Sunday, August 26, 2018

14 Pentecost

August 26, 2018


Ephesians 6.10-20; John 6.56-69

+ Do you ever notice how certain words get hijacked? Words we once thought were nice, quaint words get hijacked by some not-so-nice people and all of a sudden the word becomes—and means—something else.

Certainly, we Christians have experienced this often in our life time. To some people Christians are seen as close-minded, bigoted and judgmental. We are viewed as people who fold our arms and sneer at anything we don’t like. We all are seen as terrible people because of a few very loud and vocal ones.  Which is a shame. People who think way that have obviously never been to St. Stephen’s!

It’s the same with priests. Let me tell you! Because of a few bad priests, all of a sudden we’re all seen as…well…you can guess.  And most of those people have never met me!

But one word that has been hijacked is one that what we often hear in relation to a bashing of the word “Christian.”  It is the term “Evangelical Christians.”

Evangelical Christians, even among other Christians, have been demonized. I have done it myself.

Being Evangelical in this day and age is equivalent to being a “Pharisee” in Jesus’ day. It is synonymous with hypocrisy and close-mindedness. And in most cases, you know what: that’s correct. Have you listened to some of those so-called self-professed Evangelical Christians? Many are just that, hypocritical and close-minded.  Many of them have a sense of righteous entitlement.

Many of them carry around a sense of rightness in being able to judge others.

A sense of we’re right and you’re wrong.

A sense of God is on OUR side.

A sense of: we’re saved and going to heaven and everyone who doesn’t believe the way we do or act the way we do are going straight to hell.

A sense of: I know what the real interpretation of scripture is.

These pharisaical evangelicals have actually done just that. They have hijacked Christianity. They have hijacked the Bible. And they have hijacked the very term “evangelical.”

And those things make me very angry.

They feel they are the standard bearers, the guardians of biblical purity. And very rarely do they see that what they are really doing is in fact embodying the very people Jesus preaches against again and again.

And we’ve all been on the receiving end of evangelical ire. Sadly.

But…my anger about evangelicals isn’t even about their puritanical stance, their sense of rightness. As I said, my anger has to do with their hijacking of both the Bible and the name “evangelical.”

Now, in the Anglican tradition, evangelical means something else. And for those of us who were Lutheran, it means pretty much the same thing as it does for Anglicans.  For us, evangelicals are simply people who strive to make sure scripture continues to be the basis for our Christian faith.

There is a long and fruitful Evangelical history in Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church. In fact, one of my personal heroes in the Episcopal Church was the great Evangelical writer, William Stringfellow, who along with his long-time partner, poet Anthony Towne, wrote several amazing books on scripture. I talk about Stringfellow a lot! Because he deserves to be quoted and remembered.

Now, personally, I have always been a bit wary of identifying myself as an Evangelical. Probably my reason for doing so has to do with the fact that we all know: being an Evangelical in our recent history means something I don’t want to be associated with.

But I am Evangelical in the sense that scripture is vital to my faith and my understanding of God, Christ and the Church.  I am Evangelical because I do believe in the authority of scripture. And I am Evangelical in the sense that scripture is the basis for my faith life, every sermon that I preach, how I see the world around me and how I view my own place in this world.

I love the Bible! And I say that without fear. I say it proudly. Because I do love the Bible! I have spent my entire faith life so-far, studying, pondering and wrestling with scripture.

In fact, when I was ordained a priest, the bishop asked me,

Will you be diligent in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, and in seeking the knowledge of such things as may make you a stronger and more  able minister of Christ?

And my answer was: I will.

I took that “I will” very seriously!

For me, that means reading and studying and wrestling with scripture on a daily basis. Which I have done almost every day since I was ordained. There were a few days when I was sick or in the depths of grief or pain when I simply couldn’t. But even on those days when I didn’t read it or study it, I can say in all honesty that scripture was still there, still guiding my life and sustaining me in illness or grief.  And I hope that, just as that vow promised, such daily study of scripture has made me a stronger and more able minister of Christ.

I am an Evangelical because I believe in Scripture. Now, I know that is loaded statement.

Do I believe literally in everything in the Bible?  That is not what I said.  But I do believe that God speaks to me through scripture. And because God does, I believe scripture to be the Word of God.

