Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Text of Sunday's sermon
11th Sunday after Pentecost B John 6 August 12, 2012 Rev. Joshua D. Bowron We are in week two of a four week stretch in our schedule of Church readings in the Gospel According to John. This section, which is most of chapter six is called the Bread of Life Discourse. The Bread of Life Discourse is excellent fodder, if you will, for preachers to extol the benefits of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. I’m not going to do that today. Instead I will stop at the first sentence from today’s reading; “I am the Bread of Life.” Of course Jesus goes on to tease out what that might mean. Jesus of course, does not mean for his words to be taken literally. No one supposes Jesus to be made up of bread, nor do we think that he expects us to cannibalize him. Jesus is speaking in metaphor, symbol, and figure. He wants us to parabolically begin to apprehend what he means. This isn’t the only place that he does this either. Jesus calls himself all kinds of things: I am the gate, I am the Vine, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the Light, I am the Way, (which in the Greek is better translated, I am the Road). So here we have Jesus giving us lots of ways of understanding what he is and what he does. He gives us so many options to better understand him, he’s saying, “I’m like light in a dark room.” or “I’m something like a road.” or “I am like a shepherd.” or “I am like bread.” All these images are given to us so that we can begin to form a picture of what Jesus is. Jesus gives us all these options because he knows that some will stick with us and others won’t. What resonates in you does not mean that it will necessarily resonate in me, and vice versa. Jesus wants us to know that his words about himself only point to what he actually is. This is the genius of Jesus and how we are to begin to approach him. We can sing lots of praises and write beautiful words about him, but those words are not to be clung to, those words merely point vaguely to Jesus, they are not Jesus in his essence. For the essence of Jesus to be gotten we must go beyond words and into a relationship. Through all these options: Way, Vine, Light, Shepherd, Bread, and many more; Jesus sits before each of us and asks a provocative question. That question is “What do you need me to be for you today?” “What do you need me to be for you today?” I think it’s kind of a shocking question because we are used to asking Jesus what kind of a person we need to be for him. We are used to thinking about our relationship with God as one where we are the ones that transform, we are the ones that need to rise to a level acceptable to Jesus. There is some right and some wrong in that way of thinking, but today Jesus is ready to meet our needs. “What do you need me to be for you today?” I didn’t just make up Jesus’ offer to us today. This question is drawn out of his way of teaching. This is what he was doing with his disciples. Right after the feeding of the five thousand in the Gospel of John, Jesus uses that event to tell the disciples that he is the Bread of Life. Jesus is a situational teacher, he takes whatever situation he is in and draws images from it to talk about the Kingdom of God and himself; who is the first in-breaking of that Kingdom. So it’s not too provocative after all for Jesus to ask, “What do you need me to be for you today?” because that’s what he was doing in his ministry in public and to his disciples. So, what does he need to be for you today? Is it a Doctor? A Surgeon? Maybe he needs to be a Mother, or brother? Lover? Drill Sergeant? How about CEO? Actually since the pledge campaign is gearing up how about CFO? What do you need Jesus to be for you today? Now this all comes with two cautions and a reminder to kind of hedge in the frontiers of what I am talking about this morning. The first caution is to keep in mind that Jesus is so much bigger and nuanced than we can imagine and we ought to hold loosely to what Jesus can be for us, this will allow us to let him be what he is and needs to be for us. The second caution about answering Jesus’ question is that we have to remember that one person’s medicine can be another person’s poison; … one person’s medicine can be another person’s poison. What Jesus is to be for you today, is not the same for the person in the next pew, the next house, or maybe even for you the very next day. Some people have never seen a shepherd, some people are blind, actually physically blind, so a light metaphor just doesn’t work for them, and some people are allergic to bread. Jesus didn’t say, “I am the Bread of Life.” and stop there. No, he went on with other images because he knew that other situations would arise that his witness to the Kingdom of God would speak. How boring it would have been if Jesus had only given us one image of himself and the Kingdom of God, we’d have no Prodigal Son, no Vineyards, no 11th hour, no light, no shepherd, no mustard seed, not much of anything. It is the existence of all these images, together, that give us such a full picture of God in Christ and no one of them captures the full essence of Christ, so we should be cautious that we don’t force what Jesus is to us onto others. Those are cautions to heed: hold loosely to what Jesus needs to be for you and that what he is for you may be different for another and that is good. The first reminder is that Jesus can meet any need as long as it is a real need. Jesus can’t always, or even usually be what you want however. And there is the rub, Jesus can’t be what you want, but he will be what you need. Jesus can’t be hateful for instance. You may want revenge, but what you need is reconciliation. You may want lust, but what you’ll get in Jesus is love. You may want Jesus to fit your political model, but what you need is a better vision of the world. What do you need him to be for you? So we have Jesus standing before us today, fully himself in all his integrity, dynamically engaged with the world, but not beholden to any one image that he set for himself, what the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, has established, or what Jesus needs to be for us, here today. He is untamed yet reaching out to you. What image might I conjure, what figure should I use to better understand and communicate what Jesus is doing today? Sometimes pop culture comes to our aid. Harry Potter. In the later Harry Potter books a strange setting is introduced, a setting that really acts as a character; it’s called the Room of Requirement. The Room of Requirement is described this way by the House-Elf, Dobby: “It is a room that a person can only enter when they have real need of it. Sometimes it is there, sometimes it is not, but when it appears, it is always equipped for the seeker’s needs.” The room becomes what the seeker needs most, by the seeker pacing in front of it three times, concentrating on what is required. Albus Dumbledore, the greatest wizard of all time first found the Room of Requirement on a late-night bathroom hunt and there it appeared, filled with chamber pots. The thing about the Room of Requirement is that one cannot stand in front of the room and vaguely wish it to grant, you don’t even know what. There has to be real need and when there is real need, the room will appear. Jesus stands before you and is asking, “What do you need me to be for you today?” He is calling to us ready to meet our needs and go beyond them into real relationship. Amen.