Bread for the sake of the world

John 6:56-69

Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”…

 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Read the whole passage)

In the last 5 weeks we have been given our five loaves. For the last five weeks we have been slowly making our way through the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John. 5 weeks that started with 5 loaves and 2 fish, followed by ongoing argument between Jesus and the crowds. Arguments over what is the true bread, about who can receive the power of God, about trying to be God in God’s place, about where we abide and in whom we abide. 

But today Jesus has ramped up his argument, and Jesus has challenged the crowds and they do not like it. Instead of backing down, Jesus has pushed back. Pushed back so hard that the crowds give in and walk away. The crowds were impressed with the miracles, but were not impressed with Christ’s teaching. But the crowds aren’t the only ones who walk away in disgust, some of the disciples walk away too. Not the 12, but some of the larger group of followers that had been with Jesus. The same ones who had collected the excess of the five loaves and two fish, they too turn and walk away.

So what is the fuss about? What has caused not only the crowds, but some of the disciples to walk away? Jesus said to the crowds,

 “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me” 

Or in other words Jesus has said to the crowds:

Come and meet me, 
come and be a part of me, 
and you will see God, 
you will meet God, 
you will be a part of God. 

Jesus has offered God in flesh to a Jewish audience. An audience who does not understand Yahweh to be a God that suffers the unclean, Yahweh does not get dirty, Yahweh does not forgive the unrighteous. And Yahweh would become a lowly human being. But still here is Jesus offering himself, offering God the Father as bread. 

And for five weeks we have been hearing how Jesus offers bread to us too. Bread for the Hebrew people 2000 years ago, and bread for the Church today. Bread for the Church and bread for the world. The body of Christ for the world. As the Body of Christ, as the Church and as Lutherans, we are defined by the presence of that bread, that body. In the Augsburg Confession, Martin Luther and the Reformers defined the Church as, 

“…the assembly of saints in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly.” 

The Church is place where the grace and forgiveness of God is preached. The Church is the place where we are washed and forgiven of our sin by Holy Baths. The Church is the place where we share with each other Holy Meals. Bread and life for all that are hungry. The body of Christ found in bread, and the body of Christ that is this community, one in the same, given to us by God. 

It is these three things, the preaching of the Gospel, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper that make us the Church, the body of Christ. And yet, like those disciples who walked away from this radical gift we walk away from it as well. We walk away from the promise and the gift that we are given by Christ. We walk away because its too free. We walk away like the crowds and disciples because we cannot imagine that such an amazing and radical gift could be given to us at no cost, that it could be given completely freely out of God’s love for us. 

We live in a world that tells us “you get what you pay for”, that “there is no such thing as a free lunch”, that “you have to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”. We are so conditioned to believe that nothing is free, that when something free is given to us, we cannot accept it. It almost as it we need to pay a price for God’s love, for God’s bread. We want to have to know enough, understand enough, pray enough, feel it enough, come to church enough, be good enough, believe it enough. If we only do enough, God just might love us.  

And somewhere in the midst of all that. In midst of arguing about bread, in the midst of walking away because the promise is too radical, in the midst of trying to be enough, we find our selves asking, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

 Where do we go God? We do not know the way! Who will do it for us? We cannot do it on our own!

We ask with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” And somehow, not by ourselves, not as individuals, but as a community of faith, somehow by the Holy Spirit we then say. “You have the words of eternal life”. 

In fact the same spirit in us proclaims it every Sunday, the same spirit draws us to the Father and we are given Christ the Word, Christ the Bread of Life.

And by these words of eternal life, Jesus leads us to the cross. The Gospel, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, these three signs of the Church, they all lead us to the cross. 

They all lead us to the cross of promise and new life. 

70 years ago, an expressionist painter and poet by the name of Oskar Kokoschka, sketched a drawing. The inscription on the drawing reads “In memory of all the children of have to die of cold and hunger this Christmas”. The picture is of a cross. A cross on which Jesus hangs, surround by children. Poor grubby children. Cold and Hungry Children. And with one hand ripped free of its nail on the cross, Jesus reaches out to a child below him. Jesus reaches out and puts his hand into the child’s mouth. Jesus, while dying on the cross, is still offering himself, offering the Bread of Life to the cold and hungry child who stand before him. 

Today, Jesus reaches down from the cross for us. Jesus reaches down with word, water and bread.

We the cold and hungry before the cross, we the Church, we the beggars who stand before the cross, we who are defined by the Gospel, by Holy Baptism, and by the Lord’s Supper, we are shown the cross week after week, year after year, because on the cross we find hanging the Word and Body of God. There in the unlikeliest of places, we are given bread, we are given New Life. 

It is, of course, too radical to accept, too much to believe, it does make sense to walk away from craziness of this gift. But this is the radicalness of God. This is who God is, showing us the most radical love of all, by becoming bread, and by giving Godself up on the cross. 

And so here are. Five loaves. Fives small of loaves bread and five weeks of one conversation in the Gospel of John. And yet in five loaves we discover that God is doing so much more than we can imagine. God is giving us more than we can accept. And no matter if we walk away from it all, or whether we find ourselves asking “Lord, to whom shall we go?” or both… God continues to give us this the gift of forgiveness, of grace and of love, Gifts of the Gospel, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. 