To go back to my ordination day, both as a deacon and priest, I knelt before the bishop, and said before God, the Bishop and the Church, this promise:

“…I solemnly declare that I do believe the holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation…”

Now, that vow is good for all of us who are ministers, not just ordained ministers. And, if you really listen, it’s a statement packed with meaning. I believe the scriptures to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary for salvation.

All of it? You may wonder. We may interpret that in statement, in what we are really professing here that through the scriptures God does speak to us.

God’s very Word comes to us through these scriptures. Which makes these scriptures incredibly powerful.  

We get an echo of this importance of the Word of God in our Gospel reading for today. In it, we find Simon Peter answering that question of Jesus, “Do you wish to go away?” with strangely poetic and vibrant words.

Peter asks,

Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

For all of us as followers of Jesus, who is the incarnate Word of God (which we find contained in scripture), the Word of God made flesh—this is essential.  And powerful.  

This Word not only directs our lives, it sustains us, and feeds us and keeps us buoyant in the floods and tempests that rage about us.  The Word is the place to which we go when we need direction, when we need comfort, when we need to be reminded that we are deeply loved children of out God, when we need hope as followers of Jesus.  The Word is essential to us because, through it, God speaks to us.  The Word is essential to us because it is there that we hear God’s Spirit directing us and leading us forward.

The irony for me, however, is most poignant when I listen to those Evangelicals (and others) who use the Word in cutting ways.  We of course hear them all the time.  People who use scripture to support their homophobia or their racism or their blatantly anti-Christian political beliefs or their condemnation of others.

Because scripture is so powerful, people who do so are playing with fire. Or maybe dynamite might be the better image.

Now, any of you who have heard me preach for any period of time have heard me say this same thing over and over again.  And I will continue to say it over and over again.  I said it again and again:  be careful of using Scripture as a sword, because, I say: remember.  It is a two-edged sword.  If you use the Word to cut others, trust me: it will come back and it cut you as well.  It is just that powerful. And frightening.  It can destroy, not in just the way the one who wields it wants to destroy, but it can also destroy the one who wields it.

However—and this is a big however—if we use the Word to affirm, to build up the Kingdom of God, if we allow the Word to be, in our lives, the voice of God, the mind of God, the  then we in turn are affirmed. As Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that we heard this morning:

“take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

That sword of the Spirit is an amazing weapon.  That sword of the Spirit is essential for all of us who are ministers.  It is a powerful device that carries more strength and influence than any of us probably fully realize.  And because it is so powerful, we need to use very, very carefully. It  needs to be handled like a loaded, very sensitive machine gun.

We need to use it not in anger, not in hatred, not in oppression, but in love.  When we wield this sword of the Spirit in love, we find love being sown.  When we wield this sword of the Spirit of God in compassion, we spread compassion.  When we wield this sword to shatter injustice and oppression and homophobia and hatred and fascism, we find justice and freedom.  When we wield this sword as a way to clear the way for the Kingdom of God, we find that we too become a part of that building up of the Kingdom.

We too are able to clearly hear Jesus’ voice in our lives.  Those words of eternal life that Jesus speaks to us again and again in scripture truly do break down barriers, build up those marginalized and shunned and, in doing so, we find the Kingdom of God in our very midst.

When a Benedictine monk or nun makes a profession of vows they pray a wonderful prayer.  Their prayer is:

“Accept me, Lord, according to your word, and I shall live. Do not disappoint me in my expectation.”

I love that.

“Do not disappoint me in my expectation.”

This is our prayer as well as loved children of God and followers of Jesus. This is the prayer of all of who are called to be ministers—whether as lay people or as clergy.

“Accept me, Lord, according to your word, and I shall live. Do not disappoint me in my expectation.” 

We too have prayed to be accepted according to God’s Word.  The sword of the Spirit has swiped the veil of separation from us and has made us one.  And none of us, in this oneness, in this kingdom of God in our midst, is disappointed in our expectation. When all are seen as one, when all are accepted, when we see each other as loved and fully accepted children of a loving and merciful God, then our expectation will be fulfilled.

But we need to keep listening, to keep straining our ears for God’s words to us.  We need to keep listening so God can speak to us—so the Word can speak to us. And that Word needs to be spoken just as importantly, through us.

When God speaks to us, we respond.  When the Word comes to us, we then need to engage it.

