By The Rev. Sherry Deets
11 Pentecost, Proper 14 – August 12, 2012
John 6:35, 41-51
Jimmy Harper wearily plodded home after a tough day on the job. As he walked he spied a bench alongside the road; he stopped and rested. As he waited, a woman, hauling behind her a large cart of flowers, happened to pass by. The sweet smell of the flowers perfumed the air. Jimmy instantly lost the weariness in his body and his spirits were lifted. Never before had he experienced anything like this, especially from flowers, and he had many of them at his home. “How much are you asking for your flowers?” Jimmy asked the lady. “You may take as many as you wish,” she replied. “There is no charge. Your gratitude and the proper use of the flowers is sufficient payment for me.” Jimmy hurriedly gathered as many flowers as he could in his arms and, now renewed in body and spirit, continued his journey home.
When he arrived home and entered the front door, the sweet aroma of the flowers almost instantly permeated the house. Jimmy’s wife and children came to the front room, sensing that something special was happening. They too had their weariness removed and their spirits lifted. The flowers were performing some magic; in a very real way these flowers were feeding the Harper family.
Jimmy was concerned that the magic of the flowers be maintained. When the blossoms began to wither and die, he gathered them together and planted them in a small plot of land behind the house. With sunlight and water the flowers again bloomed and continued their magic. Never before had the Harper family received such solace from weariness, comfort from sorrow, and spiritual nourishment as these special flowers brought.
Jimmy was quite cautious about the flowers; he did not want anything to happen to them. At first his caution was manifest only in a warning to his children, lest their energy in play result in trampling the flowers. Later, when the Harper children were more mature and guests were a regular occurrence at the house, Jimmy built a wall around the flowers to protect them. This caused much consternation in the family, as now special permission was required and access was restricted to the flowers and to their special power. Later Jimmy found it necessary to hire a guard to safeguard the flowers and lawyers and judges to adjudicate cases for access. In the process the family lost the special magic that the flowers had brought; they were no longer fed. In the end members of the Harper family, frustrated that the flowers were denied them, decided to seek the flower lady themselves. They searched the highways and byways; finally they found her. She was still giving away her flowers, free of charge, to any who would be grateful and would use them properly. (Paraphrased from “The Flower Lady” in John Aurelio, Colors! Stories of the Kingdom (New York: Crossroad, 1993), pp. 146-147.)
So…are you a person who lives to eat or one who eats to live? With respect to food, most of us, especially those who live in the so-called first world, would answer, we live to eat. Food is good and dining is pleasurable; it is a social norm. But for those who bear the name Christian, we must go one step further and ask this same question of our spiritual hunger. Do we live so as to be fed by that which God gives us, or do we merely eat and drink of God enough to survive? The story of Jimmy Harper and the flower lady challenges our motivation about how we think of God and remove barriers which impede our path to Jesus.
Life is the greatest obstacle course and all people must run it, whether we wish to or not. Each day we are presented with various challenges, barriers, and hurdles that we need to negotiate to navigate safely to tomorrow. Generally, we successfully conquer all our obstacles and move on to the next day. There are times, however, when the hurdles are too great, too numerous, or our earlier stamina is depleted. There are also times that, through inattention, lack of forethought, laziness, and even sinfulness that we place additional barriers in our way. Although life itself provides sufficient challenge, we compound the problem by our own action, inaction, or words.
Jesus’ bread of life discourse provides us with contrasting images on the barriers of life and the way to navigate through troubled waters successfully. The Jews, those who heard Jesus’ words after he fed the 5,000, had the perfect opportunity to remove some of the barriers that made life difficult. They had Jesus in their midst; the living bread from heaven was physically present and they failed to recognize him. In their ignorance the Jews placed a barrier between themselves and belief. Their inability to believe put God at a distance.
We are at times like the Jews; we place God at a distance and fail to feed ourselves on the Bread of Life. The obstacles of life are sufficient challenge for anyone, but they cannot be successfully conquered without the assistance of God. We need God and we need the nourishment which Jesus alone can give. We can feed on Jesus in the Eucharist, and we also could seek God’s presence in Scripture and the Christian community. We place barriers before us. We ask, as did the Jews, “What is the bread of life?” We do not take sufficient time to feed ourselves on Scripture. Sometimes we are lazy; other times we claim we are too busy. There are those times as well when we simply refuse to listen. We often keep others at a distance. We will only associate with those who live in our same neighborhood, do the same work, or possess the same intellectual capacity. When we fail to see God in others, we miss a great opportunity and set up another barrier that keeps the Lord at bay.
Jesus, the bread of life, challenges us to break down barriers that impede our progress along the path to eternal life. We must seek the strength and sustenance which only Christ can give to assist us in removing hurdles and obstacles that keep God’s grace at a distance. Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, the Scriptures, and the Christian community feeds us with the spiritual sustenance we need in order to triumph over the obstacles, pitfalls, and painfulness of life. Alone we will be lost; with the Lord we will discover God’s Kingdom, today and to eternal life.
That’s what Jesus does. He lets us live our lives–but he nourishes us spiritually to prepare us for whatever comes. He nourishes us spiritually just as bread nourishes us physically. He adds a great dollop of blessing to whatever we do. I know that is true, because I have experienced it. You know it is true, because you, too, have experienced it. Jesus said:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever” (6:51).
Live it! Believe it! Feed your soul on the bread of life, and receive the blessing that Jesus offers. God’s grace is free of charge. Amen.
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