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8-22-21 — The Cost — Psalm 84, John 6:56-69 — The Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Psalm 84

John 6:56-69

“The Cost”

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

8.22.21

 

 

The Reverend Doctor Barbara Lundblad tells the following story in her commentary on our Gospel passage. She writes, “Years ago, I got a phone call from a man I had never met, a man named Paul. He had heard a sermon I preached on The Protestant Hour radio program and asked where he could get a copy of my sermon. Of course, I was flattered, as most preachers are when someone wants a copy of a sermon. This is especially true when you preach on the radio, and you are not sure if anybody is listening. I told him where he could get the booklet of sermons, and a couple weeks later, he wrote me a letter: ‘When I came to the moment where they recognized Jesus, I broke into uncontrollable sobbing. After I regained my composure, I came back to finish the story, and the same thing happened again. What on earth was happening to me? After an hour of sitting and wondering, I went back to finish the story. . . . Since then, I have gone through the necessary motions of life, but my head and my heart are full of the same questions, endlessly repeated—what has happened? What is happening? What must I do?’ I would like to claim that my sermon created this life-changing moment, but I am sure that something else was going on. That sermon was almost a word-for-word retelling of the story of Jesus’ encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. It was the gospel that touched this man. It was Jesus who met him in the story. He went on to tell me a bit about his life, how he had grown up in a Christian home and studied the Bible as a youngster. Then he had found it harder and harder to reconcile the Jesus story with a lifetime of study and teaching. In his words, he had decided that Jesus was a ‘charismatic lunatic.’ Now years later, this retired professor had been caught off guard by Jesus. He dared to look again at the Jesus he did not believe in. He had packed Jesus away as a childhood memory he had outgrown. Now Jesus had interrupted his settled worldview. It may be as disruptive to consider the possibility of believing as it is to consider the possibility of doubt. Either way, nothing is ever quite the same again.” [1]

Our lectionary gospel text might better go by the title “Does this offend you?” This teaching feels so radical that some turn away and stop following Jesus.  The twelve remain but it is clear that for even the disciples their world view was disrupted. For anyone brought up in first century Judaism this teaching would have difficult. The messiah was supposed to follow a specific pattern and to stay within bounds of the agendas and aspirations they had in mind for him. But Jesus’ teaching feels like too much. One of the central principals of Levitical law is that you should not eat or drink any blood. A complex system of Kosher butchering developed to ensure that no blood remained. But Jesus wants those who abide in him to eat his flesh and drink his blood. While we know now this is a reference to communion it is still shocking.

We hear again this word to “abide,” “dwell,” or “remain.” This verb occurs 34 times in the Gospel of John more than any other gospel. So, what is the connection here to abiding and Jesus’ flesh and blood? Why is it so important to John’s gospel? Part of it is the desire to reflect on the complexity of the incarnation. The idea that we see the fullness of God’s divinity expressed in Jesus and the fullness of Jesus’ humanity as well. For John, abiding is about remaining in between two distinct realties — human and divine.  For John, abiding is the key to transformation that we can abide in God and God can abide in us. Jesus enables us to live fully into what it means to be human, as God is most fully lived out in us.[2]  I think this is what makes this teaching so hard. I would imagine most of us at times don’t feel as though God is most fully lived out in us. We all have our moments when we are short with our spouse, lose our patience with our kids, or say an unkind word. In short, there are many moments where it can feel like God is not fully lived out in us.

Yet, Simon Peter is the one bold enough to respond to Jesus’ question. Where could we go? We know you are the Holy One of God. This would be a question Peter would continue to wrestle with for the rest of his life. This is probably why many scholars believe John’s Gospel has two endings. The first ending is at the beginning of John chapter 20 with Mary Magdalene running to Peter to tell him they have taken Jesus and I don’t know where they have laid him. Peter at that moment is living in the midst of his denial; he has turned from this hard teaching and is no longer abiding. But then in chapter 21 begins it all over again and Peter has a moment redemption as he shares bread and fish with Jesus.  A reminder to us that if we are listening, God will surprise us. And many times those words may be hard for us to hear when they come in the voice of a friend, a preacher or even a stranger, or even a book, but no matter, what the grace of God is always before us. The grace that calls us to abide in God.

 

 

 

[1] Connections: Year B, Volume 3 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (p. 262). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition

[2] Connections: Year B, Volume 3 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (p. 259). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

 

8-1-21 — Bread of Life — Psalm 51:1-12, John 6:24-35 — The Rev. Joshua D. Gill

Psalm 51:1-12

John 6:24-35

“Bread of Life”

Rev. Joshua D. Gill

8.1.21

Just for a moment, think of the best meal or maybe the best thing you ever ate. What for you made that the best meal? Was it the company? Was it the food? Was it the occasion? What about that experience made it so good? When I start thinking about this, one thing immediately comes to mind. Growing up, my paternal grandparents lived about seven hours away. Often around Thanksgiving we would drive to visit them. After arriving at my grandparents, we would unload the car. We would sit in the living room and inevitably one of my brothers, myself, or my father would ask my grandmother if she made fish cakes. She always made fish cakes when we came to visit.  They are kind of like crab cakes but instead of crab meat they are made with cod fish. My grandmother would make them and put this Bajan pepper sauce in it. The sauce was kind of smoky, sweet, and spicy all that same time. Sometimes they were so spicy they would cause you to break out into a sweat. Even now if I eat or smell those fish cakes, memories come flooding back — memories of my grandparents’ living room, of shelves covered in little dog figurines, of a cabinet full of Hummels.  Or times when my brothers and I would play in their yard, hiding in their hedge.  Conversations with Grandparents. It is amazing how food can transport us.

