Sermon by Jackie Falk, M.Div, August 9, 2015, at Peace United Church of Christ, Duluth, Minnesota
John 6: 35, 41-51 (Pentecost 11) Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Please hear and pray Jan Richardson’s words of blessing with me:
I know how small
this blessing seems;
just a morsel
that hardly matches
the sharp hunger
you carry inside you.
But trust me
when I say—
though I can scarcely
believe it myself—
there is a space
where a table
has been laid
has been prepared
all has been
and it will be
and more. 
What do you make of Jesus?
Isn’t that the question we are asking ourselves often? Whether we are in a place of trust or in a place of doubt – equally honorable – we hear the question echoing, “Just what am I to make of this Jesus?” It is a good and excellent question for us to ask ourselves, we who claim we are becoming Christian and we who are skeptical and curious, and we who disbelieve a little or a lot—or all of the above, but at different times.
Just what do we to make of this Jesus?
Recently I have been finding Jesus just a bit inadequate when I compare him to some contemporary spiritual leaders, none of whom are women unfortunately. I am quite attracted to Pope Francis! No shame in that. My head admires and celebrates the deft theological argument in his May encyclical on climate change. It builds a solid foundation for us to claim the Earth as Beloved of God. But I open my heart to Pope Francis when he laughs, and when he makes me laugh, I fall in love. He calls the church a house of JOY, and throws his head back in delight when he barely manages to retrieve his skullcap from the 4 y/o boy in his arms who plucked it from his head.
I am like the Judeans in our gospel text. I am murmuring, grumbling, and complaining discontentedly. So our Jesus? Where do we get to see our Jesus laugh in delight like the Pope? We don’t. None of the Gospel writers found it relevant or necessary to tell such an anecdote. We see Jesus weep over Lazarus; Jesus angry at temple abuse; Jesus moved to nausea at the sight of a leper’s suffering; Jesus compassionate for the bent-over woman, but laugh? No laugh. But just because no story was told, doesn’t mean there was no story to tell. 5,000 people wandered the countryside to hear Jesus. Disciples, at least 12 men and numbers of unnamed women, turned their lives upside down to walk at his side for years. To be a presence that compelling, Jesus must have laughed and must have made those who heard him laugh too!
Laughter and humor are precious; full of healing and grace. Humans are one of the few species that laugh. Laughter is often a moment of liberation. When we can laugh, we free ourselves. We can surrender our resistance and open our hearts and minds to new understandings. The world hurts and harms us so much that finding the funny, sharing the humor, is crucial to keep a spiritual center and to heal from the inevitable wounds the world will bring. Shared laughter binds us mysteriously together in trust and shared memory that we will talk about for years: Remember when we laughed….
I am like the Judeans in the gospel text. My murmuring, grumbling, my discontentedly complaining blinds me to seeing what I must see. The Pope as much as I love him, is the head of an institution of dominance and influence. The Pope’s merest words make change all across the world. His personal faith and spiritual wisdom of nearly 80 years guide him to refrain and be careful in their use. Not only can the Pope afford to generously display his affection and laughter, in his position, he is exercising good leadership of his 1.2 billion people.
But our Jesus, Jesus who we meet in Chapter 6 in John’s account is decidedly not in the Pope’s place of religious authority and worldly power. His humor and affection will not look like the Pope’s. The gospel of John was written about 90 CE. All the Jewish world, Rabbinic Jews, inheritors of the temple tradition and Jesus-believers alike, all the Jewish world was grieving and disoriented, struggling mightily to find a spiritual center. They had the lost Temple, the home of their covenantal God; Jerusalem’s people were slaughtered and the city left in ruins.
In this time of uncertainty, the writer of the Gospel of John wrote for a motley community of Jesus-believers. Some were from Jesus’ family and home, the rebellious Galileans; some were Samaritans—age-old enemies of the Jews, some were outsiders altogether, non-Israelites, and some were Jesus-believers in hiding. Terrified of Roman persecution, most of the time they posed as Judeans who Rome did not persecute and joined the Jesus-believers only when they could do so in secret.
John’s gospel was written to challenge this first century community and us to understand Jesus more deeply. The text simultaneously sings grace-filled, devotional words of adoration to warm our hearts with love for Jesus. At the same time delivers a sense of irony about the deep reality of resistance to Jesus with a deftness that might bring a laugh to the audience of Jon Stewart’s, THE DALY SHOW.
So what do we make of John’s Jesus, the one who declares
35 … “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever trusts and keeps faith in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35 NRSV) Did the Johanine community hear. Do we hear that the God once met only in the temple is now revealed in Jesus? Jesus reveals God’s essential character as loving and God’s essential desire is to be accessible and available to all people – us – so we can become “children of God.” (John 1:12 NRSV)
The Judeans did not hear; they object! Craig Satterlee describes their reaction: “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. “Who does he think he is?” They mutter, “Claiming to have come down from heaven? We know his folks. We know he came from Nazareth, not from heaven!” These Judeans 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. Bread, that precious image from ordinary life, and what is the Judeans’ complaint: Jesus is just too ordinary to be the bearer of God’s living bread. The theological irony: Their complete confidence in the rightness of what they know prevents them from seeing the grace and truth of Jesus.
Ahhh, but, remember the gospel writer is not addressing the Judeans, but speaks to his own fractured community and to us. Now is the moment I was seeking! I imagine Jesus chuckling and here is what I want, not Jesus’ laughter, but my own. It is the moment I fall in love with Jesus, again. I am laughing! Laughing the liberating laughter of self-recognition. And I was so confident that I would never be like that – like the hard-headed Judeans, like my mother, like Nancy, my 7th grade nemesis, like …. You fill in the blank.
And just so we don’t become, ironically, any more misguidedly over-confident in our own “knowledge” John’s Jesus reminds us of the mysterious paradox, the essential mystery that faith, our faith is not “about us.” It is God’s work. Quoting Isaiah, Jesus says, God not only draws us in, but then instructs us in the divine intention for the world, instruction that leads to faith and trust in Jesus. Jesus is clear our faith cannot happen individually. One cannot come to Jesus on one’s own.
With these words, Jesus discloses the precious wisdom of John’s gospel – John’s thought, John’s world view collapses categories and concepts, upon one another into a kind of union, a synthesis, a layering of one realities upon another so that no single layer can be seen without also seeing the others. 
48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. (John 6:48-51, NRSV) Calling himself the living bread, Jesus is not disparaging manna, but remembering and reinterpreting it, offering us new insight. The earthly and the heavenly are not separate. The earthly portrays the heavenly. The past, the present, and the future circle upon and feed each other. Our life in the Spirit is not either/or, but the both/and. The Mystery reveals itself in such paradox with laughter, precious laughter that liberates us from our self-obsession pours out and like our baptismal water washes our spirits clean.
What do you make of Jesus; what does Jesus make of you?
One modern descriptor of faith is “Faith is formed by the power of the Holy Spirit through personal trusted relationships – often in our own homes.” The writer of Ephesians gives guidance to create those trusted relationships in the home and in the community. Ethical commandments are laid out for the good of the family and community, some fitting to the modern world, some not. Ephesian’s admonitions are not novel, but the reasons are. Parallel to John’s assertion that the earthly portrays the heavenly, our behavior portrays the health of our Spiritual identities, our souls. Then the writer reminds us that there is a third party impacted by our conduct, the One who brought us to faith in Jesus, God’s own Spirit. Just as we could not come to faith in Jesus on our own, when we depart from the behavior that imitates Jesus, we grieve God’s own Spirit.
Just as Jesus the bread of life to us, we are to be the bread of life to one another; “as we emulate Jesus’ ways of love we too can deliver – can be – God’s bread of life for the world”.
Jesus promises in John:
Whoever eats of this bread is now and forever living into eternal life; and the bread that I will give for the life of the Cosmos is my flesh.” (John 6:51) Everything of earthly origin was heaven sent and so at the Communion Table heaven and earth, past, present, and future, you and me, we collapse into a single reality that we May all be One.
Please hear and pray Jan Richardson’s words of blessing with me:
“And we will become bread
for a hungering world.
And we will become drink
for those who thirst.
And the blessed
will become the blessing.
will be the feast” 
May it be so for you and for me. Amen and Am
 Carol Gatz, Arkansas Catholic, December 23, 2013, http://www.arkansas-catholic.org/news/article/3713/Pope-One-cant-be-gloomy-as-Jesus-always-brings-joy
 Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, August 8, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-susan-brooks-thistlethwaite/after-jon-stewart-can-we_b_7956714.html
 Raymond E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York: Paulist, 1979), 204 pp.
 David Lose, July 23, 2012, https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1504
 Craig A. Satterlee, August 3, 2015, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2551
 Ibid. Brown
 Vibrant Faith Frame, http://vibrantfaith.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/VFM_6543_Flyer10.23.09_000.pdf
 Walter Brueggemann, January 1, 1993, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV, Vol. 2: Year B
 Jane Anne Ferguson, July 31, 2015, http://sermon-stories.com/voices-of-hunger-year-b-proper-14/
 And the Table Will Be Wide, Jan Richardson, September 30, 2012, http://paintedprayerbook.com/2012/09/30/and-the-table-will-be-wide/