“Lord to whom shall we go? You have ARE the Word of Eternal Life. You are the Bread of Life given on a cross, for the sake of the world. 

Amen.

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The Bread of Life: The hardest loaf to swallow

John 6:51-58

… So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me…. (Read the whole passage)

Today we receive our fourth loaf of bread. We have been abiding in the 6th chapter of John’s gospel for 4 weeks now, and still there is one more week to go. The ongoing discussion that we have been eavesdropping in on, between Jesus and the crowds, began with the feeding of the 5 thousand, with 5 loaves and two fish. But soon after the food had been eaten and the baskets of leftovers collected, the crowds and Jesus get into a debate. A debate about what the bread means. A debate about who Jesus is. A debate about who God is. A debate about life in the community of faith. 

And now, instead of just celebrating the simple and beautiful miracles of 5 loaves and 2 fish becoming enough for all and then moving on, we have delved deep into the heart of the issue between Jesus and crowds. We are dealing with the big issue for the people listening: Abandon all they know to be truth, and accept the promise of life and grace, a promise made by wandering carpenter turned preacher. Abandon their families, friends, culture and all sense of security that exists in a troubled world and life, for a promise that has no guarantee. 

For the crowds listening to Jesus, the idea of eating flesh and blood would have made them squirm, as it does us. Yet, for the Jewish crowds, the challenge to their religious practice and tradition would have been equally hard to accept. The eating of flesh and blood was something done in pagan temples. The pagans believe that by ingesting the sacrifices made to their gods, they could acquire their god’s powers. 

In the temple in Jerusalem, some of meat that was sacrificed was permitted to be eaten and it was not because it had any special power, but because it was good food. And the blood used in temple rituals was understood to have purifying effect, not magical powers. 

But what Jesus was talking about was on a whole other level. Eating my flesh. Drinking my blood. This is a direct challenge to the way the Jerusalem Temple and religion operated. Jesus is suggesting that there are other ways to obtain God’s forgiveness than temple sacrifices. There are new ways of acting and being under the law. That there is a new understanding of how God feels about sinners and the unclean. 

Eat this bread, eat his flesh, and you will live forever Jesus says. But at what risk? Giving up the system, the traditions, the practices, the worship that everyone knew and understood. Give up knowing how the world works, even if it is hard and exclusive world. Even if often the poor and common people cannot obtain forgiveness or be made clean or find God’s love because it is simply too far from reach. 

_______________

American Lutheran Pastor and Professor Joseph Sittler wrote about his experience with a parishioner who held fast to her understanding of prayer. Sittler’s congregant often boasted about her prayers for parking spots. 

“Whenever I am going to work or to the mall or to church or to the theatre, I pray for parking spot. And without fail there is always one waiting for me when I get there.”

This understanding of prayer bothered Sittler, and often he would try to show her different ways to view prayer and how God answers it.

“Have you ever not found a spot? What about others praying for parking?” he once asked. Yet these questions did not sway the woman’s view. 

Another time Sittler asked, 

“What if there was a mother with a sick child driving to the hospital? And what if you were on your way to a routine doctor’s appointment? What if you took her spot? Which prayer did God answer?”

“Well mine of course” responded the woman fiercely. “Because I prayed harder and had more faith”. 

_______________

As modern Christians, we understand Jesus’ words today in a eucharistic context. We know, we can feel it in our bones that Jesus is pointing us to the Lord’s Supper. To that holy meal that we share each week that feeds our faith, that binds us together as a community and that gives us strength for service in the world. 

But we also know what it is to squirm with the crowds who are debating with Jesus. We may feel icky at the idea of eating flesh and drinking blood, but we can place this idea within a larger understanding of what Jesus is getting at. 

Yet, like the crowds, we too have our own views and understandings. We have traditions and our system for religion. Like the crowds, we know how good faithful people worship and pray, how we keep the laws and rules and act morally. We know who among us has the sincerest faith and the most studied understandings. And when we begin to differ, we also know the arguments that prop up our point of view best are the ones that condemn others. 

And so while we share in Jesus body and blood, we don’t escape the challenge that Jesus presents today. We don’t escape the challenge that Jesus gives to our traditions and systems, to our abilities to keep the rules and judge those who don’t. And most importantly, we cannot escape the fact that Jesus is telling us today, that it is God and God alone who obtains, who gives, and who allows us to be forgiven. It is God alone who gives us life. It is not by our own merits, or faithfulness, or acceptance of Jesus that saves us or makes us pure. It isn’t by being a good Christian that we save ourselves. It is always in the moment we think we can wrap our hands around this faith stuff and the moment we think we know what God wants and likes, that we lose it all. It is in the moment when we think we have got the right understanding, that Jesus steps in and reminds us that it is always different than we think.  

_______________

Over the course of years, Joseph Sittler tried again and again to convince his parishioner that parking spots were not likely to be one of God’s chief concerns. And again and again, he was rebuffed. “You need to pray harder and more sincerely” was the response he got over and over again. 

Until finally, one day in Advent, and the topic of praying for parking came up again, Sittler knew how he would respond to this certain and self-assured parishioner. After hearing once again, that when this woman prayed for parking spots God always provided, Sittler said, 

“What do you suppose a very pregnant Mary was praying for as she bounced along on the back of that donkey while riding to Bethlehem.”

“I don’t understand what you mean, Pastor”, the woman replied. 

“Luke 2 verse 7” Sittler offered. “And she gave birth to her firstborn and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

_______________

Just when we think we have the world figured out, just when we think we have God figured out. Just when we think we can point to God and say, if you worship, or pray, or act, or serve in this way, you will be in God’s good books, Jesus lands in front of us again. Jesus lands in a manger when there are no room at the inn. Jesus lands on a mountain top with hungry people needing bread, but needing God’s love even more. Jesus lands on a cross, and transforms death into life. And here, Jesus lands as body and blood in our midst, at our table, in our mouths and into our bodies. Jesus lands in, with and under us, reminding us that just when we think we have God figured out… Jesus is the one who is giving us life, and we are forgiven, not because of our efforts or faith or ability to know, but solely because of God’s love for us. 

This fourth loaf of bread might be the hardest to swallow. The first loaf was a miracle, a miracle reminding us that with Jesus there is enough for all, enough for us. But today, as we hear again of the Bread of Life, as we hear about who the bread of life is and what it means for us to eat this bread… we are stripped of our comforts, of our traditions and systems that help us to be self assured and certain of our understandings. Today, Jesus feeds us bread from the living Father, and we will live. It might not be comfortable and it might make us squirm, but in this Jesus, this God who turns what we know upside down, in Christ there is life. 

Only Messiah would be born in a grave

John 6:35, 41-51

Jesus said to the people…”I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Read the whole passage)

We are talking about bread again… and in fact, we have been talking about bread for several weeks now, and we still have one more week to go in this detour into John’s Gospel. We have been slowly, piece by piece going through this conversation between the crowds and Jesus. The crowd of 5000 that was first fed with 5 loaves and 2 fish, and now the crowds that do not and will not understand who Jesus is and what Jesus is offering to them. 

But John is drawing our attention to a debate about bread, John is telling us what this bread actually means. In the Gospel of John, the dynamic between Word and Sign, word and bread is always lying underneath the surface. Jesus proclaims his Gospel in words, Jesus IS the Word of God, yet those who hear that Gospel, the crowds, the disciples, the pharisees and scribes, they all want signs, they all want bread. The words are supposed to be enough, but the demand for bread and signs never ends, and so Jesus shows who he is, as the Word made flesh, by doing miracles, healing the sick and the lame, casting out demons and finally by dying on a cross and being raised on the third day. And so in the Gospel of John, Word and Sign – Jesus and bread – are inextricably bound up together, they cannot be separated. There is the Word, the Good News of God’s Love, and then there is the Sign, the bread of Christ’s body to be shared. Word and Sign – Jesus and bread.

Today in the Gospel of John, we see that the good news and bread are one. Jesus is the Word made flesh to hear, Jesus is the bread made flesh to share. For John, we are given grace and we are given bread, and God gives them to us in the same package. The Good News comes in bread and body to be shared. Jesus gives himself to us in the flesh and in the bread of life. 

But today, this conversation about bread takes a turn. Up until now, the conversation has been about the divine, about the unwillingness of the crowds to see Jesus as God. Last week the crowds wanted to be able to perform the works of God. But today, Jesus goes a little deeper, goes right to the heart of reasons why the crowds, and why we, try to be God in God’s place. Its the reason that our sinful self wants to be in control. Jesus reminds the crowds, “Even your ancestors ate manna in the desert, they ate the bread from heaven provided by Yahweh Elohim, the God of Abrham and Isaac, the God who delivered you from Pharaoh and slavery in Egypt.  They ate that heavenly bread, and yet, even they died. 

Jesus is getting to the heart of what all the quibbling about bread is about. Jesus is reminding us of that fact that none of us likes to be reminded of. It doesn’t matter if your ancestors were the ones whom Yahweh fed with manna in the desert and it doesn’t matter if your ancestors were the ones whom God fed with bread grown in the fertile land Manitoba, WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE. The crowds wanted to do the works of God, but the work of God is New Life, something that we must rely on God to do for us.

And so for us, death is real and death in unavoidable. The Old Adam, the sinful self, would rather quibble about bread any time. Being reminded of the reality of death, to be reminded of its constant presence, is never easy. Instead, its unsettling and for the Old Adam in us, it is the ultimate reminder that we are indeed not God. 

While we may live in perhaps the most peaceful country in the world, and while as a society, we try to pretend very hard that death is not real, or at least does not affect us, it does not take much to be reminded of how close it truly is. Read the newspaper or watch the news, and the stories of death abound. Drive by any number of the cemeteries that dot the highways here, and it does not take long to be reminded that dying is OUR reality. Death is our reality so much so, that we are born dying. We are born as beings unto death, our lives are aimed, right from the beginning towards our end. 

But just because death is our reality does not mean that death is God’s reality. Just because death is our end, does not mean that its God’s end.

American Pastor and Scholar, Paul Tillich, once told a story about a World War II. There was a Jewish man who managed to escape being sent to concentration camp in Poland.  After leaving his home and all that he held dear, the man was finally forced to live and hide in a Jewish cemetery with many others wartime refugees. In fact, he lived in an empty grave, all the refugees did. And there, they hid from the Nazis. 

