“What You Notice” Mark 7:1-23

“What is it that you notice?”   

The installation of new carpeting in the sanctuary of a previous congregation was a curious entry point for the Gospel lesson for today.  That event gave me an opportunity to pay attention to what it is that people will “notice.”

The installation crew arrived and it was fascinating to see what they noticed when they starting removing the old red wool carpeting.

They noticed the craftsmanship.  

“These seams were all hand stitched, some old timer in the business did this.”  One of the workers remarked.

          Then we had the observations of people as they would walk in to the church for various reasons.

Some were relieved about the change.   “Oh, about time that old red shag carpet disappeared!”

 Some were saddened, as nostalgia brought forth stories about what had taken place on that old carpet,– the baptisms, funerals, weddings and wedding pictures, youth sleep overs, etc.

          I posted progress of the work as it was being done on Facebook at the time, and in all the years that I’d been curating a Facebook presence for that congregation, I can tell you that THIS event had the highest response rate of any posting ever!  

Over 425 comments, likes, or shares across five different postings in two days, and not just by congregation members but by friends of friends of congregation members as it was shared forward and commented upon.   

People in other words, were noticing this!

          After the majority of the work was done, I had e-mails and comments of what drew the eye now in the sanctuary with the new blue carpeting in place. 

The banners stand out more – the red sanctuary light popped out now as a distinct feature. 

          And of course, there were also comments of what wasn’t done, or what wasn’t done right, or what needed to be changed or fixed or further addressed. 

          I just found it fascinating to consider what gets noticed, and by whom!

          Today’s Gospel lesson is also about what gets noticed and by whom.  

“Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.”

          It is what the Pharisees and scribes “notice” that sets the tone and action for what follows.  

We are told that the Pharisees and scribes noticed that “some” of the disciples are eating without first washing their hands in the ritual manner prescribed.

It’s the inconsistency that probably catches their attention. The Pharisees and scribes are compelled to get clarification, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders…?”   

          And, it is that question which prompts Jesus’ strong and lengthy response.  It was a questioning that skipped direct communication with the disciples.  The Pharisees and scribes did not ask them why they hadn’t washed.)  

Instead went to the head, to the teacher, to have him explain the actions of those who are clearly under his charge.

          In other words “What are you teaching these people, Jesus?”  What makes them so cavalierly dismiss the long-established traditions? 

          I wonder if that is what prompted Jesus’ strong reaction?

          I’ve often wondered if this would have been an issue at all if the Pharisees and scribed had asked the few disciples directly why they hadn’t washed.

          They may have had a philosophical or theological reason.  “Following Jesus has made us reject some old things…” they might have said.
          They may have had practical reasons, for instance a number of Jesus’ disciples are fishermen, and as a matter of their occupation they handled dead fish, in bait and hauling in the catch and so were never seen as ritually pure.   

They may have explained to these Jerusalem folks that water was scarce up here in the Galilee, they we didn’t just keep “six stone jars holding 20-30 gallons each” laying around for purification rites like they apparently did down in Jerusalem with its plentiful water supply from Hezekiah’s aqueduct. 

          We will never know how the question could have been answered by the disciples because really the issue was not whether hands had been washed or not, but rather what kind of teaching Jesus was doing.

          It is fairly clear that the Pharisees and scribes have come down here to observe Jesus and they don’t like what they see, not one bit!   So they go to their perceived source of the problem.  

What exactly is Jesus is teaching?  

          Which, I think, prompts another fascinating question about what we notice; “Do we only see what we want to see?”

          I pondered that with the carpet.   

I know that I was seeing what I wanted to see, the completion of a project that was started years ago!  

The installers that day probably were looking for how to get it in quickly and to our satisfaction.

          Those commenting on Facebook were chiming in on color choice, cost, what they noticed now and a myriad of other things

          So, I wondered, “Do we only see what we want to see?   Notice what we want to notice?

          And this is the point of contact where this Gospel lesson spoke to me, and I could hear what it was that Jesus had to say.

          To the question about hand washing Jesus presses from an external matter (of what we notice,) to what it is that we do with what we notice. 

Jesus quotes Isaiah, and goes to the matter of the heart.

          “Listen to me,” Jesus says, “all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”  For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come:

          This is the warning given, the observation made by Jesus upon the “observers,” —all of the “noticers.” 

He gives the teaching to the Pharisees and scribes who have come down to observe, and to the disciples who are eating and wondering, and to the general crowd who is gathered.

          From whence does this come, this noticing what you want to notice?   It comes from within, and this is what you must be on guard about!

          This is the deep truth about us that we would rather not face.   

Whenever I “notice” something in someone else, that is really more about what is stirring inside of me than it is about what that other person.

It’s not really what they are saying, or the way they look or how they behave that is the issue.  What is at issue is what is stirring inside of me as I notice them!

          The displeasure I have at how things are going is coming from within me!

          It is really about my own judgment about how a particular action should or should not be done.

          What is cooking inside me, coming out from me that is the real issue.  It is not the actions of the other, not the external matters of ritual hand washing, or any other outward actions.

          Oh, how hard it is for us acknowledge that and know what to do about it!

          We would much rather push blame on someone else for doing things that bother us!

It is their fault for not doing things the right way, or not paying attention to the rules, or messing up the well-established procedures. 

          The issue is really not the hand washing in this story, and Jesus knows it.

          The issue is; what are you noticing and what are you doing with what you notice?  

What is being prompted in you, stirred up in you?  Are there thoughts of judgment, or unrest, anger or disgust?  

What is it that you are looking for then?  Are you looking for the best in people, or the worst in them?  

Do you tend to notice things with an eye toward criticizing, or do you tend to notice things and approach them with an attitude of grace, forgiveness and love?   Giving benefit of the doubt.

          It is from within that the things that defile us come, Jesus says, so watch out!  

We know that to be the case, but we very much shy away from acknowledging it, or owning up to it, or dealing with it.

          Me included.

          It is hard work to be reflective.

          It is difficult work to look inside your own beliefs, your own understandings, and your own sense of what is acceptable and critique it, question it.

It is hard work to look beyond actions, or to see past long held prejudices, or to question long held and cherished beliefs to see if they still hold true.

It is hard work to look at something from someone else’s experience or perspective!

          It is painful to admit that you might have been wrong about something!

It is always much safer to point out the offense of someone else, or to point out what that other person “ought” to do, or “ought” to know, or “ought” to have had a firmer handle on.

          “Just what are you teaching your disciples, Jesus, that they neglect the tradition of the elders, the washing of their hands?”

          The answer from Jesus might have been, “I’ve been teaching my disciples to love.”

          The answer from Jesus might be, “I’ve been teaching them to forgive, instead of to judge.”

          The answer from Jesus might be, “I’ve been teaching my disciples that the externals of what people do or look like, are of much less importance than what is going on in here, in the heart, and how to act upon that!”   

Jesus might well have been teaching them all that until you get what is going on “in here” – in the heart, under the power of God’s love, grace and forgiveness, – none of the externals will do you any good.

          What do you tend to “notice?” 

Is your life is consumed by a preoccupation with the rules, or the laws, the externals or the way things are supposed to be done?   It is so easy to get caught up in all of that!

Jesus knows that, and so he quotes Isaiah to bring it back home

“This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

It is much harder to let the Grace of God in Christ Jesus enter your heart in such a way that he helps you to see things differently, challenges your long held and cherished beliefs, and opens your own heart to consider the teachings that are harder to observe than the just externals, the washing of hands.

Loving your neighbor as yourself?  Who can do that?   We’d rather talk about the carpet!

It all just has me pondering, over and over again.   What is it that I “notice?”– and what it is that Jesus would want me to notice in others? 

“Just Walk Away” John 6:56-71

“Just walk away….”    That is the advice given readily and repeatedly in our world these days.

          Don’t like the service you receive in a restaurant?   Well, just walk away, there are plenty of other places to eat.  If they aren’t interested in keeping the customer happy voting with your feet and your dollars will get the message across to the owners!

          Don’t like the way things are going in the political sphere?   “Just walk away.”  

While voter suppression gets pushed in various forms and voter fraud is feared and put forth as the reason for everything from fewer ballot boxes to requiring photo ID, the far greater threat is the number of people who simply throw their hands up at the whole endeavor.  

That’s why “turn out the vote” measures are so effective and powerful tools in election cycles.  Far more people are just ready to walk away from their civic duty than to walk toward engagement in it.

          Don’t like the way things are done in your service club, your church, or your organization.   “Just walk away.”   

If the VFW doesn’t suit your fancy go to the American Legion.  

If the Rotary isn’t doing it for you anymore, join “Toastmasters” or the Lions Club, maybe the Elks or the Eagles…

If you are upset with a denomination’s actions, well then there are a variety of other options out there, find one that closer mirrors your own proclivities and priorities in this age of “silos” and agreement.

          “Just walk away” has become a viable option for our day.  

          That was not always the case, or was it?

          We shake our heads, trying to figure out what has changed in our world, in our society, in our own churches. 

Why is it that we find people “walking away” instead of “walking together?”

          As we come to the end of the “Bread of Life” discourse in John’s Gospel we find ourselves in very much the same place.

          People are “walking away” from Jesus!

          It’s important to know how John’s Gospel differs from Matthew, Mark and Luke, the so-called “synoptic” gospels.   Those gospels all give us the same basic viewpoint of Jesus.

          In Matthew, Mark and Luke the question the gospel writers raise is one of belief.  Is Jesus the Son of God?    Is Jesus the Messiah?  The writers all want to offer their witness to you that he indeed is.

          In Matthew, (written to a largely Jewish audience,) the Gospel writer takes great pains to show how Jesus was connected to the Hebrew Scriptures, the fulfillment of prophecy.  The genealogy in the beginning of Matthew’s gospel shows you that Jesus is an extension of God’s work, in continuity with those major players in Israel’s history.