This is what prayer is—holy conversation.

And as the Word is spoken to us, as we hear it and feel it, our response is the same as those who heard the Word spoken to them by Jesus.

“Yes, Lord, you have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

So let us hear those words of eternal life.  Let us embody that Word in our lives.  Let us share that Word through the good we do in this world.  Let us take back that word “Evangelical” and make it our own again!  Let us be good and accepting and inclusive and radical Evangelicals! (Those are not oxymoronic words)

And when we do, people will know.  People will know we are children of God. People will know who we follow.  People will know that the Word we embody in our very lives is the Word of that Holy One of God.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

13 Pentecost


August 19, 2018

Proverbs 9.1-6, Eph. 5.15-20, John 6.51-58

+ Sometimes it helps having a poet as a priest. Sometimes.  Even if you don’t like poetry, it’s hard to escape poetry in our world, in our church, or in the Bible.

Today, we get some poetry, especially in our reading from the Hebrew scriptures.  In our reading this morning from Proverbs, we find several beautiful verses of poetry referring to Wisdom.

“Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars….
she has mixed her wine
She has also set her table.”

In fact, most of our scriptures this morning refer to Wisdom in one form or the other.  The question might arise as we hear this reading from Proverbs—who or what is Wisdom as referred to here?

Wisdom certainly seems to be something more than just an abstract idea.  It seems almost as though Wisdom is a person—some powerful and wonderful being who speaks in a very special and enlightening way to us.  

Our answer to who Wisdom is as referred to in our readings from Ephesians.  In his letter, Paul states clearly,

“be filled with the Spirit.”

Of course, Paul here is talking about the Holy Spirit, that part of our faith that we sometimes overlook in our lives.

We don’t think of the Spirit as we should.  Whenever we talk of spirits or anything spiritual, we instantly think of something heady and other-worldly. We think of smoky, Halloween-like ghosts. It is difficult sometimes to think of God’s Spirit—as something airy and light and ephemeral  

Most of us, after all, are pretty well-grounded. We can relate better to God, whom we pray to, whom we know as Father or Mother or Abba or Parent.

Or we can relate to Jesus as God’s Son, who takes on flesh like our flesh, who suffered like we suffer and who died like we will die.  Jesus, after all, speaks to us in the Gospels in a very clear and straightforward way. And our belief in Jesus as incarnate Son of God—as this gift from God, this way in which God reaches out to us—is one that we can truly wrap our minds around.

But when it comes to God as Spirit, our first reaction, no doubt, is one of distance.  The Spirit seems to some of us like a wispy mirage in our thoughts rather than something solid that we can cling to when we need to.

Nor do we think of the Spirit as that wise and steady voice in our souls that leads us forward into a closer relationship with God.  That is the Voice of Wisdom (see where I’m going with this?)

Over the years, I’ve heard some very strange explanations of who the Holy Spirit is and how we should relate to this manifestation of God. I know I have shared this story with several of you over the years. It’s usually in my Pentecost Day sermon.

But, when I was in Sunday School as a child at the Lutheran church near where I grew up, , I remember very distinctly, a Sunday School teacher telling us that if we prayed to the Holy Ghost—that’s what we called the Holy Spirit back then of course—the Spirit would leave us.  Now, at this time in my life, I had already made the decision that I was going to be a Catholic priest—and so I was rebelling against all these Lutheran things, like Luther League (I once told the Luther League leader when he asked if I would join the Luther League, “No thank you. Luther was a heretic.” I actually don’t think I knew fully what a heretic was, mind you...but you get the gist of where I was at this time in my life.)

I was appalled by this Sunday School teacher who made this grand pronouncement that we could not pray to the Holy Spirit.

So, I raised my hand.

You know she must’ve sighed before calling on that 13 year old me. Back then it was teachers who were wary from hearing from me. Now it’s Bishops who are wary of my raised hand.

When she did, I shoved by Bible across the table toward her and said, “find for me in there where it written that if we pray to the Holy Spirit the Holy Spirit will leave us…”

Let’s just say that did not meet with a pleasant response. In fact, what she could’ve done is shoved that Bible back at me and ask, “find me in there where there is any prayer to the Holy Spirit…” But, she didn’t.

Instead, I was sent out of the room.

And to the pastor.

