Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, August 12, 2012:

1 Kings 19:4-8

Psalm 34:1-8

Taste and see that the LORD is good. (Ps. 34:8)

Ephesians 4:25—5:2

John 6:35, 41-51

There are times when I consider a career change; a career in college teaching no longer seems as secure as it once did.

But what to do next? I’ve thought of a variety of career paths, including hospice chaplain. That choice surprises those who know me best, since I have a fierce phobia of hospitals.

Lately, though, I feel like the Holy Spirit has been saying, “Yes, a hospice chaplain. I need you to do that right where you are.”

It’s been a tough few years for the people around me. Our school has had a series of lay-offs, which are tough even when our own jobs have been spared. I’ve had a friend lose her house to fire, and many friends who are facing health challenges of their own or of their family members. Hardly a week goes by without significant opportunities to minister.

Of course, living in this state of constant siege leaves me feeling a bit depleted and exhausted. There are weeks that I wish our church offered daily services. Some weeks, it seems like a small eternity until Sunday. Some weeks, I have a vision of a church with a drive-through window, where I could get an emergency Eucharist, some strength for the journey, and maybe a blessing.

Henri Nouwen spent much of his writing talking about Communion, trying to impress upon his readers how important it is. In Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith, he says, "The Eucharist is the sacrament by which we become one body. . . . It is becoming the living Lord, visibly present in the world" (reading for Oct. 13). In the reading for the next day, he says, "We who receive the Body of Christ become the living Christ." Nouwen argues for a mystical--yet very real--transformation: the wine and bread transform themselves into blood and body which then transforms us from ordinary sinful human into Christ.

We are hungry for that transformation, but like those people who followed Christ from shore to shore, hoping for a free meal, we often don't know what we hunger for. We want to do God's work in the world, but there's so much work to do, and we're so tired before we even get started.

Our Scriptures remind us in both the Old and New Testaments that God provides. God gives us both physical food and spiritual food. But we must be receptive. We must open our mouths. God won't chew for us.

There are days and weeks when what I do seems so insignificant. What are my words of comfort when a friend’s mother lies dying in the hospital? I solve one student’s problems, only to discover that 10 more have sprouted in its place. I can’t promise that members of my department won’t be laid off.

It’s good to return to the metaphor of bread. It’s good to think about small granules of yeast and to remember that without their activation, our dough would not be worth baking. It’s good to know that small acts can lead to great transformation further on.

It’s essential to remember that we are the leaven in this loaf that is the world. In the words of N. T. Wright: "But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that's about to roll over a cliff. Your are not restoring a great painting that's shortly going to be thrown on the fire" (Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, page 208).

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