Sunday, August 12, 2018

Thinking outside the God Box John6:35, 41-51

I am the Bread of life. Who ever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  Well here we are folks just as we promised last week.  When we last saw our hero he had just made this statement.  The people in the crowd had sort of explained their anticipation that they expected more literal bread or mana from heaven just as Moses had given the Israelites.  However, Jesus explained it was not Moses but God that gave bread from heaven.  Then he makes the statement…
I am the Bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 
“In last Sunday's text, the center of attention was upon Jesus as the gift from the Father for the life of the world. Building on that claim, this Sunday's text focuses on Jesus as the center of faith to which the Father draws people. The movements within chapter 6 for these two Sundays are certainly interconnected, but they are not identical. Jesus is not simply repeating himself, and John is not writing in circles.”
John is writing something specific here and he is very intentional. In verse 35 we hear the first of the I Am statements of Jesus. Does anyone know where we first hear I AM…Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
“I am the bread of life” is the first of the seven “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. These statements are unique to John and in many ways encapsulate the distinctiveness of John’s presentation of Jesus. The “I am” beginning of these sayings is more emphatic in the Greek than can be expressed without awkwardness in English (Greek ego eimi).
“I am” often reminds readers of the revealed name of God from the burning bush story (Exod. 3:14), and, to be sure, from the opening verse Jesus’ divine nature is front and center in John (“… the Word was God,” 1:1). The striking feature common to all of the “I am” sayings in John, however, is that they all express Jesus’ relationship to humanity. The other six are: “I am the light of the world” (8:12), “the gate for the sheep” (10:7), “the good shepherd” (10:11), “the resurrection and the life” (11:25), “the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6), and “the true vine” (15:1).”[1]
One Commentator asked this intriguing question “What does Jesus mean by proclaiming himself “the bread of life”? At one level, the answer can be put simply: Jesus means that he is the source of eternal life for the world, an explanation expressed straightforwardly in verses 47-48. If the meaning were this simple, however, there would be little reason for Jesus to have used the symbolism in the first place.”[2]
Alas if it were but that simple However
Jesus’ I am statement is not just about who He is metaphorically, but it can be seen literally as to telling us from where he originates.  This is where things start to get interesting. If you note last week Jesus was addressing the 5000 whom he had just fed but in today’s text Jesus dialogue companions suddenly shifts to “the Jews.”
Now before we proceed we must recall that in John “The Jews” are not all the Jewish people but in some contexts it refers to the Jewish people who are opposed to the Followers of Christ, in other context it refers to Jewish people who feared other Jewish people and in some context the phrase is used to refer to Jesus himself. 
“One prominent feature of the Fourth Gospel is its repeated mention of ``the Jews.'' The Greek word Ioudaioi, generally translated ``Jews'' in our English Bibles, appears sixty-seven times in the Gospel of John. In many cases, the people so designated are opponents of Jesus; eventually, ``the Jews'' actively seek his death…some of these verses make positive statements about Jews. In John 4:22, Jesus (himself a Jew, as we read in John 4:9) states that ``salvation is of the Jews'' (KJV). Moreover, a number of the passages cannot possibly refer to the entire Jewish community of that day-e.g., those in which various Jewish individuals or groups are said to act cautiously ``for fear of the Jews'' (7:13; 9:22; 19:38; 20:19).[3]
In John’s Gospel the word Jews has multiple implications…In this case it is very clever remember when they referred to Mana from heaven feeding the people taking us back to a time with Moses in the desert… and just like back then “the Jews started complaining”
So Jesus has made an I am statement “Both this phrase and the phrase “bread from heaven” were references to the story of the manna. Jesus’ initial statement in verse 35 associates him with the life-giving power of the manna. In the wilderness, the Israelites had neither food nor drink and would have died without God’s provision. So also, Jesus has just provided miraculous food for 5,000 people (John 6:1-14).
Also like the manna story, Jesus is not only talking about the relief of literal hunger. The manna story is a story about trust in God. God saved Israel from slavery in Egypt through the waters of the Red Sea (Exodus 14-15). But once in the desert, Israel did not trust God to provide for them. Even so, God provided both food and water throughout their forty years (Exodus 16:35).
Just as the Israelites complained to Moses, so also the Jews complain about Jesus. The word “complain” (John 6:41, Greek: gonguzo) is a cognate of words used in (the old testament) to describe Israel’s grumbling against God and Moses … The grumbling of the crowd characterizes them as the Israelites in the Exodus story. They have experienced God’s salvation and yet do not fully trust in God.”[4]
Jesus takes this a bit further by introducing the statement of being drawn.  No one can come to me unless they are drawn by the father. Here we have God at work again. God draws people to Christ one commentator even suggests something a bit more dramatic.
“The first time, it is stated negatively: "No one is able to come to me unless drawn by my Father" (verse 44). The verb translated as "drawn" could be translated as the more intensive word "dragged." No one comes to Jesus without the Father's pull.”[5]
How are we drawn to Christ? what is this mystical pull that the creator offers to us? I would put forth it is the ancient texts. Jesus is saying that all we have learned of the human experience and our relation to the creator keeps leading us on.  Jesus even states it a step furthur
“In the next verse, Jesus refers to scripture (Isaiah 54:13) and states it positively: "All who heard from the Father and learned from what they heard will come to me." Here, the teaching from God and the learning from that teaching will result in coming to Jesus.
