Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 15, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14+Psalm 111+(Ephesians 5:15-20)+John 6:51-58

At some point over the past decade or two, bread has become the bad guy. It has been blamed for the obesity epidemic, for high blood sugar, it’s just empty calories and is devoid of real nutrition. As more people develop an intolerance for the gluten in bread, it is dangerous to their health. For those with eating disorders, bread is enemy #1.

So, what are we to do with this bread discourse that we have been reading for the past few weeks, with another week yet to come? Jesus is commending bread to us as the source of eternal life: “…the one who eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:58). It is impossible for us to fully grasp what Jesus is saying. Eat his flesh? Drink his blood? It is no wonder that critics of the early practitioners of Christianity called them cannibals. In Jewish law, drinking blood – the life source – is forbidden. What is Jesus talking about?

I wish I could tell you.

John’s gospel does not include an account of the Last Supper as do Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John has a foot-washing and a long farewell address by Jesus at that final gathering among Jesus and his friends. So, this bread discourse is taken to refer to the Eucharist as the Church has celebrated it from the earliest days, that somehow ingesting this bread in the community gathered for worship was to participate in the life of the risen Christ.

I cannot imagine that the people listening to Jesus were not as baffled as we are two millennia later. Many of those gathered around were looking for something to fill their bellies. How was this “flesh” supposed to do that?

What I can tell you is that, since the beginning of what we now call the Church, people have gathered as a community and broken bread together. It is a distinctive attribute of Christian worship. That we have not fully been able to participate in this community gathering for the past eighteen months is a fast that we never expected, and I’m not sure we yet fully grasp the implications.

Yes, many of us come together here, outdoors, and hear God’s word and receive this bread of life, but many of our members join us remotely, and many do not join us at all. What does this mean for us, as All Saints, this absence, this separation?

I don’t have a crystal ball that can predict the future, but I believe that a true transformation is coming. Those who have hungered and thirsted for this community, for this sacrament, will help rebuild a new All Saints, one that is filled with people on fire with love for God and neighbor, committed to bringing up our children in the household of faith, serving the community, and seeking justice for those on the margins.

Our challenge will be to invite others, those we know and those who may be new to us, to join in God’s mission in this time and place.

Last week, we welcomed three babies into the Church in the sacrament of Baptism. It is one of my favorite things, because where there are children, there is life. We are blessed abundantly with children and families, and in each baptismal liturgy, we promise to support them in their life in Christ. In truth, we promise to support each other in our lives in Christ each time we gather at this table. There is no such thing as a solo Christian.

Because of last week’s baptism, I skipped the continuation of the David saga, so you may have been surprised that our reading this morning began with, “David slept with his ancestors…” (1 Kings 2:10), a nice euphemism for “David died.” In last week’s episode, David’s son Absalom, who had rebelled against his father, was killed by David’s soldiers. It did not seem an appropriate reading for a baptism.

This week, we get another son, Solomon, son of Bathsheba, and anointed heir to the throne upon David’s death. Do y’all remember the 1988 film “Big” starring a young Tom Hanks, and how he goes to the carnival and asks the fortune-telling machine, Zoltar, to grant his wish to be big? And Zoltar grants that wish, except not in quite the way Hanks’s character might have wanted.

Well, in our text this morning, God tells Solomon that he can be granted whatever he asks, and instead of dreaming of riches and honor and glory and living forever, Solomon asks for discernment and wisdom to govern the people in his care. God is so taken with this that Solomon is granted that wisdom and discernment as well as riches and long life. We have all heard about the wisdom of Solomon, how he judged between two women to decide which was the mother of a child both claimed or as supposed author of the book of Proverbs. He was not, however, a perfect ruler any more than his father before him. But Solomon recognized one important thing: the people of Israel had to be united under one king worshipping in one temple, and that is what he accomplished. Of course, things fell apart soon after his death, but that is a story for another day.

People gathered together under one God, one temple. We gather together under one God in one holy and catholic Church. The way we gather may have changed and may continue to change, but the coming together of the people, the ekklesia, is constitutive of what it means to be Church.

In some of the earliest writings we have not contained in the New Testament, the Didache, aka The Lord’s Teaching Through the Twelve Apostles to the Nations, we find these words in its description of the celebration of the Eucharist:

We give you thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge  which you made known to us through your Son Jesus. Yours is the glory unto ages of ages.

As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and being gathered together became one, so may your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. For yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ unto ages of ages.

Even then, in the late 1st or early 2nd century, the longing was to gather the people. As we look ahead to the coming months and what this gathering might look like, our hearts long to be with the community, our friends and neighbors, to sing and pray and celebrate these sacraments, and to proclaim God’s love to this world, so filled with sorrow and strife these days. Solomon received what he asked for and so much more. Jesus told his followers to ask and they would receive, to seek and they would find.

The reading from Ephesians appointed for today instructs us to…be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.(5:18-20)

Until the longing of our hearts for us all to be able to gather again at this table is satisfied, we continue to sing and pray and give thanks.

ASEPSermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 15, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas