Sunday, July 9/22, 2018
8th Sunday After Pentecost
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ. Glory forever. What do you eagerly desire? Or what do you dream in the unguarded moments of sleep or the early moments of waking? In a new song from a recent children’s movie, a young man croons that there are a million dreams keeping him awake at night. And with the enthusiasm that is particular to youth, the song posits that those dreams lead to a world we’re gonna make. While we can sympathize with the young man’s thirst for life, we adults know that self-created worlds often leave a person unfulfilled in the multitude of their million dreams. Those self-created worlds don’t in the end unite us to one another and our precious creations crumble almost as soon as they are built.
In this morning’s epistle, the apostle expresses not a million disconnected dreams, but one very powerful vision of unity in community, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (v. 10). And in this morning’s Gospel, we witness a very poignant image of this unity in community, as the Lord of Life breaks the bread which is His body for the 5,000 needy dreamers, who came to Him for food. Out of the many who eagerly desire health and life he miraculously nourishes them, makes them one, and calls them into fellowship one with another.
This morning we are gathered as his church and the same Lord of life is invisibly present here, “ …where two or more have gathered in his name.” And while we have been temporarily deprived of the sacrament of his body and blood, His word and this community of like-minded believers still nourishes us, “… to the healing of both soul and body.” What do we possess together that each one of us could not even dream of separately? What makes this particular community function with the oneness of soul of which Saint Paul speaks? Or what makes it split into the opposite: a mere aggregate of individuals all with separate dreams and user-created experiences that don’t necessarily relate to one another?
The answer lies in the message of the cross: dying to ourselves, especially to the false image of ourselves that we project to the world. The freedom to choose among a million dreams is not bad in and of itself. But when our hashtags portray unrealistic and false images of ourselves, they keep us from honest and open face-to-face conversation with one another. In the days of Saint Paul, hashtags abounded; we read them in this morning’s epistle: “I am of #Paul”; “I am of #Apollos”; then the one all the popular church people use, “I am of #Christ”. Is Jesus Christ divided from the others and really nothing more than a hashtag? And what ethnic distinction, political persuasion, or parish membership do we use today to distinguish us from the others? “I am of #HolyResurrection”; “I am of #Russia/Greece/Romania________”; “I am of #Orthodoxy”. While all of these in an of themselves are good, when we reduce our identity to hashtags and slogans, our communion with Christ and one another suffers. The message of the cross teaches us that whatever label or affiliation we claim needs to be authenticated in union with Christ.
C.S. Lewis in his Screwtape Letters, an imaginative dialogue between a demon and his young protégé tempter Wormwood, reminds us that Christian community and oneness of soul is hard work, but it leads to a beautiful freedom.
“[the demon Screwtape writes to his apprentice Wormwood] One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners… All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands… When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew…. Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavour…. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His ‘free’ lovers and servants… Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to ‘do it on their own’.
May He who confessed, “They will know the truth and the truth will make them free,” help us to discern between pointless dreaming and pointed aspiration and thereby bring us into the true communion that we crave with our brothers and sisters in Christ. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen.