This has been the week that a lot of parents are sending their children off to college, many for the first time. Our son is already in college and now soon to go back to school, and tomorrow our daughter is continuing her high school career. It hit me this week that my husband and I in being there for the big starting days of our son’s academic career, stood as witness to the days that began to change his worldview. As we dropped him off at preschool for the first time, and later dropping him off at college for the first time.
The big transitions in your life may have involved sending a child off to college, or maybe it was something else, like moving away from your parents, getting married, or going off to boot camp. Whatever your big events have been, they sparked a change in your worldview – for better or for worse, you never looked at things quite the same way again.
Other times our community worldview changed, globally or nationally or locally. The Renaissance, Industrialization, the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, 9/11, the Internet, Smartphones. All changed our worldview. And you can’t change your worldview without spinning the globe around a bit. These experiences are new, and unsettling, and scary. And different, and exciting, and – new.
The worldview was changing fast for the disciples of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading from John. It must have felt a little like their globe was spinning. Jesus is teaching in the Synagogue at Capernaum, and guess what, like us deep into Pentecost, they are getting yet another lesson on bread. Bread, bread, bread. But not just any bread – Living bread! And Jesus is asking them to eat his flesh and drink his blood.
There’s an interesting story about King David described in First Chronicles and Second Samuel. David and his army are fighting the Philistines, who have overthrown David’s home town of Bethlehem. At one point David starts talking about how good it would be to have a nice long, cool drink of that great Bethlehem well water – a well currently under siege by the Philistines. So three of David’s best soldiers go out and break through enemy lines, sneak into Bethlehem, hit the well, and bring their king back a big cup of his favorite water.
According to N.T. Wright, David knows that he can’t drink the water – because it would look like he was profiting from the death-defying work of his soldiers, who risked their life-blood for him, and that would be tantamount to drinking their blood – breaking a Jewish law against it, while at the same time making him look like one spoiled ruler. So he poured the water out onto the ground as an offering to God.
Jesus goes David one better. Jesus hopes that those around him will profit from his blood sacrifice. He invites us into the profit, into drinking his blood so that our life may be in him, and that he will raise us up on the last day.
The bread and the wine we take together in the Eucharist are a foretaste of the ultimate moment when our worldview changes, when into our vision is the fully revealed Kingdom of God. This is our peek into the eternal banquet already in progress around the throne of God. This is our reminder of the power of the Holy Spirit that is in us – of our Communion with God, the source of all power and love, and with the angels and archangels and the saints who have done their good work and gone on before us. This is the worldview we share, and are called to share with the world.
Exactly how that communion happens is one of God’s holy mysteries. But we know this is where we encounter Jesus Christ, because this is where he asked us to meet him. The disciples didn’t have it figured out any better than we do. And they weren’t too happy about it. “Eat your flesh? Drink your blood? Eternal bread? This is hard stuff!” they said, complaining. “Who can deal with that?”
Jesus gives them a little something to think about – “Oh, you think accepting that is tough? What if you saw the Son of Man going right back up to where he came from?”
He’s telling his disciples that if they think wrapping your brain around what he’s said so far is hard, they’d better pace themselves, because there’s a lot more coming – his trial, death, resurrection, and his astounding ascension are still ahead.
Jesus calls them to quit trying to rationalize what he is staying to the exclusion of their faith in what he is doing. It is our spirit that gives us life, the eternal part of us God has created in us and through which Jesus reconciles us to the Father. Our spirit is what feels the authenticity of the love of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit. The flesh by itself won’t get you anything, Jesus says. God lives in you through the Spirit.
A number of disciples, following Jesus in addition to the original twelve, can’t accept his teaching, and they leave. This Messiah they encounter is not the stuff of their legend. He is not the Mosaic superhero King of the Jews casting down the Romans, and restoring the Jews to political power. The words and actions of Jesus offer a worldview they refuse to consider. And so they leave.
Jesus, knowing full well what is to come and how each of the twelve disciples will act, ask those remaining whether they will also go, offering them a chance to affirm their belief. “We won’t. You hold the words of eternal life,” they say.
The transforming, eternal worldview is God’s dream for us. A dream of the Word of God made flesh and walking among us. A dream that we will follow in the footsteps of Jesus and walk humbly, and carry his peace and grace and mercy into the dark places where hope and love and justice live outside the door.
More than 2,000 years later, his Church the Body of Christ continues to wrestle with accepting God’s worldview. As our communities change shape and evolve around us, we struggle to adapt. We are losing our vision for how to live into God’s dream for his world, and the question before us is this: Will we have the courage to adjust our worldview, and keep working toward that Kingdom dream, or will we walk away because it’s too hard?
Yesterday, three members of our congregation and I attended a Missional Community Workshop with Bishop Doyle in Houston. If you’ve never heard the term “Missional Community” before, you will. It is in short, a satellite faith community of a larger sending Church, a community of Christian service that exists completely outside the main Church. Missional Community offers people a different place to plug in and experience the love of Jesus, and to discover what it means to serve him together right inside their own neighborhood.
Our bishops and our new Presiding Bishop-Elect Michael Curry are on fire to move the Church ahead quickly into the future so that we can unleash the power of the laity and the clergy that God has already given us through his Holy Spirit. We have to have the courage as a Church to get out of our own way. This worship space we are in today is sacred and beautiful – but it was never meant to be the end. We are meant to take what we experience here and go out and make more of it, and on and on.
What does that look like? How are we going to do that? If you’re confused by it all right now – that’s ok. One of the first things to understand about Missional Community work is that it can’t be tightly defined. God’s work cannot be boxed in to a definition because he is always doing a new thing.
Here’s the important thing to know today: if St. Paul’s wants to be a church that does the best we can for our congregational vitality, if we want a future where we don’t just survive, but thrive in God’s dream for us, then it is going to take some courage to take a good look at who we really are, and who our neighbors really are. We need to listen to them and with them about what they need, and what missional work makes sense for us in our community. It will take courage to adjust our congregational worldview, and transition our church culture according to those truths.
I want to be really authentic and very vulnerable with you, and say that right now, I don’t know what this means for us. I don’t know if this is something we are going to be able to do – or something enough of you will want to do. I don’t have any agenda or pre-conceived notion of what this kind of future would look like for St. Paul’s. This is very new to me. I don’t know where Missional Community will take us. I don’t know where it will take each of you. I don’t know where it will take me.
I do know one thing: God is with us. And knows our hearts. He knows the uncertainty and the excitement that the calling of the Holy Spirit causes in us. He know how it sounds when he asks us to live on his flesh and blood. But he knows how we benefit from life in him, and he asks us to have faith Because if you think where he’s taken us already is really something, wait until we see him lifting us up into God’s dream for us.
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