Monday, July 30, 2012

Why Are You Following Jesus. Homily for JOHN 6:24-35

Homily for 8.5.12
JOHN 6:24-35 (see below)
Year B
(some of this material appeared before here)











The Lectionary Gospel reading for today brings us to a most important moment in Jesus self-identification, as well as his ongoing confrontation with the following-crowds, who'll you remember last week wanted to make him king after he fed 5,000 of them with a mere five loaves and two fish.

But instead of taking them up on his offer, Jesus slips away. Which prompts me to wonder what preacher today would leave his audience because they got it wrong or wouldn't listen? 



Anyway, the crowds will not be swayed:
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. And when they found him across the sea they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you get here?"
But, Jesus will have none of it. He confronts them with their wrong-headed, inner motivation for following along:
Jesus answered them and said, "Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal."
That is, the crowds want a king with an ongoing food program who will also lead them out of the political wilderness -- a new exodus, and into the promised land -- a vindication by blood revolt against Herod and Rome.

Indeed, Jesus offers them a new Exodus; notice the clues John gives us:
this confrontation occurs at the time of passover

Jesus feeds the crowds bread pushing their minds backwards to the manna of the first exodus

And, while the connections might not be strong in our minds, no doubt it was in theirs, for they say:
What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from heaven to eat?
Obviously, the people have Moses on their minds because they believe one like unto Moses is in front of them. All the connect-ions have been made, and you can almost hear them sharpening their swords and daggers. It remains only for Jesus to give the word, and to then lead the swelling crowds toward Jerusalem and beyond.

What would Jesus do?

Jesus said to them,
"Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
So they said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."
To which Jesus, powerfully and famously replies:
"I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst."
There it is; there is Jesus’ self-understanding. But, notice this directly contradicts the crowd's understanding of his meaning and purpose. 

Moses didn't give you bread from heaven, Jesus explains, GOD did, and he is doing so again, now, in me! As in days of old, GOD is maintaing his people and his world. 

Jesus here claims that he is the bread from heaven, the bread of life. By which he means them to understand that he is the true and stunning gift from GOD, and he is, therefore, GOD's provision and the fulfillment of all his promises. Jesus is GOD's final, full and complete word to them, and us.

This makes the question before them all the more a deeply troubling one: Will they believe in Jesus as the one sent from GOD? If so, then they must rescind their own agendas -- that of retaliation and greed -- even to the point of rejecting their own world-view, and instead they must take on Jesus’ worldview -- which was reconciliation and sacrificial love.

And, it really is the same for us: Do we believe in Jesus as the one sent from GOD? If so, then we too must rescind all our own agendas -- that of personal peace and affluence, which means we must reject our own world-view and instead take on that of Jesus’ -- which still is reconciliation and sacrificial love.

Perhaps the best way to understand this is to confront ourselves with the same accusation that Jesus uses to resist the crowds initiative:
"Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled."
That is, they were following Jesus for what they could receive. Are we doing the same? Clearly, if we follow Jesus for what we can receive, then we are not truly following Jesus in faith.

I’ll pause for a moment to allow this to sink-in...

Think about it in this way: Jesus' call on our lives does not provide us with some sort of a magic talisman, a negotiated agreement that says, “OK, we go to church, give our money and be nice, and GOD, you must take care of us and keeps us safe and secure and free from want.”

You see, this will simply not work. This form of belief, which seeks to avoid the risk of faith, removes GOD’s freedom and places the Almighty within our control. But, instead, GOD comes to us by grace, and is wholly unimpressed with our resume. We want to able to say, "See, here; look at this good thing that I have said or done. I really am OK." But, GOD will have none of this, for the Almighty seeks, shall I say it, a real, living partnership with human beings.


Jacques Ellul, the French sociologist's thoughts are instructive here. In his book, Living Faith, (sadly, now out of print) he makes the point that if we have faith for what we can receive from GOD, then this belief and is not really faith at all. He writes:

"The really unbearable thing for us is grace, because while it is, to be sure, the expression of infinite love, it is also totally gratuitous. You can't buy it or exchange it. You can't deal for it or get the hang of it. You'll go no where with influence, indulgences, collusion...Grace is the hardest thing for us to be reconciled to, because it implies the renouncing of our pretensions, our power, our pomp and circumstance." (pg. 151)
Then later:
"If you believe in God in order to be protected, shielded, healed or saved then it's not faith, which is gratuitous. This will prove shocking, especially to Protestants, who have talked so much about salvation through faith, about faith as the condition of salvation, that they end up saying you believe so you'll be saved. But we have to keep coming back to grace and its gratuitousness. If God loves and saves humankind without asking any price, the counterpart to this is that God intends to be believed and loved without self-interest or purpose, simply for nothing. (page 163)
What are we to make of this? The primary point is theological, of course, but it is none-the-less practical and profound. Simply put, GOD is free to act as GOD wills and is under no obligation to us other than the obligation GOD feels toward GOD'S own presence. The reason that GOD moves toward us in grace -- most especially within the movement of the Christ -- is entirely within GOD'S own will and way, and not because what lies within us.  Or, as I often say around here, GOD loves us because GOD loves us, the reason is in GOD and not is us. 

Ultimately, this means we are free as well to respond to GOD'S grace-movement as we will, either in believing love or indifference and rejection. This kind of alternative is what fosters a true relationship, and Jesus confronts the crowds in our text with just such a choice.

This point of view creates a life gripped with meaning. Jesus offers a partnership with GOD. He invites us to come along on a journey, the outcome of which, individually, is far certain or settled. Yet, far from the doldrums of the daily grind, we are actually invited to take part in GOD's grand project, daily! 

Said another way, what we daily do here with our freedom really matters to the symphony that is GOD's world building project. No matter how hidden and mundane our life and our choices -- whether in family, church or community -- these choices really count, and in the end offer us a radically new life and a challenging way to live, under the grace and love of Jesus’ GOD-movement.

All this means we believe GOD for nothing, expecting nothing, other than love and grace. We trust GOD's provision -- the Bread of Life -- no matter what happens. We act in faith; we live our lives in faith, and we are even willing to die in faith without ever seeing the outcome, knowing that GOD can be trusted well beyond where our finite minds can travel into the mystery GOD'S goodness and God-ness.
_____________________________


John 6:24-35
When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there,
they themselves got into boats
and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
And when they found him across the sea they said to him,
"Rabbi, when did you get here?"
Jesus answered them and said,
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
you are looking for me not because you saw signs
but because you ate the loaves and were filled.
Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life,
which the Son of Man will give you.
For on him the Father, God, has set his seal."
So they said to him,
"What can we do to accomplish the works of God?"
Jesus answered and said to them,
"This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent."
So they said to him,
"What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written:
He gave them bread from heaven to eat.?
So Jesus said to them,
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world."
So they said to him,
"Sir, give us this bread always."
Jesus said to them,
"I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst."