Sermon by The Rev. Christopher W. Hogin
Sunday, August 19, 2018
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The Gospel: John 6:51-58
Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Several years ago I read a book called City of Thieves, by David Benioff. It’s set in World War II Russia during the Nazi siege of Leningrad. The two protagonists, Lev and Kolya, are arrested by Soviet officials: one for deserting his unit, and the other for stealing from a dead German pilot. Nonetheless, the Colonel of the prison strikes a deal with them. He wants a dozen eggs to be used for a cake for his daughter’s upcoming wedding. Most of Russia is starving. There is barely any bread, let alone eggs for such luxury. Nonetheless, if Lev and Kolya can crawl into enemy territory, steal a dozen eggs from the Germans, and then slip back into Soviet territory, he will grant them freedom. If they return emptyhanded, they will be shot.
City of Thievesis a gripping historical fiction novel. What makes it compelling is that beyond the suspense and intrigue, an ordinary item, such as an egg, becomes a quest for the holy grail. Everything hinges on a dozen eggs. Their very life depends on it. While reading the novel I thought of my own relationship to eggs. They are inexpensive and plentiful. I thought of all the times how I’ve taken eggs for granted. There were neighborhood Fourth of July parties where we had egg tosses. Then there was Halloween when as a teenager, I egged mailboxes. (For all of you sitting here whose house I may have hit, I’m sorry.)
No, the power of that book is that it has the ability of taking common, everyday things, such as eggs, and then transforming it into a vital force of life. You walk away appreciating food and freedom. You begin realizing that the very act of eating is something profoundly holy, and is nothing short of a gift.
Our Jewish brothers and sisters recognize this. In Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book, To Life: A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking, he emphasizes that every action of one’s day can be holy: Waking up in the morning, sitting down to breakfast, eating a piece of toast, and drinking a cup of coffee. Brushing one’s teeth. Engaging in work, whether through manual labor, or working with the mind—it’s all holy. All of it is sacred and beautiful.
This is the point of the Letter of To The Ephesians. Take your life seriously. Take the gifts in your life seriously. The opening sentence calls us to live, not as unwise people, but as wise, making the most out of our time. You see, wisdom is more than just knowing right from wrong, or having clear judgment. Wisdom is about being fully awake. It’s about recognizing all that is around you. The call of this letter is for all of us to take our lives seriously. To recognize that what we do, both good and bad, matters. How we treat our bodies matter. How we engage this world matters. To we assume an air of gratitude helps us recognize the astonishing miracles that exist. We recognize those miracles by giving thanks.
That’s what grace is. Grace is like a valuable egg that’s a source of life in the middle of a war torn area. It’s grace that helps us live, not as something cheap and disposable, easily tossed at a Fourth of July party or during a night of debauchery at Halloween.
That’s what the German theologian Dietrich Bonehoeffer meant when he talked “cheap grace.”Yes, grace is a gift brothers and sister. Our lives are a gift. God will heal us and make us whole in the end, regardless of our own efforts. Nonetheless, God wants us to grow. God wants us to live out that grace in the here and now. We do that by appreciating everything what’s around us.
Here’s a parable. Once, there were two brothers who lived in a sprawling mansion amidst beautiful grounds. Think Downton Abbey. One day the father gifted each brother a Rolls Royce car and told them to go into town for a long period of time. The first brother took that Rolls Royce into town, and cared for it. He washed and polished it. Drove it carefully. He recognized it was a gift and treated it as such. The second brother drove recklessly, grinding the gears. He “rednecked” it up by putting rims on the side and painting red flames on the side. He four-wheeled with it. Crashed it a few times.
Upon the brothers return, the first brother drove the car straight up to the mansion. The second brother was welcomed into the gates, but before returning home, the car had to be sent to the garage for repair. The brother had to repair the gift that was given to him.
That’s what grace is, and our call to value grace. We stand on the shoulders of so many people who came before us. People who also struggled with their own lives. But we are the beneficiaries of all those who took their lives seriously. We live in an age of unprecedented medical and technological advances. Even here in this church, we are beneficiaries. For example, we will celebrate the stained glass window given by the Jimmy Key family. A few weeks later on September the 16th, we will celebrate the a stained glass window given by the Bob Parrot family. The stained glass window project began in 1986—Ronald Regan was in office. Now that work has come to an end thanks to two people who wanted to do something that helped the community.
Thetakeaway is about recognizing that our lives are holy. Our lives matter. How we treat others matters. May we recognize the extraordinary dimensions of our lives: from the food at our tables, to clean water, to our church, and to our beautiful stained glass windows. It’s all a gift: our lives, and the lives we share with others are a gift. It’s all grace. May we honor and treat it as such.