August 12, 2018
The Rev. Ruth Anne Garcia, preacher
Good morning Christians, seekers and friends:
In today’s gospel we continue for the third week in the 6th chapter of John. Jesus, no longer in the country near Tiberius, is back in Capernaum where folks knew him well. So while the crowd that has followed him home is still in awe that he somehow fed all five thousand of them, the folks at home are less so – wondering what Jesus is talking about claiming that he is the “bread that came down from heaven.” They knew him. They knew his family. And he wasn’t anything special. He was just like them.
When I was a little girl, I always had a self-satisfied disdain for the biblical people who couldn’t they see what was happening right before their very eyes. We are talking about Jesus of Nazareth – Jesus the Christ. Why couldn’t they just open up their eyes. He has just fed five thousand people five loaves and two fish. Wake up people –this guy is special. I think a little of my contempt came from jealousy, right? Why did these rather insignificant non-believers get to meet Jesus and I didn’t? How come Jesus lived in Nazareth, Israel and worshiped in the synagogue and Temple rather than say being from Lewistown Montana and worshiping at St. James’ Episcopal Church? It wasn’t fair because I was certain that I would have known EXACTLY who Jesus was and would have treated him with respect.
But, of course, I wouldn’t have. And I wouldn’t have because it is almost impossible to see what is right in front of our eyes. I wouldn’t have noticed Jesus the Christ from Lewistown Montana because he would have seemed too “normal’—too much like me except, of course, that while he was nice he was a bit of a braggart. How do we worship a God that we know? That seems so ordinary? And how can we accept the extraordinary coming to us through such a seemingly ordinary person?
We struggle with this a lot. And Jesus knows this. This is what Jesus was referring to in last week’s gospel when he tells the crowd that they are looking for him not because they saw the miracles he had done – but rather because they ate their fill from the five loaves and the two fish. Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand was so remarkable because when they felt hungry, they were fed. And so, it should be, Jesus says. Being fed is literally a hallmark of the presence of God. God the extraordinary, wonderful and awesome acts in our lives and in the world often through the ordinary.
So while the Messiah was expected to reproduce the miracle of the manna “the bread from heaven”—while the Messiah was expected to help the nation of Israel rise again and serve as its King, Jesus is telling the crowd and the folks of Capernaum that the real “wonder” bread, if you will, of God comes down from heaven and enters into the world…into our day-to-day existence and brings us life…feeds us…cares for us…loves us within our own context. But we are uncomfortable with that. It’s hard to imagine God just walking down the street. So, we like to make distinctions between what is God is like and what is not. We see this in our representations of Jesus. We can imagine Jesus, for example, as a beatific buffed-up John Bon Jovi with a beard – a superstar. But we have a hard time imagining Jesus as a plumber or the guy at the construction site—let alone some we know really well. And we also have ideas of what miracles and ministry looks like. And what they do not. So Jesus walks on the water – clearly a miracle. Jesus cooks – not. And these depictions, while not necessarily bad, rob us of the opportunity to truly engage with God as God continues to walk and work in the world.
One of my favorite representations of Jesus is in the Prado in Madrid. I used to regularly visit the painting but recall neither its title nor its artist because it isn’t one of the famous paintings that the museum holds. In fact, it is located in a hall that leads between the galleries housing those masterpieces. And that is fitting, because in this painting the artist captures something about Jesus that I haven’t really ever seen in any other work – something I would call “Jesus as a tired parent.” In this painting, Jesus has dark circles under his eyes, seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders and yet he looks out at the viewer exhausted, concerned and absolutely in love with us. Those of us who are lucky enough to have been looked at like that know what I am talking about. And as I would often sit down in front of the painting and write in my notebook, I would often find a little crowd gathering behind me—try this the next time you go to a museum stop and really spend time looking at a painting and notice how our attention brings its own magic to something overlooked. Those days in the Prado, when I would look up at the little crowd I observed folks seeing their own mother or father – or perhaps see themselves or even the persons standing next to us in that painting of Jesus – and sometimes they would even gasp a little. Because that – there in the hallway—there in our kitchen – there in our hometown is where we can best experience God.
