Old Testament: Joshua 24:1–2, 14–18
Psalms Psalm 84
Epistle: Ephesians 6:10–20
Gospel: John 6:56–69
Spirit of love and compassion, Spirit of justice and peace, may the meditations of my heart, of my mind and of my spirit be acceptable and pleasing to you, and may they be a faithful witness to the wisdom you have gifted to us. In your Son’s name, we pray. Amen.
My message this morning is actually a continuation of the sermon of Hope Antone last week that was entitled “Are We Really What We Eat?” Even the beginning of today’s Gospel reading may sound familiar as the first two verses—John 6:56–58—were the last two verses of our Gospel reading last week. Thus, in keeping with Hope’s theme of food last week, I would like to talk about a “Christian diet” today and the ways in which we can possibly ensure that our “diet of faith” produces a healthy and energetic person of faith. Perhaps, by the end of my sermon, we will all be ready to eat even more food during our time of fellowship or at least be hungry after all this talk about food!
You may recall that Hope said last week that “the Good News is truly Good News when it confronts or engages the bad news within and around us, i.e., whatever it is that keeps people from living the quality of life that God wills for all.”
She concluded her message to us with these words:
“If we as professing Christians feed on the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus as the Living Word, we may become what we eat, i.e., transformed persons who, like Christ, will manifest the love, justice and compassion of God in our lives and relationships. If we feed on the flesh and blood of Christ Jesus as the Living Word, we will abide in him and he in us, and we may become bearers of the Good News, filled with knowledge and courage to confront the bad news within and around us. If we are what we eat, let us seek not the food that will pass away; but set our hearts on the food that endures, the food that will show us the true and living way.”
Friends, this week let us focus our attention on the good food of our faith that endures, not on the junk food of faith that will quickly pass away. As you can see in the sermon title, my recommendation for a good Christian diet is a hearty helping of yin that’s washed down with a huge goblet of yang.
Let us begin by looking at the first few verses of our Gospel reading today in the sixth chapter of John. In verses 56 and 57, Jesus says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.”
Can you imagine the response of the disciples and everyone who heard these words? Indeed, verse 60 tells us that “many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’”
It certainly is a “hard saying”! My first inclination of hearing these words from someone proclaiming themselves to be a religious or spiritual leader today would be that this person is crazy and is the leader of a cult promoting cannibalism!
Jesus, of course, explains himself later in verse 63: “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
Jesus again seeks a reaction from the disciples in verse 67 in which he asks the disciples if they now “wish to go away.”
Simon Peter in the next two verses replies: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
“You are the Holy One of God”! This statement, of course, is the core of our faith. “You are the Holy One of God” is what separates us from the believers of all other faiths. It is what we proclaim every week when we recite the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed. It is the assertion that makes us Christians.
How though can we be healthy and energetic Christians?
Now, as you might suspect, comes “Dr. Bruce’s Christian Diet” offering that delicious yin and that succulent yang! Don’t sprint to the fellowship hall yet though. The feast here is about to begin!
In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang is rooted in a balance of what may appear to be opposing forces that, in reality, complement each other and make the whole greater than its parts. I believe we can adopt this principle to our Christian faith. For me, the yin and yang of Christianity rests on a balance of the inner dimension of our faith—our spiritual life—and the external dimension of our faith—our witness in society.
The inner dimension, the yin, is something internal to us; it’s invisible; it’s something we experience, and we may even say that we feel. The external dimension, the yang, is something outside of us; it’s visible; it’s something that others can observe. Both dimensions, however, can be lived out as individuals and collectively as a community of faith.
Our faith is rooted in our relationship with God and with others. Remember the two central commandments of the New Testament in Matthew 22 and Mark 12: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” The first relationship with God is part of the inner dimension of our faith involving our spiritual life; the second relationship with others is part of the external dimension of our faith and is reflected in such acts as our service to the poor, our work for social justice, our role as peacemakers. Our relationship with others is a reflection of our relationship with God. If we can keep these two simple, but difficult, commandments, what a different world we’d have!
Remember as well that we are called not to obey a set of religious rules but to create and nurture a relationship with God that, again, is reflected in our values and in how we live our lives. In Amos 5:21–24, the prophet, quoting the Lord, offers this stern and uncompromising challenge in the Old Testament:
“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps, I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
How though can we make a tasty dish of yin to enhance our Christian lives?