Our lectionary has us again talking about food. Jesus feeds the crowd of 5,000 and they attempt to make him King. He goes off to be alone and walk by the sea, only to meet the disciples who are sailing across. The next that day the crowd wakes up and realizes that Jesus has left them so they go out to searching for him. They go to the other side of the sea. They find Jesus and address him as Teacher, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

His interaction with this crowd parallels another exchange he has with a woman in Chapter 4. In that exchange Jesus waits at a well and asks a Samaritan woman for a drink.  She, unlike the crowd, is not seeking him but stumbles upon him. She is surprised because she is outside of his community, yet he asks her for a drink.

Jesus, rather than answering either of their questions, responds to their underlying motivation. With the crowd, he begins his response with “Very Truly, I tell you.” It is phrase in which there is no real English equivalent, and Jesus uses this phrase four times in this chapter 6.  The scholar Raymond Brown translates this as “Truly I assure you,” “Let me firmly assure.” But even this is a little inadequate. One scholar described it as an Amen from the lips of God, an assurance, a double “Amen.” [1]

Jesus tells them the real reason they are asking is not because they saw a sign, but because of a memorable meal they ate. Jesus admonishes them to work for the food that leads to life, not the food that perishes. To the woman at the well he tells her that she will grow thirsty again if she only drinks from this, and that she should seek the water of life. The crowd asks for a sign, the feeding of the 5,000, walking, and strolling on the sea wasn’t enough. “Very Truly, I tell you,” “Truly I assure you,” “Amen Amen,” the “bread of heaven is that which comes down from heaven and gives life the world. They respond “Sir, give us this bread always.” The woman responds to Jesus by asking for the water that gives life so that she might never be thirsty again. While crowd does not ask a follow-up question, the woman does, asking if he, Jesus, might be the Messiah. It is interesting the crowd didn’t ask this the day before they sought to make him King by force. Truth be told there were lots of “messiahs” running around in this age. One prophet claimed he could part the Jordan river. He attempted to and got his followers killed by Rome for a revolt. To crowd Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” To the woman he says, “I am he (the messiah), the one who is speaking to you.

Jesus is speaking to us, speaking about that deep longing in all of us, that longing for meaning, community, and salvation. A hunger that drives us to create beauty, to care for nature, to sing, to make music, to paint, to knit. The restless creativity that is in all of us somewhere, this is a longing that God has created in us.

Many have tried to fill this hunger with things, the right car or truck, the right clothes, the right job, the right spouse, the right vacation, and the right education.  Augustine teaches us that we are restless until we rest in God. He says, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”[2] The reformation showed us that faith is gift of God, that God creates the hunger in us but God also fills it. We need to trust that hunger, and we need to trust the one who said “Amen Amen,” “Truly I assure you I will meet you when you least expect it, I will fill your hunger.”

The book Take this Bread: The Spiritual Memoir of a Twenty-First-Century Christian is the of story of Sara Miles looking to fill her hunger. Sara grew up in a secular home. She was the grandchild of missionaries, but her parents refused any religious affiliation. She was an atheist. At the age of forty-six, one winter morning she walked into an Episcopal Church. She writes “I had no earthly reason to be there. I’d never heard a Gospel reading, never said the Lord’s Prayer. I was certainly not interested in becoming a Christian—or, as I thought of it rather less politely, a religious nut.”[3]

“We sat down and stood up, sang and sat down, waited and listened and stood up and sang, and it was all pretty peaceful and sort of interesting. ‘Jesus invites everyone to his table,’ the woman announced, and we started moving… forward. It had some dishes on it, and a pottery goblet. And then we gathered around that table. And there was more singing and standing, and someone was putting a piece of fresh, crumbly bread in my hands, saying ‘the body of Christ,’ and handing me the goblet of sweet wine, saying ‘the blood of Christ,’ and then something outrageous and terrifying happened. Jesus happened to me. I still can’t explain my first communion. It made no sense. I was in tears and physically unbalanced: I felt as if I had just stepped off a curb or been knocked over, painlessly, from behind. The disconnect between what I thought was happening—I was eating a piece of bread; what I heard someone else say was happening—the piece of bread was the ‘body’ of ‘Christ,’ a patently untrue or at best metaphorical statement; and what I knew was happening—God, named ‘Christ’ or ‘Jesus,’ was real, and in my mouth—utterly short-circuited my ability to do anything but cry.”[4]

Over the next year Sara learned about the church and learned that Love meant giving yourself away, embracing outsiders as family, emptying yourself to feed and live for others.[5] She convinced the congregation to open a food pantry; A food pantry where the food was given away from the sanctuary, and on Fridays the communion table held fresh veggies as well as bread. A Community grew up around the pantry and she began feeding hundreds on a weekly basis. She realized for her that this act of welcome was an act of oneness in Christ not an act of “outreach but an act of gratitude of acknowledging hunger and at the same time acknowledging the amazing abundance we’re fed with by God.”[6]

In short Jesus met her and she was no longer hungry and no longer thirsty.

 

[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-18-2/commentary-on-john-624-35-5

[2] Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine (New York: Pocket Books, 1957), 1.

[3] Miles, Sara. Take This Bread (pp. 60-61). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[4] Miles, Sara. Take This Bread (pp. 58-59). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[5] Miles, Sara. Take This Bread (p. 93). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[6] Miles, Sara. Take This Bread (p. 116). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.