Sunday, May 27, 2018

Why No Word for God, including "God" Ultimately Works

In the moment, you don’t even notice it.   You think.  I’ve made this wonderfully compassionate comment.  I just said something profound and insightful.  But then it comes, that awful moment.  You realize, your insight wasn’t that profound.   Your comment wasn’t that compassionate. It might have been even painfully embarrassing, like what I said when Sally, a member of the church I served in New York, shared about her husband, John and his prostate. 

In that congregation, you see, people shared prayer concerns during worship.   And that morning, Sally shared how John was having his prostate removed.   Now when Sally said prostate, I heard in my mind, gall bladder.   So, in my kindest pastoral voice, I said.  “Sally, don’t worry, my mother had that surgery last year.  She is doing great.”    Now Sally did look puzzled.   I did hear some laughter. 

But I still had no clue.   Only after worship when someone came smiling up to me and asked.  “Your mother has a prostate, really?” did I get it.     I, Kennedy had made a bonehead move.  
Fortunately, everyone laughed, including my mom.   But I haven’t always been so lucky.  A few weeks ago, I made a comment after a sermon on a particular provocative image of God.   I implied that anyone who was unduly disturbed by my talk could be guilty of idolatry.   I know what I intended by the comment.  But I still wish I hadn’t have said it.  It didn’t come across so much as insightful or profound as it did a bit smug and self- righteous.

And not because what I was saying wasn’t true.  It was.   It just wasn’t true enough.  Here’s the truth.  It doesn’t matter what word you use for God.  Every one of them can become an idol.   But when you realize that, it opens you up.  It opens you to see everything, yourself, this world, and above all God as more wondrous and amazing than you could have imagined.   How does that happen?  In this story, God shows you the way.   Let’s hear what God has to say.

How do you talk about God without making God into an idol?   In this story, God tells you.  God shows you that no matter what word you use for God, every word will fall short.   And when you know that, then who God is becomes bigger, grander, and more beautiful than ever before. 

Now, Elijah learns that very thing ironically after God gives him his great moment of triumph that then quickly turns into his greatest defeat.    How did that happen?  Let me give me some of the backstory.    Elijah served as a prophet during a time when a pagan god named Baal had become the god of the ruling elite.   The king, Ahab, had married, Jezebel, a daughter of the king of Phoenicia, who also served as a priest for the Phoenician gods, Baal and Asherah.   And Jezebel brought with her these gods.    And King Ahab bought into them hook, line, and sinker.  He built a temple for Baal smack in the middle of the capital city and supported hundreds of priests to staff it. 

So, Elijah called for a public showdown between Baal and the God of Israel.   Here were the rules.  The hundreds of prophets of Baal got an altar to sacrifice on.  Elijah got one too.   But neither could light the altar.  Only the Lord or Baal could do that.   Elijah even let the prophets of Baal go first.  But nothing they did worked.  They danced. They cut themselves.  They cried out.   But no fire.
Elijah was loving it.   He taunted them.   Hmm, perhaps Baal went on a trip.  May he fell asleep.   He even said.  Perhaps he is deep in thought (as the translators put it), but what he really said was; maybe he’s gone to the bathroom.    After hours, the priests had to give in. 

Then it was Elijah’s turn.   And Elijah had a flair for the dramatic.  He asked for water to be poured all over the altar, enough to create a moat of water around it.  Then he called on God, and boom God answered.   God sent flames that destroyed everything, not only the animals and the wood, but the water and the stones.   

And when that happened, the audience of Israelites that had been watching went nuts.    And Elijah took full advantage.   He told them.  “Kill these prophets.  Don’t let any of them escape.”    And they did.

But then, nothing else happened.  Ahab still remained king.  The temple to Baal still stood.  And Elijah had to flee for his life, from a very angry Queen Jezebel, who wanted revenge. 

And after a long journey along which God gave Elijah food and rest, he ended up at Horeb, the mountain of God a very depressed, a very discouraged prophet.   That’s where we take up the story as Elijah tells his sad tale.  Here I am, God, I’m the only one left. 

But then God shows up, but not immediately.  Before God shows up, God sends three demonstrations of power, a mighty wind, an earthquake, and then fire.   But in each one, God doesn’t show up.   Only in the end, in a moment of sheer silence does Elijah sense God’s presence.   What is God doing?

