August 15th 2021- Fr. J. Devin Rodgers
All sorts of starchy, full of carbohydrate foods
Training for long distance races is not only about training and tracking distances. The week before races is actually my favorite part of racing.
About one week before the race, you begin tapering your mileage bit by bit. You daily distances drop significantly, then comes the fun part. You get to carb load.
I’m talking a week of eating carbs like you would not imagine- 55% percent of your caloric intake. Three days before, this jumps to 70%.
The science behind incorporating pasta and and pastries and bread into one’s training regime is interesting. If you do build up an energy stockpile, there is little chance you will make it the 26.2 miles of the race. You’re more than likely going to hit the wall at mile 20.
Here’s why. When you run or exercise more than 90 minutes, your muscles run out of glycogen. Glycogen is essentially what stores sugar, or fuel, for your body. The further you’re running, the more glycogen you need.
Training will only get you so far. In long distance running…you need bread.
If you’ve noticed in the lectionary the last several weeks’ gospels have seemed incredibly repetitive. We’ve spent several weeks with Jesus’s words. I am the bread of life.
It’s been repeated and repeated.
Holy Carb Loading.
This week Jesus takes this one step further and tells his followers and us “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
“Feed on me! I am your nourishment.”
If this strikes you as confusing, you’re in good company. If it were easy to comprehend Jesus wouldn’t have had to repeat himself so frequently.
It’s off putting to be told to eat human flesh. If we fast forward to next week’s gospel some of his followers are so taken aback by this teachings that they actually abandon following Jesus.
At first our minds may go directly to the Eucharist. Not a bad first instinct.
The Eucharist is in fact grounded in Christ’s words here. When receiving the bread we hear them.
“The body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.”
But we also have to remember that John’s gospel and the words of Jesus predate our Eucharstic theology and the practices as we’ve inherited them.
Hold on to that because the Eucharist, a sacrament, is a visible sign of everything that is about to come in this sermon.
Jesus’ words, “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”
To make sense of this we need to hold on to two things.
First is the Incarnation – God entering into creation, not just in the person Jesus Christ, but in all things.
The second is grace. God chooses to do this so that we are intimately united and connected to God. God chooses to reach us in ways we can touch, feel, see, taste and hold so that we might reach God.
The two have to go hand in hand.
Jesus’ words are obviously not just about eating.
The Christian faith is all about being connected to God through everything that God created and saves.
As Paul tells us this is much larger than we can imagine.
in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…All things were created through Him and for Him.He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17
Herein lies one of the problems we often face with our faith. We make our faith story too small.
We struggle to dig into the deep nutrition that God is in all things and holding all things together. We limit God to a few specific hours on Sunday, in a few select buildings where we are assured to meet God. If we are disciplined we reacquaint ourselves with God throughout the week through prayer and spiritual disciplines in attempt to self soothe or make God happy.
It’s not enough.
It’s not about the bread given to us from human hands, but the sustenance given to us from God that changes and transforms who we are. You are what you eat.
We, like those religious leaders,to whom Jesus is speaking, get really caught up in what we can wrap our heads around the religious, but not the spiritual.
If we are to carb load on the bread of life, maybe we need to verse ourselves in a much larger story?
This past week as I struggled with this text, I referred to one my favorite authors, Fr. Richard Rohr, Catholic mystic and theologian.
In the book The Universal Christ he describes this small inadequate story accepted by much of Western Christianity.
We reduce our Christian faith down to this.
A certain specific sin was carried out by two individuals a long, long time ago between the Tigris and Euphrates River – Adam and Eve. This set humanity up for failure. God figured out a way to redeem humanity. God became human to rectify this. Jesus died, rose again, and the select few who believe in him will be saved.
This is an incredibly small story for a massive incomprehensible God. In our times it doesn’t take long to punch holes in this and realize this story eventually runs out of fuel.
What about the cultures who haven’t heard of Jesus? What about other religious folks? We won’t even get into the issues about how this small story limits our world as a place to be escaped and not cherished. Heaven awaits us afterall.
There just isn’t enough fuel behind this.
Thankfully, the bread of life, nourishes far beyond this, fueling and propelling us into a much larger race of faith – one that is run in union with God.
This bigger more nourishing story we encounter in the Gospels is this.
The Incarnation of God is enormous. Jesus Christ shows us the human face of God, but the incarnation is visible in the entire cosmos.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made.
Think about this for a moment.
We have the capacity to love because the part of God that dwells in each of us is also visible in others. It doesn’t stop there. It is visible and available in all of creation. We can love nature because God put part of God’s self into plants, trees, rivers, mountains, oceans and every insect, mammal, fish and bird ever created. We can love art because art reflects part of God. We appreciate and can love music bcause with each note the Creator resonates with the part of God that resonates within each of us.
If we are mindful, if we are open to it, if we are willing to take it and eat it, every part of creation is soaked through and through with the bread of life.
When we forget this, cannot see it, or when this holy presence is marred, betrayed or even crucified, the rest of the Christ story comes into play.
Resurrection – all that the Word created is redeemed and brought back to God.
St. Athanasius, upon whom some of the most foundational beliefs of Christianity including the creed found in the prayer book on p. 864 says this succinctly.
“God was consistent in working through one man to reveal himself everywhere, as well as through the other parts of His creation, so that nothing was left devoid of his Divinity and his self-knowledge…so that ‘the whole universe was filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters fill the sea.’ Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ (p. 27). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
If this is true, once we see and accept this profound grace we realize that the bread of life never runs out and is available to us in everything.
We can eat until our hearts are content and there will always be more. We will never be spiritually hungry again, nor should anyone else.
That is good news.
You who have been running and are growing tired. You cannot do this on your own. You cannot feed yourself. Doing this on your own is not in your nature.
The living bread that comes down from heaven still comes down We celebrate it here in this place week after week, but that is so that we are better able to recognize it outside these doors away from this altar, and upon the altar of the world. The living bread is in your homes, in nature, in the love you share with your friends and family. This living bread is in the love waiting to be extended to the hurting, the sick, those who are worn out, and have hit the point where they think they can run no longer.
But this race is ultimately a race of love, of joy, and abundant hope.
Nourish yourself for this race with the bread of life.
We are destined to win…because Christ already has.