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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

We Gather Around Food and Flesh - August 16, 2015

Perhaps you’ve noticed – on one or two occasions – that sometimes we use food to entice people into doing something we want them to do.

Our youngest son, Max, is an excellent example of this kind of cultural norm. When he was a teenager I would ask him something like, “Hey Max, do you want with me to go hear Walter Brueggemann talk about Old Testament stuff?” or “Max, would you be willing to be a volunteer at a fund raiser?” Before committing, he would almost always ask, “Will there be food?”

Often these were events hosted by our church or a place like Fortune Lake Lutheran Camp. You could pretty well bank on the fact that someone was going to bring food.  “I'm sure there will be food, Max,” I'd usually say. It was like going fishing and feeling the little tug of the fish at the bait and them knowing exactly when to snap the line back and hook the fish. And off we'd go to hear my favorite Old Testament scholar or woo donors for a good cause.

There was another example of using food as enticement this week right here in Munising. It was called “getting Pastor Ann and Larry moved into the new house.” Many of you were there and you so witnessed this amazing effort yourselves. When Larry and I started talking to folks here about getting a crew together to help move our stuff from the storage unit over in AuTrain, Dave Miskus was on top of the effort from the get go and immediately suggested that we get also get some food together and have some fellowship after all the stuff was transferred from one place to other … and with that simple suggestion, a Lutheran event was born.

And let me tell you, it was a beautiful thing. People gathered with trucks and trailers, brawn and organizational skills, sloppy joes, pizza, salads, a few cold beverages and a some yummy sweet treats and in no time at all, that stuff was moved.

It wasn't “a beautiful thing” just because of the “many hands make light work” approach either. It was also in the rich and lovely time we had together when the job at hand was done … when we gathered together, gave thanks for the day and the food before us and shared a meal. On a very practical level it nourished our bodies. But the act of eating like that – in community –  also, and maybe even more importantly, nourishes us as God's people. We learned more about each other, we made memories together. 

As Lutherans, we often get teased for adding a pan of bars, a salad, or Jell-o in the appropriate liturgical color to just about any gathering, but I actually think we're on to something quite important here. We come by it naturally and from ancestors who go back long before anyone knew to imagine something like our contemporary, American Lutheran faith communities.

Consider the call to gather in community around food in our reading today from Proverbs, a scripture that was first passed on in oral traditions as many as 2,500 years ago. Lady Wisdom is calling out to all who are “simple,” which is a Hebrew word more roundly translated as those who are lacking in something important. Here, she invites people into a community where they will share bread and wine. “Come eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed,” she calls from her doorway. The result is not only physical nourishment, but the opportunity to lay aside immaturity ... or grow in wisdom … and then, live and walk in that new-found insight.

That enticement with food is carried on through Jesus today too – only in this case – much more radically. Jesus is taking things up a notch. His language is changing.

Rather than talking about himself as the bread of life as he has for a few weeks now, Jesus is specifically talking about his flesh and blood. Five times he uses the word flesh. And rather than just eating, or taking this flesh in like we've heard previously, the word he uses is more like masticating – violently separating muscle from bone.

It's jarring and kind of weird for people like us who typically like to  imagine Jesus as a pretty gentle man. Of course there are exceptions, but in general I think we prefer Jesus the servant king, or the wise teacher with content students at his feet listening to him talk about our loving and loyal God.

But he is also the one we call the Lamb of God who is on the way to Jerusalem where his flesh will be torn and his blood will be spilled.

And the truth is, Jesus was more forceful in his teaching at times. His message was radical and inflammatory. “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”

This is absolutely shocking to the people in the story and, as usual, these words Jesus uses are quite purposeful. These changes in his language are no accident. It's part of his teaching method. This idea of eating his flesh and drinking his blood is scandalous. Drinking blood or eating flesh with blood it it was loaded with meanings and images. Blood was a sacred thing, a tabooed thing, a revered thing, a feared thing. And it had been so since the earliest days of our time in creation. Remember what God said to Cain after he killed Abel? “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground!” (Gen 4:10-11)

Jesus' shocking statements surely got people's attention. And in a way only Jesus can manage, he pulled off the blinders of assumptions and conditioning so the people could truly see the drastic way Jesus changes the relationship between God and creation, between God and humankind.

“For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink,” he continued. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

The shock value of the message was radical in the ears of  the people this gospel was written for too. The early Christ followers our Gospel writer John was talking to were still Jews in a place were their Jewish leaders said anyone who professed that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue and therefore community. Community was a critical lifeline for these people. But what Jesus promised meant that for them too, the power no longer rested with these synagogue leaders because through the Son of Man, through Jesus, those Christ-followers, like us, abide in God and God in them. Synagogue or not. Community or not. It changed everything.

Today this language may not seem so shocking to us, although I have met people who are very turned off by this idea of eating and drinking the flesh and blood of Jesus. For most of us though, we've heard these words for a long time, we've grown up with this language, we partake in the bread and wine at the table regularly. It's part of our familiar, like electricity and fresh water.

But perhaps we should try to hear it as inflammatory as it was originally meant to be. Because we too find ourselves subject to earthly powers that do not align with our Christian beliefs. It often happens so gradually, just under the radar, until before we know it or we've placed money or power or possessions above God,  or spoken in judgment or turned our back on our neighbor.

And sometimes because we forget how radical the event of the cross is and how it leads us to the font and the Lord’s Table, we also forget how radically counter-cultural we can be in that crazy world beyond those doors. We forget to be moved and maybe shocked by what it looks like to be people who “believe in him whom God has sent.”

I kept a quick list this week of what that looks like. I called it “community alive sightings.” Obviously, the moving effort made the list. But here are some other illustrations of what this looks like in the world.

The beaming face of a young girl who was gifted a guitar and encouraged to keep singing and writing.

The names of neighbors and other concerns lifted up to God by people gathered in Tuesday morning prayer group.

The sounds of a beautiful new baby in the office and laughter and joy of people who came in with pasties to make sure a growing family is well fed and loved.

A family who has lost some connection with the church over the years, but still gathers around a deathbed to celebrate a life, to remember that God's forgiveness is free-flowing and to be strengthened in sharing communion together.

People dancing and care-free for a precious hour or so of free music at Bay Shore Park.

The looks on the faces of Vera Dott and Edna Olson when they heard how fondly people here speak of them.

The story of parents and children who give of their own time to help an employee of Tendercare Health Center care for the residents.

This is the radical behavior that we are freed to in the tearing of  flesh and  shedding of the blood that took place on a cross in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

And so we will continue our Lutheran ways of inviting people to join us by using food and drink – food and drink in fellowship and food and drink at the Lord's Table.

And to that I say Amen – Amen, indeed.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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