          In Mark, (written likely to a Gentile audience,) the central question is “how could you miss it!  Not see?”    Here the disciples follow but cannot quite figure Jesus out.  There is a “Messianic secret,” something that keeps the followers from believing fully.  It makes you as a reader “in the know” re-examine the story again and again to “see” Jesus and believe.

          In Luke, we are told up front that Luke’s interest is in writing an “orderly account” for the “God Lover.”  Here is the story is crafted so that you might come to believe, and see how in the book of Acts, belief in Jesus propels the good news forward to the ends of the earth.

          But in John’s Gospel, another question is being examined entirely.  It has to do with the matter of “walking away.”

          John’s community is divided. 

It is now 90 years after the events of Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection and ascension. 

The understanding was that Jesus would be returning soon, within their own lifetime, to bring about the Messianic age in full.

That has not happened, and now some in John’s community are choosing to “walk away.”

          It is not belief that stands in the center of John’s Gospel.  Everyone believed!  We were all of the same belief, but how does one sustain a life of following Jesus when his return is delayed?  

John’s Gospel is concerned with betrayal, and with what to make of those who simply are no longer following Jesus, those who are walking away!

          How do you make sense of people who have come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, but who are nevertheless walking away from the community, walking away from the fellowship, walking away from the gathering for the breaking of the bread and the reading of scripture?

          How do you make sense of the “fair weather followers?”

What are you to do with those who come looking to Jesus for bread when they need it, but who turn and walk away when things get hard, or when the teaching gets difficult, or when the coming Kingdom offends, or when people in your own fellowship betray you?

          This is what the author of John’s gospel struggles with, and he goes back into the teachings and stories of Jesus to find his answers.

          The answer the author finds this.   Jesus knew from the beginning who would walk away….and he called him, called them, anyway!

          That’s why it’s so important to finish out the chapter, add those last two verses here that talk about Judas. 

          Throughout the whole Bread of Life discourse Jesus has been doing something that in leadership circles is sometimes called “raising the temperature.”  He ramps up the difficulty or the discomfort of those who come to him until they reach a critical moment, a crisis point of decision.

          The people come to him looking for bread, and he calls them on it, “you’re only interested in your stomachs.”

          They protest and remind him that God gave manna in the wilderness, and he intensifies a bit more.   “your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and died…”   I am the Bread of Life.

          They scratch their heads asking how that can be, and Jesus said he has come down from heaven to give life to the world.

          They scratch their heads again and say, “but you’re Joseph’s kid, what do you mean you came down from heaven?”

          Jesus raises the temperature again and gives them something chew on… his body, his flesh, is life, they must eat of it, take it into themselves, let him become part of them to live.

          Finally now, even his own disciples, the twelve are offended.   “This is a hard teaching?” they complain.  “Who can bear it?  “Who can follow it?”

           “Does this offend you?”  Jesus says,Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”

          That is a statement that we kind of gloss over, but I want us to dig into it a little bit. 

In John’s Gospel Jesus is the Logos, the pre-existent Word who was with the Father, whom the Father sent into the world.

John says right up front in chapter one. “He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.1He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him..  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 

          There is no doubt about who Jesus is, in John’s community.  The question is one of receiving, of taking Jesus in, living with the Word made Flesh in your midst.

          From the very beginning, God was choosing to come into the world.   That much is certain!  

Even Nicodemus who comes to Jesus by night with his questions is certain that Jesus has been sent from God! The question is, “Should we follow you?”  

The answer back to Nicodemus is “Will you be born of the spirit from above?”  Will you receive me, take me in? 

Will you live as Christ shows you to live, or will you walk away?

          And that is intensified here I think when Jesus himself brings up the offending matter.  “Is this going to make you walk away, this teaching that is hard, this idea of taking myself into your very lives?   

          Well, what if I were to walk away from this world?  Jesus seems to say.  Listen to it again:

Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”

          We think of “ascension” as Jesus completing his work here on earth from Matthew, Mark, and Luke.   We think of ascension only in connection with the promised return of Jesus already in mind.

But at this moment in John’s gospel, in the midst of Jesus’ discourse with the disciples, that idea of Christ ascending is not yet in their minds!

          No, what is being threatened here I think is Jesus walking away from us!

          Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”

          In that moment then, when Jesus says that, — there is I believe a pregnant pause in the gospel, a catching of breath, can you feel it?   

The threat hangs heavy in the air of Jesus throwing up his hands at us and walking back to where he came from, back to the right hand of God, back to where he has been since the beginning.

Jesus threatens leaving this world to the darkness that it so much seems to prefer, because the complaint is that following him is hard.

          “Just walk away….”

          The threats hangs there, but for a moment before Jesus looks at them intensely,

–just as intensely as he looked at Nicodemus,

–just as intensely as he will look into the eyes of the Samaritan woman,

–and dare I say, just as intensely as he will look into your eyes and your heart right now, before he says:

          “It is the spirit that gives life… the flesh is useless.   It is for this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

          Peter gets it right here, when Jesus asks if even the twelve wish to walk away now.

“Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”  Peter says.

          But that’s not enough of an assurance, in the face of betrayal, and people walking away right and left.  

          It is not Peter’s words, his commitment that will be enough.

          The flesh is after all useless, Peter’s will, useless, we will see that later in the story.

          The decision to walk away or stay is not based on your decision only.

          No one comes to Jesus unless drawn by the Father, and so Jesus adds the capstone comment.

          “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.”

          Jesus includes this in order to make clear that those who come to him are drawn by the Father, — even the betrayer, even the one who chooses to walk away.

          This is how John makes sense of the world in which he lives, where people are finding it hard to swallow Jesus’ call to live.  Where people are walking away.

          Betrayals happen.  

Betrayers exist, even in your midst.

But such betrayal does not separate one from the love of God or the light that has come into the world, — such light has come not to condemn the world, but to save it!

          Even you, betrayer that you are, are drawn to Jesus by the will of the Father.

          Even you, who may choose to walk away, — even that will not separate you from the love of Christ who will still call you, still choose you, will still accomplish God gracious will in you.  Jesus will still die for you and Jesus will still love and save you.

          “Just walk away?”

          That is not possible really for anyone.  No one who has been drawn by the will of the Father ends up separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

No one.

“Chew On This” John 6:51-58

We are in the fourth week of this discourse on bread from John’s Gospel, and a little review is in order to help us make sense of where we are going today.

          If you recall, this story started out when the crowds came across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum looking for Jesus to do another miraculous feeding for them. 

They liked that free lunch stuff.

Jesus in short order criticized them for only looking for a hand-out of food.  “You came only because you ate your fill of the loaves…” he says. 

Jesus then presses them to look for something more than just satisfying their stomachs.

          As this discourse goes on, Jesus becomes more and more offensive, encouraging those who followed looking for physical things to begin considering the spiritual benefits that he comes to bring. 

 Now Jesus tells them that he himself is the living bread from Heaven, and when they ask how that can be, he presses them just a little bit more.  

He gives them something (and the pun IS intended here), to “chew on.”  

For while in verse 51 the Greek word for “eating” in reference to the bread from heaven is a rather common word, to sit down at table and eat; in verse 53 the word used by Jesus for eating is one that expresses a more crude practice.  

It is “gnawing.”

It is “munching”, 

It is the kind of noisy eating associated with animals tearing up a fresh kill.

It is “urgent eating” if you will … what you might hear a dog pack or pride of lions do to get a portion before it is snatched away by some other competitor at the carcass.  It is the kind of eating you do as if your life depends upon it… because it does!

          This is what Jesus challenges his listeners to consider as they follow him today, as he presses them to really take him into themselves.

          It is meant to jar them with its crude comparison and make them think. 

And so, it should do the same to us, make us think. 

Just what is it that Jesus presses us toward?  What does Jesus want us to “chew on” when it comes to following him?

          The first thing that I think we need to “chew on” is the depth of what Jesus is willing to do for you… for us.   He says here, “…and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  

          Now I struggled here as to how to drive this home.   What Jesus does for each and every one of us is to give himself up…. Physically.

          How do I make that clear?

I thought at first that the best way to drive that home might be to lift up stories of people who have made the ultimate sacrifice, laying down their lives for the sake of others.

You don’t have to go too far in searching to find those kind of stories.  You know the ones, they come out of extreme situations of hardship, life and death moments, from the GI in world war II who falls on the grenade to save his buddies to the police officer who puts himself into the line of fire to save bystanders.   

 “…and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 

We get that kind of sacrifice.  We can readily see how these heroic people were living the ultimate expression of laying down their lives for others.

But, the problem with all of those examples is that they tend to be too far removed from our experience, our everyday life.   We ponder, “could I have done something like that?”   

We make an intellectual exercise out of the call of Jesus to follow where he has led the way.  As if, you know, someday, when I am confronted with that kind of opportunity, I hope that I’m able to do what Jesus would have me do.

But here is the thing.   Throughout this whole conversation about bread, what Jesus continually lifts up is life, and a life that begins now, in the present tense.”  Listen to this again:

“I am the living bread…”  Jesus says.

“and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

“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 abide in me, and I in them.”

“whoever eats me will live because of me..” 

We have too often heard this as if it were some future promise, confused it with an eternal life that comes at the end of our days on this earth.

 But Jesus consistently talks about life in him as something that begins now and carries forward.

Furthermore, this whole conversation about the Bread of Life, begins as you recall with folks following him around looking for a free lunch!  Jesus’ words calling us to this life that he offers is grounded in and grows out of the most mundane of everyday experiences, finding something to eat.

So, you see, lifting up heroic examples of people who have given their lives, made ultimate sacrifices, thrown themselves on the hand grenade does not accomplish what Jesus drives home here.

Jesus is not looking for a heroic few, and exceptional person here and there.

Jesus is after each and every one, in their daily life!   He is calling each and every life to take him into themselves and having taken in the one who gives himself up, consider what they will do with that kind of “life” that is within them now.

This is what we’re supposed to “chew on.”   What difference does taking Jesus into ourselves make to our lives right now?

I know that sometimes when I stand up here and preach, and I talk about stewardship, or giving, or choosing to do something for the sake of the other, or talking about what God calls you to do, to consider, that I am probably met with a bit of skepticism.  

