Well, most of you know that I grew up Catholic. And when I was in Catholic elementary school, I served as an altar boy. Maybe some of you did, too. Now, back then, when people came up for communion on Sunday, they didn't receive the wafer in their hand, they received Communion on their tongue. And so we had a really important job. During communion, we held a gold plate, called a paten under people's chins. In case the wafer fell out of their mouths, we had to be sure to catch it. And if it ever hit the floor, boy, were we in trouble!
Because as most of you know, in the Catholic Church, it's believed that during the ritual of communion, the bread and the wine are actually transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ.
I remember back when I served as an altar boy, if there were any wafers left over after the service, we had a lock them away until the following Sunday. And if there was any wine left over, we actually had to pour it down a special drain that was in the sacristy after the service.
Now, we celebrate communion every single Sunday here at Douglas UCC, but ours is more of a symbolic ritual, rather than a literal one. We are one of the very rare UCC churches that celebrates communion every Sunday. Most UCC churches -- in fact, most Protestant churches -- celebrate communion maybe once a month, or a few times a year. And I think there are many Christians who still view communion as either a Catholic thing, or they're just really weirded out by eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ.
But rituals are so important. I love that we have communion here each week. The word ritual is part of the word spiritual. If you are a spiritual person, if you're walking the spiritual path, rituals are so important. They are rites that remind us of our connection to Spirit.
So what we're doing every Sunday when we're celebrating communion is reminding ourselves that the spirit, the presence, the power, the light, and the life of the Christ dwells with us, and within us.
Now, in today's Gospel reading, which I just read for you, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life, whoever eats of this bread will never be hungry again.” And this reading is a continuation of last Sunday's reading. If you were with us, you’ll remember that it was also about bread. It was the multiplication of the loaves and the fish. After Jesus fed all the people, he fled. He fled town, because it said that they wanted to make him a king. Jesus didn't want to be a king, so he ran away. But the crowds of people followed him across the sea. And when they found him, he said to them, look, you came looking for me, not because you saw signs, not because you saw me as a divine person, you came looking for me, because I fed you food, for free.
And he tells them, “Do not strive for such perishable food, but instead, work for food that will last forever.” What Jesus was telling them is, you are so much more than just the physical body. Why are you working so hard to feed your physical body and you're neglecting your spiritual body? He's telling them the spiritual body is the one that's eternal. The physical body is just temporary.
Feed your soul, your spirit, that's the eternal body.
So my question for you this morning is, what are you doing on a daily basis to feed your spirit so that you don't become spiritually malnourished? What are you doing every day to feed your spirit? You know, I know a lot of people who take really good care of their physical body and they're so proud of it. They go to the gym. They're so careful about what they put into their body, what they eat and drink. They eat pure and organic and all of that, and that's great. I'm not knocking that. But some of those people who are physically fit are not healthy. The word healthy means whole, whole in body, mind, and spirit.
And I know people who are physically fit, who are spiritually malnourished. They fill their minds with mental junk food. They're worried and fearful. They think of thoughts of lack and limitation, and jealousy and resentment. That is not healthy. That's not a whole, balanced life.
Here's the truth. The truth is, is that you are not a physical being, having temporary spiritual experiences from time to time. The truth is that you are an eternal spiritual being, and you're just having a temporary physical experience in this lifetime.
So why are you feeding the physical, trying to become nourished by the things of this world, which are temporary? Why aren't you feeding on that living bread that Jesus spoke about in today's Gospel?
Now, bread is mentioned in the Bible so many times. We heard three examples of that just this morning from Psalms and from Exodus, and from the Gospel. But bread is mentioned more than 40 times in the Bible. So we know that it sustained Elijah for 40 days and nights, we know that the Israelites were fed with the manna from heaven during their 40 years in the desert. Whenever we hear bread in the Bible, it stands for God's sustenance, God's presence and power. God is sustaining us with this bread from heaven. So how do we get it? How do we get the bread? I mean, is it going to just come falling down from the sky, the manna from heaven? Well, I told you before, I told you last Sunday, in fact, the stories in the Bible are not literal stories. They're symbolic stories. So there was no bread that came down from the sky.
