Food First, Then Theology
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

August 16, 2015

John 6:51-58

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

There is a lot in these few verses, and we are right if we hear these words and think of communion. They continue the teachings of Jesus from last week, where we looked at the “I AM” statements.

  • I AM the bread of life (6:35, see also 6:41)
  • I AM the living bread that came down from heaven (6:51)
  • I AM the light of the world (8:12; 9:5)
  • I AM the gate for the sheep (10:7, 9)
  • I AM the good shepherd (10:11, 14)
  • I AM the resurrection and the life (11:25-26)
  • I AM the way, and the truth, and the life (14:6)
  • I AM the true vine (15:1, 5)

And here we have so many declarations about what it means to receive communion:

  • You have life in yourself (v. 53 – present tense)
  • You have eternal life (v. 54 – present tense)
  • You will be raised by Jesus on the last day (v. 54 – future tense)
  • You remain in Jesus and he in you (v. 56 – present tense)
  • You will live through Jesus (v. 57 – future tense)
  • You will live forever (v. 58 – future tense)

Some have pointed out that Mark, Matthew and Luke give us the story of Jesus giving communion, and John gives us the meaning. To partake of Jesus, is to have Jesus in us and for us to be in Christ. Early detractors of the church took such language of eating Jesus’ body and drinking his blood and charged Christians with cannibalism. But there is such a rich use of symbols going on here. In communion, we take part in the life of Jesus and he becomes a part of our lives. Remarkable!

Theology is important. What we believe, and why we believe it, informs what we do and why we do it. We are not welcoming of all because we think it is a good, nice, polite thing to do, or because we want members to shore up the church budget. We are welcoming because Jesus welcomed us.

We do not try to practice gender neutral words for God because we want to appease this group or that group, but because God created us in God’s image, male and female, God created us, so God is not limited to our strained attempts to define God by gender.

But theology is highly contentious; and it always has been. From the early days of the church, to the burning of heretics in the Inquisition, to the Amish practice of shunning those who do not abide by the rules of the community, to fundamentalists burning translations of the Bible with which they disagree, to current church fights over marriage equality, access to ordination, environmental degradation, war, poverty or any of a number of issues.

We argue over all sorts of stuff.

John is into long chapters. If Mark is more Hemingway-esque in its brevity, John sometimes feels like Charles Dickens, an author who got paid by the word. But if we go all the way back to the beginning of this chapter, or about four Sundays in the Lectionary, we get back to the start of this whole discussion: feeding about 5,000 hungry people.

This is the starting point, feeding the hungry. Arguments over communion that do not start with feeding the hungry miss the point. Arguments over open table, closed table, transubstantiation, consubstantiation, wine verses grape juice, kosher wine verses non-kosher, that do not begin with figuring out how we, the body of Christ, fed by Christ’s own self, can feed those who hunger for food, or who hunger and thirst for righteousness, are about as helpful as arguments over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

  • When Jesus heals ten lepers in Luke’s Gospel, and only one turns back and gives thanks, he asks where the other nine are, but he does not take back their healing, because the grace that heals is freely given.
  • When Simon the magician sees the amazing works of the Apostles and tries to buy the Holy Spirit trick from them, he is rebuked because the Holy Spirit is not something that is bought or sold or bartered, but is freely given.
  • When Elisha the prophet of the Old Testament heals General Naaman of his leprosy, he accepts no payment from the wealthy general, because God’s grace is freely given. And to drive the point home, when Elisha’s crafty servant follows the general and says, “Oh, my master changed his mind, we’ll just take some of that payment,” the servant gets the leprosy that had left the general.

Time after time, Jesus heals, raises up, lifts, restores, redeems or saves people before ever talking with them about what they believe.

Do we try and bottleneck the Spirit of Jesus by seeking to judge who is worthy of feeding and who is not? Do we worry that the person with the sign on the corner of Michigan and Homer over in Lansing will use any money we give them for drugs? What if we asked what they wanted to eat and went and got it for them?

Years ago, I remember someone coming to my parents with a need. I vaguely remember that it was a significant number of dollars, but I am pretty sure the amount is not the point of the story. After discussing it for a while, my parents agreed to help this person, with one stipulation: in the future, when this person found themselves in a position to help someone else, would they please do so.

I am thankful for their model.

Where was the surety, the collateral, the insurance that they would do this? That’s not how it works. The grace of God, even when delivered by our all-too-human hands, is freely given. The love of God, even when expressed by our all-too-human hearts, is freely given. The life of Christ, even when lived out in our all-too-human lives, is freely given on behalf of those who hunger and thirst.

There may be time for theology later. Let’s get people fed.

Thanks be to God.