Preached from the pulpit at Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd:
As you get to know me, you’ll learn that there are oh so many layers to the deacon – but that’s true for all of us, right?
Since I’ve started worshiping here on a regular basis, I’ve learned that some of my siblings in the flock are artists, musicians – good ones, too – tech savvy, erudite, intellectual, fun and interesting. For my part, you know me as your deacon and the mother of two tall, somewhat handsome young men, Carlos Raphael and Nicolas, both of whom are artists and like saying hello with smiles and offering hugs at the peace. And they like to eat. And eat. And eat. Good Shepherd’s coffee hours sealed the deal with the boys when I mentioned coming here to serve as the parish deacon. I also have a daughter, Celia, who lives in Chicago with her husband and used to raise havoc in her catechism class at St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church by asking why women weren’t important in the church if Jesus appeared to women first.
In time you will learn, if you haven’t already, that what is true about my sons and daughter is also true of me. And, I am passionate about civil rights, social justice and proclaiming the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven – and sometimes I’ll even use words.
I’m a little disappointed that this morning’s Gospel, for which I am charged to proclaim, isn’t the passage from second chapter of John that illustrates Christ’s cleansing of the Temple, because so much happened this week that made me want to use my prophetic voice – the one that gets me in trouble – and to do some temple trashing of my own.
Fortunately, both this morning’s epistle and the gospel offer advice on what it means to a follower and a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. We have some insight into the reality of a calling each one of us in our own way and time has answered. I think of it as Jesus pulling me, and you, back, gently, and saying, “Hold on, hold on – before you go off on a tear, let me explain something…”
And this morning, Jesus continues to explain the deeper meaning of the miracle of the loaves and fishes: it is about sharing in the life of Christ, and how the call to follow includes difficult and seemingly impossible demands.
But with God in Christ, nothing is impossible.
His beautiful discourse on the Bread of Life ends and questions begin. We have heard that some of the disciples turn away, for they see the path as too difficult, unlike the Twelve, who remain.
The Christological language in this scripture was and has been interpreted literally – then and now. Taken, perceived in a literal sense, the statements about drinking blood and eating flesh were scandalous. Growing up in the housing project in Rodeo, not far from here, I remember summer evenings when the women in our unit would sit outside and talk about the strangest things – like the people who attended the Catholic Church in town eating flesh and drinking blood.
Did they? Really?
Imagine how that may have terrified a nine-year old with an already vivid imagination, and how she might have glanced at her friends who attended the parochial school and the church. Later, when I expressed my concerns to a favorite teacher, she explained that what was said by Jesus in the Gospel of John was imagery and I went to look up the word in a dictionary.
I’ve learned since then that the imagery used represented a full sharing in the life of Jesus. Even with this knowledge, it’s a bit much to take or understand, accept, don’t you think?
Such misunderstandings of Jesus’ words are frequent and this allows him to challenge us to new ways of thinking, seeing, believing. He says to us, what if you were to see me ascend to Heaven like Moses and Elijah did, would you believe me then? Would you accept these tough questions and lessons? You know all about Moses and Elijah, right? Yes, if you take my body and blood that I am giving you we will be linked together, we will be a part of one another, but keep this mind – the body that we know is transitory, doesn’t last.
The Spirit and the life she gives, the enlivening power, are forever.
The path that puts you on a journey to discerning the words, these tough, strange phrases, is faith. Remember the phrase, you’ve got to see it to believe it? Doesn’t work here. Believing it leads to seeing it.
Yes, well, you have to include what God wants for us and what God invites us to do. Jesus tells us that no one come to him unless it is granted by the Father. God’s desire for us is even greater than our desire for God. It is by Divine inspiration that we turn to the Creator and it is a gift freely given to everyone – some accept it and there are those who turn it down, close their hearts to the invitation.
Peter’s reply to Jesus may be ours. We have nowhere else to go for we have come to believe and know that Jesus is the Holy One of God who gives eternal life.
I find that a hard offer to turn down.
Now. Let’s consider what’s next. We have the passion, we have the inspiration, we have Jesus who gives us the Word and we share abundantly in his life.
Time to take off the rose-colored glasses, and put on the whole armor of God, the armor of light, that Paul describes for us in this letter to the Ephesians and in his letter to the Romans. We have work to do.
This metaphorical harness equips us to face the trials of being Christian in an increasingly secular society, and of late, one sector in particular continues an attack on and being adverse to many in America.
Last week, a legislator elected by the people made a pretty outrageous statement about a criminal, violent act against women and implied that a woman’s body will shut down to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Really? Maybe he should shut his mouth or take a basic course in anatomy and physiology, or take a refresher course if it’s been that long. Maybe the legislators who wish to change the rape laws should tag along the next time I’m called to an emergency room to counsel a rape victim and sit with her as she is interviewed by law enforcement and medical personnel and has to relive the horror over and over in the span of two hours.
Friday, there was a shoot out at the Empire State Building in New York. What a woman can do with her body and life is the stuff of legislation to some, but demand gun control from our leaders? Oh no, shame on us for thinking we should give up our rights to AK47s and assault rifles – because we need them to commute to work, go shopping, watch a Little League game.
Look at that – I just slipped on shoes that will prepare me to take this fight further and proclaim a Gospel of equality and justice and peace. I won’t raise a real sword, or set my sights with an assault rifle; no, only and only if, I were forced to protect my children or other people I love, and I bet you won’t either if you join me. I’ll use the tools given to me by Christ. For now, The Word is sufficient for my needs.
It’s time to proclaim the Kingdom as a home for everyone, not just a privileged few. We as disciples are to don the might of the whole armor of God, which reflects the ministry of Jesus: truth, justice, concern for others. These are qualities that will make for peace and reconciliation. Another tool is perseverance in prayer. Another is boldness to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel.
We constantly speak all the words that need to be said about what we as a modern church in turbulent times need to do. How about we put those words to action and boldly proclaim the good news in our right action and work to show to all that we are a community of faithful who embrace the mandate that we love one another, care for one another and respect one another? That we take on the flesh and the blood of Christ with the armor and embrace the eternal life that is ours.
That we put this world turning upside down back to rights and make it truly the Kingdom of Heaven.
I’m ready. I have the sword, the shield, the armor, and the shoes. How about you?