First Lutheran Church
August 2, 2015
THE MEASURE OF CHRIST’S GIFTS
I find the Gospel of John the most difficult Gospel to preach. It is different from the other Gospels; less story, more theological treatise. It has an otherworldly, mystical approach to the Gospel that inspires mystery and awe, but also bewilderment and exasperation in me. As I approached the writing of my sermon for today, I really struggled with what to say about Jesus as the Bread of Life that did not sound trite and full of cliché. On the one hand, the point is rather obvious, is it not? We are fed by the hand of God. God gives us all that we need. Physical food is important but it leaves us hungry for more, a hunger that can be satiated but not satisfied, while spiritual food feeds our souls and fills us up for all eternity. But leaving it there leaves me feeling unsatisfied, with more questions. What in the world does any of that mean? If I have learned anything about preaching these many years, it is that preaching philosophy and academic theology means nothing if I cannot connect the text to real human life.
In my struggles, I often feel like part of this crowd who kept following Jesus around the lake, asking for another sign. They begin trailing him because they heard astonishing tales of miracles, healing and magnificent teaching. They want to see these marvels for themselves. And so they do. They witness some incredible things. Jesus brings a child from the brink of death back to life. A man paralyzed for 38 years walked again because of his touch. The crowd experienced his unconditional compassion for them as he fed them with the loaves and fishes. And yet, they want more…and more…and more. They ask for another sign. If you would just give us manna, like Moses did to our ancestors in the wilderness, then we would believe. But Jesus knows that one more sign will not help them believe. Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. As I said in my sermon two weeks ago, the larger miracle was not in the feeding of the crowd in that one time and place. The miracle is in the pervasive, all-inclusive love of the Lord who feeds us with everything that we need, in all times and in all places.
I recently read a beautiful book entitled, The Secret Life of Bees. It is about Lily, a 14-year-old girl seeking to make sense of her mother’s death and her father’s ongoing abuse in Louisiana during the Civil Rights upheaval of the 1960s. She and her nanny run away and take up residence with three unmarried sisters. August, the beekeeping sister, is a wise woman who teaches Lily much about love and life through her bee stories and parables of human life sustained by the amazing grace of God through Jesus Christ. This is one of those stories.
‘One time Big Mama told me she went out to the hives on Christmas Eve and heard the bees singing the words of the Christmas story right out of the gospel of Luke’. August started to sing then in a humming sort of way, ‘Mary brought forth her firstborn child and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger’. I giggled. ‘Do you think that really happened?’ ‘Well, yes and no’, she said. ‘Some things happen in a literal way, Lily. And then other things, like this one, happen in a not-literal way, but they still happen. Do you know what I mean?’ I didn’t have a clue. ‘Not really,’, I said. ‘What I mean is that the bees weren’t really singing the words from Luke, but still, if you have the right kind of ears, you can listen to a hive and hear the Christmas story somewhere inside yourself. You can hear silent things on the other side of the everyday world that nobody else can’.
This is the essence of the Bread from Life, the ability to hear the Christmas story in the song of the bees, to hear silent things on the other side of the everyday world. This is the essence of faith through grace, this having the right kind of ears, which it is a gift not acquired from textbooks or instruction manuals or late nights trying to reason it through. It is a gift discovered in living life in relationship, to each other and to the Living Christ. Lily began to hear the song of the bees from tending them with August, who learned it from her grandmother, who learned it from her mother, and so on. It is in the mystery of the presence of God, in the bees and in the women who loved them and each other that the Bread of Life is given.
What must we do to perform the works of God? This is the question from the crowd, those who follow Jesus around from a safe distance, watching him but afraid to allow him too near for fear of being touched and changed. He replies, This is the work of God, that you believe in whom he has sent. To believe in the one whom God has sent, that is, in Christ Jesus, is to do the work of God. And it is about engaging in the work of God with our hands for the life of the world.
You heard the call to join in the ELCA’s God’s Work, Our Hands ministry in September. That kind of hands-on ministry gives the opportunity to measure the gifts of Christ in our work. What silent things on the other side of the everyday will be the shared gift of the people who are served, and the people who serve? Will they hear the song of the bees proclaiming the Good News of great joy to all people or will they encounter the Bread of Life in another way? The mystery of relationship to Christ is that we cannot capture the essence of the mystery and package it as the one and only way to experience the love and grace of God. We can only be open to the mystery and allow ourselves to be touched by it and changed by it. This is the measure of the gift of Christ. To God be the glory. Amen.