One day, in the grave next to the one where he had taken up residence, a young woman was giving birth to a baby, giving birth the unlikeliest of places. In her delivery, she was assisted by an Old Man dressed in a dark shroud, presumably the grave digger. When the newborn child uttered its first cries in the world, the Old Man lifted the baby to heaven and said, “Great God, hast thou sent us Messiah? For who but Messiah could be born in a grave?”

(Pause)

 In the moment when death is certain, when the reminder that we all will die is so certain and life seems to be over, God in Christ is doing a work so amazing that the Old Adam in us does not want to believe its possible. God is making new life happen, God is making eternal life happen. In place where death’s power seems to be certain and absolute, God is granting us eternal life through Messiah, through Christ. 

Starting with 5 loaves and 2 fish, and onwards with quibbling about bread, quibbling about who Jesus is, God is there offering us eternal life. It is not John’s original idea to make bread and eternal life go together, but rather, this is the work of God. It is the work of God to offer us life in the Word of Christ, and life again in Body of Christ. It is, of course, no accident that the blessing after communion goes, 

“Now may the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen you and keep you in his grace until life eternal”. 

Today, Jesus reminds us that we will all die, no matter who we are, no matter who our ancestors were. But for Jesus, death is not the end, and there with us in the grave, we are given eternal life in body and blood. Jesus gives us God the Father, and along with the Father, we are given God’s love and mercy and grace. Death is real, death is unavoidable. We are not immune to its effects, we are not immune to the reality and constant presence of death. And still for God, even in the grave there can be new life. New Life that sometimes can come in something so totally unimaginable to us, new life that comes to us OUT of the grave. But the greatest promise of New Life, is that it always comes in God’s gift of eternal life. 

We are three weeks into the Gospel of John and its discussion on bread, three weeks into this story about the 5 loaves and 2 fish. And yet, in Christ in the Word and in this Sign of bread, we are reminded first that we will all die. But more importantly, we are also promised that we shall all live. We are promised that God is working in the world to bring us new life, new life in unexpected and surprising ways. New life out of the grave. Because only God would sent us good news in bread. Only God would be born in a grave.

Remember that you were aliens and strangers with no hope too

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. ….When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (read the whole passage)

We are coming to an end point of sorts. After this week, we will detour from Mark’s Gospel to hear 5 Sundays from John on the Bread of Life. And this scene from Mark today, is the culmination of something building in the background of these stories of Jesus’ preaching, teaching, healing, exorcising demons and arguing with the pharisees. 

Today, the crowds move from the background of the stories and take centre stage. The crowds were there as Jesus’ family tried to take him away and Jesus compared the Pharisees to Satan, they were there when Jesus taught in confusing parables which he only explained to his disciples in private. They were left behind as Jesus and the disciples rode that boat out into the storm. They were silent witnesses as Jesus healed Jairus’ daughter and the bleeding woman. And they watched as Jesus could do no deeds of power in his home town. 

After sitting always in the background and even after being avoided by Jesus and his disciples, the crowds, the poor, unwashed masses following Jesus around Galilee looking for hope and healing finally have their moment today. 

As Jesus and the disciples feel the pressure of the crowds, Jesus suggests that they all find some place quiet to go. So again, they try to escape the crowds by boat. But this time the crowds will not be fooled. They run around the shore ahead of Jesus and disciples. 

And while it isn’t totally explained just who these crowds are, the stories that they have been a part of and the background suggest that these are likely the common people of Israel. The poor, the disadvantaged, those on the outside, those who have little power in their world, those who excluded from political and economic upper echelons of society. Some might be beggars, those who bear disease or infirmity, but also everyday average people who try to work and care for their families, to eek out a living in Roman occupied Israel, which was a harsh and difficult place to live. These are the faceless, nameless masses of the world. The kind of people you pass on the streets, or in the mall or at the grocery store without much thought. People whose lives are mostly normal, if not unremarkable. People who don’t really get names or details of their own, they are just crowds. 

And the crowds have been ignored and forgotten for long enough, there is no pushing them aside anymore. They have come to Jesus and Jesus cannot keep putting them off anymore.

Maybe you feel the same way, but I can get what Jesus is feeling like today. The crowds of our world seem to asserting themselves in much the same way. Flip on the news and there are crowds gathering around every corner. Crowds on the streets of London and Helsinki to greet a certain world leader. Huddled masses appearing at the borders between Mexico and US, and the US and Canada. Crowds seen in fenced-in detention centres separating families, crowds at grocery stores looking on as some lunatic in a red t-shirt tries to call the cops because someone dared to have dark skin and a beard in his presence. 

The crowds seem to coming up front and centre in the news these days, in our social media feeds, and even on our doors steps. 

And it is easy to see those crowds as outsiders. As the lost and forgotten, the alien and strangers of our world. It can be overwhelming to imagine what we could possibly do for them Should be out in the streets with protest signs too? Should we be at the border with food and clothes to help welcome the lost and forgotten before their are thrown in detention centres? Should we step in front of a raving and angry person making a scene in a public place?

These don’t feel like our problems, they are the problems of other people, the problems people on the outside, foreigners and aliens and strangers. 

As the crowds press in on us and give us hardly a moment to rest or eat these days… Paul has some words for us. Some words first given to the Ephesians, but just as applicable today. 

“…remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

Remember that you were once outsiders too. Outsiders to God’s love with no hope in this world. 

_________

As Jesus and the disciples land their boats back ashore, their attempt to escape the crowds seems to have been for naught. They crowds are pressing back in again, searching for some kind of hope and healing.

But this time something shifts in Jesus. Jesus has compassion for these desperate crowds. He sees them for who they are and what they need. They are lost and forgotten. They are aliens and foreigners. They are outsiders. 

And so Jesus finds them. 

Jesus remembers them. 

Jesus welcomes them.

Jesus knows them. 

Jesus brings them inside….inside into God’s mercy. 

And all of sudden, in a subtle but important shift, Jesus isn’t trying to escape anymore. He simply lets the crowds be. He lets them be around him, near him, and come to him. They are a part of who and where Jesus is. They are part of the family. 

As we sit in our comfortable churches, it is easy to feel like insiders, and even difficult to identify with those crowds on the streets of London and Helsinki, or the crowds in detention centres are borders, or the crowds witnessing racism in grocery stores. 

And as people of faith on the inside, we can even wonder where is God among these crowds today? Is God at work in the crowds in the streets of London and Helsinki? Is God handing out food and blankets at the borders? Is God stepping in between that lunatic at the grocery store and the poor victim of his rage? 

Maybe… God might be in those places…

Paul reminds us: 

“…remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

But Paul also says: 

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us”

Here is the thing, Paul isn’t reminding of what it feels like to be outsider… most of us were brought into this family of faith as insiders as babies and we don’t remember being outsiders. 

Rather, Paul is reminding of the gift of a place in God’s family that has been given to us. The free gift, the undeserved gift, the unearned gift of being a member of God’s family that Christ has given to us. 

Because here as we gather from far off, Jesus brings us near. Jesus gives us peace in reconciliation and forgiveness. Jesus makes us one in the Word of Good News that we hear, and Jesus breaks down the wall, the hostility between us. 

And Jesus is first here among this crowd and in these streets between us, gathering us at this table. And Jesus brings us bread and healing at the table, at the border between heaven and earth. And Jesus steps in-between us and sin and death to proclaim that those things are not okay and will have no place here anymore.

Paul reminds us that we were all once outsiders and and aliens and strangers. But Jesus has brought us in to the love and mercy of God, and Jesus continually brings us in, continually makes us – and the whole world – part of God’s family.

And so today, the crowds press in, on Jesus and on us. Yet are reminded that we are not the insiders removed from it all that we thought we were… Rather, we are the crowds too, and we now have a place near to Jesus, in the household of God. 

This is not the end of the story

Mark 6:14-29

…Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.
(Read the whole passage)

They came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. 

Familiar isn’t it?

We have heard that story before. We heard it just in April… Jesus died on the cross, and one of his disciples Joseph of Aramathea came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

Except today, it is not Jesus but John the Baptizer. It is not crucifixion but beheading. It is not Pilate but Herod. And John will be not raised from the dead in three days. 

This story comes in the middle of Mark’s gospel. A brief departure from the things we have been hearing about, from the parables, healings, exorcisms and miracles. We stop for a moment to hear a dark and disturbing, story. Political intrigue – a King who lives lavishly, takes what he wants, and yet is perplexed by the preaching of a wilderness prophet and hermit. Pride and incest – A queen who will not stand to be shamed for leaving her husband for his brother, the King, and especially not by this lowly Hebrew religious hermit and religious nut. Murder — A young girl who is used by her parents as a pawn in a political game. A prophet is murdered so that a drunken tyrant can save face. 

No happy ending. No drama to come. Simply power, greed, lust, and pride getting what they all want. Mark doesn’t leave out any of the dirty details. This is not a feel good story. This is too much like real life, too much like the world around us. This is not enough like a Hollywood feel good ending and too much like a bad night for news.

John the Baptist, the wild Advent preacher of the Messiah’s coming to make paths straight has an ignominious end of to life… a public execution simply to satisfy the political and prideful wrangling of the ruling elite. And then his disciples come and take away his body… and thats it. 

Sometimes the story just doesn’t end well. Sometimes life doesn’t figure itself out. Sometimes there is no happy Hollywood ending. 

This strange story, today, sets itself apart from the rest of the Mark’s gospel. It feels like it doesn’t’ fit. It is selfish motivations and actions, pure and simple. And yet, it can feel so familiar. It is the story of the world at its’ worst. It is our story at our worst. We don’t need to have the drunken parties, the incestuous relationships, the desire to show power and control, or pointless death to know what it feels like. This story of Herod, Herodias, Salome and John is just as much about us. It is the story of the dirty details of life. The story of broken families and marriages, the story of job loss and bankruptcy, the story of political games and corruption, the story of money and greed, the story of poverty and powerlessness, the story of disease and illness, the story of grief and death.  

And it is missing something… or rather it is missing someone. Someone who is hinted at at best and completely absent at worst. 

This is the only part of the Gospel of Mark where Jesus isn’t front and centre… in fact, Jesus isn’t in the story at all. It makes us wonder why Mark would include this terrible event, why tell us the details? Why lay out the whole thing for us?