Yeah, that’s what the pastor is supposed to say.  It’s what we expect, so let him get it out of his system and then we’ll go on.  

We are often like those crowds who followed Jesus looking for a free lunch, not quite ready for anything more than that.

It is disturbing to suddenly realize that Jesus is talking about a lot more than bread, and that the path that he lays down for each of us to follow as disciples is one that takes the giving up of our lives in daily life very seriously!

          It is important that we “chew on” the depth of Christ’s sacrifice, and the depth to which God calls upon us to give in order to live.

          It is important for us to remember, to see, that the way to everlasting life, a story that lives beyond us, is found not in doing what we can to keep our own life, but is rather found in how much we are willing to give up our own life for the sake of another.

          This is what Jesus does for us.  

          The second thing that I believe we need to “chew on” is what it means to gather here in Christ’s name.   

          We come here for worship, and for a meal, and it is important that we realize that what we receive here is Christ himself within us.  

When you take Christ Jesus into your very self, what Christ demands is that you also take on the same kind of urgency that Jesus has for the Kingdom!

Do we have a sense that we are taking Jesus into us, into our lives, into our very beings? And once there, do we sense his “urgency” to do the things that are the mark of the Kingdom of God in this world, the Kingdom that Jesus promises to bring into our midst? 

Do we have a sense of urgency to be about the things that Jesus set about doing?

In the end, you see, we do not attend this meal to just get a “special feeling.”  Oh, such special feelings might be there, and there is nothing wrong with feeling the power of God’s love coursing through your veins as you take the bread and the wine.  

But “feeling” is not what this is about.

We also do not come to the table just to get a “dose of spirituality” to get us through the coming week.  

It may have that effect. 

Surely being strengthened for daily life is a good thing, but we don’t come here just to get our needs met or to “top off our own tank” to help us make it through another week.

No, what Jesus presses us toward today is consideration of what happens when we come here, when we take Jesus into ourselves.  

We come to the table to become one with the One whom God has sent from heaven to give life to the world, a life that begins now and continues to eternity.

And so, we need to ask, “Where is this living bread leading us?” 

What kind of “life” are we being called to live today?  

Not just as guests at this table, but as partners with the one whom we take into our very selves here and whom we carry with us into the rest of this week and into our world!

We need to “chew on” this…..”Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”  

The world sees Jesus through us!

The world sees Jesus through what we do, and what we say every day!

          You are not the same after you have stepped up to this table.

          Now Jesus courses through your veins, and pounds within your heart, and so should all of his passion for others!

Jesus courses through your veins and pounds within your head, so your thoughts must be God’s thoughts, your words the words of Christ to your neighbor, your eyes the eyes of Jesus, seeing those around you as Jesus would survey this world, with compassion and forgiveness.

Jesus courses through your veins and pounds within your heart and presses to your hands, which now are empowered to do the works of God in this world !  

You are empowered to do what Jesus came to do.  Your actions are the actions of God in Christ Jesus in this world and to this world!  

If that is truly the case, then you will begin to sense also Jesus’ urgency!   Your time to do God’s work here is short!

          Do you sense Jesus’ urgency to proclaim the good news?

          Do you feel Jesus’ urgency to live, to love, to forgive and to work for the redemption of this world?

          Your story is now woven now into the stories of all those who are called to live. 

As you take the Lord’s Supper today, chew on this! 

Here Christ comes to live within you, and to transform you into one who would lay down his life for others, for the sake of this world, in a thousand little actions every day.                When you step up here today, do so remembering that this meal is meant to change you, and to change your life, now and forever.

“Complaint Department” John 6:35;41-51

People will complain about the most interesting of things.   

          Consider, if you will, the common complaints that we hear and probably willingly join in. 

          Road construction.  The very words themselves make us shudder.   Traffic diverted, lanes closed down, steel plates on the roadway, and the dreaded flag person or pilot car.

We are tempted to think that the people behind the orange barrels must lay awake at nights trying to think of new ways to inconvenience us.  But the truth is all this work is done that we might have safer roads and better driving.  Their desire to give us a blessing!   

What we see instead is a curse of snarled traffic and inconvenience.

Or in the current situation we find ourselves — masks

I only have to say that word and the complaints are already forming in your mind. 

For some masks are a necessary nuisance.  They are a simple tool to keep us from spewing illness into the air.  They are a courtesy we do for the sake of the other.   Yes, they are uncomfortable, confining, smelly if worn too long, and can be confusing as one tries to figure out how to drink, eat or open a plastic bag at the supermarket without licking a finger.   

There is no shortage of complaints about the nuisance factor with masks!

For others, however, the mask elicits a fervor not just of complaint but of active resistance!   The subject raises ideological and sociological complaints of identity and control.

There is no lack of emotional response about the implementation, use, or request to mask up, and complaining about them reaches a whole new level, all of which are distractions from the central issue of how we care for one another and crush a virus that is crushing us!

Or how about “robo-calls?”

