Thursday, August 23, 2012

August 19th, 2012

John 6:51-58
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 53 So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."

6:00 a.m.  Alarm sounds.  And relentlessly, I might add.  6:10 a.m.  Convince myself that there will be all sorts of issues if I do not get out of bed.  6:15 a.m.  Not entirely sure if this is called “working out” or punishment for sins long forgotten.  But we press on.  After all, 30 or 40 or 50 or whatever other milestone is right around the corner, and there is no greater transgression in this culture than actually looking one’s age.  7:00 am.  Hop in the shower.  7:10-7:35 am, self-care with all sorts of wonderful smelling and neatly marketed products, because, again, to look’s one age, well, let’s not even begin to explore just how depressing that all is, and let’s be honest, there is something invigorating about shampoo that smells like fruit I cannot even find in the supermarket.  7:35 am,  another cup of coffee and realize that I am going to be late.  7:35- 8:00 am.  Drive as though my break cables have been cut and my car is answering the call of a magnet the size of the moon.  Listen to favorite talk radio show that confirms my political views and makes me skeptical, actually a bit hateful, of anyone I would not see at my local political primary.   7:55 am, get to work just in time to be given a workload that does not neatly fit into a 12 hour day, let alone whatever amount of time for which I am actually getting paid.  And to think, this day has just begun. 
And, end scene.  This I think, is pretty close to how we all have come to experience the world.  Even if the particulars are a bit different, on this one fundamental point, I think we all can agree: time is not something that we have too much of.  Even for those in retirement, it seems as though the calendar remains nearly as full as when one was working, even if that calendar now affords a bit more selection in terms of what fills it.  And so we race around from one obligation to the next, buoyed by the hope that, at some point, all this will slow down.  Even if, in our deepest and most honest places, we are deeply fearful that this might not be the case.  In the midst of all of this, in this running around, this working, this paying bills, this taking care of kids, this moving from one obligation to the next, it is nearly impossible to think of time as anything but a constraint, as anything besides that rare and beautiful thing of which we simply do not have enough.  Our calendars, our day timers, our alarm clocks, they all tend to mock us, don’t they?
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life” says the Christ, and this proclamation, this promise of his, well, this feels like it stands in pretty stark contrast to what we experience on a daily basis.  Because it is my experience that it is a very difficult thing to make time for eternity.    I mean, when we seldom have enough hours in the day, or enough minutes in the hours.  And it is not as though participating in the Eucharistic feast somehow adds a few extra hours to the day, as if the minute the body and blood touched our lips, the clock somehow instantaneously wound back a few hours.  So, then, I guess this is the question that we need to ask ourselves this morning: what could the life eternal possibly mean to a people who do not have enough of the life temporary? 
But before we can begin to venture an answer to that question, we should be prepared for an answer that will always surprise us. Which is to say that, just because the flesh and blood might not add more hours to our span of life, that does not mean there is no disruption of our sense of time.  Let me show you what I mean.  As you well know, we have been in the sixth chapter of John for several weeks, gazing in on an inter-Jewish discussion between Jesus , his disciples and the religious professionals.  This all begins with a miraculous feeding, but things get a bit testy when Jesus suggests that there is a deeper food, a more eternal food.  And as if Jesus weren’t causing enough problems by challenging the religious authorities, he then makes the following comment, this eternal food is none other than his own flesh and blood, his own body to be broken for the sake of a sinful world. 
Understandably, I do suppose, the religious authorities want a bit of proof in regards to these claims.  And it is at this point that Jesus starts to say something very interesting about time.  The religious authorities, you see, are interested in the way that God once fed God's people in the wilderness outside of Egypt.  They have memory of a past event, an event that started and then stopped, and they are using this as a way of measuring Jesus.  They want to make sense of the present, what is in front of them,  by seeing if it conforms to the past. Jesus, on the other hand, is not interested only in events that have already been completed., nor is he, as God in the flesh, interested in limiting God’s activity to something that has already taken place.  He simply does not understand time in this same way.  God’s activity is not the sort of thing that starts and stops based on human calendars and  histories.  Instead, it is on-going,. And for this reason,   Christ speaks of the “living Father” who has sent him, and speaks of an eating that is on-going.  An eating that has no starting and no stopping.  An eating and drinking, an eternal feast, that cannot be divided up into already having happened and happening in the future.   And this, I think, gets us closer to what Christ means when he speaks of eternal life that comes through eating and drinking his flesh.  You see, the invitation, the promise that Christ makes here is simply startling.  It is the invitation to live in the very life that he shares with the Father, and that life is not something that happened once in the past.   It is not the kind of life that starts and stops with alarm clocks, nor is it the type of life that we have to scurry after.  In this way, it is entirely different from the way we experience time right now.  And you want to know the most wonderful part?  Though we will only fully experience this at the last day, when we are raised with Christ, we get glimpses right here, right now.  Into this cruel world of chasing after time, Christ, in his time, chases you. .  He gives you his flesh and blood, and in them, he gives you a time without end.  And this is indeed the miracle of Holy Communion.  That, in a few short minutes,  we will eat and drink of God’s eternity.   The life everlasting will come to you in small morsels of bread and a quick gulp of wine.  But do not let the seeming everydayness of this meal fool you;  for in, with and under it, is the very eternity of Christ, and even under the cruel march of temporary time, we will taste and experience an eternal life that cannot be started by the alarm clock nor ended by a too-long day of work.  Instead,  this eternity, this life everlasting,  which is nothing other than Christ himself, this will be with you and in you.  This much has the Christ promised to you.  And while this might not make the alarm go off any later or make the day’s tasks any fewer, perhaps it will allow us to loosen our grip a little bit.   Perhaps the in-breaking of God’s eternity will allow us to know that already we are loved by a God whose day never ends and that eternal enjoyment of Him is our destiny.  Yes, you are more than your schedules, you are more than your busyness, you are more than a clock that ticks ruthlessly in the corner, reminding you of limited time.  You are those destined for the eternal mercy of God in Christ Jesus.  A truth for all times.  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