This story is there because it is not the end. 

Not the end of Jesus’ story. 

Not the end of our story.  

If these dirty details was all there was to story, we wouldn’t need to hear about victory of evil and sin because we live it all too often. We hear about it on the news too much. We know that this happens in the world. 

But Mark has chosen to tell us this story. To boldly include all the dirty details of power, control, pride, lust, greed and evil. Mark has chosen to include this in the story of Jesus. To include the dirty details in the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

They came and took his body and laid it in a tomb is not the end of the story of God. And it is not the end of our story. It is not the end of our stories of suffering and sin, of evil and death. God includes all our dirty details. Includes them in the story of Jesus born in flesh. Included in the story of God’s great love for us. And they are not only included, but as our stories become God’s, God’s story becomes ours. God makes the ending that we know, the empty tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the news of the risen Christ, God makes this the new ending of our stories. God makes us the new end, the new point, the new purpose of God’s love.

The Good News of Christ is that in the midst of all the evil, all the sin, all the death that exists in our world, in our lives, in relationships, in our stories, God is joining our story, our world, our lives. God joins us by coming in flesh and dwelling among us. God joins us to the Body of Christ. The dirty details, they are not what make the story any more. Rather the new plot twist, the surprising new reality is New Life. New Life in Christ, New life in the ongoing story of God. 

Sometimes life just seems full of the dirty details. Sometimes Jesus is nowhere to be seen. Sometimes all there is pointless evil, rampant sin, and needless death. 

And sometimes when our stories feel too terrible to be anything like God’s, God reminds us that we haven’t reached the end yet. There are still chapters to be written, still details to be added. God reminds us that in Christ, that because of Christ, there is only one ending possible to our story. 

God reminds us today, that our ending is life and our ending belongs to God. 

Amen. 

Jesus could do no deeds of power…

Mark 6:1-13

 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. (Read the whole passage)

 

The Gospel of Mark has not been easy on us the past few weeks. In fact, as we explored the parables and teachings and experiences of Jesus, we discover that Mark is not easy on us at all. As Jesus preached about Satan’s House being undivided, we were reminded that our houses, that our communities cannot avoid being divided. We heard of God the radical gardener who plants the weed like mustard shrub in the garden, knowing that it will take over everything and grow out of control, and that this what the kingdom of God is like. We watched as Jesus calmed the storm, but in the process terrified the disciples and us, causing them to question who really is this Jesus. Last week, we saw Jesus break boundaries and rules, in order to bring God’s love near to us. We saw the way in which Jesus creates a new community among us and how uncomfortable this makes as we are stripped of the ways in which we like to be in control. Mark has held up a mirror, and it has shown us a reflection that we don’t always like to see. 

Today is no different. 

As we hear about Jesus preaching in his hometown following by the sending out of his disciples, it would be easy to focus on the instructions that Jesus gives. To preach to those who will listen, and to move on from those who won’t. If only ministry was that simple, work those who like you – ignore those who don’t. 

Focusing on those instructions of Jesus to his disciples is the easy way of bypassing the part of today’s reading that really makes us uncomfortable, that really makes us squirm. 

And he could do no deed of power there. 

What?!?!

Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth on his preaching tour. Jesus goes back to the place where he is well known, and his reception is a little frosty. Those of us who have left home and then come back, know the feeling. No matter how long we have been away, no matter how much we see and experience, no matter how much success we achieve, once we come home, we become what we were before. Mary’s son. The child of that family. The sibling of this person. The relative of those folks. The carpenter, the class clown, the paperboy, the nerd, the high school star athlete.  

Jesus comes home and no one can see more than the little boy, that young man who lived in their community and had a very certain place among them. A place that didn’t include being a prophet or teaching the word of God. For the people of Nazareth, Jesus was not going to come home and preach to them. They could not let go of the image of the boy who grew up in their community and was just another common man, they could not consider that Jesus just might be preaching something worth hearing. 

And because of Nazareth’s refusal to hear, we become uncomfortable with the results. As much they could not see a prophet preaching in their midst, we get squeamish with the idea of a God who can do no deeds of power. 

(Pause)

The TV series, the Walking Dead, portrays a post-apocalyptic world. A world where a plague has wiped out most of humanity and turned people into re-animated corpses bent on consuming the living. The world is full of zombies. The show focuses on a small group of people struggling to survive in this nightmarish world. 

The main character, Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes, leads a group of friends and family through this world trying to simply survive each day. The stress of finding food, weapons ,fuel and safety takes its toll. As disaster after disaster strikes the group, Rick finally finds himself standing in a vacant church, standing before a large crucifix, and feeling at the end of his rope. Despite himself, he offers up this prayer:

“I am not a religious man, I have had faith in other things, my job, my friends, my family mostly. But the thing is, we need… I could use a little something to help us keep going. Some kind of acknowledgment, some kind of indication I am doing the right thing. Just a little sign. Any sign i’ll do.” 

(Pause) 

In our world with such a complicated relationship with power, we get the struggle that Jesus encounters. He hasn’t come to conquer or destroy. He has come to preach the good news… and if people don’t want to hear it, what power does he have over them to compel them?