On Wednesday of this past week the same mechanized female voice that comes with these nuisance calls informed me first that the DEA had a package of drugs with my name on it, the Social Security agency was trying to reach me, and that Amazon wanted to contact me about my recent order of an I-phone 11.

All I ever have to do is just “press one” to sort out any of these conundrums. 

Our complaints range here from how blatant these scams seem to be to how subtle the pitch can sometimes seem. 

It’s hard to see an upside to robo calls, except they come because we have the blessing of immediate communication now, and how often that has been a lifesaving gift!

Are there complaints in the church?  Oh, I’ve been around long enough to know that there are often a few.

In Ephesians the Apostle Paul writes about how God gives to each a measure of the Spirit, and to each a measure of gifts, and that the gifts will differ, but somehow, despite Paul’s reminder that gifts may vary, we still hold expectations that our church, our pastor, our community should do it all and do it all equally well.   If they do not, the complaints begin.

That is the fascinating thing about complaints.  They seem to take on a life and will of their own at times, blocking out all positives.  They take on a life that threatens to override every other good intention and apparent blessing.

          The danger of engaging in complaining is that it will sometimes blind you to the positives, all the gifts, and all the blessings that are also coming your way.

          In the Gospel today we are told that Jesus’ own people were complaining.  

          They complain about the very gifts that Jesus claims to bring to them.  

          “I am the bread of life….  I am the bread that came down from heaven….”  

          Wait a minute there, Jesus, how can you say that?  We know you.  We know your father, we seem to remember you running around here in diapers, how can you make such a claim, that you have come down from heaven?   Aren’t you Joseph’s son?

          In that moment of the beginning of the complaint, the whole focus of what it means for Jesus to be “bread,” is lost.  It is swallowed up in the question, “How this can be?”

          Look at the blessings that are being ignored by those to whom Jesus is speaking. 

          “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father.”   Here Jesus stands, telling them that they are all the presence of God because the Father has acted to draw them together this day, and they miss it!

          Do we miss that as well?   

Look around you today.  Has it ever occurred to you that you are not just here because you decided to come today, but that you are here because God drew you here!  

What does it mean that out of all the churches in this community and all the opportunities in general for things to do, God has intentionally drawn you to this place, at this time, to be with these people. 

          We are here because God has drawn us together today. 

That is a blessing. 

We are here for each other. 

We are here, as Paul says in Ephesians, “to be imitators of God, beloved children, and to live in love as Christ loved us…” 

We are here for each other, drawn together this day to care for each other. 

Do we miss that in our rush to complain about what is not here, or what we have to do, or what we haven’t got? 

We certainly can miss that if we succumb to the temptation to enter into the world of complaint!

          Take a look at another blessing that gets lost in the complaint in this Gospel.  “and I will raise that person up on the last day.”    

Here a blessing is given! 

If you have been drawn here, you have been given the assurance of the resurrection.  To each and every person here today, and within reading and listening range, Jesus says, just because you are here and because God has drawn you here, and because God says so, you too will be raised from death to life

Does it get any better than that?   

How often do we miss the chance to be lifted up by God, and by one another, because we preferred instead to stew in our own juices, focus on what we can’t understand instead of being open to what God wants to give us as a free gift?

          Another blessing lost in the complaint to those in this Gospel.  “’And they shall all be taught by God.’  Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”   

If you came here today, you learned something about God. 

You learned God’s desire is to get to know you. 

You learned that God’s desire is to bring people together. 

You learned about the Bread, which gives life, and that bread is Jesus himself, who comes to you and for you – and because Jesus came for you, he also came for that person next to you, and that person you are angry with, and that person with a different viewpoint than yours on the subject of traffic, masks, or phone calls.

“Give us this day our daily Bread” is the prayer on all of our lips, and Jesus says, “here I am… for you!”  

Eternal life, real life, is the kind of life that we hear Paul talking about in the Ephesians lesson.  Did you catch what this real life looks and feels like?

Listen to the balance in life and relationship that Paul says a life in Christ gives.

It’s o.k. to be angry, but not o.k. to act on anger in a way that hurts someone else or that lingers.   Don’t let the sun go down on your anger!

It is not o.k. to steal, even if you try to rationalize it in any way!  Rather you must be about honest labor with your own hands, and then not for your benefit solely, but so you can help others. 

That is the key, not your benefit, but for the other, the neighbor, the one who also needs this day daily bread!

It is not o.k. to just say whatever pops into your mind.  “Let no evil talk come out of your mouth.”   Instead, your words should be chosen and tempered to be useful in building up, in being constructive and being “grace filled” Paul says.

Put away bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving…

This is the kind of life that God in Christ Jesus says is to be our staple,– our “bread!”  

It is a life that orders your events and days and gives you balance in care.  A life centered on relationship with one another, and it is a gift that Jesus comes to bring. 

Such life, bread, is free for the taking, but you will miss it if you close your mind to it and prefer instead to remain in the world of complaint!

This is not an easy thing to do.  It is often said that the worst thing you can say to a depressed person is “cheer up.”   After all, if it was just a matter of choice, who would choose to be depressed!   

Complaint too, is not simply a choice. 

We don’t often choose to become complainers, but the impulse comes upon us.  The irritation happens, the disappointment takes root.  

The world is a place which does indeed sorely vex us. 

There are terrorists out there.  There are thieves.  There are those who would seek to harm us.  There are those who manipulate and who seek to hold on to power by any means necessary.  There are scammers and scoundrels.

But there are more people, including us, who are simply having a bad day or struggling with things of which no one is aware, and we get short and hurt.

If we come to believe that the whole world is out to get us, we close in upon ourselves.  When our only concern is for ourselves, for how something affects us, for how this will inconvenience me, then it is that we are ripe for getting lost in the world of compliant!

That has been the story throughout this Gospel story.   As people sought out Jesus for their own needs, looking for bread, they quickly fell into the trap of complaining because Jesus simply did not give them what they thought he should or would.

What Jesus continually presses them about, and us toward, is leaving behind the concern for ourselves and instead taking up a servant life where the focus is on caring for the other. 

That is where sustenance is found. 

That is where we find the bread of life that Jesus comes to offer.

We know, deep down, that this is where we are fed. We are fed when we care for the other.

The spouse discovers this; the more one seeks to care for the other, the more love and joy one seems to get in return.

The child knows this.  When life is scary, the place to go is to the parent, and while the wrapping of the arms around the mommy or daddy’s neck is meant to be a way to draw comfort from them, it also has a strange way of giving care and comfort.

To embrace the other in a time of fear and hurt is to both give and get the very thing for which we hunger.

No matter how scared or tired the parent is, in that moment of embrace all of the world’s cares melt away in the need to love, to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving.

This is the life that Jesus wants us to discover.   The life that he says he will give his own life in order to give us.  

People will complain about the most interesting of things. 

They complain sometimes that God doesn’t love them, or care about them, or doesn’t even know they exist, and that the church doesn’t help them. 

The great irony however is that even in the midst of their complaining, God is still offering the very thing they need!

God is still surrounding them.

God is still reaching out God’s arms with the embrace of the very thing that will give them life. 

Can you see it this day? 

Look around you. 

Here is the bread of life. 

It is found in what you will do for the sake of your neighbor. It is found in that other whom Jesus loves, and in the gaze of Christ upon you from their eyes

“Living Into” John 6:24-35

Everybody seems to be looking for Jesus, but do they really know what they are looking for?  What they hope to find?    

That is the question that the Gospel lesson for today begs.  

Jesus has just finished the miraculous feeding and gone across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum.  Now the crowds are following him looking for “bread.” 

They are complimentary toward him. They call him “Rabbi.”  They are happy to see him, but they are also somewhat insistent, maybe even demanding? 

          “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  They ask Jesus.   Which at first sounds like they are interested in serving and in the Kingdom, but then they follow that up with what are more self-serving requests.

          “What sign are you going to give us?  What works do you perform?”  They inquire.  

“Say, how about that ‘bread trick,’ the one we just heard you did, the one just like Moses did in the wilderness?  (hint, hint)

          “Give us this bread always!”  They demand.

          Jesus’ assessment of their compliments and their requests is this.  “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” 

 It appears that Jesus sees through to their true motivations.  They appear to not be looking for him to engage in the work of the coming Kingdom of God but are rather interested only in what they can get for themselves.  

          This may seem a little harsh of an assessment on the part of Jesus, but this is in fact the same kind of tightrope that we all seem to walk when it comes to looking for Jesus.

          Do we come to Jesus because we are motivated by the signs of his Kingdom, wanting to serve him and to advance it?

          Or, do we in fact mostly come to Jesus looking for him to give us something we want or think we need? 

Are we motivated by our own growling bellies? 

Bellies, that growl — if not with actual hunger, — but because we seek something from Jesus; his help, his healing, his intervention in the mess that we’ve made of our lives?

          This is an age-old question.  What am I really looking for when I am seeking Jesus?  

Am I looking for a leader that I can follow, or for someone who will feed me, give me what I want?   

Am I looking for someone who will challenge me and bring out the best in me as I seek to serve and to live as a disciple? 

          Or, am I looking at Jesus as a kind of “vending machine” who if I push the right buttons and deposit the right gifts will dispense what I need when requested?

          This is a hard Gospel lesson, for it lays bare our own motivations.   It makes us examine and question ourselves. 

Why do we seek Jesus?  

I must confess that I am not always as ready to be a vessel of service as I am to be a receptacle for blessings.   

I confess that I often find myself asking for God to bless me rather than asking how God can put me to use to be a blessing to others.

          I always seem ready for God to intervene in my life to set things right or to straighten things out.    

I am less inclined to respond quickly when God calls upon me to be a means of intervention, or blessing to others. 

I am less eager to wade into the lives of others and become an agent of God’s Kingdom in this world.

          We are in good company with this dilemma. 

It is the same question with which the disciples struggled, and everyone who seeks Jesus, or whom Jesus sought out. 

Whether you are the casual seeker who comes across in the boat looking for bread, or the closest of Jesus disciples, James and John, the question is still the same.  

          Do I seek Jesus for what I can do for him as a disciple, or for what he can do for me?

