Sunday, August 13, 2006

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 13, 2006

Have you ever been misunderstood or falsely accused of doing wrong when you were in the right? It is an injustice that happens to many people and perhaps to some of us here today. It is not fair and it is not right and it is extremely frustrating when it happens. But we live in an imperfect world with imperfect people so it is bound to happen now and again. While it has been said that the only sure things in life are death and taxes, I’m not sure that I would agree. These kinds of mistakes are all to common among people who are only too willing to believe the worst in others rather than the best. Perhaps it will not happen to each and every one of us, but it will certainly happen to some of us. I know it has happened to me in the past when my actions had been misunderstood by others and I have been occasionally shocked when I finally find out.

We are not alone in these misunderstanding though. Jesus also suffered from them on a regular basis. In the pericope from the Gospel of John today this is very clear. This passage comes immediately after Jesus has feed the five thousand and walked on water. And yet those around him are complaining because he is claiming to be the bread from heaven. The affront is even greater in this case because, as they complain, “is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” In other words, “Hey isn’t this Joe from down the street, who does he think he is?”

Just previously Jesus had just fed a crowd all the bread they could eat and is now trying to explain the deeper implications of his actions. And people don't like it. They misunderstand him. With his bread in their stomach they complain about the message. They were complaining about the message because they did not like its implications. They could not have been unfamiliar with the history or their forefathers and knew exactly what the implication was when a person claimed to be "the bread that came down from heaven." They knew about the manna in the wilderness. They knew that in making this statement Jesus was claiming to be sent from God. And lets face it, how would any of us feel if someone approached us claiming to have been sent from God? Even if that person had done some amazing things. Besides, who wants the person next door to be the one from God. That is too pedestrian. If something comes from God we want it to be showy, powerful, mystical and life changing. We don’t’ want it to be the person from across the street.

For the real problem with people claiming to be sent from God is that it usually blows our ideal of who or what God is out of the water. And we don't like change very much in our lives. You see, if someone actually does come from God then we have to listen to them and do what they tell us. They might disabuse us of our comfortable picture and relationship with a God we have managed to tame to be our own kind of pet.

This passage challenges us to ponder the very real and important question of who do we think God is? It is easier and far simpler to never think about it. The safe path is to just go along without ever challenging ourselves to really struggle with God in our life.

But I think it is a good thing to examine just who we think God is. For some God is like a benevolent grandmother or grandfather dispensing goodies to us from heaven. To others God is like a stern father or mother always quick to criticize or discipline. People may see God as a powerful yet distant figure not particularly interested in what is going on in the world or in our lives. Many find comfort with God as the fire department ready to rescue us when we are in really deep water and needing to be rescued. To some, God simply does not exist.

But none of those are complete or accurate views of God. They are at best incomplete pictures formed by our experiences. But then again, I’m not sure that any human being probably has a perfect view of God. I think that what the passages today are trying to tell us is that understanding God is about relationships. And not just our relationship with God.

But Jesus was trying to tell the hearers something in this passage. Jesus was the “bread came down from heaven.”

What is bread? Fr. Michael Oleska made the following observation: “Flour, yeast and water, baked to a certain temperature? No, it is much more, for to create bread, one needs the whole world. The earth must turn, the rain must fall. The soil must be fertile, the sun must shine, night must come, the wind must blow. If all this is in harmony, and humans interact with it appropriately, tending the garden as God originally planned, bread can be baked, communion with God restored.”[1] I think the point is that relationship with God is about much more than we tend to usually casually assume. Too often the Christian church tends to focus completely on the relationship between the individual and God. But the point Father Michael was trying to make is that to be Christian is to be in relationship with much more. Just as the passage in Ephesians was emphasizing relationships within the Christian community, Father Michael is trying to help us grasp that relationship with God is also relationship with that which God has created.

In fact, while a relationship is God is definitely a part of the Christian experience, I think we are missing out on a lot if we don’t also understand the importance of being in right relationship with others and the rest of the created world. You have but to look at the world around us and see so many people who fail to understand that by the devastation we see in the world around us. People are willing to kill one another and destroy the environment with nary a thought about it.

It is up to the Church to work on setting this right in the world in whatever ways we can. We have the bread which came down from heaven. Now it is our responsibility to share it with the world around us.

[1] Michael J. Oleska, “The Alaskan Orthodox Mission and Cosmic Christianity”, The Chant of Life: Inculturation and the People of the Land, Liturgical Studies Four, 2003, p. 188.

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