Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 05, 2018 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Exodus 16:2-4;12;15 | Psalm 78:3-4;23-25;54
Ephesians 4:17; 20-24 | John 6:24-35
       + In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
       Each week, we take food and other supplies to Well In The Desert, a local agency that feeds hungry people. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life in this country that your access to food is determined by how much money you have.  In our economic system, if you are an honest person who plays by society’s rules, you have to pay a grocery store or restaurant money to get food. Shoplifting or leaving a restaurant without paying the bill could get you arrested and convicted of a crime. Complicated and intense ethical arguments can be made as to whether that is fair or unfair, but that is a topic for another day. Suffice to say for now, humans need food for survival, and that in the United States, your survival is, unfortunately, your own problem.
Last week, we heard about a large, hungry crowd listening to Jesus speak. We saw yet another demonstration of the identification of Jesus with the human condition when he did what was necessary to satisfy their physical hunger.  In today’s first reading, we again have a mob of hungry people. The Israelites looked to their leader, Moses for food. Moses had led them out of captivity through the Red Sea, out of slavery to the Egyptians, into freedom on a journey wandering through wilderness to the “promised land” then occupied by the Canaanite tribes. In those days, there were no restaurants or even farmer’s stands along the way where they could stop and buy food. They pretty much had to be hunters and gatherers along their journey, which meant they didn’t know what was available to eat from day to day. They were both homeless and hungry. They were solely dependent on God to provide physical nourishment to them. What kept them going, was their trust and reliance on God for survival.
Today’s Gospel is also about faith and trust in God to feed us, but in a different way. It’s about what we really get from receiving the Eucharist.  A very small wafer and a sip of wine is not a meal in the sense of satisfying bodily hunger for food. It was never meant to be that. The Eucharist is spiritual food. What is significant for us in the here-and-now, is how the lack of any spiritual food whatsoever in the lives of many people affects them as individuals and society as a whole.
Those of you who know me well know I am a news junkie, and indeed, my undergraduate degree was in communications and I once was a news reporter, both print and broadcast. When I read the news in the paper or online, or watch it on television, as I do every day, I perceive a profound hunger for spiritual food in our over-secularized world. I sense this most often when I hear or see stories about disasters, both natural and human-made. In the faces of disaster victims, I see facial expressions that convey fear. In the voices of the victims, I perceive feelings that go beyond seeking information and expressing distraught about the events causing them distress. These people are crying out for comfort that the secular world is unable to provide.
Many people who are progressive in their social thought distinguish themselves by lauding the secularization of society, where concerns about God and Jesus are swept aside as supernatural nonsense, irrelevant to contemporary life. This quest to get God out of their lives, however, fails to account for the desperation I see in the faces of people driven out of their homes by storms, fires, earthquakes and the carnage of human-caused disasters like mass-shootings and other crimes. Very seldom do I see people praying or looking to God for help and comfort.
I don’t find this surprising at all. The latest California statistics from Pew Research Center shows that twenty-seven percent of our population reported no religious preference, including a substantial number of atheists and agnostics. An additional eighteen percent described their religious background as “nothing in particular.” That’s a full forty-five percent of Californians who seldom, if ever, attend church simply because religion is not part of their lives. Like the Israelites in the First Reading, they care first about filling their bellies. Physical survival is number one. Indeed, the Israelites grumbled at Moses and Aaron for leading them to freedom out of Egypt, because even though in Egypt they were slaves, at least they had enough to eat.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus encounters people with the same orientation. They had just seen Jesus feed five thousand people with just a few loaves and fishes, which led them to associate Jesus with food to satisfy physical hunger. Jesus responds by reminding them that the food they eat perishes and will not give them eternal life. He tried to convince them that, in the same manner that the Israelites received food to satisfy their physical hunger, the people in listening to Jesus will receive the bread that gives eternal life…and that bread is Jesus Himself.
Unlike the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Gospel according to John lacks a Eucharistic narrative in its scene recounting the Last Supper. However, the Bread of Life Discourse in John Chapter six takes the meaning of the Real Presence of Jesus one step further. John chapter six is explores the meaning behind the operative Words of Institution in the synoptics declaring bread to be the Body of Jesus and wine to be His blood.
The most important statement in today’s Gospel, is that God gave Jesus to be bread for the world. Bread symbolizes life. Bread, as nourishment, sustains life. The manna that rained down from heaven was food that God provided to the nation of Israel, so that their bodies would not starve.  But Jesus is more than that. Not only did He come down from Heaven, he arose from the earth as God enfleshed. God formed Jesus into a loaf just like God formed us. Just as bread rises, Jesus rises, and the Bread of His Body is shared with us in Holy Communion, to give us a taste of the heavenly banquet of eternity.
The food which Jesus gives us is eternal food, because when we receive the Body of Jesus, we are no longer spiritually hungry. We don’t satisfy our spiritual hunger by working our tails off for food that satisfies only our bodily hunger and then perishes. Instead, we get that eternal food by being open to receiving Jesus, who is the imperishable food of eternal life, food that satisfies us forever.