Power comes in so many different shapes and forms in our world, and along with everything else these days… power is changing too. We once thought we were masters of nature, yet now with climate change we struggle to contend with disaster. We once thought progress and democratic freedom would march us towards greater prosperity and stability, yet now the structures the hold the world seems to be fraying at the edges, teetering on the brink. We once thought the church was the great central guiding institution of our communities, yet now we are a shell of former glory. Politicians, officials, experts and the famous used to command the public respect and deference, yet now anyone with a phone can be famous, can start a revolution, can influence the world. 

So when Jesus shows up and people don’t want to listen, we get what that looks and feels like. 

And Jesus could do no deeds of power there. 

To imagine a God that doesn’t have the power to do miracles makes us wonder if God is God at all. Is Jesus really who we think he is, if he all of a sudden couldn’t show his power. Yes, the sinful self within all of us attempts to be God in God’s place. But in our moments of desperation, in the moments when we need something bigger than ourselves, we want to at least know that there is someone who is exerting control over this chaotic world. A

No wonder we would rather just leave that verse, that idea alone. 

(Pause)

Before leaving the empty church and the crucifix, and returning to the troubles of the world of the Walking Dead, Rick Grimes, concludes his desperate prayer:

“I just need an indication to know whether I am doing the right thing. You have no idea how hard that is know…”

And then he pauses and looks up at the image of Christ… blood dripping from the crown of thorns… hanging from the cross. And Rick takes a breath. 

“Well, maybe you do…”

(Pause)

And Jesus could do no deeds of power there. 

This powerless moment of Christ is meant to catch us, it not meant to simply be glossed over. While we have watched Jesus calm the storm, heal the bleeding woman, and raise a little girl to life with a word, we are being prepared for where Jesus is going. 

Jesus has not come into our world to heal our wounds, still our fears or prevent us from dying too soon. Jesus mission is something completely different. Jesus is headed for a different place of powerlessness. 

Jesus is rejected in Nazareth, but it will not be the last place. As Jesus rides into Jerusalem as a powerful king, he will be carried out as crucified criminal. But it is not just that Jesus will be rejected. As Christ goes to the cross, it will become the place where God’s power seems to completely disappear. 

At least where Godly power on our terms will seem to be gone. In fact, the cross will become the place of humanity’s most godlike act. The place where we will not just crucify and kill a common carpenter, but the cross is the place where humanity will put God to death. 

With our most God like power, we will kill God. 

And so God shows us a different kind of power. It is not a power that is about mighty deeds, or miracles. It is not a power that compels us to believe. Jesus does not come down from the cross as King and force us to kneel at his feet. 

God shows us power in weakness. God shows us love. Love that even when put to death will not stop loving. God will not permit even that mightiest power of death to prevent God from loving us. God’s love cannot be ended or destroyed. 

And it is because the miracles will not solve our problems. The deeds of power will not save us. God’s love is the only way we can be healed or reconciled or brought to new life. God’s love is the only way to truly saved from ourselves. 

And he could do no deeds of power there. 

Yet God’s mission, Christ’s purpose remained the same. Deeds of power or no deeds power, Jesus came into the world to show us God’s love, not God’s power. And yes, that makes uncomfortable, and makes us squirm. Despite our desire for power, God is willing to go do the cross to show us that love and life, that forgiveness and mercy are the true actions of God like power. God is willing to die… so that we may be loved. 

Jesus Crossing all the Boundaries

Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” He went with him.

 …But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”…

…He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about… (Read the whole passage)

Last week, Jesus crossed the sea of Galilee with his disciples. As a storm blew upon them, the frightened disciples worried about a sleeping Jesus in the boat. But Jesus woke up, calmed the storm and wondered what the fuss was all about. 

Before returning across the lake to the point in the story we heard today, Jesus went to gentile territory. There Jesus found a demon possessed man loving with the pigs. Jesus conversed with the demon called Legion and Jesus exorcized the demon from the man. In the short trip Jesus crossed the boundaries of Gentile and Jew by crossing into Gentile territory, clean and unclean remembering that pigs are unclean animals to Jews, and of the normal and supernatural world by talking to a demon. 

In just that quick trip across the lake, Jesus showed that the boundaries most people observe, don’t scare him. 

And today, when Jesus lands back on the Jewish side of the sea of Galilee, the boundaries have been crossed and the rules broken. There is no going back now. 

Today, it is first Jairus who eschews social norms to throw himself at the feet of Jesus to beg for healing. Jairus, an upstanding leader in the synagogue, begging a wandering preacher for mercy for his sick daughter. 

And then the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years breaks nearly every rule imaginable to get access to Jesus. 

As Jesus responds to these two very different requests for healing, it can feel like one story jammed into another. Jairus and his dying daughter, and the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. It can even feel disjointed and a bit like an interruption… in fact, Jesus starts to seem like a traveling medi-clinic. A place for the sick to go for healing, a source of power for those in need. But as we heard earlier in Mark, Jesus has not come to be miracle healer, but to preach the kingdom of God coming near. 

So what are these two stories of healing all about, if Jesus claims to be in the business of preaching the kingdom? Well, this story inside a story is not really about healing. Or rather, the healings are only the first details of what Jesus is up to. 

