The Bread of Life  (A Sermon for Proper 15B, 2021)
The Rev. Paula Jefferson
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church (Keller, Texas)
John 6:51-58
August 15, 2021

On June 24th, I moved from Bedford to North Richland Hills.  On the evening before the moving vans would queue up in front of my Bedford home, Dursey and I were at the new house.  At 7pm, I got a text from Sarah, a Bedford neighbor.  “Are you coming home tonight?”

I texted back: “Yes.  In NRH…headed home, soon”.  She responded, “Great.  We’re all in your backyard, at the fire pit, saying good-bye”.

When I returned home from seminary in the summer of 2018, I came home with a new puppy.  Dursey requires a lot of exercise…as do I.  We were often outside playing hide and seek, fetch, soccer, or going for our daily walks.

And then COVID came.  We were still going on long walks and playing in the front yard.  Neighbors began coming to see Dursey… and staying to talk.  Soon, the fire pit in my backyard became the neighborhood gathering place.

Around the stone circle, we shared the moments of our pandemic lives:   Covid struck our families & friends, and claimed the lives of people we knew; there were stressed marriages, my broken ankle, loneliness, the birth of great-grandchildren, smores …even smores in pajamas.  There were tears.  There were belly laughs.

Though none of my neighbors attend church regularly, they attended my ordinations, virtually.  When I started working full-time again, neighbors scheduled fire pit dates a week in advance.  They tuned into St. Martin’s worship service.  They read the books of Human Flourishing 01.  I read the books that were important to them.  We asked theological questions.  We wondered about God.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I [abide] in them”.

Unless we imagine Jesus is a cannibal, we understand that he is speaking metaphorically.  The verb “to abide” occurs many times in this Gospel.  Cynthia Kittredge, a scholar of John’s Gospel, wrote, “whenever [the verb to abide] appears in the Gospel of John, [it] evokes the Johannine sense of divine presence and companionship.

Divine presence and Divine companionship.  We don’t have to wonder what this means to Jesus…he explains it in the next sentence.  “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats [my flesh] will live because of me”.   Jesus is laying down two serious claims…

First, he is the emissary of Divine Love in this world.

Wherever Jesus went, people were drawn to him.  Crowds gathered around him.  The Gospel writers describe thousands of people drawn to him at a time.  Have you ever wondered Why?  Was he drop dread gorgeous?  Wealthy?  Did he have the coolest camel in Galilea?

I wonder if people in Judah were drawn to him simply because he oozed Love…Divine Love.

What must that feel like to people who were struggling to live, to raise their children with a sense of hope, to find purpose and meaning in their lives.

Jesus’ second claim is that the Life he enjoys in the Father is extended to us through the Eucharist.  We are invited at this Table to participate through Christ in a Heavenly Feast.  We are invited, like the bread and wine, to be transfigured.  Changed.  As Paul says in Galations, “…If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation”.

And how does this “new creation” show up in the world?

Dursey, my dog, was the impetus for change in my neighborhood.

The dog is an extrovert.  I am not.  He made it his business to greet every person on our walks.  In the Pre-Dursey era, I knew the names of most neighbors, but it was a “Howdy-wave” neighborhood.  In 20 years, none of those neighbors had been in my home.  I had not been in their homes.  They weren’t in my backyard.  And I was not in theirs.

But, Dursey doesn’t wave.  He bounds right into your life.  He developed relationship with every neighbor on my street, all of my friends, and my family.

People were astonished by his way of greeting and welcoming relationship.  With some people, he was all kinds of crazy.  Lena, a retired pediatrician who lived across the street, had a life-long fear of dogs.  But she wanted to know Dursey.  He learned to sit calmly at her feet.  She talked to him.  She examined him like a child.  And she nurtured relationship with a dog for the first time in her life.

On the evening before Dursey and I moved, the fire pit community was in my backyard … grieving.

The big red dog was moving.  Would this new sense of community fade?

Throughout the pandemic, St. Martin-in-the-Fields welcomed new viewers regularly.  People wrote to us and asked for information about who we are, what we believe, and, most typically, who we welcome.

St Martin’s has earned a reputation in the world.  We are known for our radical, inclusive welcome.

Our welcome is not dependent on a big red dog, or who moves into–or out of–our worship community.  Our welcome is rooted in the welcome of Christ….the invitation to share in Divine Presence and Divine Companionship through the Eucharist.

Christ extends Love and Eternal Relationship to us.  This gift is not only for our own consumption.  It is our gift to extend to the world.

And we are doing it.

We offer our fields for Fever United Soccer practices.

We offer our gifts of money and labor to feed hungry families and those without homes.

We foster Scout troops.

We offer opportunities to participate in worship services:  acolytes, music, video production, lectors, ushers…just to name a few.

We offer spiritual growth through learning opportunities:  Study of Scripture, Human Flourishing, Godly Play, and soon Harry Potter will invite us to walk along in Hogwarts.

We offer fellowship through Daughters of the King, Spiritual Awareness, Prayer Shawl ministry, and so many more opportunities.

Once a month, St. Martin’s sends a priest to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Hillsboro.  Because of your generosity, the people of that parish also experience the Eucharist.

I wonder if people in our area are drawn to St. Martin’s because we ooze Love…Christ’s Love.

What must that feel like to people who were struggling to live, to raise their children with a sense of hope, to find purpose and meaning in their lives.

What we offer to the world is exactly we receive from Christ:  His Life, his Love, his generosity….an invitation to this Table, to abide in Christ as Christ abides in us.