July 29, 2012

John 6:1-21

1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9 "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" 10 Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world." 15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
Though this is not the children’s sermon, I would like to begin this morning in a way that at least our younger brothers and sisters in Christ will recognize.  So it is now your turn to be asked a question, and the question is this: what is it that you expect from God? I want you to take some time and think through that.  I mean, it would be impossible for us not to have expectations for the God who has fashioned and still upholds us.  And in the words of the old hymn, if indeed the “Lord has promised good to” us, what specifics fill in the dim outline of that word, “good?’ Be it protection in the midst of trouble, a job with which to provide for you and your family or swift recovery from a health issue, I think it is fair to say that we all have expectations for God.  And, if I may be so bold, there is a follow-up question I would like to ask.  What has happened to you when these expectations have been let down?  How have you responded when you expected God to act in some way and, for reasons that we will never understand, God has refused?  What has that meant for your life of faith?  Yes, there are a lot of questions here, and I am sorry for that.  But this question of expectations, of expectations met and expectations let down, this is of profound importance for our lives of faith.  If you are anything like me, when your prayer is met with continued silence or yours hope have been ceaselessly differed, it is  really easy to assume that God has, like Elvis, left the building.  And this is a terrible and frightening sensation.  But what if it is the case that it is not God, but rather our expectations that have actually let us down?  Our own projections of who God is and what God is all about that are the real betrayers in this whole scenario? 
And while we will certainly have more time and space to explore the meaning of Jesus feeding the 5,000, there is a different part of the Gospel that I would like to zero in on for today.  You see, at the end of the story, after the people have been fed by the goodness of God who cares about such things, the people begin to get a few ideas about this Jesus.  After he has filled up their stomachs, they seem to realize that this could be more than a one time experience. They begin to build up their own expectations around this Jesus, sensing the possibilities of, for once, a stable source of food.  And so they come after him, and “with force” the Gospel tells us, try and take him away to make them their king, to ensure that they will have this free bread hook up whenever they need it.  In a word, the crowds come to expect that what they were given on this one occasion can be extended into the future.  And this, I think, makes good sense.   These were a lot of people who did not exactly know from where the next meal might be coming, and if that is the case, then why not try and take the sure thing if you can get it?  But here is the interesting thing.  Jesus, in the midst of these expectations and efforts, withdraws from the people.  Though he might do it on the sly, the essential force of what is happening is this: Jesus says “no” to a not so subtly implied expectation that the people have.  If you really want to press the story as far as it will go, Jesus will leave these people to find their next meal on their own.  That feels strange, harsh and perhaps even a bit cold on Jesus’ part, and one necessary caveat here, we should certainly never read this as a call towards apathy  in regards towards our neighbors’ bodily needs.
 So what exactly is Jesus up to here?  Well that is a question that will unfold during the next several weeks, but allow me to begin with something of an answer.  This withdrawal, this divine “no” of Christ’s towards the peoples’ expectations, this is of profound importance for their, and our, lives with God.  For what this means, and again we will see more of this in the weeks to come is this: Jesus will, Jesus must, come to us on his own terms and not on the terms that we would like to set.  Simply put, we do not dictate the details of the arrangement between us and God, and it is only our pride and our fear that would suggest this is a real possibility.  And thus the life of faith begins, again and again and again, with this realization, that Christ will defy our expectations and that he will move and live and act entirely apart from them.  And if that feels like bad news, if that is a blow to the old ego and to the rather elevated view we tend to carry around of ourselves, I think that says much more about us than it does about God.  For what is revealed in our disappointment is not a lack of divine faithfulness, but rather the fact that we consider ourselves to be the measure of all things, and simply put, we do not like it when someone, even if that someone is God, challenges that. 

But this not just a simple battle of wills, as if God somehow needed to demonstrate God’s power simply for the sake of it.  Instead, and this is the incredible thing, the real issue here is that our expectations might just place an arbitrary limit on what God wants for us.  In the coming weeks, we will see how this unfolds specifically for Jesus and this hungry mob, but our second reading from Ephesians also captures the point with these words: “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”  This, you see, is the real reason that our expectations must be dashed against the divine will.  We simply do not have the mental conceptions to full understand and appreciate what Christ is all about, and so we should not be surprised when the Christ leads us away from these expectations towards the endless light of his love.  The late C.S. Lewis captures this perfectly, and with that typical British wit in the following quote: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink . . . and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”[1] And look, the point here is not that bread is unimportant, or that any of the things that we ask from God lack importance, either.    The point is simply this: what Christ has promised you in your baptism, the incredible gift that He continues to give you at this Eucharistic table, the unending joy of all the saints that awaits you, indeed His presence in the middle of sorrow and pain when our community is struck by radical evil and insane violence, all of this is beyond our expectations, beyond what we would could even know how to articulate, and this is something that I think we all have experienced from time-to-time.  The incredible love that enfolds us as we are rolled into the surgery room, or the patient presence of the Spirit that surrounds us during a difficult day.  Yes, at the moments we would least expect, that Christ, in the power of the Spirit, shows up and begins, again, to work faith, hope and love within us. And so by all means, continue to pray to God with all your expectations, all your hopes and all your fears.  Just do not be surprised when a more wonderful presence and healing comes to you.  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

[1] [1] C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory And Other Addresses”