Blessed are the cheese makers

1454733_748175428602511_7689659126080922878_nHomily for Year B, Proper 14

1 Kings 19:4-8. Psalm 34:1-8. Ephesians 4:25-5:2. John 6:35, 41-51.

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.

I’m talking about dairy products this morning, but before I do, I ponder the problem that cheese lovers have when it comes to spreading the word.

People sneer at virgin birth, resurrection, ascension, eating flesh and drinking blood. They laugh at the notion that the world has been saved by an angry God who has his own son murdered to satisfy that anger. They ridicule the idea that people might pray for someone to get better, or for something not to happen. They laugh at an imaginary friend.

People—all of us—are losing the ability to read between the lines. We are inclined to take the printed word literally. We are inclined to think that if it’s printed it must be true.

Scientific ways of thinking have schooled us to think that unless we can see it, touch it, feel it, measure it, it is of no importance. We think in terms of yes, no; right/wrong; true/false. We began to feel that we are right, and that those who disagree are wrong. We lose the ability to cope with both/and, with ambiguity. We lose the willingness to consider that there might be grey areas. We lose the ability to think in pictures.

This matters when we read Holy Scripture. It was written in languages that are not now spoken. It was copied by hand again and again. It has been translated into Latin, then English. Do we allow for ambiguities and mistakes that are therefore inevitable? Do we allow for not being able to see the facial expression of Jesus, or Paul, or whomever, so that we can’t know when they’re being ironic, or have a twinkle in the eye? Scriptural idioms have been torn from their cultural and geographic contexts. Do we allow for that? What would a visitor from, say, Vladivostok make of our expressions such as raining cats and dogs; scales fell from my eyes; wet behind the ears; green with envy?

bavaria-blu-self-2With all that in mind, let’s talk about cheeses. Look at the last sentence of today’s Gospel: Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

First, what does “live forever” mean?

The Greek for forever is aion, from which we get aeon. It has several meanings, such as lifetime, generation, destiny. Is it to mean for all eternity? For ever? Or is it about a quality of life beyond time in which time is of little importance. Does it perhaps mean something like what we mean when we say “to the ends of the earth”? A declaration of intent, of commitment. Is it about destiny, that is, our inclination towards God, our home?

Exploring like this enables us to move beyond a literal meaning of Scripture and move into something altogether more exciting and imaginative. It enables us to engage with people who dismiss the simplistic notion of life after death.

Next, in the same verse in the Greek, we have “I shall be giving over the bread which is my flesh for the sake of the ‘cosmic’ system of life. Whatever else cosmos may mean, it is also about good order. So the bread of life, the flesh of Jesus, is about order, as opposed to disorder. This is wisdom. Or, if we want to think about cosmos in terms of the universe, then the Jesus event is about more than simply humanity. It’s about the transformation of the whole existing order. It’s about a worldview that is far more exciting than the self-obsessed me me me of personal salvation.

My third point for this morning is “I am the living bread.” The living bread is all that Jesus and his message encapsulate: recognition of our dependence upon something much greater than us, our dependence upon one another, our need to let go of attachments, our need to accept that we are not in control, that we are here today and gone tomorrow, that there are cosmic forces not dependent upon us, that we have urges and inclinations that can yield great beauty and others than can lead to immense harm. All this is the living bread.

If we wish to share our faith with the sceptics of today, we need to engage our brains for new ways of talking about God and Jesus that sidestep issues like virgin births and the doctrinal stuff that’s hard or even impossible for 21st century westerners to swallow.

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 Divine (“God”) is all that is beautiful, delightful, lovely, creative and ordered (i.e. just and true). There is a bit of God in everyone and everything: we are all broken off bits of God. “What is not God is nothing; what is not God is no thing.”

God is the laws of science (logos), of physics, of the cosmos, … and much more. God is love. The perfect human manifestation of logos is Jesus the Christ whose example and life we emulate as best we can in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Since none of us, despite God within, is perfect, we cock up. This is part of the human condition. Sometimes we do this intentionally and sometimes accidentally; sometimes by things we do that we wish we hadn’t, and sometimes by things we fail to do. We acknowledge our own mistakes, our own imperfection and our own helplessness. This is not to grovel, but simply to accept that we are not perfect and not in control, but that we will bash on doing our best.

The Divine within is like a pilot light. Incarnation. For us to be fully human that light needs to fill our skins from the inside. What stops it from doing so are things like pride, greed, avarice and showing off. To let it shine and fill us, it’s not that we need to DO something, it’s simply that we need to relax into ourselves, to recognize our pride, greed, avarice and showing off tendencies, and then let them melt away. When you lift up the lid of your psyche, you begin to see all sorts of grubs wriggling around. But then, in the warm light of love, they can begin to melt away as you love the hell out of yourself. This is at least a lifetime’s work.

“And if you want to know the way, be pleased to hear what he did say.” And what Jesus demonstrated is that we rise to the heights – we approach The Divine – when we let go of pride, greed, avarice, showing off – that is, when ego dies, and selflessness replaces selfishness. Crucifixion followed by ascension.

quest-historical-jesus-albert-schweitzer-paperback-cover-artAll the rest, the dogma, the doctrine, is poetry that has collected around the message. Much of it is of great beauty and psychological authenticity. Much of it is past its sell-by date and should be ditched.

Schweitzer: He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those men who did not know who he was. He says the same words, ‘Follow me!’, and sets us to those tasks which he must fulfil in our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether wise or unwise, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the suffering that they may experience in his fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.

About Rambling Rector

Church of England Parish Priest
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One Response to Blessed are the cheese makers

  1. Judy Cameron says:

    There is a very beautiful recording of these words of Albert Schweitzer , sung by St Mary’s Cathedral choir, Glasgow, and composed by their director Fridrik Walker

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