BIBLE READING:    John 6: 51-58

 

SERMON

After I had finished my sermon for today - I came across these world by a beloved author Henri Nouwen. I would like to share them with you, then progress to my sermon…

 

"...in the celebration of the sacraments, we need to be aware of the importance of a ministry of absence. This is very central in the Eucharist[Holy Communion]. What do we do there? We eat bread, but not enough to take our hunger away; we drink wine, but not enough to take our thirst away; we read from a book, but not enough to take our ignorance away. Around these “poor signs” we come together and celebrate.

 

What then do we celebrate? The simple signs, which cannot satisfy all our desires, speak first of all of God's absence. He has not yet returned; we are still on the road, still waiting, still hoping, still expecting, still longing. We gather around the table with bread, wine, and a book to remind each other of the promise we have received and so to encourage each other to keep waiting in expectation for his return.

 

But even as we affirm his absence we realize that he already is with us. We say to each other: “Eat and drink, this is his body and blood. The One we are waiting for is our food and drink and is more present to us than we can be to ourselves. He sustains us on the road, he nurtures us as he nurtured his people in the desert.” Thus, while remembering his promise in his absence, we discover and celebrate his presence in our midst.

"The great temptation of minist(ers) is to celebrate only the presence of the Lord while forgetting his absence. Often the minister is most concerned to make people glad and to create an atmosphere of 'I’m OK, you’re OK'. But in this way everything gets filled up and there is no empty space left for the affirmation of our basic lack of fulfillment. In this way God’s presence is enforced without connection with his absence. Almost inevitably this leads to artificial joy and superficial happiness. It also leads to disillusionment because we forget that it is in memory that the Lord is present. If we deny the pain of his absence we will not be able to taste his sustaining presence either.

"Therefore, every time ministers call their people around the table, they call them to experience not only the Lord's presence but his absence as well; they call them to mourning as well as to feasting, to sadness as well as to joy, to longing as well as to satisfaction."

 

…….

 

Time. We all know what time is. We are in it, of it, on it, in the nick of it, or out of it. We are its creatures. As the fish is in the sea and the sea is in the fish, so are we in time and time in us.

Hurry up, you’ll miss your train. When’s dinner? Are we there yet?  I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date. Are you having the time of your life? Let me give you some timely advice. Every time I hear that - Remember that time?

We live like this, all of us and each of us, tick-tocking our way through the unknown in a regularity of minutes and hours that are beyond us and within us, and that lead us to something – a meal, a grown up child, or back to bed.

Jesus warned us about time, saying it would bring sweeping changes, and would sweep us all away, which of course we know, but we do not know when that time will be, and so we live as if it won’t come. But Jesus kept interrupting human busyness with this reality of time. He said, of that hour and that day, we know nothing.  And again, he said, why can’t you read the signs of the times? And then again, the hour is coming, and now is . . .

What is not in time is eternity. Eternity, having no beginning and no end, is not ‘later’, as most of us think, nor is it elsewhere, in some special place, which is another common image.  It is, according to Jesus, here and now, already and not yet, in this world and beyond this world. Jesus said this often, in one way or another. He called it the kingdom, and he called it eternal life.  He called it the presence of God and he called it the Spirit. He called it his authority and he called it that which drew people to him. He called it that for which we hunger and thirst. And he called it his flesh and his blood.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, he said, and abide in me and I in them.’ These are John’s words, John’s testimony.  And it is about as clear as mud.

We eat bread and wine in church, invoking his spirit into them and us. And by doing this we ingest the habit of seeking eternity and affirming its connection to what is mortal, seeking what is beyond time, in time.

What we perhaps miss, in the ritualizing, is the mystical sense Jesus, in John, conveys: that the world is transformed by powerful acts and words of Spirit, in the mortal bodies and voices of people whose destiny is to transform time. And they live in us beyond their own time, as we live our way into a new time their words and deeds have brought about.

 

Jesus awakens hearts every day, setting people free from fear and despair, and raising them in hope, dignity, confidence and joy, in every culture in the world.  And those who know him swear that he is alive now, not later, nor somewhere else, but here in the midst of us.

We may all find these moments of eternity, in the first breaths of new flesh and the last breaths of old flesh.  As well, we find them in quiet listening, to crickets on a summer evening, to the sleeping of a child, to rain on window panes and to storms howling through trees.  

 

Jesus adds a dimension of his own life to ours: his words, his deeds, his spirit.  We may follow the road of his Spirit and his flesh: loving enemies, reaching out to the dishonored and the dishonorable, caring for the lost, the beleaguered, the lonely, the least, the left-behind, the losers.

In all of this, as he said he would do, he abides in us, and we in him.

 

Acknowledgements: Rev Nancy Rockwell; Henri Nouwen