The Eternal Now
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 12, 2018
12th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; John 6:35, 41-51
You have probably heard Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous quote: Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. Jesus, a Jew, is faced with a group of his own people who have small minds. They resist the idea that God may act in an unexpected way; they disregard the miraculous events of Jesus’ life thus far. They fail to see the divine nature of this human Jesus. As a result, they complain because of the claim Jesus has made—that he is the bread of life that came down from heaven. They complain because they know him. They know his momma. They know his daddy. He can’t possibly be who he says he is.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. While life is complicated—so is faith! Just when you think you have God all figured out, God moves in some astounding, unfathomable way. Yes, great is the mystery of our faith! Jesus encounters a group of his own people who are certain they know who Jesus is. Most likely, they are faithful people who know their Scripture, yet they are unable to see God’s gift of manna before their eyes. How easy it is to get to a place where we think we know more than we do. But no matter how dedicated we are to the study of Scripture or the study of life, “real knowing” may still not be achieved because “real knowing” is a gift from God. It is pure grace.
When it comes to our book of faith, let’s be honest, that, too, is complicated—filled with strange teachings. For example, in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, God’s people are instructed: Don’t let cattle graze with other kinds of cattle; don’t have a variety of crops on the same field; don’t wear clothes made of more than one fabric (in other words, cotton and linen don’t mix), and if you find out a city worships a different god, destroy the city—kill everyone. Unexplainable, conflicting teachings continue in the New Testament. For example, in Matthew 28:18, Jesus says, “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth…” but 1 John 5:19 tells us, “the whole world is under control of the evil one.” (Which is it?) In John 9:39 Jesus says, “For judgment I am come into this world.” but in the very same gospel, he says, “I came not to judge the world.”[i] And lastly, a contrast between the two testaments: In Genesis 32:30 Jacob says, ‘I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.'” But Jesus proclaims in John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God.”
And my point? Our Scripture is complex and even people who know it well can use it to go astray—or worse still, to do harm. I’m convinced that the Bible can be used to prove just about anything we want to prove. Simply take a phrase, separate it from its historical context, and “Voila!” you have a faith-based argument. The Bible contains all that is needed for our salvation, and the wise person will approach it humbly, prayerfully and always, always, seek to interpret it in light of the whole of God’s salvation narrative.
To those who are complaining about Jesus’ claim that he is the Bread of Life, Jesus counters that it is the Father and not his teaching that draws people to the true bread that comes from heaven—to eternal life—to Jesus. Yes, even the desire to know, the desire to seek the bread of life, even that is a gift—even that is a grace. Grace upon grace! Because Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day…Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. I am the living bread…whoever eats of this bread will live forever…”
“Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…whoever believes has eternal life…” There is a constant tension between how eternal life is interpreted and what it means. Most people think of eternal life as the last day, as the sweet by and by, but in essence, Jesus says, “No, eternal life is standing right here in front of you.” Eternal life is Jesus himself—eternal life begins right now! What difference does the eternal now make to the way we live our lives?[ii] It must be more than a set of rigorous beliefs. Christian faith begins with an encounter and a relationship with the Bread of Life, with Jesus. What is the bread on which we feast?
When my children were growing up, I enjoyed making bread. I loved the whole process—measuring, stirring, kneading, waiting and then the wonderful aroma of the bread baking in the oven. The kids were quite happy with Momma’s homemade fare, that is, until they went to a neighbor’s home and ate white store-bought bread. Eventually, it became a struggle to get them to eat the hearty bread at all. Finally, I gave in and made wheat and white bread. However, I did get the last word. Now that they are all grown up and more health conscious they have finally come around to momma’s way of thinking—hearty bread is healthier.
When it comes to our spiritual food, it is good to be selective about the bread upon which we feast. As one writer puts it, “It is one thing to survive, to just get by, like the manna that got the children of Israel through the wilderness. It is another to feast on that which will last forever. We are wise to ask ourselves, “What has to move out for God to move in? What do we need to make sure is not a part of our diet?” To do otherwise is to risk spiritual starvation. Jesus provides for us spiritual, eternal nourishment that begins right now.[iii] Do we believe it? If so, does our life prove it?
Some of you have heard a little of the story of my childhood. It’s not something I often talk about—not because I am ashamed but because it really doesn’t make for polite dinner conversation. Suffice it to say, when it comes to my family of origin, I did not win the lottery. Having to overcome being abandoned by my mother, mistreated by my father and finally having no place to really call home—well folks, it was a hard row to hoe, as the saying goes. Who could imagine that the row would end here?
As far as church rows go, I prefer the pew near the front on the left. (In fact, Sue Miller, you are sitting in my seat.) But that’s not how things turned out. Instead, every Sunday, I put on this robe and drape the stole around my neck (a symbol of being yoked to God for ministry) and I do this thing that is my greatest fear and my greatest delight—attempt to speak God’s salvation story to those who will hear. For you see, with all my heart and soul, I believe that being baptized into the family of God matters. In fact, it changes everything! These living waters give us a new name and a new eternal address that begins in the here and now. With all my heart and soul, I believe that what happens around the Table of our Lord matters. It matters when the sun is shining, and it matters when there is a storm a-brewin’. For above all else, God’s grace is sufficient to meet our needs. God’s grace is sufficient for new life to be ours in the eternal now. And in this eternal now, God’s Spirit is our guide—instructing us, renewing us, challenging us, and equipping us to boldly embrace abundant life!
Søren Kierkegaard told a parable of a community of ducks waddling off to duck church to hear the duck preacher. The duck preacher spoke eloquently of how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly. With these wings there was nowhere the ducks could not go. With those wings they could soar. Shouts of “Amen!” were quacked throughout the duck congregation. At the conclusion of the service, the ducks left commenting on the message and waddled back home. But they never flew.[iv]
What difference does Jesus make in your life? It has been said that to the hungry, (Jesus) is the bread of life; to the thirsty, he is the fountain of living water; to the lonely, he is the friend who is willing to go the second mile; to the sick, he is the Balm in Gilead; to the dying, he is the resurrection and the life.[v] Who is Jesus to you?
Hear now a poetic interpretation of Jesus’ words penned by Rev. Ken Rookes:
I am the bread,
the bread of living;
come to me.
I have God’s word for you,
food for your heart.
It is a word of joy and of freedom,
surprising in generosity,
intense and glowing.
It tells of peace in the midst of turbulent times,
defiant love in the midst of fear,
hope, when darkness abounds.
This is the word that will answer your hunger,
and confound your emptiness.
I am the bread of life;
in me the journey begins and ends
and finds its shape.
In me you will discover yourself;
you will also find true community
and the friendship of God.
Sing, rejoice, dance and weep:
I am the bread:
the bread of living;
come to me.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] John 12:47
[ii] Sermon Brainwave, Karoline Lewis
[v] Ibid, Maxie Dunham
*Cover Art by Stushie; used by Subscription