I’ve sat at the bedside of two people this week faced with real trauma and ultimately tragedy; two people who in reality are having to come to terms with their own mortality. And sometimes sat at bedsides like these or I contemplate the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, and I wonder where God is, because I struggle to hear Him, I wonder where he is and why He’s not stepped up. At bedsides like these, sometimes leaving everything up to God seems naive, if not ridiculous. We have had enough of silly God talk. We just know too much for it to be true.
Perhaps this is what happened to the crowd with Jesus; they knew too much for Jesus’ words to ring true. Jesus said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They object. They murmur among themselves. These are the insiders, the ones who know the history -- they know how God does things and how things should be done. They also know Jesus' origins. They know he comes from Nazareth. They also know their scripture. "The bread from heaven was the manna fed to our ancestors back in the time of Moses," they correctly point out. And these Judeans know the law. "The Lord God said, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods.’" They know it all.
Again, I find that the crowd speaks for me. For when I am in need or distress, when I am hurt or afraid, I want to see a God who shows in strength and through miracle, I want to call upon a God who answers clearly and quickly, and I want to rely on a God who is there, really there, when you need him.
Little wonder, then, that the people in the crowd – and perhaps we – are put off, offended, angered even, by Jesus’ suggestion that he, a man just as they are, is the answer to their deepest longings and greatest needs.
And why wouldn't we be? Who ever heard of a God having anything to do with the everyday, the ordinary, the mundane, the hurting, the broken the dirty? Gods are made for greatness, not grime; they supposed to reside up in the clouds, not down here with the commoners. I mean, who ever heard of a God who is willing to suffer the pains and problems, the indecencies and embarrassments of human life? It’s down right laughable. No wonder the crowd grumbles against Jesus’ words, for such words seem to make fun of their understanding of God’s majesty and, even worse, to mock their own deep need for a God who transcends the very life which is causing them so much difficulty. No wonder they’re upset.
Jesus says to them, "Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me” The crowd knew some things, but their knowing was limited, and they let it close their ears, shut their hearts, and limit their vision. They were unable to hear and know what God was trying to show them. They had made up their minds and did not want to be confronted with what Jesus tried to teach them.
So when are we like the crowd? What issues reveal that we know too much about the Jesus of our traditions and not enough about the living Word God speaks to us now? When do we allow our knowledge of the history of the past to close our eyes to the working of God in the present? When are we looking and listening with open hearts? When are we willing to be drawn to the Bread of life, rather than put our trust in what we know - the ordinary things of life?
And yet we are bold enough, audacious enough, perhaps even foolish enough, to confess that God does use such ordinary things, such common elements, to achieve His will and to bring to the world His saving love because Jesus, who was common, ordinary, mortal like you and me, is yet also uncommon, divine, and the very Son of God. This is the claim Jesus makes in today’s gospel, the claim which offended the crowd who followed him then, the claim which still offends any who take it seriously today. For where we expect God to come in might, God comes in weakness; where we look for God to come in power, God comes in vulnerability; and when we seek God in justice and righteousness – which is, after all, what we all expect form a God – we find God (or rather He finds us) in forgiveness and mercy.
This is the claim and promise Jesus makes today: that God became incarnate; became just like us to love us to the life of heaven. The God who does not spurn the ordinary and common but rather who seeks such things such as these to achieve His will: this is the promise that rests in this bread and this wine. For as God does not spurn the ordinariness of bread, or wine, so we also know that God does not spurn us as all too ordinary people. And so in the bread and wine we find God’s promise to take hold of us as we are and to make us His own, to fill us afresh and in so doing to use each of us to accomplish His will and work in His world, because it is precisely here at the Eucharist where God speaks to us most clearly of forgiveness and acceptance, of wholeness and of life, and it is given to each of us in a form we not only can hear, but also see, taste, touch, but also hold in our hands.
The good news is that when we are looking for a God to speak up or to act. When the prospect of leaving everything up to God seems naive and when God talk seems trite or ridiculous, the Jesus who inhabited a life like that, a life like ours, this Jesus is placed almost unnoticed into our hands - that have been clasped in prayer or wiped a tear, or mopped a brow - in the ordinariness of a piece of bread. And in that moment we know again that when we think we have had enough, or can no longer trust this Jesus - He is there, right here. He has not left us, let go of us or abandoned us - but in eating this bread and drinking this wine, Jesus inhabits our ordinariness with the love and life of heaven itself. When you look at it this way, it is a wonder that we aren’t so drawn to the bread of Life in this Sacrament that we double back in line for our Communion in order to get seconds.
I am indebted to some thinking by David Lose for some ideas in this sermon