St. Philip Lutheran Church
22 August 2021 + Lectionary 21b (Pent. 13)
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching
Enough! Usually a cry uttered in exasperation: I’ve had enough! Haven’t we had enough of this bread of life stuff? Thank goodness for Mary Sunday last week to give us a break! But here we are again: one last teaching about bread.
Anyone who has ever made bread knows that it takes time. The ingredients themselves couldn’t be more simple: flour, water, salt, yeast. Still, it takes time for the ingredients to come together, to knead the dough, to let it rise.
Maybe there’s a lesson in that for the reader of John’s gospel. Jesus has said a lot of unusual, stunning, even downright shocking things about bread these past several weeks:
“I am the bread of life.”
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”
“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.”
It takes time to digest, to unpack these words, to understand what they mean. The reaction among the crowds has ranged from misunderstanding and disbelief to complaining and offense, even to the point of abandonment. This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?
Jesus has said a lot of things, and he’s gotten some strong reactions from the crowds. Who can blame them? Jesus is repetitive. He speaks with metaphor and language that we don’t otherwise encounter in everyday conversation. The crowds have barely had time to digest it.
This teaching is difficult; who is able to accept it? Or a more literal translation: This word is hard; who is able to listen to it?
This word is hard to listen to. The Word (capital W) is the starting point of John’s gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… the Word became flesh and lived among us.
This Word is hard to listen to! Scandalous, even. That the eternal Word of God would become flesh to live among us, entering into all of our human reality and everything that means, is a difficult thing to wrap our minds around.
Oftentimes, John’s gospel gets a reputation for being a hyper-spiritualized gospel with a head-in-the-clouds Jesus whose divinity outweighs his humanity – and passages like these certainly don’t help. This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?
But if we take this teaching seriously, we actually find ourselves in an encounter with a literally down-to-earth Jesus, 100% human, the Word-made-flesh.
And that, I think, is why this teaching, this word, is so difficult to listen to and accept. It is inconceivable to us that God would become like one of us, fully human and experiencing everything that involves. It is inconceivable to us that the extraordinary God of all creation would enter into the ordinary stuff of human existence: bread and wine and even a human body.
This is the perfect and the holy entering into the imperfect and the flawed. And that has profound implications because it means:
God became human in the body of an unremarkable 1st-century, Palestinian, Jewish man living under the occupation of the Roman Empire.
God became human in the body of one of society’s nobodies.
God became human in the body of someone we would rather ignore for who they are or what they look like or what they believe or where they live or where they come from.
God became human for all those times we have felt “less than,” cast aside, ignored, alone. And the God who became human meets us there and calls us enough, just as we are.
Indeed: God loves God’s world so much that God became one of us, giving us God’s very self as the bread of life, sustenance for us, so that we might experience abundant life, here and now, flourishing in relationship with each other.
This word is hard to listen to and understand. But that’s exactly the point. This mystery of God becoming flesh and everything it implies isn’t supposed to make sense. It is an act of love. It is grace. It is enough.
Where else can we go? Where do we go when the world degrades our bodies and calls into question our existence and self-worth? Where do we go when our bodies hurl insults and violence at one another? Where do we go when our bodies are told they are not “good enough”?
Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. You, who took on an imperfect, flawed human body. You, who feed us with your very self. You, who meet us where we are and lead us into life.
It takes time to digest, to unpack these words, to understand what they mean. And that’s the point of the life of faith: It takes time. In all our joys and sorrows, in all our doubts and questions, at every detour and roadblock, Jesus, the Bread of Life, calls us to himself, just as we are, again and again, and feeds us at this table, whether we think we belong here or not.
It is enough.
You are enough.
Thanks be to God.