we really don’t know them very well at all.
Well, I once saw a bumper sticker that got me thinking. It read, “Be yourself. Imitate God.” “Be yourself. Imitate God.” That’s something, isn’t it? I mean, can you think of a more impossible statement? The phrase “be yourself” is usually used as an excuse or licence for all sorts of hedonistic self-centred behaviour. Its corollary, the phrase “that’s just the way I am”, means I’m not going to change a lot of things in my life that ought to be changed and I don’t care about anybody else.
On the other hand, the phrase “imitate God” is right in accord with the words of St. Paul we heard in his letter to the Ephesians: “Be imitators of God as beloved children and live in love.” Now, throughout his letters, Paul uses language like “imitate me” or “imitate other churches” but this is the only place where he says “imitate God.” And, he explains what he means, saying, “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ.” In other words, imitating God means living like Christ, loving like Christ, sacrificing oneself like Christ, forgiving like Christ and avoiding everything that would draw you away from being Christ-like.
So, how on earth can these two phrases be put side by side and not be an utter nonsense?
In our Gospel, today, Jesus said, not once, but twice. “I am the bread of life.” And that also got me thinking. Of course, we know that this passage from St. John is about the theology of the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrament by which ordinary bread and wine become miraculously transformed into Christ’s Flesh and Blood for us to eat and, so, share in his sacrifice.
And, we know that when we eat something ordinary there's a chemical process by which it becomes part of our bodies. So, too, then, when we eat the Blessed Sacrament, there is a mystical process by which it becomes part of our souls. We become what we have eaten; we become more like him whom we have eaten. Yes. There's a lot of truth in the old adage, "You are what you eat."
So, maybe something Jesus is saying here is that you and I are to become, in some way, the bread of life.
Just think about all the people, relationships, and experiences that have fed, nourished, and sustained your life. I’m talking about the kind of people who spend their time and share their presence with us. They love us. They teach us. They care for us. They encourage us. And sometimes it’s not even what they say or do; it’s just being in their presence that makes us feel well fed and full.
Now, when have you been bread in someone else’s life? When have you fed and nourished them? When have you sustained them? When have you strengthened them? Lots of times. You have.
We so often hear the words, “I am the bread of life,” and we assume Jesus is the only loaf in the basket. But what if he is not claiming to be the exclusive loaf? What if he is teaching us what the bread of life looks like so that we can be that bread for others?
I think that is the direction and focus of Jesus in what we’ve been reading in this chapter of St. John. It begins with the feeding of the five thousand, but, maybe that’s only to get our attention and to tell us that it is really not about food. It is about a way of living; it is about a way of relating.
Last week, he said you have got to know the difference between food that perishes and food that endures for eternal life. And then he takes off on a host of images: the bread that lasts, the bread that endures, the bread that never runs out, the bread that never gets stale.
The reality is that there is a lot of bread in this world. And, if you look through Scriptures you will find references to all sorts: the bread of adversity, the bread of tears, the bread of affliction, the bread of mourning, the bread of wickedness, and it goes on and on. So, when you get right down to it, there are really only two kinds; the bread that fills and nourishes, and all the rest that leaves us empty and malnourished.
In his letter to the Ephesians, we heard Paul pray that Christ will make his home in the hearts of his readers and that they will come to know how broad and long, how high and deep, his love is for them. He goes on to say that because we are God's children, “Your life must be controlled by love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”
And it takes some work. It’s very easy, too easy, to fall back into old habits and old attitudes. If it was easy to imitate Christ, then Paul wouldn’t have had to write the way he did to the Ephesians reminding them to be who God chose them to be.
That’s why, at times, it can be terribly frustrating to try to “be yourself” as God's child. The temptation is always there to throw up our hands. But the great thing about the Christian faith is that in the end the focus is not on me and my mistakes. The focus is on Jesus. And, every day, he affirms the promises he made to us so that every day we can renew our commitment to endeavour to be his disciples.
He has called us to walk in love, in newness, and he will help us fulfil that calling. So, be yourself, that is, be the forgiven, loved, cherished, called child of God you are. The world is hungry and looking for bread to make a difference; to bring peace, love, forgiveness, renewal.
So, what kind of bread will you eat this week? What kind of bread will you be this week?
Be yourself. Imitate God.
In the Name…