John 6:35, 41-51
5Jesus said to [the crowd,] “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Who Do You Think You Are?
Give yourself to us tonight, Lord
In bread and wine
In silence and peace
In a love that we feel
But cannot see.
You know who we are,
Help us to know you more.
The summer of the year I turned six my Sunday morning routine changed dramatically.
In the summer where I turned six, I became the perpetual acolyte for the 8am service at our church. My father being the pastor decided that the 8am timeslot for acolyting, which no one wanted to sign up for, was tailor made for me. Afterall: he had to be there. So I would be there.
Getting dressed in the dark. Climbing in the freezing cold car on those northern Ohio mornings during the winter. Billy Joel on cassette on our way to the church, only a few blocks.
But me attending that 8am service meant that I didn’t have to attend the late service with my mother and other brothers. I was free to roam the church during that service, running through the halls if I wanted, as long as I didn’t get too close to the sanctuary.
One time I did, though, and a new usher grabbed me by the arm as I was racing past. “Who do you think you are?!” he demanded of me. “We don’t just let kids run around in here!”
“I,” I said shaking off his hand, standing as tall as my six year old self could muster and with as much pomposity as possible, “I, am the son of the pastor.”
I intended that line to be my mic drop. My diplomatic immunity. My get out of jail free card.
Instead he just looked at me and said, “You sure are acting like a pastor’s kid, aren’t you? Come on…” and he grabbed me and sat me down in the library until church was over.
When I finally was free from the library, my father and I had a long talk about how I was not special, and I was henceforth relegated to my father’s office, where I could do little harm and annoy ushers only from afar.
The appeal to status in authority is a common defense when we find ourselves in trouble. In tonight’s scripture reading, though, it is Jesus’ family that causes him to be questioned in the first place. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they ask. “How then can he go running around all of our houses of worship, all of our rules and regulations, claiming he’s anything spectacular.”
Jesus, the Galilean; the one born in Bethlehem, a name which literally means “house of bread,” is no bread of life in their eyes.
And what about your eyes? What about you?
In our summer study this past month we looked at the lost and forgotten Gospel of Thomas, one not included in the scriptures (and, perhaps for good reason). And one of the themes that we came back to over and over again that wove its way through that little collection of supposed Jesus sayings is how often Jesus talked about a Kingdom of God that had no need for the categories that we so often place one another in: gender, job, ethnicity, marital status.
It didn’t matter who you are, were, wanted to be, or happened to be: the Kingdom of God was for you. Accessible to you.
It’s not that these categories aren’t important; they are in many practical ways. But in a spiritual sense…well…if you think you can get brownie points with God or make an appeal for authority based on what family you’re from, how many religious laws you follow, what you do for a living, or what sex you are, you’re mistaken.
God, it seems, doesn’t have any need for those kind of political and social games we like to play.
As St. Paul says, “In Christ there is no slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female.” And perhaps we could add, “Democrat nor Republican, employed or unemployed or underemployed, popular or outcast, gay, straight, bi, or otherwise, regular church-goer or spiritual-but-not-religious, unhappily divorced, happily married, happily divorced, unhappily married, or somewhere in-between depending on the day.”
This table is for people who don’t have it figured it out. It’s for people who can’t seem to get it together. It’s for people who are doing relatively well, and for people who are just breathing today…and that’s an improvement over yesterday.
It’s for you, Beloved.
In Christ we are all just two things: imperfect and perfectly loved.
As Lillian Daniels, that cranky Christian pastor once said, “At every table I know there is at least one sinner there, because I take a seat.” That’s an honest appeal right there.
But not to authority. Rather, it is an appeal to reality. Sinner and saint. No more; no less.
In Christ we can come open and vulnerable to the table, the bread of life, not because we have it all figured out, because we come from the right family, have the right job, love the right people, or even believe the right things.
We come with open hands precisely because we don’t have it all figured out, and the bread of life offered here will somehow provide of us some Divine nourishment that reminds us that it’s ok.
We’re not special in so many ways. But we are God’s, and that’s what matters.
So do not complain amongst yourselves about any of what I was talking about before. Come as you are, sinner and saint, to this table where the bread of life waits. Come with hands and hearts open to the love here, a small bit of love that, somehow, fills us again and again, week after week, with all of the grace that we don’t find in any of those other categories.
Because who do you think you are, after all?
I’ll tell you: you are God’s Beloved.