Church Defined by the Sacraments
19 August 2018 – Lectionary 20, Proper 15
The statements in John’s Gospel that have given the church the “I am” statements in recent weeks are tantalizing puzzles for preachers. Like the voice in today’s Gospel reading, we may well ask: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” The task for today’s sermon would profit from tackling that question.
The answer may lead the preacher to talk about the sacraments of washing/teaching and eating –– specifically describing how necessary baptism is to the meal of bread and wine. We wash and then we eat. We learn and then we understand. We become a part of a community so that by residing in that fellowship and by associating with others who are drawn to the same mystery, we grow into a profound way of life.
The meal to which Wisdom calls us (Proverbs) is the meal Jesus identifies as himself (John). The preacher may call to mind the Gospel’s insistence that Christ Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life.” How, then, does the centrality of the risen one’s own body define the church? It is no longer a people who always follow the rules. It is, instead, a people who are brought together by the Holy Spirit to live together as beggars.–– Melinda Quivik
Jesus draws a sharp distinction between the bread provided during the Great Multiplication at the beginning of John 6, the manna from heaven provided to the Hebrew ancestors, and himself as the true bread of life. As did the manna in the wilderness, the bread eaten by the five thousand provided temporary physical nourishment and sustenance.
The bread of life that Christ provides nourishes and sustains the leb, the very core of our beings. The meal of bread and wine that Lady Wisdom serves in Proverbs 9 reminds us of the meal of bread and wine that Christ prepares and serves in the Eucharist. However, in addition to serving the meal as Lady Wisdom does, Christ himself is the meal that is served (‘‘the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh’’). –– Steven H. Fazenbaker
Ascribed to Solomon (1:1), Proverbs is a vast collection of traditional Hebrew wisdom. Much of the book, including this week’s lection, is written in the (feminine) voice of wisdom personified. Lady Wisdom (“Sophia”) has built her house, and has prepared a rich feast for all who will answer her call to “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.” The invitation goes out to all who will hear, but especially to the simple and immature. Attaining wisdom is not simply a one-time event, the affirmative response to an invitation to receive wisdom; it also requires abiding in the house Wisdom has built, and continually feasting at Wisdom’s table. –– Steven H. Fazenbaker
The letter to the Ephesians begins with the author discussing the mystery of Christ, which was not known to humankind in former generations but now has been revealed by the Spirit. The author continues by describing the differences in lifestyle between those who do not understand the mystery of Christ, and those to whom the mystery has been revealed. In this section of the letter, after being instructed to “put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts,” the hearers and readers of this letter are offered specific ways of living—not this, but that; not unwise, but wise; not foolish, but understanding; not drunk with wine (i.e., filled with spirits), but filled with the [Holy] Spirit. This new way of life is grounded in, sustained by, and the reason for, continual offering of songs of praise and thanksgiving. –– Steven H. Fazenbaker
Steven H. Fazenbaker, a United Methodist minister and previously the director of the Wesley Foundation at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is now enrolled in a DMin program with a concentration in science and theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
Homily Service 42, no. 3 (2009): 121-132.