We live in a world where we sometimes feel like God is very far away. We are so isolated from one another – so isolated from our own selves. But I wonder if we feel like this because we are so unable to see God right here in our own community. I wonder if we feel like this because we refuse to see God who lives among us and is at work in the world around us. And this lack of attention affects not only how we see God but how we value one another. We feel like we cannot do anything about the wrongs that we see around us, because we are so sure that God is far away that we think we first gotta go look for God in some OTHER place before we can do what we are called to do right here. And this pattern, although we don’t consciously think about it, allows us to keep both God and our neighbor at a distance – it also can allow us to de-value the importance of our lives. It allows us to deny the holiness in ourselves, our families and our neighbor. Because we “know” them –they are just like us. And, well, there is nothing we can really do anyway.
Right now as we are beginning EP3, Doyt is helping us to see the necessity of welcoming those that God has sent us – and to welcome them truly, authentically and help them find their place within our community. There are many aspects to welcome but, honestly friends, so much of welcome comes down to what Jesus is teaching us in today’s gospel. Welcome comes through responding to folks’ needs – in other words, basically feeding folks when they are hungry. That is how Jesus reaches the crowds in our gospels in this 6th chapter of John. This is how the disciples knew the risen Lord—in the breaking of the bread. He fed them. The theologian Karoline Lewis warns against our desire to take this passage about Jesus as the Bread of Life and immediately jump to the conclusion that it is all referring to the Eucharist—and here is why—because by theologizing it in this way, we continue to downplay the important of the actual work that Jesus is doing. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, it is Jesus himself who broke the bread and distributed the loaves and the fishes to the five thousand – he did NOT have his apostles do it. Jesus did it. The risen Lord did not ask his disciples to feed him when they encounter him, it is Jesus himself whom they find preparing the meal – who cooks and feeds them breakfast. Let’s pause and take a moment to think about that image. Can you see Jesus as he personally comes and gives the bread and fish to you? Can you imagine Jesus as cook? If you have followed me in this mental exercise this far, I ask you to imagine Jesus as a server in a restaurant? Or better yet, imagine Jesus stirring a pot on your stove at home? Or imagine really seeing and noticing your spouse, your parent or a friend cooking or serving and see if you can glimpse Jesus within them… Does that change how you see the importance of cooking or cleaning or your understanding of the loaves and the fishes?
As some of you know, I am trying to begin a new way of doing hospitality here at Epiphany and I have to tell you I am learning a lot about relationships and loaves and fishes as I begin this work. Because with the Hospitality team I am asking you to try to model your behavior after Jesus. I am asking you to help me welcome folks in the way Jesus is doing in this sixth chapter of John. But it is a hard sell. I am asking you to volunteer to serve, to move tables, to cook, and to help us with coffee hour. To do all the stuff that we like to forget is a primary and necessary part of welcoming folks as we rush to go find Jesus somewhere else. Because this work is important, but it is not something that we have traditionally lifted up. It is not something that we have named as holy work. But it is. Coffee Hour, our Parish Picnic, our events is where we truly get to engage with the folks that God sends us.
Now I understand why we so often look for God somewhere else – because when we realize God is here, it gets real. We feel our interconnectedness best in the midst of it. There in the Great Hall, there in our kitchen. And it if we pay attention we see God there too. Working with us. Reminding us that we have to feed the people because there is no Church without people—there is no community — no party without people. We need each other. Think about this space without people. Can you think of anything more necessary to this place—our worship– than the people. So, I ask you to consider helping me. I am learning more and more about this brilliant congregation with its many creative and intellectual gifts and I am asking you—especially those that might never have imagined themselves as helping with events, those of you who have never brought a dish to a potluck or food to a brunch to help. And to those of you who have brought things and helped out in this way, I want to say thank you and that we will do better—we will help. This is not women’s work folks. This is Jesus work. And what we honor with our attention grows – it becomes a place where the miraculous can happen and happen in our midst. Jesus still feeds us. Jesus is still cooking here. He know us. He knows our family. And he reminds us that we who are many are one body because we eat together – we drink together – we all share one bread and one cup.