August 2, 2015

Proper 13

2 Samuel 11: 26 - 12: 13a; PSALM 51: 1 - 12 ; Ephesians 4: 1 - 16; John 6: 24 - 35


A dear rabbi friend of mine has two children; twins. Several years ago his boy, Noah, got in his dad’s car after attending his first slumber party. The child was animated in his response to his father’s inquiry as to how the party had gone.

“Dad! Dad!!!! DAD!!!!!! Dad, we ate the most amazing thing. It was this bread. It was white and soft.  Dad! It was so delicious. Dad, we HAVE to get some of that bread, Dad. It’s called Wonderful Bread, Dad. Can we get some?”

Now my friends, this rabbinical couple, are my age and eat healthy. I’m sure the twins had eaten only whole-grain bread until the party, because in some circles (including the one I was raised in) feeding your kids white sandwich bread was tantamount to handing them a cigarette. The health food movement missed the exquisite aspects of the highly refined fluffy stuff not to mention the virtues of the delight it bestowed on its youngest consumers. Not to worry. Noah was here to set the record straight and to bring good news of Wonderful Bread to his household.

Much like Noah’s amplification of the glorious and transporting qualities of Wonder Bread, the gospel of John is a major amplification of aspects of Jesus’ spiritual teachings. This gospel takes the truth of Jesus and stylizes it and him as a mythic archetype of divinity and truth. If we did not grasp the spiritual meaning of Jesus’ teachings from the other three gospels, John is going to make it impossible to miss.

The fundamental premise is that Jesus comes from God and that what is holy and divine can also be received by others and by us. In chapter 5 of the gospel Jesus says, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life…Yet you refuse to come to me to have life (5:39-40).” In many other words he makes the point that if we will open ourselves to the Source, then we will receive the transmission of the sacred. We will perceive the Creator’s invisible pulse that pervades the universe in what we Christians refer to as the Holy Spirit. It is a sacred breath that we each take in and that we share. And once we’ve tapped it, we grasp that it is infinite. This is what Jesus conveys to the Samaritan woman from whom he requests a drink of water. “The water that I will give will become in [others] a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  It will give and it will give. There is no threat of climate change in the metaphysics of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The gospel of John is about how we live in these bones and these guts on this earth and somehow in our very being have sanctity. Esther de Waal, an Anglican teacher of spirituality, puts it very succinctly.  “Christianity does not isolate the sacred from the secular.” Furthermore, de Waal sees the symbol of the cross as the symbol of that reality. She says that Christ on the Cross holds together the vertical which points towards the heavens and the horizontal arms which stretch out to the world.

How is it that we can maintain some sense of the vertical, the divine, in the midst of the complexities of our horizontal life? How is it that we can maintain hope or a sense of self when, for example, we are paralyzed with fear? Perhaps we are a child, vomiting with a case of mortal nerves on standardized testing day. Maybe we are an adult worker heading to the office after the morning news reported that our employer had announced layoffs. How are we, for example, to maintain any internal composure when we are shamed by an infidelity inside a friendship or marriage or trusted institution? Is it possible to hold ourselves in spiritual esteem when someone else points out rightly an errant way of our own?  How are we supposed to feel divine, good or when we get laid out flat along the horizontal axis of our reality?

Either we have already tasted what God offers and we and trust it, or

God’s provision springs up in the midst of our hell.

My mother had a colleague whose adult son suffered from chronic depression. Oddly, one day while the two were walking the path alongside town lake in Austin, Texas, the man was struck by lightening. After whatever necessary medical interventions took place, and the woman’s son recovered, it became clear that his depression had subsided. He felt hope and anticipation for the future.

Victor Frankl, a Viennese psychiatrist, who survived Nazi death camps including Auschwitz, tells a story about a young woman prisoner who was days from death and conscious of her fate. When he talked with her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. “I am grateful that fate has hit me this hard.  In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.” She went on to say that the only friend she had in her isolation and proximity to death was the single branch of a chestnut tree that was visible from were she lay. “I often talk to the tree,” she said to Frankl. He asked if the tree spoke back. “Yes,” she replied. “It said to me, I am here - I am here – I am life, eternal life.”

The gospel of John says we learn the wonderful and dependable ways of the divine by revelation (tree branch) and lived experience (lightening strikes) more so than by logic or by way of someone else’s truth.  The promise is that in our living – including our dying – we can find meaning and we can know God.

“I am the bread of life.” Hear this not only as a decisive messianic claim by Jesus, but as an invitation.  Can you hear it as Jesus saying, “Come. I have taste the Bread of Life.  I have drunk from the water from the spring.  I am one with the Holy Spirit. I know the secret to the Wonderful Bread. I have tasted it so many times that I have become the miracle.  Come experience what I have, what I am, and what I know to be true. Eat, drink and find for yourself that which is infinitely available and infinitely exquisite. I am here - I am here – I am life, eternal life.