Fr. Bill Carroll – The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 14, 2022

Is not my Word like fire (says the Lord)?  

Is it not like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

About fifteen years ago, a book came out, called Take this Bread.  The author is named Sara Miles—and the book tells the story of how she came to follow Jesus in the Episcopal Church.  She did so after a long, wide-ranging career as an activist, a cook, and a journalist.

 On both sides of her family, Sara is the granddaughter of Christian missionaries. But she grew up in a secular home.  Her parents wanted nothing to do with God.  

Sara tells us the story of her conversion.  The book is all about giving her life to Jesus.  Sara also writes about her struggle to start a food pantry at her church.  In doing that, she is trying to provide the same unconditional welcome to others that she herself found at God’s Table.  Indeed, in the food pantry that she founded, food is piled right on the Altar.  Whether it’s the Eucharist or other meals, God is feeding God’s People.

Throughout the book, Sara draws on her experience as a cook.  She tells many stories about the power of shared meals to change our lives.  Along the way, her friends (as well as complete strangers and even her enemies) share their bread with her.  And these shared meals foreshadow her own powerful experience of meeting Jesus in Holy Communion.  

And so, one morning, after a long and difficult journey (including grueling work in restaurant kitchens and reporting the news from war-torn regions of the world), Sara meets Jesus.  She meets him at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco—a congregation well-known for its innovative worship.

I still can’t explain my first communion (she writes).  It made no sense.  I was in tears and physically unbalanced:  I felt as if I had just stepped off a curb or been knocked over, painlessly, from behind.  The disconnect between what I thought was happening—I was eating a piece of bread; what I heard someone else say was happening—the piece of bread was the “body” of “Christ,” a patently untrue or at best metaphorical statement (as far as she could tell); and what I knew was happening—God, named “Christ” or “Jesus,” was real, and in my mouth—utterly short-circuited my ability to do anything but cry.

All the way home, shocked, I scrambled for explanations.  Maybe I was hyper-suggestible, and being surrounded by believers had been enough to push me, momentarily, into accepting their superstitions…Really, the whole thing, in fact, must have been about emotion:  the music, the movement, and the light in the room had evoked feelings, much as if I’d been uplifted by a particularly glorious concert or seen a natural wonder.

Yet that impossible word, Jesus, lodged in me like a crumb.  I said it over and over to myself, as if repetition would help me understand.  I had no idea what it meant; I didn’t know what to do with it.  But it was realer than any thought of mine, or even any subjective emotion:  It was as real as the actual taste of the bread and the wine.  And the word was indisputably in my body now, as if I’d swallowed a radioactive pellet that would outlive my own flesh.

“And then something outrageous…happened to me (she writes).  Jesus happened to me.”

Sara’s words relate directly to our lesson from Jeremiah this morning.  Often in Scripture, the Word of God is said to “happen” to a prophet. When we say the Word “comes” to a prophet, the Hebrew word “comes” means the Word “happened” to the prophet. “Is not my Word like fire? (says the LORD to Jeremiah).  Is it not like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”  The Word of God happened to Jeremiah.  It happened to Sara.

When Jesus (who is God’s own Word) happens to us, we can never be the same.  For Jesus is God.  And “our God is a consuming fire.”  Jesus is a hammer who breaks a rock into pieces. He is like a “sharp, two-edged sword,” the letter to the Hebrews says in the fourth chapter.  Jesus is both a weapon and a scalpel.  He can wound us. And he can make us whole.

For Jesus is our life and our death.  He brings us to judgment and forgiveness—and his mercy (God’s mercy) never fails us.  As our closing hymn puts it:

The soul that to Jesus hath fled for repose

I will not, I will not forsake to its foes

That soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,

I’ll never, no, never, no, never, forsake.  

When Jesus comes to us (and happens to us), he claims us for God.  Body and soul, he claims us for God.  And so, we belong to Jesus.  We are sealed by his Spirit—and marked as his very own.

Among other things, the Eucharist is a sign of the life that we share together in Jesus  As we gather around his Table, he gives his life for us all.  Jesus comes especially to those of us who are little or frail or suffering.  He comes to “save the weak and the orphan,” our Psalm says. He comes to “defend the humble and needy.”  He comes to all those who “travail and are heavy-laden.”  He comes to liberate refugees and prisoners.  He comes to help the needy and the forgotten.  He comes to refresh any of us who are lost, or hurting, or afraid.

Jesus calls all of us to come to him.  He calls us to come and join that “great cloud of witnesses.”  He calls us to share in the joy of the redeemed.  He calls us to share in the gifts of salvation.  He calls us to follow him.  He calls us to become the people who feed the hungry, forgive our enemies, and house the homeless poor.  He calls us to bear witness to him—to share the story of how we met him—and to speak the Good News to all who need to hear it.

That’s how we “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely.” That’s how we find hope in this world. That’s how we leave behind our sinful and selfish priorities.  It’s how we learn to follow Jesus in the new and better way of love.

We have to turn to Jesus.  For he is the one who runs the race before us.  He is the one that shows us the way we need to go.  We need to turn to Jesus.  And we need to follow “in his steps.” We need to follow, wherever he leads us.  And we need to love the People he gives us to love..

“And then something outrageous…happens to us.  Jesus happens to us.”

May he happen to us—again and again and again.