Now, saying all this, I stress that one shouldn’t pray to the Holy Spirit exclusively, any more than anyone should pray exclusively to Jesus. We’re not heretics, after all—I actually know now what a heretic is—(Luther wasn’t a heretic)—practicing the heresy of Christomonism.  We of course should always direct our prayers to God, to the Father, to Abba.

But, the point to all of this is that we need to be mindful of God’s Spirit in our life. And if that means praying to the Spirit, asking the Spirit to be present in our life, how can that be wrong?  

I know.  The Spirit is elusive.  When it comes to the Holy Spirit, we all find ourselves grasping and struggling.   The Spirit can be kind of strange and sometimes we might have a hard time wrapping our minds around the Spirit.

Paul tries today to get us back in line with who the Spirit is.  Being filled with the Spirit and living wisely are really, in a sense, one in the same.

So, to help us describe and explain the Spirit, we can, in  all honesty, see the Spirit as the Spirit of Wisdom. As we read through the book of Proverbs and we hear Wisdom referred to again and again as a person, we see that Wisdom and the Spirit are very closely linked.

In moments like this when we encounter poetic language in the scriptures it’s a good thing, as I said, to have a poet in the pulpit.

A Poet in the Pulpit = that’s the title of my autobiography (there’s a few people out there who do not want to see that book published!)

I think it takes poetry to try to make sense of who the Spirit—who Wisdom—is in our lives. For me—as a poet—I don’t see much difference between the two. And I think for the author of Proverbs, they didn’t see much difference either. I can’t help but believe that what the author of Proverbs is getting at in referring to Wisdom in such a way, is that Wisdom is the Spirit of God.

God’s Spirit is the purest essence of Wisdom.  Certainly when we take a look at the scripture from Proverbs again, we find that the word “Wisdom” can easily be replaced by the word “Spirit.” The fact is, Wisdom is just another name for the Spirit.

In a well-known and ancient “Litany to the Holy Ghost,” the Spirit is referred to by many names—

“Ray of Heavenly Light”

“Source of Living Water”

“Burning Love”

And in that same ancient Litany we find the Holy Spirit referred to as “Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding”

See how all of this poetic language helps us to understand who and what the Spirit is in our lives. See how a bit of poetic thinking and understanding helps us to see the work of the Spirit in our lives?  Sometimes, when dealing with things of the Spirit, all we can do is speak in poetry!

When we read Proverbs from beginning to end, it is easy for us to hear the voice of the Spirit in our ears. Because always—always—the voice of the Spirit of God is a voice of absolute and perfect Wisdom.  

Wisdom as the Holy Spirit is the presence of God in our midst. Wisdom dances, in a sense, between us and God.

“Whoever finds me,” Wisdom says earlier in Proverbs, “finds life.”

Wisdom gives meaning to our lives. God makes it clear that we are not meant to live in the dusky, half-lit world of ignorance.

As Christians, we cannot use the excuse that we simply don’t know anything. Wisdom comes into our lives and helps open our hearts and minds to God.  This concept of Wisdom is truly a conduit of God’s presence in our lives. Through Wisdom we learn about ourselves and our place in the world. Through Wisdom we learn how to conduct ourselves.

We learn how to live our lives fully and meaningfully and not wastefully. Through Wisdom, we learn how to live a life fully for God.  And through Wisdom, we learn what God wants of us. We hear God speaking to us and through us.

That’s why, I do look at Wisdom as being synonymous with the Holy Spirit. I can’t help but believe that the book of Proverbs is very much a book of the Holy Spirit.  It is a book in which the Holy Spirit—as Wisdom—speaks to us and, in a very real way, through us.  I love these readings about Wisdom. We all should.

So, let us today and throughout this coming week, take to heart this idea of God’s Spirit as Wisdom. Let us come forward to the banquet the Spirit of Wisdom promises us in today’s scripture, a meal in which God’s knowledge comes to us in the bread and the wine and in our gathering together as the People of God.  This week, let us open ourselves to the Wisdom God is revealing to us in our lives and in the world around us.

Let us come into that soft bright glow of God’s knowledge in our life and revel in it. Let God’s Spirit of Wisdom guide us in all our actions and words, in how we live our lives and how we act toward others and ourselves.

“[Wisdom] has. . . set her table,” we heard in Proverbs today.

Let us join her there.





