We Need the Word and Sacrament For Eternal Life, a Sermon Preached on August 16th 2015
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 16th 2015
Proverbs 9:1-6 Psalm 34:9-14 Ephesians 5:15-20 John 6:51-58
We Need the Word and Sacrament
For Eternal Life
In our pastors’ bible study, a woman pastor was definitely going to preach on Proverbs. It is a real feminist text. Wisdom, Sophia in Greek is presented as a woman and she is not at all passive. She runs the household and is in the center of production. She is in charge. Like I say to my wife: “tu es la que manda.” Sophia, this woman of wisdom is filled with power and wealth, and sends out her servant-girls to help everyone walk in the way of insight. Wisdom entails mature knowledge, which is sometimes expressed as considering rational as well as the emotional mind.
Sophia is wisdom and philos is lover, so philosophia is a lover of wisdom. Logos in the Greek sense means reasoning and understood in the Hebrew sense as Dabar, it means the word that brings things into existence, the word that creates and does what it says. Sophia or wisdom is what logos or reasoning is shooting for and is personified as a strong woman, a honky-tonk woman. I was close to a family in seminary, who named their youngest son Ashley, after Ashley Montegue, the anthropologist who wrote the book, The Natural Superiority of Women. So we also named our first son, Ashley, because we men have to put that into our pipes and smoke it! As we used to say.
Now the Ephesians lessons in asking us to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord in our hearts is not only underscoring all our emphasis on hymn-singing this month, but also our open mic, music nights. What a time we had Friday night. People did not want to leave. Singers were still starting new songs at 9:30 and we got home pretty late. A lot of the night is turning out to be sing-a-long. Still we enjoyed all the performers and those who attended did not stop making requests! The musicianship, the voices, the talent: it was a night to remember!
But how can we not tackle our Gospel lesson when it is all about eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood? It is tempting to just spiritualize it and say that he is speaking metaphorically about teaching as bread. Thus Jesus could be speaking about Sophia or wisdom, logos or reasoning or dabar, meaning powerful words, as teaching, referring to it all as bread that we need to eat, take in, and digest.
But much more is going on here. We certainly receive Jesus into our hearts when we hear him preached. Last time I quoted Luther: “…by my bodily voice, I bring Christ into your heart, so that you may form him within yourself.” Now how it happens that the words bear him into your hearts through your ears, we do not know. Luther says, Christ does not need to poke a hole into your heart to be in it, just like he does not have to poke a hole into the bread to be in it. But Jesus also wants us to receive him through our mouths, through the eating and drinking in our sacrament. We really don’t know how the bread and wine become Jesus’ body and blood, but he wants us to receive him like food. Not only are we to become his flesh and blood by nurture, but also by nature. Jesus wants us to receive him like food that goes through our whole body, like nourishment that goes into our blood and through our blood into all our cells of our body, from those of our little toe to our earlobes, as the commentary said, so that we become completely filled and nourished by Christ, who is life-giving bread. The way bread strengthens the heart, according to the psalm,  Luther said, this bread we take in communion, strengthens the Christ within us.
People argued with Luther that because Christ had ascended into heaven, that he could not be in the bread and the wine. Zwingli in Zurich taught the real absence of Christ. But Luther held with the real presence and felt that in the end they would not believe that the Word had become flesh, a human being, that is, and dwelt among us in Christ. Being at the right hand of God meant that Christ could be inside all creatures and beyond them all, inside the smallest seed, for example, and still be greater than the whole universe. We can understand this miracle to which Luther refers better today: just think, each cell in one of your hairs contains your whole genetic code, which is the blueprint of our whole body. In a similar way the living bread will contain the blue print perhaps for our new bodies when we are raised.
Christ wants to emphasize that our bodies are really important and the lowly and mundane chewing, eating, swallowing, and becoming nourished by Christ has to do with raising us up on the last day and the resurrection of our bodies in the glory of life everlasting. Luther says that baptism raises us up into the new life, while communion guides us through death into eternal life. So the word itself is not sufficient, it has to be the word and sacrament.
In his commentary, Brian Stoffregen noted that soma the Greek word for “body” is used for communion, while here in John’s sixth chapter the word for “flesh,” sarx is used. John has foot-washing, where the other Gospels have communion. But in a very general theological way, he does seem to refer to communion. The word became flesh sarx and dwelt among us. “Flesh” was the word the Hebrews used for a human being. Thus the meaning is that the word became a human being and dwelt among us. The word, like ourselves, became enfleshed, became incarnate, and we too have to become the flesh and blood of Christ, so that we also become and further the incarnation as we become Christs to one a another.
Like we believe in the continuous creation and not that God created the world back a few thousand years ago or in the Big Bang 14 billion years ago. With that we also believe in a continuous incarnation, meaning that we all also become Christs here for our neighbors. So in a sense eating and drinking Jesus means that we become filled by him from head to toe and completely absorbed by him, so that when we are awakened we shall be like he is. When we used to do Vacation Church School and Day Camp, we used to say we had to eat, drink, and sleep it, because it was all consuming. The same goes for our faith. We dare not just try to get our tippy toes wet in baptism, when like learning a language, it requires total immersion. Not in the water, in the sense of the fullness of the sign, but in the matters of faith and in the following of Christ in self-denial and cross-bearing.
Brian Stoffregen notes that the devil was called a flesh-eater in Aramaic. And eating a person’s flesh and drinking their blood were ways to talk about murdering that person. So in one sense, Jesus was saying that he would be crucified in that horrendously cruel execution designed by the Romans. But we don’t want to leave all of this as being metaphorical. We believe that we receive the body and blood of our Lord in, with, and under the bread and wine. His body would also include his flesh, and in some way that is life-giving, like true living bread, that nourishes us beyond the ability of words for being raised up on the last day.
And were you there when they crucified my Lord? “Yes, indeed, with hammer and nails in hand,” the way William Sloan Coffin used to say. Some people insist that the Romans or the Jews crucified Jesus and Antisemitism used to be justified by quoting, “Let his blood come upon us and our children.” We are the sinners that Christ came to save and if his blood does not co me upon us and our children then we are not forgiven. So we confess, “I crucified him” and Jesus pronounces his wonderful forgiveness: “Father, forgive them they know not what they do.” So God was able to take what was absolutely evil and change it into a blessing, the same way God transformed the cross, which was a symbol of torture and execution into the symbol of the greatest love that the world has ever known. The people from Emanuel AME Church in Charleston just demonstrated that strong love and incredible forgiveness once again. That makes us Christians proud!
So in the sense of this text, let’s take the bread that a member baked and put it in our mouths, chew it, swallow it, because in it Christ is feeding us for everlasting life. Let’s drink the wine, the same way. It doesn’t matter if it’s intinction. But if you drink it, it is even all right to slurp. In Japan they get the most joy out of slurping their soup. When leaving the Tokyo airport in an airplane, the stewardesses served us soup, and first everyone slurped away and then realizing they were leaving Japan, everyone gradually stopped slurping and then it became appropriately quiet.
Jesus is not embarrassed by our bodies or by our bodily needs and thus we hear the word but also receive the sacrament and believe the promise, that Jesus uses our eating and drinking in this sacrament to invite us into communion with one another and with all the saints, and to raise us up in the bodily resurrection in glorified bodies, because we became his flesh and blood, bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh in this communion sacrament. Amen.
 Timothy Lull, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), p. 319.
 Psalm 104:15.
 Timothy Lull, Op. cit., page 246.
 Ibid., p. 260.
 Cf. 1 John 3:2.
 Matthew 27:25.