Let us look to this morning’s psalm, Psalm 84, for a glimpse of what the final dish might look like and a hint at the recipe, for the psalmist seems almost drunk on the Spirit in this beautiful psalm of praise and joy:
“How lovely is thy dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yea, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at thy altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in thy house,
ever singing thy praise! [Selah]
Blessed are the men whose strength is in thee,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
the God of gods will be seen in Zion.
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob! [Selah]
Behold our shield, O God;
look upon the face of thine anointed!
For a day in thy courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
blessed is the man who trusts in thee!”
A hint, I believe, of how we can enrich our spiritual life is contained in the last verse of this psalm in which the psalmist exclaims that “blessed is the man, [the woman], who trusts in thee”; for if we can truly trust in God, then we will know true peace, true joy, true harmony with our God. Trusting in God though sounds simple, but, in reality, it is much more difficult as our ego is afraid to surrender to God, to let go for fear of losing control. We are rarely willing to lose our life in order to find it, to paraphrase Matthew 16:25.
Other paths to deepening our spiritual life are taking place right here, right now, as we worship God and listen to the Word of God. We can also develop the inner dimension of our faith, the yin of our faith, through reflecting on what God says to us during Bible studies and by regularly setting aside time for daily meditation, or contemplative prayer—the almost forgotten Christian practice of listening to the Divine in each of us in the silence of our being.
As for the external dimension of our faith, the yang of our faith, what are we called to do as children of God to witness to God’s unconditional and unceasing love for all who breathe and have life?
I believe that the witness of any person, any Christian, can be in words and deeds that are both seemingly big and seemingly small. Every day is an opportunity to reflect our faith in the world. It may be what we might consider an insignificant act of taking time to listen to the problems of a friend or family member, to comfort them, to express our concern. It may be an act that has implications for the common good of our community and our society, such as signing a petition, attending a forum or marching in the streets. Whenever our motivation is to share our compassion or to seek justice or to work for peace, I believe that God is present in what we say and do even if we don’t consciously act on the basis of our Christian faith and its values. God is love. Acts of compassion and acts for justice and peace are acts rooted in love for others, for someone and something beyond ourselves and our own self-interests. In these moments, our egos are outward-looking, not inward-looking.
If we look at this morning’s Old Testament reading from Joshua and epistle reading from Ephesians, we find some potential targets for our witness as Christians in the world.
In our Old Testament reading, Joshua asks the people who will they serve—the Lord or other gods? This same question might be asked of us today. Who are our other gods? Our answers might include the God of Greed or the God of Wealth, the God of Vanity, the God of Status, etc. There are numerous candidates and temptations. When asked the same question posed by Joshua about who we will serve, we will most likely give the same reply as the people of his time: we will serve the Lord. Like most aspects of our faith, words are easily uttered, but deeds are much more challenging for all of us. Thus, discerning who we will serve is the initial focus of the external dimension of our faith.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that we heard this morning, he mentions some forces that the people are facing. In Ephesians 6:11–12, he tells the people to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
That’s a whole of lot of bad people! Notice that Paul equates “the principalities, . . . the powers, . . . the world rulers of this present darkness” with the devil. That’s a pretty strong link!
At any rate, we too face the same political and economic powers today. Nothing has changed. Whether or not we equate them with the devil could be the topic of another sermon, but not today. We though are called, just as the Ephesians were, to respond to “the principalities, . . . the powers, . . . the world rulers of this present darkness.” While the context and challenge are different—Paul’s audience was Christians facing persecution for their faith—the challenge for us as a matter of faith still remains nonetheless.
Paul, in the remainder of this morning’s epistle reading, gives us some hints of tools that may be helpful for our witness as Christians today—“gird your loins with truth,” “shod your feet . . . with the gospel of peace,” “take the shield of faith,” “take . . . the sword of the Spirit,” “pray at all times in the Spirit” and “open my mouth boldly.” While taken out of context of this Letter to the Ephesians, Paul’s recognition of the importance to Christians of his era of truth, peace and non-violence, faith, the Spirit, prayer and the courage to speak are also important for us today as we seek to be better witnesses of our faith in the world.
Hopefully, by now, our spiritual stomachs are full of yin and yang. Our faith is rooted in a constant cycle of flowing in and flowing out, a constant cycle of inner and outer, a constant cycle of spirituality and witness. Zen Buddhists might tell us to breathe in spirituality, breath out witness, breath in spirituality, breathe out witness. Let us keep breathing in and breathing out our faith and eating our yin and yang to be healthy and energetic Christians. Amen.
Bruce Van Voorhis serves as missionary with the Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCA’s in Hong Kong. He serves as the Coordinator for Interfaith Programs. His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.