Pentecost 12, August 15, 2021

Rev. Susan’s Sermon for Proper 15, Aug 15, 2021

Heavenly nourishment

According to an article on NPR, every two years, the  National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey gathers information on health and nutrition in the United States.  This year, they and the CDC have concluded that American kids and adolescents are eating more junk food than ever.   This, despite most of us knowing that junk food isn’t good for you.

Junk food is usually highly processed, convenience food made from ingredients so manipulated that they hardly resemble their origin. So junk food tastes good but has little or no nutritional value, also known as empty calories. That’s important. Nutritional value.  The reason for eating, after all.  

It seems so simple.  Eat what is right for you. Eat what does you good. Eat what helps you grow, keeps you healthy, lengthens your life.  Why don’t we?

Years ago, when the kids were little, I remember standing line with them at one of the major fast food chains.  In the line over was a young mother with an infant who seemed to be only weeks, if not days, old.  Of course I was cooing and making eyes at the baby, and mom was certainly proud of her child.  As we exchanged the usual pleasantries about babies in general, she said she had really been having cravings and couldn’t wait for her fries. I laughed knowingly. But then she told me how much her little one enjoyed them, too. She said, “I mash them up real good so he can eat them.” giving a whole new meaning to ‘do you want fries with that?”

This was something shocking to me. As someone who nursed her children, then closely followed the guidelines for how to introduce solids to infants, I couldn’t imagine feeding fries to someone so young.  No judgement here, just bewilderment. How could anyone knowingly feed their little one this way? But there I was also, bending to pressure, doing the same thing, buying ‘happy meals’  though my kids were older.

Junk over nutrition. Seems like we fall for it every time.

Jesus said, “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.“ We are still in the middle of learning about Jesus’ feeding program.  He’s gone from feeding the multitudes, to teaching them to recognize the difference between their cravings and real hunger,  and now a lesson about divine nutrition.

The passage is a bit complicated, and we have to stretch a bit to hear and appreciate what he’s saying: the path to life is through Jesus. He compares himself to bread and wine so that we might understand just how intimate that relationship should be, we are nurtured down to our very bones.

The bread of life is one that becomes part and parcel of us, helping us to grow, helping us to be attentive and responsive to God in our lives. ‘Abiding’ is the word used today, that is, God’s presence continuing to live on in us.

Why does Jesus go down this track anyway? Why does he compare himself to food? Why not, “look, here’s a set of principles, believe in them and you’re done.” “Here’s a set of rules; follow them to the letter.”  or “Here’s a picture of me, keep it before you at all times.” nope. None of the above.  He says mystically, enigmatically, truthfully, “eat the bread that I will give; eat this and live forever.”

And the people respond, “oh really?  I can’t believe that,” getting all hung up on the details of how this might or might not be possible. And so continues this push-pull that humanity has with Jesus offering full nourishment and us craving fast food. We delude ourselves into believing that junk is nutritious.

I think that’s because well, there’s something particularly devilish about junk food and most fast food: those fries taste great! That combination of salt and grease, of texture and flavor, when done right is nothing short of heavenly. It does make me happy. Well, at least the first bite or so.  Then, we crave it because it’s what we’re used to or because we think there isn’t anything better out there for us, we believe there are no other options. We are in denial about how harmful and deficient fast food really is. As the research points out, a steady diet of this type of food has deadly consequences.

But, it’s one thing, if we think we’re indulging in a whim and only do it so often.  It’s another when we buy into the lie we are being sold: that junk food isn’t actually so bad for us, and maybe even good.

“Good” because it makes things easier: you don’t have to cook, you don’t have to waste time, you don’t have to mess up the kitchen and so forth.  There may be a kernel of truth in these statements, but objectively, they don’t amount to much. Those meals are really ‘not-so-happy’ ones.

Why are so many American kids eating like this? Several reasons were revealed in the research: Fast food can be an easy option for stressed families; many poor families are beset by food insecurity and have no other options; some, because they don’t know any better.

But also because families in general, are targeted by companies to sell their product.  What they are selling is a false sense of security, what they are selling is a lifestyle, what they are doing is appealing to children, selling a counterfeit happiness to those who have no way to judge.  To a child, it all looks fun and wonderful, so it must be. They count on us to be their guides.

Yet, many of the things adults believe are life-giving, really aren’t.  Power, glory, wealth, prestige, even education and social standing are all but disastrous when we become over-reliant on them.  They can sustain for a while, but not forever. We know this at a certain level, but more often than not, we are willing to believe things that are patently untrue because it’s just easier, like empty calories we think will make us happy somehow.

Like a mother who desires nothing more than the health of her child, and who knows exactly what that is, Jesus offers himself as the most nourishing meal ever. In doing so, he fulfills that vision given to humankind as ‘the Word made flesh.’ 

His words, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them,” must be heard as an invitation, not as an argument or a sales pitch.  It is an invitation to feast, to delight, to trust, and to be made whole. Believe is what we do when we take him at his word and make him our own. Communion is when we have that experience of God in our own flesh.

Nothing could be more lifegiving. Nothing could be more true. Nothing could be more filling. Nothing could be more satisfying.  Nothing could make us happier. Nothing could be more like Jesus. 

No fries, thank you

Amen.