Take, Eat, This is My Body
Updated: Aug 5, 2021
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: John 6:24-35
On Thursday, The Rev. Lenny Duncan resigned from his pastoral positions at Messiah Lutheran Church and Jubilee Collective, both in Vancouver, Washington. Some of you might recognize that name. During the protests in Portland, he was one of the leading Christian voices urging all of us to live our gospel call to dismantle white supremacy. His local voice then became a national voice.
In his letter, he described a night last July when he and Ron Warner, a Presbyterian minister, were running from law enforcement. He said,
“That evening I watched a wall of military veterans and the mothers of Portland form human shield lines to protect Black organizers asking for Justice for George Floyd. I watched the State shoot, gas, and beat them....” He said, “I never felt more useless or powerless than those weeks last summer.”
I know some of you know Lenny’s name. I know some of you here today have read his books and listened to his podcast. I heard him speak at several rallies and protests last summer. And I know that if you’ve encountered his words or his presence, you know that his ministry has been neither useless nor powerless.
As far as he could tell, though, he had preached and presided, marched and protested and taught, and still nothing had changed. As I read his letter, I could feel his utter exhaustion dripping off every word. He was so tired, so beaten down, that he could no longer do what he was doing.
I’m going to follow Lenny’s lead and get a little vulnerable with you. These past 17 months have been some of the most difficult of my life. I’m so tired. I know I’m not alone in this, but I don’t think I’ve really opened up to you about my doubts and struggles. Which doesn’t seem fair since so many of you have shared so much with me.
Since you called me as your rector, I’ve worshiped with you more on Zoom than I have in person. I wonder if I’ve been the leader you’ve needed in this time. I wonder if I’ve balanced my messages of gospel challenge with the gospel hope we all need right now. I wonder if worship, especially worship on Zoom, fed each of you enough to carry you through another day, another week, another month of pandemic. I’ve prayed and prayed that we all stay safe, that we all felt supported, that we all felt cared for. Despite the distance. Despite the uncertainty.
I want to be a good priest and pastor. I want to make sure you know that I love you and that, through the love of this community, God loves you. I just want to be enough for all of you. Strong enough. Wise enough. Caring enough.
And I’ve doubted myself sometimes. No because of any lack of encouragement from you! I have received cards and letters and emails that have been so uplifting and affirming. You all really are the best.
But this year has taken so much energy. Spiritual energy. Emotional energy. Social energy.
I’m just so devastatingly tired, and sometimes I feel useless. Powerless. And I have stumbled. Maybe not in big ways as your rector, but I know some of you have noticed little things I’ve missed or forgotten. And while I mostly keep it together here at church I sometimes let the mess spill out with my wife or my family or my friends. Oh, believe me, there have been some messy moments.
I’m sure some of you can relate. In fact, I know you can. The exhaustion. The compartmentalizing. The fear of not being enough. The messes.
And now, just when we thought things were getting better, here we are. Masks on. Not singing. Not hugging. Again. It feels like we’re moving backwards.
It feels like all our efforts are useless. Powerless.
What I really like about today’s gospel is that Jesus keeps taking the people’s small-minded assumptions and refocusing them on the big things, the important things.
“What sign are you going to give us so that we believe you?” they ask. “After all, Moses gave manna to the people in the wilderness.”
And I can just imagine Jesus being utterly exasperated, because this crowd asking him these questions is literally the same crowd he’d just fed with five loaves and two fishes. Jesus could have ended the conversation there. “Moses gave bread. I gave bread. What other proof do you need?”
But Jesus hadn’t performed miracles to prove anything to anyone. He healed people because they were sick. He fed people because they were hungry. He did these things because he cared about the thriving of the people around him, and he had the gifts to make that thriving happen.
And what I love about Jesus is that he passes his gifts on to us.
“What must we do to perform the works of God?” the people ask. And Jesus answers them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” and then he goes on to say, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
To believe Jesus is to believe when he offered the bread to the disciples and said, “take, eat, this is my body.” Every Sunday, we are reminded that by taking the bread, we become Christ’s body. We are given the opportunity to use our gifts for the thriving of the people around us.
That’s basically what I preached last week. Last week, I preached that because we are Christ’s body, we are the miracle. But sometimes I think we can forget that the bread, the body, is also our nourishment. We are called not only to contribute to the body, but also to receive from the body. We are called to recognize our needs and to know that we can’t meet all of those needs ourselves. We are called to lean on the gifts of others when we need support.
The lepers didn’t stand by silently and stoically as Jesus walked past. They called out to him for help. The bleeding woman didn’t try to tough it out on her own. She literally reached out for Jesus. To try to go it alone is the opposite of what Jesus showed us.
I want you to know that I have also reached out to the Body of Christ. I have support. I have a therapist and a spiritual director. I have amazing friends, including priest colleagues. I have an incredible wife who knows how to sit with me in the mess. And here at church, our amazing Vestry looks out for me and advocates for me in every way they can. And I can’t even begin to tell you about how every Senior Warden I’ve served with has been such a gift: Deborah, Lainey, and Roberta, you have no idea how much your presence and skills and love have supported me.
Unlike Lenny Duncan, who made the best decision for himself and his situation, I do feel called to parish ministry, and I am not anywhere close to being done with St. Luke’s. Because this is my little part of the Body of Christ. This place is the bread that nourishes me.
I know that right now it might feel like our efforts are useless. That we are powerless. But I’m here to say: look around. No really, look around. The bread of life is all around us. This is the Body of Christ, whose gifts are ready to hold us, to get us through this.
It’s okay to recognize that this is hard. It’s okay to admit that you’ve been struggling. It’s okay to say that you can’t do it on your own. In fact, asking for help, leaning on the Body of Christ, is exactly what faith looks like.