To get that, you need to go back to the story where it all began.  After, God sends the fire.  Elijah brings some fire of his own.   He orders the Israelites to slaughter the prophets of Baal.   It seemed the right thing to do.  Cut this spiritual cancer out by cutting down its prophets.  But is that what God wanted?   From what happens next, the Bible implies, maybe, not so much. 

First, his prophet massacre doesn’t defeat anything.  It only incites more resistance from King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel.   Violence doesn’t defeat violence.  It just creates more violence.   But more importantly, Elijah doesn’t find himself full of joy.  Instead, he finds himself collapsing into despair.  He falls into the deepest depression of his life.  

And God is saying.  You are depressed, Elijah, because you don’t know who I am.  You think that if something impressive or amazing isn’t happening, then God can’t be there.  You think God only shows up like that.   But, God says, don’t limit me.   Impressive things can be happening, and I am not in them at all.   On the other hand, even in sheer silence, I will show up.   Basically, God is saying.   Elijah, don’t assume you know who I am or what I want.  I am always bigger than you think.

And if Elijah doubted that.  God then tells him that not only is he not the only believer, but God has thousands of others, Elijah doesn’t have a clue about.   Then God gives stunning marching orders. He tells Elijah not only to anoint a new king and prophet in Israel, but to go and anoint a new king for a pagan country, Aram (what we now call Syria).   God is saying.  I’m so big that I will even work through a pagan king, Elijah.     

You see.   In all of these orders, God is saying not only to Elijah but to everyone.  I am always bigger than you think.  That’s exactly why God shows up here in silence.  Not only will no act, no matter how miraculous, tell you all that I am.   No word will either.   When it comes to me, God says, words will always fail.

Now, when you think about it, doesn’t that make sense?   Don’t words fail in describing you?  You could describe me in any number of ways, by my name, Kennedy or with words like pastor, father, husband, bald guy, Southerner, lover of fried chicken, the list could go on.   But I don’t care how many words you came up with or even I came up with, it still doesn’t fully describe me.  It’s why I hate when people put labels on other folks, and act as if that label defines them.   No label defines anyone, not even a whole bunch of labels.  Each of you, each of us, encompass far more than that. 

Not if that’s true of you, how much more true is that of God?   No word, no matter how powerful, can ever describe God, not even the word God.   That’s why the first name, God gave to the world through Moses will simply, this: I am who I am. 

Over the last several weeks, we’ve spent some time looking at images of God from the scripture.  The Bible has described God as clothing, as a smell, as fire, as a mother even.   In each of those images, you get a glimpse of God, but you definitely don’t get the full picture.   No words can do that, not even the central words we will use in just a moment, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  In fact, those words describe something that essentially can’t be described, a God that exists as a Trinity, one God in three persons, a living relationship that is God.   If that befuddles your brain, it should.     If God could be comprehended, then God wouldn’t be God.   And the very difficulty of those words is what makes them central.    

And we do still need to use words. After all, no one word may encompass you, but if someone wants to talk to you, they have to say something, right?   And words do matter.  Some words for you describe you.  Some words do not.   And not every word describes God.   For example, if you call God, Baal, then you and I are probably not seeing God in the same way.  And that’s important.   

Still, no word, no matter how wonderful, describes God fully.  But that doesn’t mean that you can’t know who God is.   Obviously, Elijah did.  When God showed up, Elijah recognized God’s presence.   What did he recognize?   He recognized the God who in his despair, didn’t condemn or judge him, but fed him and forgave him.  He recognized the God who loved him.   And you have more than Elijah had.  For God showed up in an even more unexpected place than silence.  God showed up in a human being.  No, more than that, God who showed up on a cross, where in Jesus he gave up everything to bring you home.   And that’s what you need to know most, that this God, who is beyond words, loves you in that same way.  This God loves you with a love so infinite, so beautiful that no words will ever adequately describe it.   And what is more wondrous or amazing than that?        

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Why the Church I Serve Will be Flying the Rainbow Flag This June

I gotta admit.   I honestly didn’t how it was going to turn out.   But today, in worship, a bunch of Presbyterians spoke in tongues.
These Presbyterians didn't speak in the sort of tongues people associate with churches with a more Pentecostal flavor.   I have seen Presbyterians speak in such tongues.  I have spoken in a tongue like that myself.   So, when I say that, I don’t intend any disrespect.

