August 19, 2018

2018 August19

Embracing the Sacred Dimension of Life

Proper 15 – Year B
A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Karen Siegfriedt

 

Richard Rohr tells the story of taking a census back in 1969 in the Native American village of Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico. Because it was hot in the summer, he would start out very early in the morning. At sunrise, he would see a mother outside the door of her home with her children standing beside her. She and the children would be reaching out with both hands uplifted to ‘scoop up’ the new day and then ‘pour’ it over their heads and bodies as if in a blessing. For these native Americans, honoring the sacred dimension of nature is an integral part of their spirituality. The Navajo people see the world through the lens of hozho. Hozho is a term that refers to “an inter-connectedness between beauty, harmony and goodness in all things physical and spiritual that results in health and well-being.” One of their prayers that reflect this interconnectedness of life is called: “In beauty I walk.”

 

“With beauty before me I walk. With beauty behind me I walk.
With beauty above me I walk. With beauty around me I walk.
It has become beauty again. It has become beauty again.
It has become beauty again. It has become beauty again.”

 

Looking for beauty all around us is a spiritual practice that can open our hearts, minds, and
bodies to the sacred dimension of life. It is this kind of contemplation that truly nourishes our mind and soul which leads to eternal life. What I would like to talk about today is embracing the sacred dimension of the creation. I want to talk about living the sacramental life. And I will use today’s very controversial gospel as my text. But first I want to compare the sacred ritual of lifting up one’s hands to scoop up the new day, with the two painters who showed up last month to paint the garage door across the street.

 

It was early in the morning. The ocean was roaring, the sun shining, and the seagulls squawking. Dressed in white painter pants and t-shirt, they carefully laid out their drop cloths and supplies. Then they turned on their music. It sounded something like this… (play rap music “The Heist”). It is a song about a man who wants to make a lot of money and so he decides to rob a store. Here are a few verses:

 

“I just went in and stole it, the police would of notice
Gotta be strategic, creepin', go in, leave with that motive
Hold up, my plan is forming, alright, caseing this building
Watch these rappers that rappin' walk in and leave out with millions
Headed in sweatin', open that front door
Interscope printed out right by the entrance, door closes…”
(Lyrics to Jimmy lovine)


The rap music went on like this all day until the paint job was finished. Many of the words were quite vulgar, demeaning both men and women as sex objects with little regard to the sacredness of life. I wondered what impact this music had on the painters’ well-being. Were they aware of the beauty around them? Did they know about the sacred dimension of life? To me, these songs sounded like mental junk food, which overtime would have a negative impact on their spiritual and emotional well-being. After all, the music we listen to, the words we mutter to ourselves, the thoughts that we dwell on, have the power to encourage or discourage, to motivate or deflate, to generate joy or generate sadness.

 

Little by little, the conversations we hold in the privacy of our mind are determining our destiny. Each thought can move us toward or away from our God-given potential. Where we focus our mental spotlight will determine what we see and experience. If we allow our thoughts to focus on what is unjust, ugly, hurtful, and irritating, we can expect a painful emotional life. Jesus wanted more for his disciples than a limited, painful, emotional life. And so he introduced them to the sacred dimension of life where the spirit of Christ enlivens the heart, mind, and soul of the believer.

 

His mission was to exhibit this
Spirit of God which permeates al
of creation and can transform
the human heart.

 

In today’s gospel, 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…Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51-58) O dear! I think I would have worded this a little bit differently. If I had been a disciple back then, I would have cringed, thinking that this teaching was some kind of a cannibalistic demand. But after careful reflection, I think what Jesus was trying to say is this: “You are what you eat!” If you eat only junk food, you can expect a junky body. If you restrict your diet to only physical food without a taste of the spiritual food, then your life will be spiritually starving & diminished.

 

For instance, the manna that the Israelites ate in the desert after their escape from slavery, only satisfied their stomachs for a day and did nothing to change their hard heartedness. The bread and the fish that Jesus multiplied for the 5000, temporarily satisfied their appetites, but did little to generate in them a hunger for God’s grace. And while these crowds continued to seek out Jesus, he tells them:

 

“You’ve come looking for me not because you saw God in my actions but because I fed you, filled your stomachs—and for free.  Don’t waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last.” (John 6:26-27 Message Bible)

 

We do need physical food to stay alive, although even with food, we will all die. In today’s gospel, Jesus emphasizes that there is more to life than flour, yeast, and water. There is more to life than what we can see, touch, and taste. There is more to life than being born, working hard, and collecting stuff. There is more to life than me, myself, and I. So many people (both now and then) have lived in a flattened, demystified world where only the physical reality is recognized and embraced. No wonder we grieve so deeply when our physical health, our possessions, or our loved ones are taken away. There is more to life than this physicality, but in order to realize it, we must learn how to live a sacramental life.

 

A sacrament, is an outward and
visible sign of an inward
spiritual grace.

 

We all know about the sacrament of baptism where the outward sign is water. The inward grace is union with Christ, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit. In the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the outward signs are the bread and wine. The inward sign is the Holy Communion we experience with Christ and the community of faith. This is the kind of spiritual nourishment we need in order to live life abundantly as we face the challenges of everyday life. (BCP)

 

Everything Jesus did, who he was, how he acted, what he said, and how he lived out his vocation is God’s message to us. We are to inwardly digest this Word of God as we chew upon his life story so that we can become like him. God took Jesus’ whole life, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to us. And so each Sunday, we gather together as the Body of Christ (like millions of Christians all over the world) to give thanks, to remember the story of Jesus, to enter into the presence of Christ, to bless, break, take, and eat the living bread that has come down from heaven. This is the spiritual food that our souls crave for whether we know it or not. It is this bread from heaven that will sustain us through eternity.

 

Living the sacramental life however, is not limited to the official church sanctioned sacraments. Living a sacramental life means approaching our world as a sacred space inhabited by the Divine. It has to do with treating our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit rather than just feeding its cravings. It involves treating animals and all the creatures of the earth and seas with care, respecting their intrinsic value. It means approaching the natural world with reverence, leaving only a small carbon footprint so that the air, water, and land remain sustainable and pure. It entails treating one another as children of God, being careful with our speech and generous with our love. It requires being aware of and carefully selecting the thoughts, the music, the conversations, and the news that we choose to put in our minds.


In reflecting on today’s gospel, St. Augustine once said: “You are what you eat and drink.” And so for those of you who hunger for the bread of heaven, I leave you with this blessing to chew on:

 

“Whatever is true, whatever is
honorable, whatever is just,
whatever is pure, whatever is
pleasing, whatever is
commendable, if there is any
excellence and if there is
anything worthy of praise, think
about these things…and the God
of peace will be with you.
(Phil. 4:8-9)

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