February 3, 2019 Sermon
Take This Bread
I Corinthians 11.23-25
Adapted from excerpts of Sara Miles’ book, Take this Bread
Intro: Each person in this room interprets the Lord’s Supper in their own unique way, and each time we receive this sacrament, we come with different needs, so each time, we are fed in a new way. Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” As Christians throughout the world celebrate the sacrament of the Last Supper, one goes hungry, another gets drunk. What makes the difference about how we are fed at the Lord’s Supper? One recipient takes the elements with mindless repetition. Another prayerfully opens to the Holy Spirit working. Or, as I did when I took communion for the first time, some are awestruck and even a bit afraid. My knees even quaked.
In what attitude of receptivity do you come to the Lord’s table?
One morning when Sara Miles was 46 years old, Sarah Miles walked into a church for the first time. Sara ate a piece of bread, and took a sip of wine. This is a routine Sunday activity for millions of Christians—but until that moment, Sara Miles led a thoroughly secular life, at best indifferent to religion or appalled by its fundamentalist crusades. Sara’s first communion experience at age 46 changed everything.
In Sara’s own words, this is an introduction to Sara’s story of transformation:
Eating Jesus, as I did that day, to my great astonishment—led me against all my expectations to a faith that I had scorned and to a work that I’d never imagined. The mysterious sacrament turned out to be not a symbolic morsel of bread, but actual food—indeed, the bread of life. In that shocking moment of communion, I was filled with a deep desire to become part of a body. I also realized that the basis of all the food service jobs I’d taken on to make ends meet was what I was meant to do: feed people.
I learned that the requirement for conversion wasn’t knowing how to behave like church folks, using religious vocabulary or even having a specific set of beliefs in religious doctrines. Transformation requires hunger, the same hunger I’d always carried.
My conversion took my life purpose in a new direction. It continues to be a complicated and often unconscious journey; and I continue to search for love and purpose.
I fed people. I took communion, and I passed the bread to others. Then I kept going, inspired and even feeling compelled to find ways to share what I’d experienced. I started a food pantry and gave away literally tons of fruit and vegetables and cereal at the church where I’d first received the body of Christ. I organized new pantries all over my city to provide 100s and 100s of hungry families with free groceries each week. Without committees or meetings or even an official phone number, I recruited scores of volunteers and raised 1000s of dollars.
My new faith vocation didn’t turn out to be as simple as going to church on Sundays or folding my hands in prayer. It was not about my being “saved” so much as my being transformed. My renewed purpose meant much more than talking kindly to poor folks and handing them a sandwich. I had to trudge in the rain thru hsg projects, sit on a curb wiping the runny nose of a psychotic man; take a battered woman’s .357 magnum and lock it in the trunk of my car. I had to struggle with my atheist family, my skeptical friends. They see following God as an archaic superstition. My journalist colleagues never expected me to exchange blessings with street evangelists.
Mine is a personal story of unexpected and terribly inconvenient Christian faith. I am an unlikely convert—a secular intellectual, lesbian, left-wing journalist with a habit of skepticism. Surrounded by right-wing Christian and worldwide religions rife with narrow-minded doctrines and exclusionary ideological crusades, I stumbled into an inclusive faith centered around worship AND action. I have found glimpses of an eternal core of Christianity: body-blood, bread-wine poured out freely, shared by all.
I found religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: dinner where everyone is welcome, where the despised and outcasts are honored.
In my endeavors to feed the poor, I learned more about scandals of American politics regarding food, and witnessed patterns of power abuse. I met thieves, child abusers, millionaires, day laborers, politicians, schizophrenics, gangsters and bishops—widening what I think of as my “community.”
These connections exhilarated, confused and often scared me.
Faith, for me does not provide easy answers or certainties.
It raises more questions than I am comfortable with.
I struggle to accept Christianity’s grand promises and resources to overcome temptations. I wrestle with the simple demands of faith—that are so easy to ignore. Holy communion knocked me upside down and forced me to deal with the impossible reality of God. Conversion needs to be ongoing. Conversion relentlessly challenges my assumptions about religion, politics and meaning.
I wrestle with the prejudices and traditions of my newfound Christian faith. Christianity is popularly represented by ecstatic teen crusaders in suburban mega-churches, slick preachers of a “gospel” of prosperity.
I cringe at supposedly religious viewpoints that are molded by shrewd political organizers who rail against alternative sexual orientations, dismiss climate and health research, and even belittle peaceful means of resolving conflicts. An awareness of Christianity’s ugly history makes me cringe with remorse. I encounter hypocrites and other insufferable adherents who often loudly proclaim their faith. How can anyone reconcile hateful policies or actions with Jesus’ imperative to love? I am convinced that it is crucial to better understand what faith means to people who are very different from one another.
I have begun a spiritual and actual communion across such divides.
God forces me to deal with all kinds of people.
I’ve ended up NOT in what church people like to call “a community of believers” (which tends to be code for “a like-minded club”). I have found something huger and wilder than I could ever have expected: the suffering, fractious and unboundaried body of Christ.
Sara Miles continues with an honest critique of Christianity shared by many people who remain outside the church. Sara asserts:
It may seem crazy to assert that any religion—much less Christianity which is the religion of our American empire, the religion of many intolerant members can be a source of healing and love. It seems ‘miraculous’ that Christian faith can be a tangible force for connection, a source of healing and basis for love. It takes a ‘leap of faith’ to assert that people can be fed with ordinary, yet mystical communion bread Christianity is so besmirched and exhausted and poisoned by centuries of misguided practices. I may seem deluded when I assert that Christian faith can transform our own real lives, not to mention change the world for the better.
Yet …this is my belief from which I live and act: At the heart of Christianity is a power that continues to guide and transform us.
As I found to my surprise and alarm, this mystical power can speak to me: not as a sappy Jesus-and-cookies or mild-mannered liberal Christian tone; nor a blustering, posturing, blaming hellfire practiced by much of the religious right.
What I hear is a voice that can crack religious, social and political convictions open. This divinely inspired voice advocates for the least qualified, least official, least likely. This underlying guidance upsets the established human order and makes a joke of certainty. Even despite human reason, this faith proclaims that the hungry will be fed, that those cast down will be raised up and that ALL things, including our own failures are being made anew. It offers food without exception to the “worthy” and “unworthy.”
Our faithful God offers sustenance to the screwed-up and the pious. And Jesus commands everyone to do the same—to feed and tend the sheep. Christian faith does not promise to solve or erase suffering—but to transform even hardships into something beyond our own envisioning.
It promises that by loving one another (and others!) even thru pain—we will find more life. And Christian faith insists that by opening ourselves to strangers, people who are despised or frightening or seemingly unintelligible to us, we will see more and more of the holy. That’s because, without exception all people are one body: God’s.