By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
August 9, 2009
Read: John 6:34, 41-51
Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”. Bread and water. The basics for sustaining life – physical life. But we know that Jesus is referring to something deeper than a physical life, he is referring to our spiritual lives. That to taste of Jesus is to know life – true life – vibrant life.
He says this about himself, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” and what happens? They began to complain. The Israelites were famous complainers, but they are hardly alone. We are all tempted to feel abandoned when life becomes difficult — and to challenge the scriptures and historical Christian beliefs when they run counter to popular culture — and to complain, to complain, when God fails to meet our expectations. When life becomes difficult, we complain.
In his book, Growing Spiritually, E. Stanley Jones tells of a guide taking his group through a grand cavern. There were many beautiful stalactites hanging from the roof and stalagmites growing up from the floor. The stalactites and stalagmites are formed by water dripping from the ceiling. Each drop of water, having percolated through layers of rock, had a tiny amount of minerals dissolved within. As those drops of water dripped from the stalactites (the ones that hang from the roof), each one deposited a molecule or two of mineral on the stalactite or the stalagmite. Over the years, those little bits of dissolved mineral formed those beautiful stalactites and stalagmites — some of them many feet in length.
But the guide told them that the water traveled through the center of the stalactites — not on the outer surface. He said that when that channel becomes clogged, that stalactite stops growing.
Stanley Jones commented that we are like that. Many people “are spiritual stalactites with channels clogged.” He went on to say, “We need perpetually to get rid of the things that clog mind and spirit.”
Our center, the bread and water that feeds our center, comes from God. Jesus is the bread of life and whoever believes in him will never by thirsty.
The influence that this food can have on us appears in a Chinese story originally told by Linda Fang. [She presented this story at the Smithsonian Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Washington, D.C., March 19, 1988.]
At the foot of a great mountain in China lived a father and his three sons. They were a simple and loving family. The father noticed that travelers came from afar eager to climb the dangerous mountain. But not one of them ever returned!
The three sons heard stories about the mountain, how it was made all of gold and silver at the top. Despite their father’s warnings, they could not resist venturing up the mountain.
Along the way, under a tree, sat a beggar, but the sons did not speak to him or give him anything. They ignored him.
One by one, the sons disappeared up the mountain, the first to a house of rich food, the second to a house of fine wine, the third to a house of gambling. Each became a slave to his desire and forgot his home. Meanwhile, their father became heartsick. He missed them terribly. “Danger aside,” he said, “I must find my sons.”
Once he scaled the mountain, the father found that indeed the rocks were gold, the streams silver. But he hardly noticed. He only wanted to reach his sons, to help them remember the life of love they once knew. On the way down, having failed to find them, the father noticed the beggar under the tree and asked for his advice.
“The mountain will give your sons back,” said the beggar, “only if you bring something from home to cause them to remember the love of their family.”
The father raced home, brought back a bowl full of rice, and gave the beggar some as a thank-you for his wisdom. He then found his sons, one at a time, and carefully placed a grain of rice on the tongue of each of them. At that moment, the sons recognized their foolhardiness. Their real life was now apparent to them. They returned home with their father, and as one loving family lived happily ever after.
Today we gather in this church to receive a reminder of home, a taste of food that will help us remember who we are. I mean the bread of life, our Father’s gift to us. This is the food of God’s kingdom, and reminds us that this kingdom is our true home.
We need this reminder of heaven because we are like the sons in the story. We have left home to climb a fascinating mountain. We are unwilling — or unable — to return home. And so our Father grieves for us. Our absence fills his heart with sadness.
What is the mountain we have climbed? It is the mountain of illusion. We know that many have lost their way there, yet we insist on exploring it.
Jesus finds us where we are, and places on our tongue a particle of that food from home. We recognize our foolishness, how we have left home and come to a lifeless place. At the same time, we remember our true home. Once again we can smell it, taste it, see it.
The heavenly bread we receive in the Eucharist helps us come to our senses. We recognize both our disorientation and our Father’s invitation to return home.
It would seem like a nice ending if we then left the mountain and went to live forever in a loving family. But while we still draw breath, the time to do so has not yet come.
What happens instead is that we realize our Father is with us right here on the mountain. Because he is present, we are home already. No longer is this mountain simply a place of darkness and danger. Once we eat what he gives us and open our eyes, we discover that even this mountain shimmers with the light of heaven.
Home is where the Father is, and since he is with us, we are home already. Again and again we eat the bread of life, lest our eyes grow dim and we fail to see his splendor, lest our minds grow dark and we forget the joys of home.
The kingdom of heaven is here and now. What does that mean?
Thich Nhat Hahn writes – Many years ago, I met a young American named Jim Forest. Jim is an intelligent man, and he asked me to teach him about the practice of mindfulness. One time when we were together, I offered him a tangerine. Jim accepted the tangerine, but continued talking about the many projects he was involved in — his work for peace, social justice, and so on. He was eating, but, at the same time, he was thinking and talking. I was there with him. I was really there; that is why I was aware of what was going on. He peeled the tangerine and tossed the sections of it into his mouth, quickly chewing and swallowing.
I said to him, “Jim, stop!” He looked at me, and I said, “Eat your tangerine.” He understood. So he stopped talking, and began to eat much more slowly and mindfully. He separated each of the remaining sections of the tangerine carefully, smelled their beautiful fragrance, put one section at a time into his mouth, and felt the juices surrounding his tongue. Tasting and eating the tangerine that way took several minutes, but he knew that we had time for that. We he finished eating, I said, “Good.” I knew that the tangerine had become real, the eater of the tangerine had become real, and life also had become real at that moment. What is the purpose of eating a tangerine? It is just for eating the tangerine. During the time you eat a tangerine, eating the tangerine is the most important thing in your life.
The next time you have a tangerine to eat, please put it in the palm of your hand and look at it in a way that makes the tangerine real. “You do not need a lot of time to do it, just two or three seconds. Looking at it, you can see a beautiful blossom with sunshine and rain, and the transformation of the baby fruit into the fully developed tangerine in your hand. You can see the color change from green to orange, and you can see the tangerine sweetening. Looking at the tangerine in this way, you will see that everything in the cosmos is in it: sunshine, rain, clouds, trees, leaves — everything. Peeling the tangerine, smelling it, and tasting it, you can be very happy….
One day, an American scholar told me, “Don’t waste your time gardening, growing lettuce. Write more poems instead. Not many people can write poems the way you do, but anyone can grow lettuce.” That is not my way of thinking. I know very well that, if I do not grow lettuce, I cannot write poems. For me, eating a tangerine, washing dishes, and growing lettuce in mindfulness are essential to writing poetry. The way someone washes the dishes reveals the quality of his or her poetry. – Thich Nhat Hanh, Mindfulness and Meaningful Work: Explorations of Right Livelihood
Jesus is the bread of life. Remember whose child you are. You belong to God and God loves you so deeply that He sent his Son so that we might have life and not just life, but abundant life. Amen.
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