Different church contexts have different understandings of what it means "to come to Jesus." John's own context and community had different layers of meaning for this also. It may be important to invoke some of the options. For the Jews in Jesus' context, it would be to choose the messianic understanding of their own tradition. For the Jews in the context of the Gospel of John, it would mean choosing to step outside the Jewish tradition and moving into the Christian context. In today's context, it might mean moving outside the typical pattern of our own culture and choosing a radical Christian understanding of the world.”[6]
In today’s context we need to step outside our cultural context and choose a radical understanding of God operating in the world today and how we are called, drawn, pulled and sometimes dragged into that.
In this text Jesus is calling to those who have one concept of how the world works, who have one concept of how God operates within it and what their role is. We are being called to evaluate, re-evaluate and evaluate once more over and over what our role is as Christians in this world.  How we perceive, conceive and understand God to be operating in this world.
This does not happen in a vacuum it is dependent on learning and seeking God’s words. It is dependent upon us seeking that connection to God and it is through that connection to God are we drawn to Jesus. It is about being open to knew possibilities and new realities in and through Christ. This sometimes means letting go of what we “know.”
“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" (John 6:41). The Judeans 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.”[7]
This is the way we have done it.  This is the way it has always been done.  So this is the way it will be done.  God sent us Moses…Moses led us…fed us…taught us…and we know Moses and you sir are no Moses… The Judeans knew a lot they know how God operates
“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!" (verse 42) 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 that 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.”[8]
It is fun to note that we have heard this grumble against Jesus before in Mathew; “Isn’t this the carpenter's son? Isn't his mother's name Mary, and aren't his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Luke, 4 “Is this not joseph’s Son?” Mark “is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?”
On commentator reflects “Maybe they know too much. Or perhaps they really don't know enough. When I was in seminary, I took a trip with then president of a Lutheran college. He was driving, and I was reading the student newspaper to him aloud. A pre-seminary student had written an editorial espousing the use of doughnuts and coffee or pretzels and beer as the elements in the Eucharist. When I started to audibly protest, the president raised his hand, smiled, and quietly said, "Remember, Craig, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and it can lead us to the wrong conclusions." The student only knew a little. In retrospect, so did I.
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and it can lead us to the wrong conclusions. When it comes to God, and even to the Church, we know only a little. Like all living things, the Church -- and our understanding of God -- continues to grow and to change. And so to know only a little, and to think the little that we know is all that there is to know, can be fatal. These Judeans had some head knowledge about God; perhaps they did not know God by heart or by trust.”[9]
“the Jews” had God all figured out. Had the rules and regulations of how things had always been. Funny, maybe they did know God by heart…as in by rote…they knew what to expect of God and Jesus wasn’t it.  They had God in a God Box. A nice neat little package. They could not and or would not allow themselves to imagine something bigger, something greater, something beyond their knowledge or perception. 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. Now that rings true for us!
“So, when are we like those Judeans? 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?”[10]
Think about it. We once knew slavery was ok and justified by the Bible…We once knew that women should not speak from the pulpit, we once knew That women were property. We once knew that the races should be separated. We once knew that children should work in our factories or dig coal. Heck we once knew that coal and cigarettes were healthy for us.
Yet history shows that we have been called past what we once knew…again and again God calls us to something more. Something wiser, something more loving, something that can only make us better. Further up and further in!
 God has called us to be an ONA church and that goes beyond simply letting gay people in.
God is calling us to think about how we have yet to heal our race relations. God is calling us to rethink just what our borders are and what it means to love and care for those who are seeking us out as a refuge and a safe place.  God is always calling us, drawing us out, pulling us further sometimes kicking and screaming all the way.
What do we do when leaving everything up to God seems naive, if not ridiculous? What do we do when what we know god is calling us to and yet our culture, our context says no? What do we do when we have had enough of silly church talk because we just know too much for it to be true? What do we do when the greatest gift we have to share is compassion and Love and it is too scary for us to do?
“Jesus is not calling us to abandon our knowledge and tradition as if they still cannot teach, help and guide us. Jesus cautions us that our knowledge will not give us absolute answers or a foolproof plan to make things right. God's answer is rarely to reassure us that our knowledge and understanding are correct. If anything God uses our knowledge to give a purpose, a journey, and a direction -- namely, to trust and follow Jesus. Whatever the details of this journey are for us, its purpose is to draw us into life as part of God's coming reign, which human-constructed circumstances and conditions cannot undermine or negate. The risk of setting out on the journey, which is trusting and following Jesus, is that, even when we think we have a map or a plan, we do not really know where we are going or where we will end up.
The good news is that Jesus, rather than our knowledge and understanding, is the source of our calling and the source of our strength. What makes it good news is that, in those moments when we understandably have enough of this life that we cannot trust Jesus, Jesus has not had enough of us. So, rather than turning to our knowledge, perhaps we can turn to Jesus, recognizing that we certainly cannot have enough of him. When put that way, it is a wonder that we aren't so drawn to the Bread of Life that we double back into the line for communion in order to get seconds.”[11]

[2] ditto
[6] Ditto
[8] Ditto
[9] Ditto
[10] Ditto
[11] Ditto

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