No, the tongues folks spoke today reflected what miraculously happened on the first Pentecost, on the day that the Spirit of God came upon the followers of Jesus.  On that day, God did something quite unusual.  Instead of doing a miracle where God delivered a universal message in a universal language.   God delivered a universal message in all sorts of different languages.   And so on Pentecost Sunday, we did our own reenactment of that miracle as we retold the Pentecost story in Acts Chapter 2.
The English version of the story appeared on the screen, and then folks spoke a verse in all sorts of languages from Italian to Portuguese to Serbo-Croatian and even Urdu, ten or so different languages in all.   And it was pretty cool.  
But it was more than just a gimmick.  What we did there, what God did in this story, tells you something crucial not simply about how you have a relationship with God, but a relationship with anyone.  In fact, when you get what God was doing at Pentecost, it will help in every relationship of your life.  In fact, when people don’t share the message in the Pentecost way, often the message doesn’t get delivered. What is the Pentecost way?  In these words, God tells you.   Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

Acts 2:1-13           

In this passage, God tells you something crucial about how not simply a relationship with God happens, but how any relationship happens.   It only happens when you speak in the language of love, and that language can be more different than you think.

What do I mean?  I’m talking about an insight that made the counselor Gary Chapman millions of dollars.  But as Chapman would tell you, he didn’t have the insight first.  God did.   And what is that insight? 

Everybody needs love.  But for everyone to receive the love, that love has to be in a language they understand.   Now how did Gary Chapman make millions off that idea? Chapman realized that in marriages or any intimate relationship, people speak different languages.  For example, some people show the one they love how much they care by acts of service they do.    They are always doing things for the one they love.   And why do they do that? That’s how they feel the love.   That’s their love language.  But here’s the problem, their love language is not the only one.   So, what if their love language isn’t the language of their spouse?  What if their spouse feels the love through physical touch or gift-giving or quality time or words of affirmation.    Do you know what happens?  That spouse thinks, my beloved is always doing nice things for me yes, but why doesn’t she ever say she loves me or why doesn’t he ever hold me in his arms.    In other words, Chapman pointed out, if you’re not speaking in the love language of your spouse, then that spouse isn’t going to feel your love.   It’s like someone speaking Swahili to someone who only knows English.   No matter how hard you try, your message just ain’t going to get there.  

Chapman took that idea and turned it into a book called the Five Love Languages.  That book has sold over ten million copies in English alone, and that doesn’t even count the 50 other languages that the book has been translated into.   It’s become the bestselling marriage book of all time.

And this insight Chapman applied to marriage lies behind what God does in the miracle of these languages at Pentecost.   God knows.  Everyone doesn’t speak the same love language.   After all, God could just have enabled everyone to understand one language on Pentecost.  But God doesn’t.  Instead, God enables everyone to hear this universal message in their own particular language, the language they heard growing up in their family, at their mother’s knee.   Do you see why that matters?

You can learn another language, sure.  But it won’t feel the same as the language of your birth. That language has a special place in your heart.   It’s why Russian Baptists meeting in our church's chapel each Sunday.   Sure, most, if not all of them know English.  They could go to another Baptist church. But hearing the message in Russians, well, it just feels like home.

