St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Sunday, August 5, 2018
The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13B)
First Lesson: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
Second Lesson: Ephesians 4:1-16
Gospel: John 6:24-35
Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
“Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
These words from our lesson from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians are powerful. They convey a sense of responsibility and urgency. They remind us that this life to which we’ve been called as followers of Jesus is built upon how we treat our brothers and sisters. The author uses some key words to describe this life, words like humility, gentleness, patience, love, and peace.
I think there’s something else, though. To me, these words also seem to suggest that our calling is actually a gift from God. Have you ever given much thought to that? Have you ever thought of your call to follow Jesus as a gift? We tend to think of God’s call as something that God extends to everyone, and that’s true. All of us, all of God’s children, are called to live lives worthy of the Gospel, and God gives us the freedom to choose whether or not to respond to that call. But, I’m not sure that we give enough thought to the fact that God’s call is actually a precious gift.
As Christians, it makes me wonder what our lives might be like if we focused less on the burdens that we bear and more on the gift that we have to share with others.
One of my favorite things that I get to do as a priest is to help lead Vacation Bible School every summer. A few years ago, while I was serving at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in Abilene, Texas, we put on a Vacation Bible School program called, “Abundant Life,” and it was inspired by the work of Episcopal Relief and Development. Many of you have heard me talk about ERD in the past. It’s an organization of the Episcopal Church that works primarily to alleviate poverty, hunger, and the spread of disease in nearly forty countries worldwide.
The goal for our Vacation Bible School program that summer was to offer children the opportunity to consider the various ways that God calls all of us to be stewards of God’s creation. So, we talked about God’s gifts of water, soil, seeds, and animals and how all of these gifts impact our relationship with the earth. We listened to stories from Holy Scripture. We planted flower seeds in clay pots that the children decorated themselves. We played rousing games of “Duck, Duck, Goose,” and we sang songs.
We also talked about how the gifts that God provides us in creation are not as readily available for some people as they are for us and how we should be thankful and willing to help others when we can.
On the last evening of VBS, during the closing Eucharist, I explained to the children how the fruits of the earth that we receive from God can be used to create something that nourishes us, such as bread.
Holding a large bowl full of whole-wheat flour, I asked the children, “Who knows what this is?”
Many of them already knew what it was.
They shouted out, “Flour!” Then, I passed the bowl so that they could feel the flour in between their fingers, and as I passed it, I asked them, “What kinds of things can we make with flour?”
As you can imagine, I received some colorful responses.
“Peanut butter balls!” Obviously, that was my favorite answer.
When the last child had a chance to touch the flour, I said, “Yes, we can make lots of things with flour, and like someone already said, we can make bread.”
After walking back to the Altar table that we had set up in the Parish Hall, I held up several flat, round loaves of Eucharistic bread that I had made the day before. Then, I explained that we use bread in communion because it’s a sign for us that God loves us and that Jesus is here with us when we receive the bread and the wine.
I told the children, “When we receive the bread and wine, we carry Jesus with us out into the world so that we may love others as Jesus taught us to love.”
“How does Jesus teach us to love?” I asked them.
Then, I read a portion of our lesson from the Gospel of Matthew. I said, “The Kingdom is yours. Come. When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me a drink of water. You welcomed me when I didn’t know anyone. When I needed clothing, you gave me some. You took care of me when I was sick and visited me in prison.”
“That is how we love like Jesus wants us to love,” I told the children. “We love by taking care of other people, especially those who have less than we do, those who have no one else to care for them.”
Dear friends, this is how we live lives worthy of our calling. Just like the children at Vacation Bible School who gathered around the Altar table to bear witness to the work that God is doing in our lives, we, too, are called to bear witness to the grace and mercy of God and to go forth into the world to share God’s grace and mercy with those whom society has rejected- the poor, the sick, and the oppressed.
I’ve been a priest for a little over three years now, and in those three years, I’ve experienced moments of grace that are beyond anything that I could’ve expected or imagined in my ordained ministry. One moment was getting to celebrate the Eucharist at the end of Vacation Bible School with thirty children gathered around the Altar, and there’ve been so many others, including our VBS programs here at St. Catherine’s.
Ministry to children is such important work in the life of the Church, and I thank God for those who’ve committed their lives to this important ministry and for the opportunity to be part of it. I believe that children instinctively know what’s going on when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. They may not be able to articulate it, but they know something special is happening. They may not seem interested in what’s going on, but the Holy Spirit is at work. God shows up, even when the chaos of chattering children might convince us otherwise.
But, God does more than simply show up.
God uses simple things like bread and wine to show us how to live as Jesus lived. God uses bread and wine to form us into the Body of Christ.
In today’s lesson from the Gospel according to John, Jesus says to the crowd, ““I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
This is the abundant life to which we are called. When we participate in the communion of Christ’s Body and Blood, we carry Jesus wherever we go. We become tabernacles of the love of God in a broken and sinful world. We become that which we have received in the Eucharist: the gifts of God for the people of God.
It would be a mistake for us to think that the only reason for coming to the Altar during communion is to receive something. When we come before the Altar of the Lord, we’re called to offer something as well. We’re called to offer our whole selves- not just our gifts of bread, wine, and money- but every part of what makes us who we are as God’s beloved children.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him,” we read in the thirty-fourth psalm. Come to the Table, my brothers and sisters, not for nourishment only but to renew your commitment to Christ to love and serve others. Come to the Table to partake in the Body and Blood of Christ. It is the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation. Behold what you are in the Bread and Cup; may you become that which you receive. Amen.