Wednesday, August 19, 2009

To Whom Can We Go?

This week's scriptures are Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 and John 6:56-69.

These two passages can be viewed as either very much alike; or as radically different.

In her commentary on the passage from John DawnOtoni Wilhelm makes the point that Petere's, "Lord, to whom can we go?" can be interpreted as either an expression of despair or an expression of exultation.

The passage from Joshua is a well-formed covenant ceremony for a triumphant people. Joshua sounds out the challenge, "Chose you this day....but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." And the people respond, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord" and go on to recount the victories of God in bringing their ancestors out of Egypt, protecting them along the way, and driving out their enemies before them. Because of this they say, "Therefore we also will serve teh Lord, for he is our God."

The passage from John is most often read the same way. Peter's response to Jesus' question "Do you also wish to go away?" is heard as a shout of exaltation, "Lord,to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." The problem with that reading is that it is to read it back through the lens of the resurrection and 2000 plus years of the Christian Church's growing political and economic influence.

But there is another way to look at this passage. Jesus asks His question of the disciples in the face of His abandonment by many of his disciples. One can almost see Jesus sitting there, head down, as He contemplates this. He lifts his head, looks at those who are standing there, and asks, "Do you want to go away too?" And Peter...Peter doesn't miss either the difficulty of what Jesus has said, or the impact of the response of Jesus' listeners or the loss of the disciples. Perhaps there is catch in his voice, "Where else could we go?....You have the words of eternal life." Maybe Peter wished it was otherwise; that the "words of eternal life" had come from someone who wasn't so demanding, so offensive, so devisive. Yet give them their due, those disciples stayed. They stayed even when they didn't understand. They stayed even when others left. They stayed right up to the point where Jesus was arrested.

I have to admit that I am often more like Peter in the second reading. I wish it was easier. I wish that faith didn't put us in such strange positions. And most of all, I wish I could embrace a 'we know the good guys will always win' triumphalism. But the truth is that while I do believe that the final word will be God's, and that this word will be Love; I also know that too often in the here and now things are often more difficult.

And, like Peter, I know that there are other places to go. There are other values, other world views, other values. But I also know, even in the darkest moments of my heart, that the words of eternal life are only found in one place. Because, as Peter said, "We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God"....even when it seems like things are at their worst.

And so the hymn can sing:

"This is my Father's world
"O let me ne'er forget
"that though the wrong seems oft so strong
"God is the ruler yet"

and we can be reminded of the words found on a wall where folks had been hiding during the holocaust:

"I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining
"I believe in love, even when I am alone
"I believe in God, even when he is silent"


Thursday, August 13, 2009


This week's scriptures are Ephesians 5:15-20 and John 6:51-58.

"What is it that we really crave?" We've used this phrase for three weeks now in our Call to Worship. What is it that we really crave?

The coffee shop where I get my second cup on the way to work (first cup is at the house)...the one I drink on the way to the called Cravings...and I definitely crave that second cup.

To crave: to have an intense desire for; to need urgently; to earnestly long for, to implore; to desire eagerly.

Martin Luther was said to have told his congregation that he wished he could get them to pray the way his dog went after meat. I can relate to that image. At 7 a.m. every morning...sometimes earlier, my dog Moses' craving for breakfast and a trip to the back yard kicks in.

First he jumps up from where he's been sleeping at the foot of the bed. Then he paws me. If that doesn't work, he jumps off the bed and goes to Carole, bopping her with his nose. If all that fails, he begins a noise that's a cross between an bark and a howl....and he keeps this up til one of us gets up, feeds him, and puts him out.

This scene is repeated in homes all over town. Many of you are smiling as you think about your dog doing his/her 'craving routine.'

Think about the way you and I pray. How much craving is there to it? How much longing? I'm embarrassed for myself when I ask the question. That I often do not bring as much persistance to my prayer life as my dog does to his breakfast and his morning trip to the back yard; or that I have for my second cup of coffee.

If you're offended by this image, think how Jesus' listeners heard his words. Jewish law forbids the eating of blood...and the Greek words here move from the polite ones about eating and drinking to more visceral onces about chewing and gulping. 'Chew my body, gulp my blood.' 'Crave me' Jesus says to we?

Let's talk about it on Sunday.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Bread That Lifts Us Up

This week's scriptures are Psalm 34:1-8 and John 6:35, 41-51.

I was struck by this weeks Psalm. Like many praise Psalms it begins with words of blessing and exaltation. Then, suddenly, "Here is one who cried out in his affliction..." The Psalmist's praise is rooted in the experience of brokenness, trouble, and fear. It was in the middle of these things that he cried out and God responded in such a way that he says, "O taste and see that the Lord is good."

All too often we've heard things that lead us to believe that being people of faith is somehow protection against fear and trouble. Worse, we've sometimes been told that we shouldn't be afraid, that we should plaster a smile on our faces and ignore the problems that come our way. The truth is that this just isn't scriptural. It's not the way the biblical writers talked about the human condition, and it's not how Jesus did either.

Verses 18 and 19 go on to say:
The Lord is close to those whose courage is broken;
he saves those whose spirit is crushed.
Thoug the misforturns of who is rightous be many,
the Lord delivers him out of them all.

Both the OT writers and Jesus spoke about God coming close to us in our times of difficulty. God's people cry out....and God comes. In fact, both the Psalmist in this passage and Jesus talk about God coming so close that it's like the food we eat.
"O taste and see" "I am the living bread"....tasted, taken in, nurtured by. Food becomes a part of us. And Jesus said that He was the bread that would "raise us up on the last day"....the final word will be our being redeemed by the Living Bread of Life.

I'm reminded of the words of what has become one of my favorite hymns:

And He will raise you up on eagles wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His hand.

Come and celebrate the Bread of Life with us on Sunday. We look forward to seeing you.