From Pastor Kenny's Desk
August 12, 2018
Jesus explained to them, “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry; no one who believes in me will be thirsty.” …
… The Temple authorities started to grumble in protest because Jesus claimed, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They kept saying, “Isn’t this Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph? Don’t we know his mother and father? How can he claim to have come down from heaven?”
“Stop your grumbling,” Jesus told them. “No one can come to me unless drawn by Abba God, who sent me – and those I will raise up on the last day. It is written in the prophets: ‘They will all be taught by god.” Everyone who has heard God’s word and has learned from it comes to me. Not that anyone has seen Abba God – only the one who is from God has seen Abba God. The truth of the matter is, those who believe have eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, and if you eat it you’ll never die. I myself am the living bread come down from heaven. If any eat this bread, they will live forever; the bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” ~ John 6:35, 41-51
Once again, I find that the crowd who follows Jesus speaks for us … or at least for me. In John’s story he tells us that these people who have followed Jesus, regarded him as a teacher and witnessed his miracles, also know him as one of their own. That is, they knew his parents and his brothers and sisters, they watched him play and learn his trade, grow up and eventually leave home. In other words, they know him, just like they know all the kids from their old neighborhood. And for this reason … because he is just like them, because he is common … their thinking is he can’t be all that special, and he certainly can’t be the one God sent for redemption.
So, once again, I find that the crowd speaks for us … or at least for me. When I am in need or distress, when I am hurt or afraid, I want to see a God who shows in strength and through a miracle, I want to call upon a God who answers clearly and quickly, and I want to rely on a God who is there … really there … when you need God.
Little wonder, then, that the people in the crowd … and perhaps we … are put off, offended, angered even by Jesus’ suggestion that he … a common every day, ordinary, average person just as they are … is the answer to their deepest longings and greatest needs.
And why not? Think of the audacious claim that Jesus is making. Who ever heard of a God having anything to do with the everyday, the ordinary, the mundane? Gods are made for greatness, not ordinary; they are supposed to reside up in the clouds, not with commoners. Who ever heard of a God who is willing to suffer the pains and problems, the indiscretions and embarrassments of human life? No wonder the crowd grumbles against Jesus’ words, for such words seem to make fun of their understanding of God’s majesty … even worse, to mock their own deep need for a God who transforms the very life which is causing them so much difficulty.
No wonder they’re upset. They know, first-hand, of their own flaws and shortcomings, of their own faithlessness and failures. They know of their doubts and fears, of their betrayals and broken promises, their petty grudges and foolish prejudices. They know all the shame and disappointment and regret which each person carries around on her or his back like a snail carries its shell. If Jesus is really like they are, then they are doomed … how can someone who is like them save. How can one like them be saved? They grumble because they are angry … even more because they are afraid, afraid that in the end they’re really not worth saving.
Are we all that different? I know that I, at least, am not. Rarely does a day go by that I don’t think of just how fragile is the foundation upon which we base our faith. Often I wonder … do the words I speak … we speak … as we share God’s love with others really make much of a difference? Shouldn’t someone more eloquent, trustworthy, free of the realities, frustrations and doubts of life preach or proclaim God’s greatness. And the water we use in Baptism: it’s not holy, or special, or different. It’s from the same tap from which we drink and bathe and brush our teeth. Same with the bread and juice (wine) of Holy Communion … these aren’t special either. They’re ordinary, common, mundane; hardly worthy of God’s attention let alone God’s use.
And yet I … and we at MCC Richmond … are bold enough, audacious enough, perhaps even foolish enough, to confess that God does use such ordinary things, such common elements, to achieve God’s will and to bring to the world God’s gifts of grace, hope, love and salvation for ALL people.
How? Why? … we might well ask. Because of this very one, Jesus, who was common, ordinary, mortal like you and me, and yet who was also uncommon, divine, the very Child of God. This is the claim Jesus makes in this sacred text … the claim which offended the crowd who followed him then … the claim which still offends any who take it seriously today. For where we expect God to come in might, God comes in weakness; where we look for God to come in power, God comes in vulnerability; and when we seek God in justice and righteousness … which is, after all, what we all expect from a God … we find God … or rather are found by God! … in forgiveness and mercy.
This is the claim and promise Jesus makes today: that God took on flesh … became just like us … so that God might transform and redeem us and use us to work for justice, to show acts of mercy and hope and most of all to love us as God’s holy people … just the way we are!
The carnal and uncaring God; the God who does not despise the ordinary and common but rather who seeks such out by which to achieve God’s will: this is the promise that rests behind the sacraments. For as God does not despise water, bread, or wine, such ordinary, common things, so we also know that God does not despise or abandon us, who are similarly such ordinary and common people. In the sacraments we find God’s promise to take hold of us and make us God’s own, to remain with us and to never let us go.
But we also find in the sacraments another promise which God makes to us. It is the promise not only to redeem and transform us, but also to use us … to make use of our skills and talents, inadequate or insufficient they may seem, to continue God’s work of creating, redeeming, and sustaining all that is. And that is an incredible promise.
Over the years, I’ve wondered whether, after praying with someone in the hospital, if they were disappointed when I gave God thanks for the machines and instruments to which they or their loved one is attached, for the pharmaceutical companies which make the drugs and for the trucks which deliver them, for the people who keep the hospital clean as well as for the nurses and doctors who attend to them. At times I wonder if they would rather have me pray simply for healing, or for a miracle, or for something more dramatic.
And yet I do find it so dramatic, surprising, and encouraging that God would work through technology and instruments, through bottom-line corporations and imperfect labor unions, through ordinary, human, doctors and nurses with short tempers or poor bed-side manners. Just as I find it amazing and miraculous that God works through flawed pastors, jaded teachers, worn-out secretaries, over-worked government officials, exhausted parents, and the like … that God would choose these and so many other unlikely candidates through whom to work, even when they don’t suspect it.
And yet this promise, too, we find in the sacraments. For just as God uses ordinary bread and juice (wine) to bring to us God’s saving word, so does God also use each of us to accomplish God’s will and work in God’s world.
I know it can be hard at times to see God at work through our vast experiences, our gifts, our labors, and our lives. I believe for this reason also God gives us the sacraments. For in baptism and at the altar God speaks to us most clearly, as God’s promise of forgiveness and acceptance, of wholeness and of life, is given to each of us in a form we not only can hear, but also see, taste, touch, and feel. The sacraments encourage us to raise our eyes from the confusion and ambiguity of life for a moment, so that we may receive God’s audacious and faith-provoking promises … and then return to our lives in this confusing world with courage and hope.
And so once again, I encourage you to come … come to receive God’s sacraments and to be touched by God’s presence. Come with hearts and minds, with hands and mouths and bodies, to receive God, the God who took … and still takes … physical form for us. Come and bring all your ordinary skills and extraordinary hopes and fears. Come to receive God’s promise to use all that you have … and are … for God’s glory.
I invite you to come … and then go … go from MCC Richmond with lives full of God’s love and directed to God’s purpose in the world. Come to worship and then leave for service in God’s world. That’s our call … to share God’s love with ALL people … ordinary and blessed … just the way they are!