The world is desperate for that kind of food. How many of the people who have spurned God are truly happy with their lives? Are they like the people of Israel who abandoned YHWH and instead worshipped the locally popular false gods of the Canaanites?  That parallels are a bit uncanny here. If today’s people aren’t worshiping God, they are, more likely than not, worshiping the false gods of materialism. That is all so shallow, so devoid of depth and meaning. I truly feel sorry for those people whose lives lack the presence of God. But it also sends a message to us as Christians.
That message is that all of us must do a much better job of educating the world around us about Jesus, not only with words, but how we live. The solution to making real Jesus as the Bread of Life in the life of the world is exactly what we do here at Saint Cecilia’s. We welcome all without judgment, and we stay out of everyone’s bedroom.  And we’ve got great music, too.
The time has come for progressive Christians to continually challenge those traditions of the church that obstruct the experience of Jesus as Bread of Life for all of humanity. We can do that by allowing the Bread of Life to transform us.  Transformation means change. To those of you who find change uncomfortable, I have three words: “Get over it.” For nearly two thousand years, Christians have viewed the very idea of the Eucharist itself as transformational: ordinary bread and wine are transformed to become the actual physical presence of Jesus. They don’t symbolize or represent that presence. They are that presence. Jesus said, “this IS my Body” and, “this IS my blood.” He didn’t say they “symbolize” or “represent” Him.  Here’s an example. I take a picture of a myself, known as a “selfie”. The picture of me is a representation of me, but the picture is not I. I myself am I. Jesus was not taking a selfie or drawing a representation or caricature of Himself, but authoring Himself to be physically present in the form of Bread and Wine.
God chose Jesus as God’s instrument to build up that Kingdom by transforming the world. God calls us to do likewise. The Eucharist is meant to change us so we can change the world around us. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the spiritual food of the Eucharist turns the person who eats It into Itself, converting humanity into a manifestation of Jesus, so that we may no longer live for ourselves, but to live that Jesus may live in us. We get to that by believing in Jesus. When I say the word, “believe”, I am not referring to whether one thinks the bread and cup we share is the actual Body and Blood of Jesus – it is that – but “Believe” means more than the proposition that something might be true.  I’m talking about believing in the sense of trusting Jesus, inviting Jesus into your life as your Savior and intimate Friend. The crowd in today’s Gospel was transformed into believing in Jesus, and by the Eucharist, we are, too.  Welcoming all to communion, as we do here, enables Jesus to spiritually nourish and transform all lives, not just those whom other people deem worthy.  The widest possible availability of the Eucharist demonstrates at least a small possibility of wiping away the desperation I see on the faces of those distressed people in the news reports. The Eucharist is a truly a tool, not only to transform us, but the world in which we live. That’s why, in the tradition of the Church, it has always been the principal act of Christian worship on Sunday.
Today’s second reading calls us to transform ourselves by no longer living as others around us do. It calls us to put away our old selves and former way of life, and to put on a new self. That’s what Jesus, physically present in the Eucharist, does for us. Receiving the Eucharist allows us to be renewed in the spirit of our minds, and allow a spiritual revolution to overtake us.  It allows us to put on a new self and live as an instrument of God’s peace and compassionate justice.  
Feeding on the Body of Jesus in the Eucharist nourishes us on our journey to our ultimate goal is to be like God and become one with God. In this process of transformation, we can transform the world around us, by calling out injustice and caring for the least among us. The Bread of Life from heaven changes us so we can change what needs changing in our world. It gives us courage to do what we have to do, to not be intimidated by the forces of evil which are always so ready and anxious to get in our way. We overcome that by our continued trust of Jesus and our allegiance to him. We can trust Jesus because Jesus is all powerful and more than capable of defeating the spiritual malaise infesting our world.
Receiving the spiritual food of the Eucharist invites us to become what we consume.  Both physically and spiritually, you are what you eat. To give you an analogy from the nutrition world, look at what happens to people who subsist on high sugar, high salt and high fat junk food.  Those foods are cheap to buy and do taste good, but people who eat them get fat and develop health problems like diabetes and heart trouble, and do not live a long time. Contrast that with people who eat a low fat, low carbohydrate and low salt diet.  Their health is better and they live longer.  The same is true for your spiritual life. The popular Bible-only churches dish up the spiritual equivalent of fast food. They experience a short-term spiritual high because those churches present fast and easy answers.  Ignoring biblical scholarship and the spiritual senses of scripture, they ask us to pick up the Bible, read it literally, live by it as if it were a law book, a history book, and a science book, and all will be well. That’s what I call junk spirituality. But just like junk food gives you a tummy ache, junk spirituality gives you spiritual indigestion and has long term consequences. We can see that in the judgmental, intolerant attitudes of our sisters and brothers in conservative evangelical churches, who unfortunately take those attitudes with them into the voting booth.
Just as bread nourishes our physical bodies, Jesus gives eternal life to all of us and sustains it within us. Jesus is the wholesome food that heals us, unites us, and brings us joy. Like the people in today’s Gospel seeking a sign from Jesus, for us here today, the Eucharist is that sign, a sign that Jesus is here among us, with us, and in us, as the Bread of Life for everyone, everywhere, and forever. AMEN.

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