And God knew that same feeling would happen when all those travelers from other places heard God speaking to them in their own tongue.   Sure, God’s message of love is universal, but the language in which the love comes can’t always be the same.  Sometimes, that language has to be very different
That’s what Don Richardson discovered over 50 years ago in the jungles of New Guinea.  Don and his wife Carol and their 7-month old baby, went there to live with the Sawi, a tribe of cannibalistic headhunters.   Why did they go there? Don and Carol were linguists.  They had come to learn the Sawi language, and to do so with one goal, for the Sawi to have the Bible in their own language. 
And Don got the language down, even though it was amazingly complex.  Sawi verbs have 17 tenses.  English verbs have three.   But Richardson had a bigger problem.  The Sawi idealized treachery and betrayal.  So, in the Jesus story, the Sawi thought Judas was the hero, for pulling a fast one on this dupe, Jesus.  For them, Jesus was a joke. 
But then something happened.  The Richardsons shared how they were considering leaving. Now the Sawi might not have gotten the Jesus message, but they liked Don and Carol.  They liked the medicines they got them, the help they provided.  So, to keep them, the Sawi villages decided to make peace.  For years, they had been at war.   And when Don saw how they forged this peace, it became clear.   A family in one village gave one of their children, a peace child, to a family in the enemy village.   Through this peace child, the peace came.    As Richardson wrote, "if a man would actually give his own son to his enemies, that man could be trusted!"   And Richardson realized.  That’s how the Sawi will get the message.  Jesus had come from God to be the peace child to end the war between God and people.   Richardson called this way of sharing the gospel, a redemptive analogy.  
And with this redemptive analogy, the Sawi got it.   This good news of God’s love came alive for them.   And the Sawis because Christians by the hundreds, then the thousands.  The love God gave in Jesus, that message is universal.  But for everyone to hear it, it has to be particular and personal.  It has to come in a love language they understand. 
But on that day, God didn’t only go particular.   God went universal too.  God used something everyone could see, fire, flames above the apostle’s heads. That’s why the color for Pentecost is red.  It stands for the fire.   And yes, fire can be scary, like with that volcano in Hawaii.  But mainly, fire means warmth, passion, love.   And when God spoke in the love language of each person gathered there, those folks saw what that fire meant.  It proclaimed a God who loved them, right where they were.          
In the church I served in New York, God led us to our own particular way for people to see the love.  In that congregation, we had folks from so many different countries.   We wanted to find a way to celebrate that.  We started with doing a multi-cultural food fair, like we do here.  Everybody loved that.  But then we wondered.  How could we do more to visibly show everyone that in God’s family, every culture could feel welcome and affirmed.   So we decided to hang flags.   We invited people to buy a flag of their homeland to hang in our sanctuary.  Funny enough, we got the idea from a Pentecostal church that had done the same thing.    And it worked.   Just seeing that flag, folks from Trinidad or El Salvador or Cuba or Ghana; the list could go on, felt that God loved them, right where they were. 
And when the church I serve now started flying two Scottish flags on either side of our sign for our Kirkin’ of the Tartans, our celebration of the Scottish heritage of Presbyterianism, our leaders began to wonder.   Could we fly other flags there as particular signs of God’s love to folks in our community?   And we decided.  Let’s try it out.  So, beginning in June, we are.  
And what flag will kick off this new way of reaching our community?  Since June has become the month that honors the Gay Civil Rights movement, we decided to start with the Rainbow Flag.   We did that for one important reason.  We knew that many in this community had gotten a message that God’s love was not for them, including often from other Christians.  And this flag would show our GLBTQ neighbors and all our neighbors, that in this church, we welcomed everyone.   After all, this church has baptized the infants of same sex couples.  This church has celebrated same sex marriages.  We have ordained gay and lesbian leaders.   But if we didn’t speak that message of God’s welcome in this particular way, in a language that our neighbors could hear or rather see, than God’s message of love and welcome would get lost.  
Let me also tell you what our church did not intend by flying this flag in June.   We didn’t intend to make a political statement on one issue.   And we didn’t intend to exclude folks in our church, who have more conservative perspectives on what the Bible says about same sex relationships.  And we didn’t intend to say we are a Gay church any more then we when we flew the Scottish flags, we intended to say we were a Scottish church.   We simply wanted to say to our LGBTQ neighbors that if they came to worship, they would not feel judgment or exclusion here.  They would feel the love of this God, who in Jesus gave everything for them.    And we wanted to speak that universal good news in a language that they could hear and see, and so we decided to fly the flag.  Now in July, we’ll fly a different flag (the American one for Independence Day), and we are asking folks for suggestions and ideas on what flags to fly in that space at different times.  But with every flag we fly we want to share the same thing, God’s amazing love for every human being on this planet.   
When I was growing up, in my Sunday School, we used to sing a song that celebrated that love.  It came from a verse from that Biblical love song, The Song of Solomon.   There, the woman tells of how her beloved welcomed her to his table by flying a banner that proclaimed his passionate love for her.    And in that love song, followers of Jesus found a redemptive analogy, one that pointed to God’s passionate love for you and for me.   That’s the message this story proclaims, that all the flags we fly will hopefully proclaim, that God’s love is for everyone, that his banner over everyone is love.        

