Sermon for August 5, 2012 || Proper 13, Year B || Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78: 23-29; Ephesians 4: 1-16; John 6: 24-35 ||
The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
When I was a little girl, my family always went to church. Everyone did in those days—it was just what you did, probably more for social reasons than spiritual or religious ones. You just went. Those were also the days when everyone got all dressed up for church—which, as a little girl, I thought was half the fun! Party dress, white gloves, little hat or doily on my head….what little girl wouldn’t love that?
But I didn’t love going to church just because I liked getting all dressed up and feeling like a princess. I loved going to church because I loved Sunday school.
And I loved Sunday school because I felt so incredibly loved there.
Sunday school was where the grown ups talked about Jesus, and about how he loved little children– and about how he loved me. I know I must’ve believed what those grown ups told me, because I know I loved Jesus back. I loved being in that basement room at the end of the hall with all the pastoral pictures of Jesus on its yellow cinder block walls. I loved hearing stories about Jesus and about how much he loved everyone. I loved coloring pictures of Jesus on those mimeographed pages with the smelly purple ink. And I loved singing “Jesus Loves Me, Yes I Know,” and believing every word of it.
Kids are such sponges for love, aren’t they? They just can’t get enough of it. They may complain about a lot of things, but you don’t hear them whining about being loved too much. And they’re naturally capable of completely grasping something that eludes so many of us once we grow up: Those little sponges of love totally “get” that God has more love than anybody else, and that he sent Jesus to give it to us. No one needs to convince them that Jesus is the bread of life.
Children get that Jesus loves them. And they love Jesus back.
But then, as they say, “life happens,” and those little sponges of love start soaking up a lot of other things afloat in the world around them. And far too often their relationship with Jesus is squeezed right out of them by the busy-ness of life.
There’s a beautiful prayer in our Book of Common Prayer called “For Young Persons.” It begins like this: God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world: Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals. …
It’s a poignant prayer—because whether we blame their overly committed and programmed lives, or peer pressure, or our own lack of commitment to church—too many of our young people forget what they knew as children– that Jesus loves them. And they forget to love Jesus back.
But does any one of us think that their hunger for that love has really been diminished, or that their hearts are any less the sponges of love they once were? Hardly. Yet sadly, secular life stunts their spiritual growth, nips it in the bud, and buries it under layers and layers of so-called “more important” things.
So they spend much of their lives as young adults chasing what this morning’s gospel calls, “the food that perishes”—the approval of their parents, the acceptance of their friends, the accolades of their own egos, and the god of success– when as children they knew so well the joy and satisfaction of the food that endures forever— relationship with Jesus, the very bread of life itself.
Then, next thing you know those young adults have grown up and… well, that’s us, isn’t it? Hungry grown-ups in search of something we can really sink our teeth into. Hungry grown ups who’ve eaten all we can eat of the world’s bounty, filled our plates with more than we need of the food that perishes, even feasted on the love of family and friends, yet find ourselves still hungry. Hungry for more. Hungry for the real thing. Hungry for that food that endures forever, God’s love made real in Jesus.
That, in a word, is why at least some of us are here today. We’re certainly not here because it’s what one is expected to do anymore; going to church is almost as counter-cultural today as not going was in the 1960’s. No, we don’t come to keep up with the Jones’s—we come in spite of the Jones’s! And we’re not here for lack of anything else to do—that’s for sure! We could be at the gym, or the tennis court, or the beach. We could be at the office catching up, at home reading the Sunday paper, or out to brunch with friends. There must be dozens of more socially acceptable ways of spending our time than going to church!
But we’re here because we choose to be. Because we’re hungry. Because our spiritual lives need a jump-start. Because those world-weary hearts of ours are just as sponge-like for love now as they were when we were children. We’re here because we’re tired of being tossed to and fro by the winds of consumer-driven doctrine and of being deceived by the shallow trickery of secular culture.
We’re here because we’re ready to grow up in every way, as Paul would say, into the creatures God has created us to be. Ready to use our God-given gifts wisely until each of us comes to what Paul would call spiritual maturity in Christ. Ready to “just say no” to all the junk food in our lives, and to work instead for the food that endures forever. We’re ready to let Jesus us love us, again, and to dare loving him back.
So we choose church instead of the myriad of other options available to us on Sunday morning. We listen to stories about Jesus. We open those sponge-like hearts of ours like the children we once were, and pray to Jesus for our country and our world, our church and our community, our friends and our families, the poor and the neglected, and all those suffering in any way—because we know it breaks Jesus’ heart when any of us suffer. Next we receive Jesus in the sacramental mystery of simple bread and wine, receiving into our physical bodies the spiritual food of sustenance, strength, and sacrifice. And finally, we go back out into the world, to try as best we can to serve Jesus and his agenda, but it’s like swimming upstream against a powerful current and its all we can do not to drown in the torrent of secular culture.
What more can we do?
Well, for one thing, keep coming back. Keep coming back to get your bearings, to be reminded of who and whose you are, and for the spiritual strength and sustenance we all need to keep growing as Christians.
And stay tuned for new opportunities this fall, when we’re going to begin a new Sunday School program for grown-ups at St. Stephen’s—an expansion of our 24/7 adult spiritual formation offerings. We’re calling it “Discovering Jesus,” and it’s going to take many different shapes and forms, be offered at all kinds of different times and places, and will include all kinds of classes —all around the theme of “discovering” Jesus. Discovering Jesus in everything from music to science, from movies to baking bread. Discovering Jesus with our rational minds, as well as through prayer and poetry.
My deepest hope is that each of these offerings will be food for our journeys —food that will nurture and encourage us as we continue to grow spiritually, and to mature in our faith. My deepest prayer is that each of us will discover Jesus anew, grow into a fuller knowledge of his love, and love him back like the childlike sponges of love we still are.
Because, Jesus said… “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Because “Jesus loves me, yes I know.” And because I want every single one of you to know he loves you too.