Sunday, August 12, 2018

12 Pentecost

August 12, 2018

I Kings 19.4-8; Ephesians 4.25-5.2

+ Occasionally in our Sunday scripture readings, we find a story that kind of perfectly matches our own faith journey, or a situation in our own lives. I think that’s why people find such consolation in scripture. Very often, we can find our own lives reflected there.

Well, one of the stories from scripture that truly resonates with many of us is our very short reading this morning from the Hebrew scriptures. In our reading from 1 Kings, we find the prophet Elijah in the wilderness. In that wilderness, after traveling a day’s journey, he asks God to let him die. In fact, we find him praying a very beautifully profound prayer, despite its dark tone.

Elijah prays, “It is enough: now, O Lord, take away my life…”

Actually, it’s pretty theatrical. Very Tallulah Bankhead.

But, if we’re listening closely, that prayer should actually cause us to pause uncomfortable for a moment. It’s actually quite a shocking prayer. But it is brutally honest too.

Anyone who has been in the depths of depression or despair knows this prayer. Anyone who has been touched with the deep, ugly darkness of depression has probably prayed this prayer.

“It is enough. Now, O Lord, take away my life.”

Now, some people would be afraid to pray this prayer. Why? Because they’re afraid God might actually answer their prayer.

Well, in the case of Elijah, God actually does.

Wait, you’re probably saying. No. God didn’t answer Elijah’s prayer.  Elijah lived.
Ah, but, yes, actually, God did answer the prayer.

In the midst of his depression, in the midst of his anguish, in the midst of the wilderness of not only his surroundings, but his own spirit, God really does answer the prayer of Elijah. But…it is not answered in the way Elijah wants.
The prayer is answered with a beautiful “no.” And we all have to understand and accept that sometimes “no” is the answer to whatever we might be praying for.
But before you think this is cruel—before you start saying that God’s “no” is a cruel no, follow this short, short story of Elijah all the way through.

Yes, God answers Elijah with a non-verbal no. But God still provides even after the no.

For Elijah, an angel appears and feeds him in his anguish and in that wilderness. Elijah is not allowed to die. But he is sustained. He is refreshed so that he can continue this journey.

This is a beautiful analogy for us, who are also wandering about in the wilderness. I think most of us have probably come to that time in our lives when we have curled up and prayed for God to take our lives from us, because living sometimes just hurts too much.

We too, more often than not, in our despair and pain, cry out to God.

 We ask God to relieve us of this anguish.

“Take this away from me, God,” we pray. Or, on really bad days, we pray, “Take me away from this pain, God.”

“Let me die.”

When that happens, God’s no is not the final word. The final word is God’s sustenance.  The final word is that fact that, even in our anguish, even in our wilderness, even when we are exhausted and worn out and so depressed we can’t even function, God still provides us with Bread. Maybe not actual bread.  But with the Bread of Life. A Bread that truly sustains, that truly refreshes.  God provides us with what we need.

As much as we may relate to this story of Elijah in the wilderness, we also have this reading from Ephesians this morning  Now, I will say this about our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: it is one of the most difficult scriptures I have ever had to deal with in my life as a Christian. Every time I have heard it or read it, I feel myself sort of (and this is a very evangelical term)…convicted.

In the mirror of this scripture, I feel inadequate. I see my own guilt staring back at me.  St. Paul lays it on the line.

“Be angry,” he says. “But do not sin.”

OK.  Yes, I can do that.  Trust me, I’ve been angry plenty. So, be angry, but don’t act on your anger.

“Let no evil talk come out of your mouth...”

Shoot! I was doing so well. But, this is hard.

“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit…”

We grieve the Holy Spirit when we let those negative, angry words out of our mouths. When we backbite and complain. When we bash others when others aren’t there. What harm can it do? we wonder. They can’t hear it. But the Holy Spirit hears it. And those negative words do make a difference.  They make a difference with God.  

 “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice” Paul writes, “and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

Ok. Yes. We understand all of that as followers of Jesus.  But, then, as though to drive home his point, he puts before us a challenge like few other challenges.

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

“Be imitators of God,” Paul says to us.

Be imitators of the God of love we worship.  

Be imitators of the God of love who loves each of us fully and completely.

Be imitators of the God of love who loves us for who we are, just as we are, even when we lash out with our angry words at others.