It symbolizes that the bread comes from heaven. And where's heaven? You know, Jesus never said that heaven was a place up in the sky, not one time. What he said about heaven was the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It's here, now. And he said, The kingdom of heaven is within you.
That's where the bread is. It's within you. If you want to feast on that daily bread, you've got to go within, to God's dwelling place within you. That's why Sister Joyce Rupp, who I know many of you love, in her Words of Integration and Guidance this morning, reminds us of that, that the only way we're ever really going to be spiritually nourished is by the daily practice of prayer and meditation. Going within to that secret dwelling place of the Most High so that we can feast upon that living bread.
Jesus, you know, was Jewish, and Jewish people have that beautiful challah bread. If you've ever seen that bread, it's braided bread. It looks so beautiful. But it actually has a spiritual meaning. It symbolizes the braiding, the union of the I, with the I AM, of the temporary physical person with the eternal body.
Coming together, staying braided, that's what we do in prayer. We are braiding ourselves with God, that intimate union. But it's not just supposed to happen for the time we're sitting in the meditation chair, or the time we're sitting in church. We are supposed to be braided to God 24-7, throughout the day, constantly reminded of that connection, that intimacy.
Now, in the Gospel of John, that we've been reading from for the past few weeks, Jesus gives us seven “I am” statements. So we heard one today, “I am the bread of life.”
In these “I am” statements, Jesus is not referring to himself, the man, Jesus from Nazareth. He is speaking from his divine nature, not the temporary human person, but the eternal.
“I am” is the bread of life, not Jesus of Nazareth. I am. Remember, back in the Old Testament when Moses was on Mount Sinai, and he met God in the burning bush. And Moses said to God, what's your name?
And God said, “I Am that I Am.”
That's what we're talking about the “I Am.” Okay? That great “I am” that we hear about in Scripture. That's why, in the scriptures, it doesn't say “Be still and know Jesus.” It says, “Be still and know that “I Am.”
Your “I Am” is your eternal body. Your “I” is the small self, the temporary, physical body, the ego. The “I Am,” is your spirit, your soul, which is eternal. The purpose of the spiritual life is to merge the “I” with the “I am,” for it to become one.
That's why when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes through the Father except through me,” xo many Christians have misunderstood that. And they've said, “You can't be Buddhist or Hindu! You won't be saved. You have to be Christian, because Jesus said ‘I am the way’” But he wasn't speaking about Jesus of Nazareth. He was speaking about that merger of the “I” with the “I Am,” that union. That's the way. That's the truth. That's the light. That's the “I Am.: That's why it doesn't have anything to do with being a Christian. Because spiritual teachers of other faith traditions -- Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism -- they all speak of that union with God as the way, the truth and the light, and soul.
My friends, what I want to invite you to do each and every day this week is to enter into the kingdom of heaven within you. And in the silence, I want you to feast upon that daily bread that God gives us every day.
Let's get spiritually nourished this week.
And then, once we are nourished, we are called to go out into the world and to be bread for one another. You know, that's what the word companion means in Latin, campagno, with bread. We are to be companions for one another, we are to be bread for one another. That is the good news of the gospel message.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
By Joyce Rupp
There is a tremendous need to nourish the spiritual dimension of our lives -- this dimension which can so easily be overlooked or forgotten in our crazy, hectic, tightly scheduled, work oriented lives. Too often we separate our spiritual life from the rest of our life. It is so easy to put it aside for more seemingly urgent or significant aspects of our days. These external aspects seem more urgent, yet are often empty without benefit of inner refreshment and nourishment. We can so easily give in to discouragement or forget our visions and dreams when we do not take time to integrate our outer world with our inner world. We remain fragmented instead of drawing together all the pieces into a wholeness that gives our life meaning. This integration is accomplished by taking time to look at the very ordinary parts of our day, to pray them by holding them up to the light of the scripture, to celebrate them in the depths of our being by pausing to reflect and reverence them, knowing that the God of graciousness is always there, immanently present, active drawing us into a deeper love relationship. I am firmly convinced that we are effective in Christian leadership only if our hearts a well as our minds have coe to know the God of our lives. I believe that this ‘knowing God’ comes about in many ways but that it can only be deeply rooted in us with the nourishment of regular personal prayer. This is the “fresh bread” which will feed the numbers of our spirits and truly nourish our souls.
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