St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for August 19, 2018

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
August 19, 2018
John 6:51-58
Proper 15 B
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     In our Old Testament lesson this morning, King David has died and his son Solomon has succeeded him as king of Israel. Solomon is still a youth and doesn't know exactly how to govern such a large territory. God appears to Solomon in a dream and asks what he would like God to give to him. Now he could have asked for a long life, or riches, or the death of all his enemies. But he does not. Solomon asks God for "an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil." God is pleased with Solomon's request, that he does not ask for something just for himself, but puts the needs of Israel first. God says he will give Solomon a wise and understanding heart. So we have the phrase "the wisdom of Solomon." God grants to Solomon a wise and discerning mind to be compared with no one, before or after him. God will also give him riches and honor as long as he walks in God's ways and keeps God's statutes.
     Our New Testament lesson from Paul's Letter to the Ephesians echoes the theme of wisdom. "Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit."
     How are we to be filled with God's Spirit? How are we to understand the will of God? The gospel of John addresses that question in terms of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus tells the Jews "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him." Now the Jews who were listening to this took it literally and were aghast that Jesus should talk in such grotesque terms of eating flesh and drinking blood. But Jesus was talking metaphorically. The flesh and blood that Jesus offers through his death on the cross brings us eternal life. It is through the Holy Eucharist that Jesus comes to dwell in us and we in him and gives us eternal life. By eating the bread and drinking the wine, we allow God to penetrate our souls that God's purpose can work within us and shape our wills. God enters us in the flesh and blood of Jesus, who lived and died for us.
     If we really believed that every time we gather to share the bread and wine that we are sharing in this gift of power and mystery, then our churches should be full to overflowing. All Christians would be clamoring to be fed at the Lord's table.
     If only it were that easy. If only we had to just receive the bread and wine and then we would know all that we should do, all that God wants us to do, that every decision we make would be the right one. But that's not how it works. By taking the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, we are given renewed strength to do God's will, but we are not forced to do it. God can and does work in and through us, but we have to do our part. We have to put God's will ahead of our own. And that doesn't always happen.
     So what gets in the way? What barriers do we put up between us and God? What do we need to let go of to feel God's presence in our lives, to feel God's peace and love? It's many things and its probably different for each person.
      It may be that we want to be in control, to control every situation rather than listening to the voice of God to lead us and guide us.
     Many times, our egos get in the way. We want to be the center of attention, the one who gets the last word, the one who is looked up to. Sometimes we have to let that go to hear the voice of God.
     It may be our self-centeredness that gets in our way. We would rather do what we want to do than what God wants us to do.
     It may be that we judge others too much or are worried that others are judging us - for what we say, how we look, how smart we are. That can get in the way of listening to the voice of God.
     We may think we are just too busy to have other than a superficial relationship with God. It takes time and effort to have a deep relationship, with family, with friends or with God.
     There are many things around us that distract us and get in our way of listening to God and living the Christian life.
     Our fears and anxieties often get in the way of our faith. We know that God is with us always, but in the end we often depend on ourselves and not on God.
     So where does that leave us? It leaves us in a place where we must acknowledge that our faith and life and hope are in God - no one and nowhere else. We look back to those who were faithful to God in the stories of the Old and New Testaments. We look back on 2000 years of church history, where many, many mistakes were made, and many wars were fought in the name of God. But God has prevailed. Here we are in 2018 reciting the creeds, the Lords Prayer, participating in the Holy Eucharist and in Holy Baptism, as Christians have for thousands of years, sometimes at their own peril. Christians have been killed for their beliefs, not only long ago, but today as well. That is how powerful the gospel message is. That is how powerful Jesus Christ is in the lives of many. That's what keeps us going - that we are standing on the shoulders of millions who have gone before us, willing to suffer and die for their faith, that we are part of a community of faith that helps to strengthen our faith.
     It is now up to us, these generations that are alive now, to continue to spread the gospel, to continue to remove the barriers that keep us from a strong and sure faith in the One who loves us and created us.
     In a few minutes, we will witness the baptism of Abigail Grace Johnson, daughter of Nichole and Michael Johnson. She will be baptized with water and the Holy Spirit and she will be empowered to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.
     As we witness this baptism and receive the Holy Eucharist, may we always put our faith, hope, and trust in God, listen to God's Holy Spirit within us, and break down the barriers that we erect that separate us from God. Amen.
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