Be imitators of the God who hears our prayers and answers us by feeding us with a life-giving bread in the wilderness of our lives.

For me, this has to be the most difficult thing about being a follower of Jesus.  There are days when I want to be angry at those people who have wronged me and hurt me.  There are days when I want to get revenge on them and “show them.”  There are days when it feels almost pleasurable to think about “getting even” with those people and “putting them in their place.”

It’s so easy and it feels so good. And it makes the pain of betrayal less.  That is certainly the easier thing to do—at least for me.

But driving that anger and hatred and frustration from me is so much harder. Being an imitator of God—a God of radical acceptance—is much harder, much more difficult.  To be an imitator of the God of love takes work. Hard, concentrated work. 

But, in the end, it’s better.  Life is just so much better when the darkness of anger is gone from it.  Life seems so much less dangerous when we realize everyone is not our enemy.  Life is so much sweeter when we refuse to see a person as an enemy who sees us as their enemy.  Life is just always so much better when peace and love reign.

Yes, I know. It seems so Pollyannaish.  It seems so na├»ve.  It seems as though we are deceiving ourselves.  But, the fact is, it takes a much stronger person to love.  

It takes a very strong person to act in peace and love and not in anger and fear.  It takes a person of radical strength to be an imitator of a God of radical love.  The strength it takes to maintain peace in a time of strife is more incredible than anything we can even imagine.

I have had more than one former enemy become my friend, or at least my acquaintance, because of the effort to maintain peace rather than to antagonize.  Not always.  But a few times, peace has changed people’s hearts. Peace can do that.  It can change people.  But it has to change us first.

We, as followers of Jesus, as imitators of God, need to rid ourselves of the thorns and brambles of hatred and anger so we can let the flowers of peace blossom in our lives.  But it begins with us.  It begins with us seeing ourselves for who are—loved children of God attempting to imitate that God of love.

So, let us be true followers of Jesus in all aspects of our lives.  Let us strive to imitate our God of peace and love in everything we do.  Let us, in imitating our God, also reach out and feed those who are in their own wilderness.  Let us let peace and love reign in our hearts and in our lives.  Let that peace and love overcome all that anger, the hatred, the frustration that seems to reign in most of the world right now. And when we let peace and love reign, we will find that it permeates through us.  Everything we do is an act of peace, is an act of love to others. And that is what being a follower of Jesus in this world is.  That is the sermon we preach to others. That is the message of God’s love that we proclaim in our very lives.  That is true evangelism.  And that is what each of us is not only called to do by Jesus, but commanded to do by him.

“Live in love as Christ loved us,” Paul says to each of us.

When we do, that love will change the world.



Sunday, August 5, 2018

11 Pentecost

+++ The Blessing of the Civil Marriage of William Alan Weightman 
and James Edward Mackay +++

August 5, 2018

Exodus 16.2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78.23-29; John 6.24-35

+ Over these last several weeks, in our scripture readings at Mass, we have had a common theme.

The Bread of Life.

Food.

God providing food.

But our reading today from Exodus is one of those readings that has always perplexed me. In our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we find the Israelites, in their hunger, complaining and grumbling.  In some translations, we find the word “murmuring.”  Over and over again in the Exodus story they seem to complain and grumble and murmur.

To be fair, complaining and grumbling would be expected from people who are hungry.  We are not always nice people when we are hungry. I am definitely not a nice person when I’m hungry!

But in their hunger, even after they have complained and murmured, God provides for them.  God provides them this mysterious manna—this strange bread from heaven.

It’s the manna itself that has always confused me. In my mind, I still don’t have a very clear image of what it could possible have been.  In fact, nobody’s real clear what this mysterious manna actually was.  It’s often described as flakes, or a dew-like substance.  (It does not sound very appetizing)

But one thing we do know: it was miraculous.

Now, in our Gospel, we find the same story of the Israelites and their hunger, but it has been turned around entirely.  These people come to Jesus in their hunger, but they are given something greater than food to feed them.  As our Liturgy of the Word for today begins with hunger and all the complaining and murmuring and grumbling and craving that goes along with it, it ends with fulfillment.  

We find that the hungers now are the hungers and the cravings of our souls, of our hearts.

