Thursday, August 14, 2014

My first sermon, from August 14, 1994

Twenty years ago today, on Sunday, August 14, 1994, I preached my first sermon at Maple Sheyenne Lutheran Church in Harwood, North Dakota. I managed to find it in a binder full of sermons I would preach after that.

Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 14, 1994

Maple Sheyenne Lutheran Church
Harwood, North Dakota

Ephesians 4.30-5.2; John 6.41-51

 In the year 1266, there was once a woman in the village of Santarem, Portugal who was trapped in a desperately unhappy marriage. Her unfaithful husband neglected her and  caused her much unhappiness. The poor woman was so desperate to have her husband fall in love with her again that she went to a sorceress. The old Gypsy woman told the woman that is she brought back a consecrated wafer from Communion, the witch would heat it over a fire until it turned to powder. This powder could then be sprinkled into the husband’s food. As soon as he ate the food, he would magically fall in love with his wife again and his philandering.

This woman was a good Catholic and so, predictably, she hesitated several times, until, finally, desperate to win her husband’s love back, she went to Mass at the village church and received the wafer. But instead of swallowing it, she took it from her mouth and wrapped it in her veil, intending to take it to the sorcerer. However, within a few moments, blood began to issue from the wafer. There was so much blood, in fact, that it soon dripped from the veil onto the church floor and attracted several of her fellow parishioners who, obviously, thought she was injured.

The woman avoided the people and ran to her home, leaving a trail of blood behind her. Hoping to hide the bloody veil and its contents, she placed them in a chest in her bedroom. But during the night, a mysterious light penetrated the wood of the chest and filled the whole room, keeping both the woman and her husband awake.

Unable to hide her secret anymore, the woman confessed the secret to her husband. Because shew as filled with such remorse over the sacrilege she committed, the next morning she took the veil and wafer to her priest. She told the priest: “I have killed God!” and then proceeded to tell the whole story.

          The priest absolved the woman and took the host from her. The story of the miracle attracted attention or miles and soon people came to the village to see this miraculous wafer.

          The priest, to help preserve the wafer, encased it in wax and placed it in a locked niche for safe keeping.

          Sometime later, whoever, when he went to check on it, he saw that the wax had been broken. He then placed it in a gold vessel for exposition.

          And there it is to this day, some 700 years later, still in a state of miraculous incorruption.

          There are hundreds of stories like this all over southern Europe, which have occurred for centuries. Bleeding communion wafers. Communion wafers that have miraculously turned into human flesh. Communion wine that has somehow turned into human blood. Doctors to this day can examine these miracles and can determine, as they say, the supposed actual blood type of what they feel is Jesus.

          Lutherans no doubt are amazed and astonished at stories like this. More than likely most of us don’t even know what to think when we hear stories like this. But on a spiritual level, many of us probably fin these stories hard to swallow, no pun intended.

          When Jesus talks in today’s Gospel about being the Bread of Life, he was obviously not talking about actual bread. For Jesus, and for most of us, we know that what feeds the body is physical. What feeds the spirit is spiritual. Christ is the bread of the spirit. He is out spiritual food.

          Later on in this same chapter from the Gospel of John, Jesus confirms that belief in no uncertain terms:

          “Unless you eat the flesh of the son of Man and drink his blood, you will have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood will have eternal life and I will raise them on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood true drink.”

We really don’t need grand miracles to help us to believe. We have our faith in the spiritual changes that take place within us.

          Jesus is essentially telling us: look within.

          We worry often about taking care of physical bodies. When we’re sick, we go to the doctor, we take medicine, and we’re operated on if it’s needed. Partly due to our instinct as living human beings, partly due to the society in which we live, it is our prerogative to be healthy physically.

          But Jesus is telling us that we must take care and feed our souls too. We must nourish them.

          In our reading today from Ephesians, Paul instructs us to be imitators of God. These admonitions are preceded by a list of things we should do to be like God:

          We should put away all bitterness



          Wrangling (or arguing)



We must be kind to one another

          Be tenderhearted


          These are the ways to nurture our souls, to make us more like the God in Christ who feeds us spiritually. These simple ways help us to become healthy spiritually. They help us to grow in the spirit.

          And so, when we hear stories of miraculous Eucharistic events like the one of in Portugal, we, who might be baffled by such things, can console ourselves. Outward physical displays of God’s power are beautiful and wonderful in their own right, just as all our sacraments are, just as a sunset, or a thunderstorm can be beautiful and wonderful and awe-inspiring. But if it is only for the purpose of the body, without heeding our spiritual needs they are essentially useless spiritually.

          The most meaningful Eucharistic miracles take place within us, every day, in our own communion with Christ in us and each other, in our growth as children and imitators of our God.




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