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Two Powerful Things that Seeing God as a Mother Shows You About God

Have you ever had a memory that, even when it happened years before, it still feels as fresh as if it happened yesterday?    You still picture the room where it happened.  You still see the faces that were present there.  Most importantly, you feel what you felt in those moments.

A memory like that came to me this week.  I had just gotten my first job as a pastor.   I had moved into town, but not yet started.   So, on the Sunday before I began, my girlfriend, Karen and I went to the neighboring Presbyterian church.

But we had no idea what we were walking into.   One of the pastors there had recently preached on female images of God.   And his sermon had created a firestorm.   The day Karen and I visited, the other pastor, a woman, preached a sermon to help calm the storm.   But the day didn’t end there.  The pastors also were having a forum after worship.    And Karen and I decided to go check it out.   We didn’t do it out of any deep concern on the issue.  Honestly, we went for the same reason folks slow down when they pass an accident.  We had a morbid curiosity about the whole mess.

But the emotions I felt from the folks in that room, their anger, their fear, their dismay, shocked me.  I had no idea seeing God in such a way would be that disturbing to people.   I wish I could tell you that I had some profound revelation from that experience.   I didn’t.  I only learned that if I wanted to keep my new job I definitely shouldn’t preach a sermon on that.  And in 25 years of ministry, I don’t think I have.  

But now I get it.  Until you see what the Bible tells you about God’s womanly ways, you are missing something profoundly important about God.   In fact, until you see that, you can’t see fully how God shares in your suffering or pain.   You can’t see fully the wonder of what God did for you on that cross.   But when you do see these beautiful if maybe a bit shocking images, in them, you will find hope, consolation, comfort.  How can seeing God in that way do that?  In these words, God shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.   

How could seeing God’s womanly ways help you see God more clearly?  How can it help you see better what God in Jesus did for you on the cross?  In these words, God tells you.    When you see God in this way, you know how deeply God shares in your pain and struggle.  More than that, you know too how through pain and struggle, God can and will bring new life to you, to this entire world.
Do you see here where God becomes not just a woman, but a mother?   It happens right after God becomes a warrior, vanquishing his enemies.    All of a sudden God goes from a champion raising the battle cry to a woman crying out as she gives birth.   “But now,” God says, “like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.”

In a single sentence, Isaiah uses three different words for the same thing, breathing.  Why?   Clearly, Isaiah knows.  Isaiah know what it looks like when a woman gives birth, how important breathing becomes.  Sadly, the translators don’t do just justice to that first word, used only this once in the whole Bible.  Isaiah doesn’t say God cries out.  No, Isaiah says, God groans or bellows even.  God leads Isaiah to use that word because God knows how well it fits.  It fits the cries, the moans that come when women bring new life to the world.   And the words that follow, gasping and panting, then paint that picture more fully. 

But why does God focus on that part of childbirth, on the groaning and gasping.   It’s because God knows why women do those things.  That breathing helps them manage the pain.  And when you give birth, you can’t fight that pain.  You have to live in it.  You have to move through it to bring that baby into the world. 

Do you get what God is telling you in these two very different images, warrior and mother?  God is telling you.   I’m not the God who hangs out beyond you in some place where life doesn’t touch me.   No, I’m the God who fights with you against the enemies of your life, who helps you stand against them.  And more than that, God says, I’m the God who goes through the pain with you, who lives in it with you, so that with you I can bring you new life.

But in that image, God is saying even more than that.   Do you know the first place where the Bible talks about the pain of childbirth?       

It happens in Genesis, after Adam and Eve have ignored God’s words and betrayed God’s trust in the Garden of Eden.    As a result, Eden can no longer be their home.  But the results of their distrust of God go deeper than that.  God tells them it will bring new pain into their lives, especially when they bring new life into the world.  For Adam, God says.  It will not be easy for you to bring life from the ground.  You will wrestle with weeds and thorns.   And to Eve, God says.  It will not be easy for you to bring new life from your body either.   You will struggle with pain as you bring children into the world.    In both these examples, God is simply saying.  When your life goes out of communion with the One who created you, it messes things up.   Even when you strive to do something good, like grow crops or give birth, it becomes harder.  Sadly though, people have used this story to shame women, which ironically God also predicted, saying this lack of communion with God would lead to men oppressing women.   That’s right, right at the beginning, God calls sexism a major sign of what’s wrong with the world.   