When Jesus arrives on the shore of Galilee, Jairus, a leader in the synagogue throws himself at Jesus’ feet and begs for help for his sick daughter. Jairus an important community leader, who would usually have a servant for errands like this, comes to Jesus directly. Jairus who should have considered Jesus an equal, if not subordinate, throws himself at Jesus’ feet. Jairus who should have requested, commanded, or ordered Jesus to help, begs. He begs immediately and without shame. In desperation, Jairus breaks the rules of what a man in his position should behave like. 

And then there is the bleeding woman. The woman who had been poked and prodded by doctors to no avail. The woman who had been suffering for 12 years in an unclean and impure state. The woman who is not allowed to be in public, or to touch others, especially men. The woman who has no voice and no advocate. The woman who pushes into the crowd and the who steals a healing without even asking Jesus. In her desperation, this woman crosses the boundaries of what polite and proper people should be and do.  

It is easy to gloss over these images of Jairus and the bleeding woman. It is easy to see no problem with a persons of prominence and authority throwing themselves at Jesus feet. No problem with the weak and powerless reaching for the fringe of Jesus cloak. 

But would it seem normal for the pastor or council members to throw themselves at the feet of the next motivational Christian speaker to come through town? Would we think it was alright for a street person, dirty, smelly and covered in sores and oozing wounds to push her way through the communion line to receive a blessing first?

No, we would not be okay with these things. They don’t follow the right order of things. We live a world with rules and boundaries, we define ourselves by those boundaries. 

We define each other by where we work, by what we drive, by the houses and homes we live in, by the clothes we wear, by the committees we serve on and the ways we involve ourselves in the community. We even know which pews belong to whom and where we like to sit week after week. 

Our worlds make sense when we can define the boundaries, when we follow the rules. We like knowing where others belong, so that we can know where we belong. We like defining the order of our families, and of our communities. We know who is first and who is last, and we like that knowing this gives us security, power and control. Our world is much easier to manage when there are rules and boundaries to keep things orderly.

And yet we also know that the rules and boundaries don’t always serve us. We know that sometimes people end up places where the rules push them down and grind them into the ground. We know that the boundaries can become walls, keeping people out and in the darkness, isolated and alone. 

The rules and the boundaries that we live by, that we hold onto so that we can feel safe and secure… can also hurt and exclude and we know it, because sometimes we are the ones being pushed down and we are the one stuck on the outside. 

But Jesus has this habit of doing things and going places that we cannot. Calming storms and talking to demons.  

Jesus crosses the boundaries and breaks the rules. 

Jesus crosses the boundaries and breaks the rules because Jesus wants to bring God close, the Kingdom of God near. 

As the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years crosses every social boundary imaginable and steals a miracle from Jesus, and as Jesus himself is not quite sure what has happened, Jesus’ demands to know who has touched him. We would expect that Jesus would have condemned and scolded this woman, but instead he stops to hear her story. And then he joins her. Joins her on the other side of the crossed boundary. She isn’t supposed to be out in public or touching people as a an unclean sinner… no one but family that is. And so Jesus steps out of the public space and into a familiar one… “Daughter” he calls the woman. Jesus makes her a member of his family, a person whom he can be close to even if she is unclean. “Your faith has made you well.” And then blesses her. By crossing the boundary, and breaking the rules, Jesus gives this woman the first bit of care and compassion, of healing and wholeness she has known in 12 years. And it wasn’t by healing her of her bleeding, but by joining her in her isolation. 

And then Jesus continues on to Jairus’s home, and he enters despite the news of the little girl’s death. The waiting crowds tell him not to enter… they know the boundary that has come to this place.

And yet having just crossed boundaries to heal the woman bleeding for 12 years, perhaps Jesus is inspired to keep going. To keep crossing boundaries. He comes near to a sick person, a possibly dead person, and intrudes on a grieving family. 

But Jesus knows that the little girl will rise. 

Because Jesus is going to cross another boundary to join this little girl, this second daughter that he meets today. 

Jesus crosses the uncrossable. 

Jesus reaches across death and brings the little girl back to life. 

Jesus crosses the boundary of death. 

Jesus also crosses the boundary of resurrection and new life. 

And we saw it coming all along, because we know that story already. We tell it every week. 

For you see, for all of our rules as human beings, we keep telling the story of God in Christ who breaks the rules. 

Christ who gives forgiveness even though it is undeserved. 

Christ who washes in the waters of baptism even though we are unclean. 

Christ who brings peace even though there is conflict. 

Christ who makes us one even though we are many. 

For you see, for all of the boundaries that hem us in, we keep telling the story of God in Christ who crosses the boundaries and joins us where we thought God should NOT come. 

Christ joins us as the incarnate God, born into creation. 

Christ comes to us in the Word of God, spoken through human voices and heard with human ears. 

Christ becomes us in the bread and wine, and we become Christ in Body and Blood. 

Christ gathers us together from every nation and tribe and corner of the earth. 

Crossing boundaries and breaking the rules shouldn’t be a new or surprising thing for us, because almost from the very moment we gather until we are sent out, God is doing just that in, through and with us. 

God is crossing boundaries and breaking rules in order to name us as daughters and sons, making us part of God’s family, bringing the kingdom near to us. 

No matter how much we love rules and cling to boundaries, God will always be willing to break and cross them, in order to love us more. 

An iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church

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