Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA
23 Aug. 2015 Proper 16 Year B: 1 Kings: 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30,4 1-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
If I offer you this piece of stale bread how will you react?
Will you eat this stale bread?
Toss it outside for critters to eat?
Tenderly kiss it in humble reverence?1
The idea of such reverence for a piece of stale bread may be hard to swallow. I am sure it is less hard to swallow than it was for the many disciples to swallow what they hear Jesus say in our Gospel today.
The disciples who leave Jesus have been his followers, have seen miracles, eaten bread & fish Jesus has blessed & shared with thousands of hungry people. Why would they turn away when he says what he does today as he teaches in the synagogue at Capernaum, his base of operation in Galilee2?
How would you react to Jesus saying: “Those who eat my flesh & drink my blood abide in me & I in them”? You & I have a relationship with Jesus. The people who leave Jesus have a relationship with him. He does not force it on them.
All our scriptures today emphasize relationship: “How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts! Happy are they who put their trust in you!” as we read in our Psalm. In Ephesians we hear “Be strong in the Lord...Put on the whole armor of God.” We hear Solomon say “there is no God like you...keeping covenant & steadfast love for your servants...” Abiding with God, we keep our lives closely nestled with God, entrusted to God.
Our scriptures point us to the tension in our relationship with God: the tension between God's freedom & God's accessibility3. It is hard for us humans to understand God's grace that extends beyond tangible fact.
We hear Solomon speak of tangible fact: he has built a house for God – a house that has taken 7 years to build, a house dedicated in that 7th year, a fact that echoes the 7 days of creation, as one Biblical scholar notes4. Wisely Solomon asks: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven & the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!” Solomon acknowledges human limitation, the fact that he – we – cannot keep God in a box. Despite the boxes [the aumbry, etc.] we see here in our sanctuary that may have us think that we think otherwise, we know God is beyond any confines we make.
We know God is readily accessible to us in prayer & reaches us through others. We know God in our hearts. We sense God walking beside us, the Holy Spirit whispering to guide us. Sometimes that whisper is in the voice of a friend.
Difficulties, stumbling blocks, arise when we try to put God in a box, when we insist things have to be just this literal way that we can comprehend. May we have the grace to put on the armor of God, which is not literal but spiritual armor for defense, not aggression5, in this battle we have against spiritual evil that is very active on earth. The sword God gives us is speech6: God's Word Jesus, God's words that speak truth, love, hope, words that withstand the evil we face, words that the Holy Spirit will give us when we need them.
Human difficulties from literal thinking turn many away from Jesus in today's Gospel. May we have the grace like Peter does in today's Gospel. May we have the grace to remain in relationship with Jesus.
When Jesus asks, “sadness in his eyes, wistfulness in his voice: 'Do you also wish to go away?'”7, we know to respond to a question with a question. Like Peter we say:
"Lord, to whom can we go?
You have the words of eternal life...
you are the Holy One of God."
Our relationship with Jesus is grace for the long-haul. Like Jesus' relationship with us, it is a lifelong commitment, not a quick-fix. It is grace to embrace, to trust, to savor. We savor this grace at this holy table, in fellowship, in prayer. We can savor this grace when we feel our relationship with God or another child of God grow stale. This is the grace that inspires a human to kiss stale bread.
Commenting on today's Gospel & the meaning of Bread, author Katarina Whitley, whom some of you remember from the ECW meeting at St. Anne's in Tifton, tells about a poor woman in Greece who kissed stale bread. “She had had a very hard life...during...war years and immediately afterward....(T)here were no washing machines, (and) she was trying to survive by washing other people’s clothes. This woman would not allow even a stale piece of bread to be casually discarded; she had such reverence for it that she would kiss it before letting go of it...For her, bread meant both survival and holiness.”8
The Bread of Life that we eat at Eucharist
feeds us in ways beyond what we can understand.
Brueggemann, Walter. The Book That Breathes New Life. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2005.
Brueggemann, Walter. Journey to the Common Good. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. 2010.
Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. Second Ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 2001.
Galvin, Garrett. Assistant Professor of Sacred Scripture, Franciscan School of Theology, Berkeley, CA. “Commentary on 1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11] 22-30, 41-43”. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2559. Accessed: 18 Aug. 2015.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1971.
Henrich, Sarah. Professor Emeritus of New Testament, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN. “Commentary on Ephesians 6:10-20”. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2600. Accessed: 18 Aug. 2015.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 22 July 2015.
Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. Minneapolis: Winston Press. 1985.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Whitley, Katarina K. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2009/08/23/twelfth-sunday-after-pentecost-proper-16-b-august-23-2009/ Accessed: 18 Aug. 2015.
1 Whitley, Katarina K. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2009/08/23/twelfth-sunday-after-pentecost-proper-16-b-august-23-2009/ Accessed: 18 Aug. 2015.
2 Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. P. 154.
3 Jewish Study Bible & other resources.
4 Levenson, Jon D. Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible. P. 143.
5 Henrich, Sarah. “Commentary on Ephesians 6:10-20”. Accessed: 18 Aug. 2015. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2600.
6 Ibid. Henrich.
7 Ibid. Whitley.