Now, this kind of spiritual hunger is just as real and just as all-encompassing as physical hunger.  It, like physical hunger, can gnaw at us. We too crave after spiritual fulfillment.  We mumble and complain and murmur when we are spiritually unfulfilled.  We too feel that gaping emptiness within us when we hunger from a place that no physical food or drink can quench.

In a sense, we too are like the Israelites, wandering about in our own wilderness—our own spiritual wilderness.  Most of us know what is like to be out there—in that spiritual wasteland—grumbling and complaining, hungry, shaking our fists at the skies and at God.  We, like them, cry and complain and lament. We feel sorry for ourselves and for the predicaments we’re in.  And we, like them, say to ourselves and to God, “If only I hadn’t followed God out here—if only I had stayed put or followed the easier route, I wouldn’t be here.”

We’ve all been in that place.  We’ve all been in that desert, to that place we thought God had led us.

I know that in my case, I went so self-assuredly.  I went certain that this was what God wanted for me.  I was sure I had read all the signs.  I had listened to that subtle voice of the Spirit within me.  I had gauged my calling from God through the discernment of others.  And then, suddenly, there I was.  What began as a concentrated stepping forward, had become an aimless wandering.  And, in that moment, I found myself questioning everything—I questioned myself, I questioned the others who discerned my journey, I questioned the Spirit who I was so certain spoke within me.  

And, in that emptiness, in that frustration, I questioned God.  I complained.  And I lamented.

Lamenting is a word that seems kind of outdated for most of us.  We think of lamenting being some overly dramatic complaining.  Which is exactly what it is.  It was what we do when we feel things like desolation.  Like hunger, few of us, again I hope, have felt utter desolation.  But when we do, we know, there is no real reason to despair.

As followers of Jesus, we will find our strength and consolation in the midst of that spiritual wilderness.  We know that manna will come to us in that spiritual desert. God always provides. We must always remind ourselves of that simple fact. No matter how terrible the desert experience may be, God will provide. In whatever terrible situation we may find ourselves in—even ones we have brought upon ourselves, God will rain manna down upon us. God will shower us with grace and goodness.

For us, manna has come many times in our lives. And I am not talking about flaky bread falling from the sky. I am talking about sustenance. Real sustenance.  I am talking about God providing for us and taking care of us just when we need to be taken care of. I am talking about grace—real grace—falling from the sky.

Now, at almost every wedding, I always talk about the love two people who are getting married have for each is an example of grace. Grace, as I definite it, is a gift we receive from God that we never asked for nor fully anticipated. And for most people who get married, that is what love is like. God sends a particular person at just the right time and in just the right place.

That is certainly what happened for James and William. And now, look! Their love is a perfect example of manna—of the grace of God falling into their lives.  And I hope all married people here this morning can say the same thing about their own relationship.

This is how God works in our lives. Yes, we might complain. Yes, we might shake our fists at God, and say, “this is unfair!” We might lament and complain about being hungry in the wilderness of our lives. But God, we find, is not distant. God is right here. Right here, with us.

After eating our fill of manna in our lives, we no longer can accuse God of being distant. Because, God has come to us.  

And the sign that God is with us? God has feed us. Look at all the ways in our lives in which God has truly fed us! Again and again.

In those moments when God has provided for us, when God has drawn close and given us all we needed (and didn’t even know we even needed in in the first place) that is when we know we have truly eaten the Bread of angels.  It is then that we have had the grain of heaven.

In our hunger, God always feeds us.  

In our grumbling and complaining, God quiets us.

After all, when we are eating and drinking, we can’t complain and grumble.  And unlike the food we eat day by day, the food God provides us with will not perish.

God sends us the bread of life.

“I am the bread of life,” we heard Jesus say in our Gospel reading. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

In the echo of that statement, we are silenced.  Our grumbling spiritual stomachs are silenced. Our spiritual loneliness is vanquished.  Our cravings are fulfilled.

In the wake of those powerful words, we find our emptiness fulfilled.  We find the strength to make our way out of the wilderness to the promised land. And, we who eat of this bread, of this manna from heaven, we in turn become the bread of life to others. 

“Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

So, let us be thankful for the manna we have received—in whatever form that manna has come to us in our lives.  Let the One who feeds us take from us our gnawing hunger and our craving thirst, once and for al.  And when God does, we will be given what we have been truly craving all along.