Sermon
August 17, 2003
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings


John 6:35-50
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.

Ephesians 5:15-20

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Sermon - Hearth Healthy Menu

Our family probably is a little obsessive about food, but nothing gives us more pleasure than to come home from vacation with stories of great meals we ate on the road. I can see us thirty years from now telling our grandchildren – sweetheart, you wouldn’t believe the plate of French fries we had at the Harvest in Montauk back in ’03. Of course these memorable meals are very rarely heart healthy, so looking ahead thirty years may be a bit of a stretch unless we change our diet.

I probably shouldn’t speak for the whole family in that regard, because I’m the worst offender when it comes to eating at the wrong end of the food pyramid. This was brought most clearly to my attention several years ago when I was attending a clergy breakfast where the speaker was a nurse who addressed us on the topic of a heart healthy menu. She began by asking us to look at what we’d loaded on our plates for breakfast the morning and asked those of us who taken both the bacon and the sausage to pay particular attention to what she was about to say.

When we talk about heart health today we have a set of concerns that deal with the prolonging of our physical life. Heart health in the Bible is a different matter.

Paul writes: be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts. What does the Bible mean when it talks about the heart?” Why didn’t Paul say, “making melody to the Lord in your minds?”

Because of new computer software for Bible study, with a click of a mouse you can see how different words are used in the original languages of the Bible and how those words are translated into English. The Greek word for heart is Kardia – which shows up in English in medical terms like cardiology. But Paul is not talking about a muscle that beats with hopeful regularity in the chest – Paul is talking about the inner self, and in the Bible a number of terms are used to describe this private place of thought and motivation, of decision making and will power, of fear, joy, attachment, desire, grief, awe, love, hunger, anxiety, and peace.

Heart is one word for this private place, mind, soul, spirit, and psyche are others. Some religious thinkers have developed systems that make distinctions between these different aspects, but I think it’s safer to say that the Bible sees us pretty much a unified package. There’s not a spirit and a soul – there’s not a mind and a heart – it’s all connected and wrapped tight.

That’s why when scripture says: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind – it’s not like saying Love God on Tuesday, Thursdays, Saturday and Sunday – it’s not picking certain aspects and leaving others behind - it’s a poetic way of saying with your whole being, all the time, 24/7.

I realize that this is nothing earth shattering or enlightening – even today we have the same kinds of usage – it’s the standard of song lyrics from Hoagy Carmichael’s Heart and Soul to Bruce Springsteen’s Hungry Heart:

Everybody needs a place to rest

Everybody wants to have a home

Don't make no difference what nobody says

Ain't nobody like to be alone

Everybody's got a hungry heart

Everybody's got a hungry heart

Lay down your money and you play your part

Everybody's got a hungry heart

This lyric, by the way, brings us back to the Gospel reading for the morning – the reading from the 6th chapter of John: I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Don’t you think we’re getting close to the essential dilemma of humanity and the essential promise of religion when we speak of ways to satisfy the hungry heart? Isn’t it that kind of hunger, that kind of thirst that causes people to walk through these open doors on a Sunday morning and take time to approach God in the traditional ways of prayer and song and preaching on scripture?

Of course, that kind of hunger causes people to do a lot of things, some wise and some foolish, some healthy and some deadly. It would be somewhat disconnected from reality if I stood here on Sunday and ignored that fact that the newspaper headlines this past week told the story of another teen-ager dying in New Milford from an alcohol related incident.

I don’t know that I can have much to say about this tragedy except to consider that it may well have been inspired by a thirst for a heightened experience of friendship, camaraderie, celebration of the end of youth and the beginning of adulthood. And we have to all admit that there is a tremendous cultural and media reinforcement loop for the idea that you celebrate friendship and youth through partying and getting high – by whatever means are at hand.

By reinforcement loop I mean that we know that young people have always experimented with intoxication and pushed against the boundaries that parents try and draw to protect them; we know that we will never eliminate this dynamic in growing up – but when the mass media focuses on this behavior and exploits it and presents it as the norm, then you have a reinforcement loop, a strong force pushing our children ever harder against those restrictions that were an influence for moderation.

The desire to heighten the bonds of friendship is a good thing – the wish to celebrate the significant turning points of life is universally felt. But no matter how many times MTV focuses on drunks at Daytona in their “Spring Break” series or how many Verizion ads show the kids having a blow out wild party while the parents are on vacation – even with a cell phone that transmits pictures – these normal and healthy hungers can lead to tragedy when they become associated with excessive drug and alcohol use.

You don’t need the seminary degree to figure that one out – nor to understand that there are a million others ways that people try to satisfy the hunger of the heart that are immensely unwise, wasteful, frustrating, and in the end fruitless.

Religious tradition has long identified part of the problem as an inability to understand the true nature of this heart hunger – which religion says is a quest for a realization of the nearness of God. Paul put it well in his address to the citizens of Athens:

God who made the world and everything in it… made from one every nation to live on all the face of the earth… that they should seek God, in the hope that they might search after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’

Most of us here probably agree with this to some extent or we wouldn’t be here, but even having come to this point, are we free from danger of a diet that is not heart healthy – do we face the hazard of being like the clergy at that breakfast hearing the nurse talk about a heart healthy diet while stuffing the sausage and bacon down our throats? Can religion, in its own way, keep us from finding that connection with God in Christ that satisfies the hunger, quenches the thirst, brings joy to the heart and blesses us with peace of mind?

I think if we read the Bible the answer is a clear yes, there is a junk food diet in religion, there is a religious menu that is not at all heart healthy. At the top of the list on this menu is self-righteousness followed by judgment of others followed by piety that is a matter of external observance rather than inner conversion followed by worship that is disconnected from moral behavior in the world outside the church or temple, followed by a sense of entitlement rather than an attitude of gratitude, followed by a lot of empty calories of useless anxiety over side issues that keep us from focusing on the heart of the matter.

There is a kind of spirituality for sale in the religious marketplace that is quite popular yet quite unhealthy for the heart and soul. And if we are selling that, and if we are buying that in place of the authentic grace of God, then we are worse off than before because we have given false satisfaction to the hunger that should bring us to life. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

I guess this sermon ends up as a cautionary tale, and not that much different from the one Paul wrote to Ehpesians two thousand years ago.

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is… Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs… Make melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
 
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