Sermon - 11 Pentecost
In the Name...
Once upon a time, there was a poor man named Tasuku who made his living cutting blocks of stone from the foot of a mountain. One day, he saw a great prince ride by. Tasuku envied the prince and wished that he could have that kind of power. The Great Spirit heard Tasuku and made him a prince. Tasuku was happy with his power over people until he saw the sun wilt the flowers in his garden. He wished for such power as the sun had, and his wish was granted. He became the sun, with power to parch fields and humble people with thirst. Tasuku felt happy until a cloud passed before him and obscured his heat. With that, he made another wish, and became a cloud that could ravage the land with floods and storms. Tasuku felt happy until he saw a mountain remain unaffected by his storm. So, Tasuku demanded to be the mountain. The Spirit warned him this would be his last wish and Tasuku became the mountain. He now felt more powerful than the prince, the sun, or the cloud. And he was happy - until he felt a sharp pain about which he could do nothing. It was a poor man making his living cutting blocks of stone from the foot of the mountain.
Discontent is not a virtue but it is a human quality and the Exodus stories remind us of just how human our ancestors in the faith really were. They long to escape from slavery, then wish they had stayed in Egypt. They were fed with manna but demanded meat.
How many of you know people who seem to be just as dissatisfied, unable to be content for any length of time? Don't put your hands up all at once, now. Truth be told, we all know such people because we all know ourselves. Human beings live constantly seeking something, but, we often don't know what it is we seek.
If we live a busy life, we seek rest. If we live a restful life, we seek stimulation. If we think the world is going to pot, we seek authority. If we live under authority, we seek freedom.
In the fable, Tasuku did not find peace, even though all his wishes were granted. Nor it seems did the people of Israel after they were led by God out of bondage in Egypt. Their wishes were granted, yet they remained unsatisfied. And, in our Gospel today, it seems that the crowds around Jesus are no different.
We're still following the story we began with the feeding of the 5,000 and in today's episode Jesus finds that people are divided over him because he's not performing to their literal reading of Scripture.
On the one hand, the crowd says they want to accept him, but, on the other they say he has to earn their acceptance, he has to prove himself. So, they say, he has to repeat the miracle of manna exactly as Moses did. The thing is that Jesus has just performed a feeding miracle. You'd think that would satisfy them. But, they want a miracle on their terms.
This portion of Chapter Six in John is almost an echo of what happened in Chapter Four with the Samaritan woman. Jesus offers her the water of eternal life and she keeps talking about the water of the well. She doesn't get it at first because she's too literal in the way she approaches Scripture. She's all hung up on which is the right mountain to offer worship until Jesus explains that worship isn't about getting the mountain right. It's about getting the heart and spirit right. Eventually she understands, but it takes a long conversation to get there.
We should sympathize with Jesus here. Literalism is a popular fad in our society, as well. It claims to have all the answers in a confused world. But, the funny thing is that it doesn't actually reveal anything. On the contrary, it hides everything because, as we see in the Gospel, it limits God to what we think we know about Him.
In this situation, Jesus is doing and saying Messiah-like things, but, the people have issues. A couple of weeks ago they objected that they couldn't accept him because they knew him, they knew his family, and the Bible says the Messiah's supposed to come from Bethlehem, not Nazareth. So how can Jesus be the Messiah? Literalism obscures truth.
The OT miracle of the manna wasn't an end in itself. It was pointing to Jesus as the true bread from heaven. But, the people couldn't see that because they were obsessed with the past, not looking for future meaning.
And so, instead of providing answers, literalism feeds our natural discontent. Moses did this. What do you do? And discontent makes trying to understand Jesus too much like hard work. He doesn't have quick and easy answers. He talks in parables and leaves us to figure them out. He performs miracles and expects us to figure out why. Too much bother. Not very satisfying.
But, when Jesus spoke of the bread of heaven, of the food that endures, he spoke of himself, of belief in him and of faith in God. "What must we do", ask the people, "to perform the works of God." He replies, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."
So many try to fashion the One who was sent, to fit our personal opinions and this was one of the issues with which the church in Ephesus was struggling. They were getting bogged down arguing about the words of Scripture and losing sight of what those words were meant to convey.
And so, St. Paul cries out, "I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called." Even in translation one can hear the exasperation in his voice. "Grow up," he says, "in every way into him who is the head into Christ." In other words, truth isn't revealed by words on a page, it's revealed by a life and a relationship, the life of Jesus and our personal involvement in that life.
And that's the hardest thing for some people to accept about the Gospel. Because it's not something you can just study, like math, and get all the answers right on a quiz. It's something which is constantly in motion. Something which has to be constantly adapted to new situations and people because life is constantly in motion.
Yes, Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and nothing he said or has done ever will change. But, we do. And people around us do. And so, instead of complaining that something is wrong, or that everybody else is wrong, we need to pray for new insights, for the grace to accept that the truth may be bigger than we thought it was, and even to doubt our own infallibility from time to time.
Today's lessons are important ones because they hold before us the whole reason we were made. God's purpose in creating us was to create a relationship with each one of us, to establish trust, an open mind, a steadfast heart, and a faithful spirit. For the most part, we haven't become engaged in the relationship and that's why we find ourselves spiritually dissatisfied, perpetually hungry.
But, come to me, Jesus said, and let me stop you from being hungry. I have everything you need. I will give you everything you need. Just come into my life and walk with me. See the world as I see it and I will give you rest.
Jesus is the way, truth, and life. The way to that truth, though, takes a lifetime to travel. Let's not waste it. As St. Paul said, put off your old nature, the discontented one, and put on the new. Find the truth with Jesus. He is the bread of life, a substance more enduring, and more powerful, than any mountain we might make.
In the Name...