John 6: 52-69
Intro to the Gospel Reading: The crowd is wary of Jesus, afraid of being taken in. But Jesus himself wants is to be taken in, literally, to become part of each person’s life, theirs, yours, mine. Listen for the beginnings of the early church’s practice of Holy Communion in this passage.
Jenny and Joe met later in life than some. They were old enough to have grown comfortable in their own habits and to recognize, in each other, a good fit.
Together they found a darling little cottage steps from the sea with barely enough room for two adults. Which was perfect as they intended to spend every possible moment outdoors reclaiming a garden overgrown with beach roses and field iris.
They had no longer gotten the furniture into their one-bedroom bungalow, arranged Jenny’s fragile antique tea cup collection on its open shelving, and carved out just enough corner space to accommodate Joe’s longed for wood stove, an indulgence for two adults who knew not to touch “hot,” when Joe came home one afternoon to find Jenny utterly distraught.
She was laughing.
She was crying.
She couldn’t get ahold of her words.
My dear, murmured a perplexed Joe,
What is the matter? We have everything we’ve dreamed of.
Jenny finally managed to get out.
The beloved author C.S. Lewis once wrote, imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first perhaps you can understand what God is doing. God is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on. You know that these jobs need doing and so you are not surprised.
But presently God starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense.
What on earth is God up to?
The explanation [Lewis continues] is that God is building a different house from the one you thought. –Throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards.
You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage. But God is building a palace. God intends to come and live in it himself. –Mere Christianity
Every one who earnestly and whole heartedly tries to follow God, to listen and to follow, to see and to follow, comes to a point in the journey where the next step feels uncertain, unexplainable, dangerous, new. We find ourselves “out there,” on a limb.
God takes those mind blowing opportunities to breathe more love into our lives that we think we can handle. If you’ve ever raised a special needs child, then you know something of this. If you’ve lost someone you love and to learn to love all again, or in a different way, then you know something of this. If you’ve ever heard Jesus ask, “Do you want to be healed,” and answered, “I do,” then you know….If you’ve ever caught the tail of an impossible dream and let it shake you…..if you’ve ever said, “yes,” to a ministry where you knew you were in over your head…..then something in you is nodding right now.
Every crack and crevice of your life is an opening for God’s love to make itself known and to enlarge your self, your love carrying capacity.
Its hardest when we think we have an airtight plan for our life, when we want, oh how we want, to hold onto what we have figured out, tested, decided we can trust.
Jesus was speaking to a crowd who had a pretty firm grasp of who God was and how God worked. At least how God worked in their ancestor’s lives. They knew the stories by heart. They sang the beautiful songs they had heard their grandparents sing. They knew the laws by rote and thought carefully about specific applications.
It was just that….something seemed to be different in their own time. And the more “different” things around them felt, the more they clung to what they knew, what they had inherited. Grandfather’s prayer shawl was more precious when a soldier had ripped your own from your head. The way mother intoned Shabbat prayers felt more and more the right way when they heard the same words pronounced with so many strange accents in the temple.
A few weeks ago my sister in law was visiting from RI. We decided to show her how lovely Bath, ME is during its summer festival. Walking up the main street, we saw the antique auto show finishing up. Now one of my deep and mysterious family stories is about the Wheeler run-about, invented in 1900 by my Great Grandpa Wheeler and his father. They only made three. East Coast investors were particularly excited about the horseless carriage idea, so the industry developed in Midwestern towns more willing to take a risk (and with more straight and open roads). #3 (1902) ended up as parts in the family barn. #2 (1901) wore out from weekend excursions. Granma had lost track of #1 until she saw a newspaper article about the fire in a New Hampshire collector’s barn. He was most devastated by the loss of his beloved Wheeler run-about. Grandma tracked down his phone number form the reporter, called him up, and asked if he’d like the parts from the barn. The delighted auto collector took her up on her offer and gave her a ride in the beautifully restored car each year for her birthday. The photo she kept in her den showed a ruby red gem.
Grandma aged, had a stroke, died. No one had any idea where the car was. But the Wheeler run about was an enticing mystery. I poked around on the internet a bit and found historical references to it, but no current information. So when I saw a really old car in the Bath show I thought, it’s a long shot, but who knows. I asked the first guy leaning back in a folding lawn chair if he he knew anything about really old cars. He did. In fact that was his pride and joy sitting in front of us. “How would you find a really old car,” I asked. He said there was a special registry for pre-1918 gas automobiles, got my story and said, ‘well, if I have a chance I’ll try to look it up.” This was Sunday about 5:00 PM. On Monday morning, I opened my laptop to check my email and there it was: name, phone number and Texas address for the current registered owner of the Wheeler roadster.
It got me thinking on what I knew about Great Grandpa’s early gas combustion engine from the patent photo. Then I thought about what I drive, my 2013 Prius. The Wheeler roadster’s owner’s manual wouldn’t help me out much when I look under my hood. And While I feel certain that Grandpa Wheeler would by fascinated with a hybrid motor, I’m pretty sure that my owner’s manual wouldn’t have done him much good either.
In the crowd around Jesus that day, a sorting was taking place. Who will follow the trail of love as it walks right by them?
Who will step out into that unknown space where the promise of God’s love is the one sure thing you can rely on, and you’re not quite sure what that love will look like or where it will take you, what it will feel like or what direction it will come from. It was then, as it is now, a disruptive age.
When love reasserts itself in the midst of confusion, and wants to widen our spirit without a complete up to date owner’s manual, how do we find clarity?
-Stick with Jesus. He knows where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going.
-Hold yourself open to possibility, heart, mind and soul.
-Claim God’s gifts
The particle physicist and educated Jewish man, Edward Teller is credited with these words (they hang in my office), when you have gone as far as all the light you know, and you are about to step into the darkness of the unknown….faith is knowing that one of two things will happen.
You will step onto firm ground.
Or you will learn to fly.
Some do choose to walk back into the light of what they already know. Some spend days, weeks, years, clinging to the edge where known meets mystery.
If you would grow deep and wide enough for God to make a home in you, trust that even as your mind is being blown, love will be made known.
Karen L Munson
United Methodist Pastor & Liturgical Artist