But here in Isaiah God turns the shaming around.   God becomes the woman laboring in pain to bring the baby into the world.  And in doing that, God is telling you something crucial about who God is.  Don’t you see, God says.   I, God stand with you in all your pain, even the pain of your loss of communion with me.   As the writer, Lauren Winner, puts it.  God is converting the groansof childbirth from a sign of humanity’s fallenness to a sign of God’s intimateidentification with” you and me.   God is saying.   I am with you.  I am with you in all of it, the good, the bad, the ugly.    
But God is doing even more than that.   God is pointing you to God’s ultimate act of identification.  God is pointing you to Jesus.   That’s actually how this whole chapter begins.  At the beginning, God is telling you about the new servant who is coming to bring forth justice to the nations.   And just in case, you wondered, who God is talking about.   One of Jesus’ disciples, Matthew, take those very words and quotes them directly to describe the work of Jesus.   Heck, Jesus uses words from Isaiah very close to the ones written here to describe his own call from God. 

Maybe that’s why Christians centuries ago made these stunning observations about what Jesus was doing on that cross.   These followers of Jesus proclaimed that in some deep and mystical way, Jesus was giving birth.   And what was Jesus giving birth to?   Jesus was giving birth to a new you, a new me, to a whole new world.

Do you see how powerful that is?   Do you get what that tells you about what God can do in your life?    Look, who needs a God who just feels your pain?    Wouldn’t you rather have a God who takes your pain away.   But if you’re honest, don’t you gotta admit.  That sort of God isn’t good enough either.   

This past week, I started getting back to some regular work outs.  And that has led to some pain.  But it’s been pain I needed to have, signs that my body was getting stretched and pushed in good ways.  Pain can protect you from getting hurt.  It warns you when you do.  And pain of all sorts, including pain I brought on myself, has taught me lots of things.  Pain hasn’t always been a bad thing.   And from the beginning, the Bible makes it clear that pain comes with the territory.  We live in a broken world, and that world brings pain.  And when you try to avoid that, it just brings you more pain in the end.

No, you need a God who doesn’t just feel your pain, but who redeems it.  You need a God who will take your pain, even the pain that is most useless, even evil, and find a way to bring good out of it.   And that’s what Jesus does on that cross.   On that cross, Jesus enters into the pain of this broken world, but he does more than enter into it.   Jesus redeems it.   In Jesus, God through it brings new life.  God through it destroys everything that separates you from God.   God moves through that pain to create a new world, a world where one day pain and suffering will end. 

Do you get what that means?  That means, you have no pain you will face that God cannot redeem, that God cannot birth new life out of.    In fact, this week, wherever you are facing pain, bring it to God.   Say to God.  “I need you to bring new life here.”   And when you ask, God will.  God will redeem the pain of a loss or a relationship on the rocks.  God will redeem the pains of fear or disappointment or anxiety.   God will redeem the pain of regret or guilt.   And out of that, God will bring new life.   If God can birth new life through the pain of the cross, God can do that anywhere.  So, bring your pain to God.  Let this God bring the new life that only this holy and divine mother of us all can.  The labor might be long and hard, but through God’s love the new life will come.  

Sunday, May 6, 2018

What Is the One Food That Will Change Your Life Forever?

I used to see him every day when I ate lunch.  There at Henry Barger elementary, he smiled down at me.  And every time he freaked me out.   I did not like, “You Are What You Eat” Man.  I did not like him at all. 

I knew.  The poster was trying to give me a good message.   But I’m sorry.  That guy looked scary to me.  Has anyone here ever seen a “You Are What You Eat” Man?   I tried to find the image on-line.  The closest I could find was this.  
 Does that give you an idea why I might have freaked out?

Still the message those images share certainly folksneed to hear.   We Americans by and large could eat healthier.   But here’s the problem.   You can eat all the healthy foods you can.  You can go organic or vegetarian or vegan.  But those will only go so far.    No food, no matter how good, gives you self-worth or meaning.   No food, no matter how healthy, heals your regrets, frees you from guilt or shame.   No food, no matter how vitamin-filled, changes you deep down, creates in you the person you yearn to be, except one.

One food exists that has restored people, that has changed lives, that has transformed the world.  And, here, Jesus tells you what that is.   Let’s listen and hear what Jesus has to say.