          I do not know any way to resolve this question, other than to point out an important point in the translation and then to give you a personal example, — at the risk of being too personal.   

          When these seekers ask Jesus, “What must we do to be doing the works of God.”   We are told that Jesus’ response to them is: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”   

Actually, the translation is a little different from that.  What it actually says is “That you believe into him whom he has sent.”    That sounds awkward to our ears, but in Greek it has a special connotation.  It implies and speaks of ongoing relationship.

You see, you can believe in something and still be separate from it.  

          For instance, you can believe in democracy, speak well of it, defend it as the best form of government, hail it as important, and still go through life never exercising your right and privilege to vote or participate in it.  

That is manifestly apparent in our country. 

Everyone here believes in democracy, (or says they do) but not everyone believes into it.   Not everyone involves themselves into that right and privilege.  

What was the figure in last year’s record election turn out?   Only two thirds of all eligible voters cast their ballots?

          Everyone believes in democracy, but not everyone believes into it enough to participate!

          Believing into Jesus implies that you intentionally wrap your life around him, that you participate in Jesus.  You have an ongoing and dynamic relationship with him.   

It is relatively easy to say that you believe in Jesus.  You can even profess and confess, that a relationship with God in Jesus Christ is important to you and can be life transforming.   

But believing into a relationship?  

What does that look like?  How does that work? 

It means you have to work hard at this! 

You have to watch over this relationship.  

And yet, as a good Lutheran I remember that faith, belief is supposed to come as a free gift of grace.  So how can it be about so much work?

To understand what it is to believe into a relationship, you must always remember that what we are talking about here is a relationship of love, and to understand that you really have to compare it to something that you have already experienced.  So here is the personal example, at least the best one I can come up with from my own experience.   

It is also the example my Seminary professor Gerhard Forde always seemed to fall back on as well.

To understand what it means to live into relationship with Jesus, you have to insert a love relationship that you can understand, that you have known.

I met my wife on a cool, fall night at college.  I was hanging up posters, she had just finished studying for a test and was a little bleary eyed and in need of a break.

As a break from studying, she helped me hang up the posters around campus. 

It was cordial. 

There was no hint of an ongoing relationship. 

We were just there out of necessity for each other.  I needed help holding up posters, she needed to give her mind a rest.

It wasn’t until a year later that we re-connected, and this time I saw in her something else besides a convenient person to hang posters.  

I began to believe into a relationship with her.  I asked her out.  We dated.  She didn’t find me repulsive.  We had our ups and downs, our ins and outs, but with each passing day and week we found ourselves wanting more and more to be with each other, and to share with each other.  

I had always believed in marriage.  

I believed it was a good thing. 

I believed that someday I might like to be married.  

But it wasn’t until I met Elizabeth that I wanted to believe into something with a particular person, sharing all that would come.

Was this relationship that I believed into a free gift? 

You can’t make someone love you, no matter how many flowers you send or gifts you give.  

But it was a free gift to me, because I can’t get it in any other way except that she give her love to me.

Does this relationship that I have believed into demand things of me?  

You bet!  But I give willingly — of my life, my time, myself, not because I have to, but because I want to and have found doing so to be life giving! 

Do I serve her, or does she serve me? 

Yes. 

There is in our lives now an interplay of serving one another.  I bring my strengths, my gifts, to where her weakness lie, and she brings her strengths to where I am weak, and we are stronger together than we would be if we were to stand simply as individuals.

Do I have to work at this relationship? 

You bet!  

I am constantly checking my own wants, my own needs, my own desires against the greater sense of the whole into which we have committed ourselves. 

Am I free to do what I please? 

Yes, but do I choose what I do with another person in mind? 

Absolutely!  

Having believed into this relationship, it has transformed me. 

Parts of this relationship are beneficial to me, but I am not in a relationship with my spouse to just get my own needs met.  We are mutual in our desire for one another, and for the future, and for what it seems God wants us to do with our lives as we live into that life together.

When Jesus scolds the crowds this day, accusing them of only looking for bread for their bellies, he does so because he desires to be so much more for them than a vending machine. 

Jesus desires to be in a dynamic relationship with them where service is mutual, and the focus is clear.  A relationship not just about satisfying the hungers of the belly, but on the larger things, the bigger picture, the hungers that the Kingdom of God has in mind for this world, and the satisfaction that Jesus has come to proclaim.

This is what it means to believe “into him.” 

It means that you enter into a love relationship where there is a true partnership, a true sharing, and where there is a less concern for individual needs and identity in favor of the identity that emerges together.   

“I am the bread of life.”  Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  

What Jesus offers to those who seek him is this kind of dynamic relationship, not unlike any other love relationship you may have experienced – or that you may indeed hunger for! 

Jesus offers himself, and in doing so invites you into a relationship where the burdens are shared, where the gifts are multiplied, and where no matter what the circumstances, there is a sense that we will be there for each other and together we can do great things, even bring in the Kingdom of God.     This is the bread offered, the bread that gives life.  It comes when you believe into a relationship with the living God in Jesus Christ