The Rev. Casey dunsworth

serves as Associate Campus Pastor to the Belfry, the Lutheran-Episcopal Campus Ministry to UC Davis

and as Program Director for LEVN, the Lutheran Episcopal Volunteer Network.

A sermon from a friend of mine

My CPE mate Matthew Wright preached this sermon recently. He's an Episcopalian deacon in North Carolina. It's so lovely. I hope it feeds you as it fed me.

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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew Wright
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51


Jesus said to the people, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Six years ago, I was living, for the first extended period of time, outside of the United States.  I was in Dharamsala in Northern India, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile.  I was in a Tibetan Studies program, learning the ins and outs of Tibetan culture, history, and politics.  At the time, I was a fairly new Episcopalian, and had been attending services regularly for about three years.  At my university, I received Communion twice a week—on Sundays and Thursdays.  It became a part of the rhythm of my life, walking forward to the altar rail, kneeling, holding out my hands, and receiving the bread and the wine, the Body and the Blood of Christ.

In India, however, I didn’t have easy access to church services, and I had Tibetan language classes on Sunday mornings.  Pulled out of my normal sacred rhythm, I sorely missed the prayers and ritual of the Church.  One evening I sat in a small café, drinking tea with an English woman, a friend and fellow traveler I’d met along the way.  I told her how much I missed the Eucharist, how much I missed the nourishment of the sacrament, and wished that there was some way I could receive it here.  On my way home, I passed a small Hindu temple and walked towards it.  As I approached, the resident swami caught sight of me and walked forward in welcome.  He spoke English with a thick accent, and after we had talked from some minutes, he asked “Are you a follower of Chris-t?”  I said that I was, and he then joyfully said, “Muslims pray to Allah, Christians to Chris-t, and Hindus to Shiva, but we all are one!”

I learned that his name was Swami Shiva Shankar, that he had work to do, and that I was invited back later in the evening.  He walked inside and I turned to leave, but he quickly reappeared, walking towards me with hand outstretched and fist closed.  I instinctively opened my palm, into which he emptied a handful of puffed rice, and said “Eat.”  It tasted sweet; I said thank you and again began to walk away, but he then summoned me towards the shrine area—making sure that I first removed my shoes—as we were stepping onto holy ground.  Here he poured a spoonful of milk, that had been given in offering to God, over the food in my hand, and then he handed me a banana that had also been brought as an offering.  Now I could go.

As I walked around the curve in the road, eating this holy food, offered to God and returned to the people, I was struck with an overwhelming sense of Eucharist, of the Body and Blood of Christ given for me in this moment, in this encounter, in this food.  I received Communion.

Jesus said to the people, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus comes to us and nourishes us in the most surprising and unexpected of ways.  In puffed rice, milk, and bananas, in bread and in wine, in the community of people gathered around us.  In the Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”  And those around him respond, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?  How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven’?”  How can a carpenter, a fisherman, someone so ordinary, come from heaven?

Perhaps Jesus was trying to tell us what the ancient Celtic Christians symbolized so well with the beautiful Celtic knots that covered their crosses, jewelry, and illuminated Gospel manuscripts—that heaven and earth are intimately intertwined, inseparably connected.  Heaven is not a distant reality, but is right here, right now, as the deepest and truest place in our hearts.  The Celts, like the Hebrew people before them, believed that we encountered God in the ordinary, in the rhythms of life, in the natural world, in birth and in death, in bread and in wine.  Heaven, God, the Holy, is woven into the world all around us, waiting to be discovered in the most unlikely of places, if we only have eyes to see.

Jesus was always pointing to God in all of the wrong places, in those whom everyone around him was certain that God had nothing to do with—sinners, tax-collectors, prostitutes, outcasts.  He sat and feasted with these people, no less.  And he said, This is what the kingdom of God looks like—a feast to which all of the wrong people have been invited!  He said, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven…” (Matt. 8:11).  The implication is that many unexpected ones will be there.  It is far too easy to say, “Certainly the Muslims won’t make it!” or “You can’t encounter Christ in food offered to Hindu gods!”  But I hear Jesus saying in today’s Gospel, “You just might be surprised!”  This is, after all, just what people said about him.

“Do not complain among yourselves,” Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me…”  That is, stop putting limits on who can come to me!  Anyone who is coming to me, coming to my love, in any way, is drawn by the Father, regardless of who they are, of what their past is, of how they look.  Do not complain among yourselves, but rather trust that the Father has drawn us all, with all of our differences and diversity.  What binds all of us here together is not that we think or look or act alike, but that we all can gather around this Table together, knowing that we are all drawn by the One God, that we will all share the same bread and the same cup.  Author Nora Gallagher asks the question, “Was Communion […] what Jesus invented to give us a preview of what the kingdom of heaven could be like?”

In the Gospel, Jesus continues, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”  Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father… black, white, gay, straight, Jew, Gentile, Hindu, Muslim, Christian… everyone comes to Me.  I hear the echo of Swami Shiva Shankar’s words, just before I encountered Christ in the humble, holy food he gave me… “We all are one.”  Indeed, this is the very point St. Paul makes in today’s reading from the Letter to the Ephesians: “Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.”  We are members of one another, we are interconnected, we are woven together like heaven and earth in a single Whole.  If we could see this, see that we are one human family, one Body of Christ, if we could see that we are all profoundly members of one another, we would see the table set and the kingdom come.

Those who challenged Jesus couldn’t accept that a simple carpenter and fisherman could be bread from heaven, that God could come to us in so ordinary a way.  “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.”  It’s important that we not make this Mystery smaller than it is.  The bread that Christ will give for the life of the world is his flesh, and we are his flesh.  As members of the Body of Christ, we are his continued life in the world.  We, in all of our ordinariness, in all of our brokenness and failings, are bread come down from heaven, God’s incarnate Body.  Jesus is saying, not only, “I am the bread come down from heaven” but “You are the bread come down from heaven.”  And if you feel unworthy of this title, unworthy of being God’s life in the world, you stand with those very ones who said, “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?  How can he now say these things?”  God can’t be in me—I’m too ordinary, I’m not special enough, I'm not perfect.  But the ordinary, the outcast, the simple and broken is exactly where God makes God’s home, exactly who God invites to the banquet.

In the words of the great 16th century saint and mystic, Teresa of Avila,

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Are you ready to be so bold as to say, “I am the bread that came down from heaven”?  As followers of Jesus, we are Christ’s body in the world, we are the bread of heaven, the life of God intended to nourish each other.  We are members of the One Body, called to feed and be fed, and to discover Christ in the most unlikely of places.

Purple pants, among other things.

Momentarily Forever