Food does a lot of things.   It nourishes you.   It brings you health or, depending on what it is, may bring you the opposite.  It even can change your appearance.   Yet, food can’t transform you deep down.  It can’t bring to you lasting joy or meaning.   It can’t liberate you from fears or guilt or can it?  Jesus tells you here such a food exists.   Jesus says all those things happen when you eat this, when you eat me. 

But how can you eat Jesus?   How does that even make sense?  

To understand that, you need to understand how food-obsessed the Bible is.  Think about it.   What act does Genesis tell us separated people from God?   Adam and Eve ate the wrong thing.   A few books later, you have whole chapters devoted to keeping kosher, what you’re supposed to eat or not eat.   Look at the 23rd Psalm.  “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  My cup runneth over.”   Heck, Jesus makes his first miracle turning water into wine.   And the whole reason Jesus is even having this conversation is because he has just done a miracle where he fed thousands.   Why does the Bible focus on food so much?  

Well, think about what food does.   You eat food, and it does become part of you.  In a real sense, you are what you eat.   That can be a good thing, or it can be a bad thing, a very bad thing.

Recently, my son has become fascinated with how our car works.  And that means, I have learned a whole lot about engines, I never knew before.   It’s kind of blown me away.  I never realized what is going on every time I drive.   You and I can cruise down the road only because the gas that you pump into your car is creating thousands of tiny explosions in your engine.  That’s what makes it all happen.   Yet, if you put the wrong fuel into your car, it will mess that whole process up.  It may even literally destroy your engine.   

And when you eat food something not all that different happens.  That food explodes into energy inside of you.  It fills you with power.  Basically, Jesus is telling you here.  When you follow me, that’s what happens.   The very life of God begins swirling through you, exploding within you, healing broken places, changing old behaviors.

Now, how does that happen?  To get that, you need to understand what Jesus and the Bible means by life.  Unlike English, the Greeks had two words for life, Bios and Zoe.   Bios, as you might guess, means your physical life.  But Zoe, went deeper to what gives your physical life meaning or joy, what gives it life, so that you’re not simply existing.  No, you’re actually living in the fullest sense of the word.   Zoe is the word the Bible uses here.  That’s what Jesus is talking about, Zoe. 

And everyone needs this Zoe, this life.  Existence doesn’t cut it.  You need more.  Everyone does.  But just like putting bad fuel into a car, not everything that looks like it gives you life does.   It works for a while, but over time, like bad fuel, messes your life up.  It takes your life way.   And some of it will literally destroy it.    That’s why Jesus tells you.  Don’t look for the food that spoils.   Look instead for the food that endures forever.  And everything that you look to for life, that isn’t me, Jesus says, will spoil.   It will end up taking your life away.

And that gets to the heart of the human problem.  You and I run after so many false Zoes.  It can be a substance, alcohol or drugs or even food.  It can be the approval of others or success or wealth or a relationship.  It can even be religion.  The list goes on endlessly.   And you say to yourself.  If I have this, then that will be living.  That will be Zoe.   But it always spoils, Jesus says, always.

Why does it spoil?  All the false Zoes don’t connect you to reality.  They dull you to it.   They give you an escape from it.  But eventually reality hits, often painfully.  And when it does, the false reality collapses, and with it your life.  But Jesus doesn’t dull you to reality.  Jesus opens you to reality like never before.   In this reality, no set back or hardship or loss or failing can take your life away.  Why?
You now know what reality is.  You realize.  At the heart of reality, you don’t find an idea or a thing.  No you find a relationship.  You find a person, a person who has found you.  You find someone who loves you so powerfully, so infinitely not even your death will take his love away.  That’s who you meet at this table.  You meet a person, a God who in Jesus gave everything for you, who loves you no matter what.   And as you take his love in, as you eat and drink it, it explodes within you.  His love gives you life, a life that not only never spoils.  It never dies. 

Do you want this life?  Then know that this life is what the meal called communion not only proclaims, but actually gives.  But don’t just leave it there.  Every time you eat or drink, say a prayer like this.   Jesus, I want to experience you like this food, to feel your love fill me, energize me, freeing me to become all you created me to be.  And as you do, see what happens.   See how Jesus’ love fills you more and more.  And as you do, you will enjoy all of the good things of this life more.  Why? You are connected to the life, the love that lies in them and beyond them.  You are connected to what is truly life, to the only life, the only love that will never die.