Do You Also Wish To Go Away?: A Sermon for Proper 16b

This sermon, delivered at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Madison Wisconsin on August 23rd, 2015 is built around the Gospel reading assigned for Proper 16 in the Revised Common Lectionary.  It also references the gospel readings for our journey through the 6th chapter of the Gospel according to John and Jesus’s proclamation, “I am the Bread of Life.”

You can find all of these readings on “The Lectionary Page” in the calendar beginning on July 26th.

This sermon begins with the reading of a poem by Michael Coffey.  Attribution is given at the end of the sermon.

do you also wish to go away

he asked and stunned us like electricity

and we whispered under our breath

 

yes we would like an easier path

clear cut through the oak forest

something that made sense at least

 

or better, we wish you would go away

Jesus, you keep complicating and confusing us

and messing us up so we can’t think straight

 

if only we could have not known you

and heard your words that burn in us now

and never felt your spirit wormhole its way through us

 

right on into the infinite yes

but then again, before you

was only the deafening finite no

 

and the deathtrap of our anxious breathless days

so, no, we don’t want to go away

not because we have any idea where this thing goes with you

 

but because, honestly, where the hell would we go?

it’s you, you ethereal brother, you who is so full of god-life

that every second in you seems eternal

Please be seated.

It is hard. Life is a difficult perilous journey. Everywhere we look things are happening which defy our understanding or belief.   We continue to hurt each other in ways that are deep and profound. And the world is a dangerous and hurting place. In the midst of all of this as we struggle to find our way forward our relationships are strained. Despite our best intentions and best efforts we hurt the people we love and the people we love hurt us. And the relationships that we managed to maintain often end when someone dies. Life is truly difficult.

And in the midst of all of this difficulty and pain and struggle we are confronted every day with choices; choices of who to be, of where to go, of what to do, of how to interpret and understand the world around us. It would be easier if those choices were between good and bad but often both choices seem good to us. And so we need some guidance. We need some help.

We come here searching for God, for meaning, for reason, trying to make sense out of this chaotic and painful life, and hoping to find some truth. It is difficult search.

Sometimes I think we wish, at least I know that I do, that God would just send me a text, or that I could subscribe to God’s Twitter feed, that I could subscribe to the podcast, or watch that show on PBS on Friday night and find some guidance, and some understanding, and some reason… But those just aren’t there. I long for something clear, something black and white. Who knows maybe even some words inscribed on clay tablets would work. But we’ve seen how that turns out.

So maybe what we really need is for God to come here God’s self to tell us what to do, to share with us the instruction manual. Which we probably wouldn’t read anyway… But to at least be in conversation and in dialogue with us so that we would have some direction and feel confident in our choices. So take a look at how that might work out.

A month ago on July 26 it seemed to be working pretty well as Jesus told the crowd to sit down on the grass, and he broke the five loaves of bread, and the thousands of people were fed. There was such an abundance that there were 12 baskets of leftovers. And when we saw what he had done we began to say indeed this is the Prophet who is to come into the world. But when we tried to take him by force and make him King he slipped through our fingers and went alone, off to a mountaintop, to pray.   Just when we thought we had access to the answers and the truth, someone whom we could ask directly… It slipped away.

The next week we came back hoping for clarity once again and Jesus said you’re looking for me not because of the signs that point to something beyond and through me, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Don’t work for the food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. That felt pretty promising we might be onto something here. So we asked him what must we do to perform the works of God. And Jesus answered us, “This is the work of God that you believe in him who he has sent” (John 6:29). Believe in him whom he has sent? How does that help me make these terrible choices with which I am confronted every day? and Jesus said, “I am the bread of life whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” John 6:35).

The next week, after having pondered all of this, we returned again and we ask, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How then can he now say, ‘I have come down heaven’” (John 6:42)? And Jesus reiterated that same perplexing response, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).

“My flesh…” that one had us really worked up. So the next week, August 16th, just last weekend, we come back asking that question, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat” (John 6:52)? Instead of giving us a clear answer to that question he said, “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” (John 6:53). “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” John 6:58).

I think that the biggest piece of the problem with Jesus’s responses to us and to the people he was encountering then in first century Palestine is that we are not ready for this kind of God. We would I think in fact prefer a God who stayed where God belongs and sends us rules, and instructions, and clear messages about the ways that we should behave and be. We thought we wanted come, and walk among us as one of us, but look what happened when God did that! God came down and said it’s not about rules. It’s not about obedience. It’s not about clear instructions on what to in every situation. What it’s really about is eating my flesh, and drinking my blood, abiding in my and I in you; taking me into your self and your life so completely that everything you think you do is related to your relationship with me. Rules, instruction manuals, clear guidance for every situation minimizes the relational aspect of our life. If it’s about obedience, if it’s about doing the right thing, if it’s about going from step 1a to1b to 2a to 2b… then we’re not really in relationship with God nor are we in relationship with one another as we journey through this life together. So when God chose to come among us, as one of us, Emmanuel, God shows up and is born in a stable. Now I don’t know that that really should have surprised us. You think about Jacob wrestling with God in the mud on the banks of the river Jabok, God has always been a God who is here, now, in this place, in the mud and the blood, deeply involved and engaged in who we are and in all of creation.

So what God wants us to understand in this long chapter 6 from John’s Gospel talking about bread and blood and flesh, and wine is that God is here in the relationships where we wrestle struggle God with one another.

I think that’s why the people Jesus was addressing back then found this to be so difficult and some of them left; because an instruction manual and clear guidance would be so much easier. The problem is that when we have those things we tend to weaponize them and use them to judge one another and judge ourselves. And what happens is we fall back into the very fear that Jesus came to liberate us from.

So is this to difficult teaching? It is a difficult teaching because it leaves with us the need to stay engaged, to be in relationship, to wrestle in the mud with the reality of God one another, and in us. It is a difficult teaching but it is the one that gives us life and sets us free to live as God intends us. It is this teaching that brings us into the light.   Where else would we go?

I started this morning with the home written by Michael Coffey who is an ordained pastor in the evangelical of America and author of a book entitled, “Mystery Without Rhyme or Reason: Poetic Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary,” and I’ll close with that same poem. The poem’s title is “If Only We Had Better Options.”

 

do you also wish to go away

he asked and stunned us like electricity

and we whispered under our breath

 

yes we would like an easier path

clear cut through the oak forest

something that made sense at least

 

or better, we wish you would go away

Jesus, you keep complicating and confusing us

and messing us up so we can’t think straight

 

if only we could have not known you

and heard your words that burn in us now

and never felt your spirit wormhole its way through us

 

right on into the infinite yes

but then again, before you

was only the deafening finite no

 

and the deathtrap of our anxious breathless days

so, no, we don’t want to go away

not because we have any idea where this thing goes with you

 

but because, honestly, where the hell would we go?

it’s you, you ethereal brother, you who is so full of god-life

that every second in you seems eternal

 

Amen.

 

 

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