First Congregational Church
February 18, 2017
First Sunday in Lent
“At the Very Core"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
There is the classic joke about ice fishing that just about every person who has baited a hook knows. It begins with our friends Ole and Sven grabbing their poles and heading out. As they were auguring a hole in the ice they heard a loud voice from above say, "There are no fish under the ice."
Ole and Sven moved about 25 feet over and started to make another hole. The voice said a little stronger, " There are no fish under the ice.” They both looked around and then looked up. Ole said in a humble voice, "Are you God?” The voice spoke back, “Ya, sure, ya bettcha! I'm the ice rink attendant."
Then there was the time that Ole and Sven wanted to do some fishing up in Canada. So on the way to the lake, they stopped at a little bait shop and got all that needed. Included on their list were the usual minnows, wax worms and an ice pick.
They got their gear and took off. In about two hours, Ole was back at the shop and said, "We're going to need another dozen ice picks." Well, the gal in the shop wanted to ask some questions, but she didn't. She sold him the picks, and Ole left.
In about an hour, he was back: "We're going to need all the ice picks you've got."
The bait gal couldn't stand it any longer. "By the way," she asked, "how are you fellas doing?" "Not very well at all," said Ole. "We don't even have the boat in the water yet.”
This past week, if you weren’t aware of it, there has been a celebration of the Benzie County Water Festival. There have been various events throughout the week; from a potluck and panel discussion at Grow Benzie to the Betsie Bay Frozen 5K race to events involving water at Beulah’s new interactive children’s museum, Cognition, and this morning’s message.
I’ve had some questioning comments from my ministerial colleagues about preaching on water during a water festival weekend, and part of me has been surprised. Why wouldn’t we preach about water? Jesus used it in his first miracle, changing water into wine, he and John used water to baptize people and he walked twice on water — there being, by the way, no mention of Michigan or Minnesota in February.
In the gospel of John, water is mentioned 2-3 times more often than in the other gospels, and before this morning’s passage, there is the discourse between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, where he says to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
And then we have this morning’s passage from John 6. After feeding the 5,000 and the first of Jesus’ water walking wonders, we get the first of Jesus’ great “I AM” declarations.
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”
Thank you, Jim. I was poking around on the internets and discovered that “I AM” has its own Wikipedia page, Wikipedia being the ever-evolving internet dictionary. As any English student learns, I am is the present form of the verb “to be”. There are at least seven films with the name “I AM”, along with dozens of songs and recording albums. But when it comes to the Bible, “I AM” - both words in all capital letters - that’s a horse of a different color.
Just before Jesus said the words that Jim just read, Jesus was referencing the bread from heaven, given by God to Moses and the people as they wandered in the desert for those 40 years. That reference is important, because while God and Moses had that famous meeting of Ten Commandment fame on Mount Sinai, Moses was well aware of the difficulty he would have to convince the people - “They shall say to me, What is this god’s name?”. "God said to Moses, I AM THAT I AM.... say.... I AM has sent me to you”.
To add a little more depth of understanding, when God said, I AM, it wasn’t some future third person reference, like “I am going to be the one who sent you.” God’s use of “I AM” in a first person reference, means that God is doing it right now: God is sending God’s self to us now, and now and now and all the nows into eternity.
So it’s significant that Jesus uses the same first person reference. In fact, seven times, in the book of John, Jesus begins a reference to himself with this first person “I AM.” I AM - right here, right now and always will be, the Bread of Life. Right here, right now, without any possibility of ending, I AM the Light of the World. Right here, right now, I AM the Door. I AM the Good Shepherd. I AM the Resurrection and the Life. I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life.. And I AM the Vine.
When God gave Moses a name to use for God’s self, that made the name really holy - so holy that it was too sacred to be spoken aloud or even properly written. To get around it, for centuries God’s most common Hebrew name has been spelled without any vowels, and in capital letters: YHWH. Even to this day, the vowels that we recognize in the word Yahweh are still uncertain.
Back to our passage, not only is Jesus claiming that he is the bread of life, but using the formula that God used, claiming the holiness of God, and that being the bread of life is not just some point in the future, but right now, breading as we live and breathe. And for those who believe in Christ will never be thirsty - in a spiritual sense, naturally.
Sometimes the season of Lent can be a drudgery to endure. But it can also be a time for deeper, more intense - in a good way - time to take a more profound look at the One who has loved us more that we can comprehend and sacrificed the highest gift - for us - the gift of his life for our life.
At the end of the day, we all have things that were necessary for the fulfillment of that day: bread, water and God. Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Rock, Redeemer, Friend. We can survive without any one of these things, for a while, but that survival is not the same as wholeness, being fulfilled and satisfied. At the very core of our beings, we have holes in our souls that are nutrition shaped holes, hydration shaped holes and aspiration shaped holes. The book of John, and particularly this 6th chapter, tells us that God fills those holes with God’s own self.
When the lectionary assigns this John 6:35 passage, it often skips the following verses that Jim read today, going right on to verse 41. For whatever reason that is done, it short changes us. If they weren’t an important part of the larger whole, why include verses 36-40 in the Bible?
My best guess is that verses 36-40 tell us how Jesus is being the bread of life. It’s like his job description as the bread of life, which doesn’t really look like bread or water at all.
Wheat doesn’t grow for its own self. Wheat grows for the farmer to use. In his own words, Jesus didn’t come to do his will, but God’s. Wheat isn’t collected into granaries to be merely accumulated, but to made into something else, something that sustains life. Jesus’ job in this world was not merely to make notches in a stick in collecting souls. He came that there would be life beyond him and us, life beyond life.
After coming up with that mind-boggling paragraph, and I sat back to think a little more, and the thought occurred to me that bread needs water to make bread. And water needs wheat to make bread. And water and wheat need an agent to make the dough stick together, flatbread or yeast bread. So in this analogy, I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to liken that “sticking together” agent to the Holy Spirit. All three items are good things on their own, but you can’t have just two to make bread. But put together, they are far greater than their individual selves.
At our very core, we are not intended to be solitary ingredients that sit on a shelf for people to know we are there. We are created to be a part of something greater than ourselves, a life force that is larger and more expansive that any of us consider while determining the best value between brands of cottage cheese or salsa. As we wait for the oil to be changed or getting the mail out of the box or watching people hurl themselves down a mountain side for a prize that’s not even made of precious metal, even then, in those moments, God is providing the bread and water that keeps us from spiritual starvation and death. Even while we sleep and daydream and pay the bills, even in our most difficult times, when it least feels like it, Jesus is being our bread and water of life.
In many ways, this is not new news for some of us. But it is some of the most important and vital basic information for the living of our lives. This week, we get to think about this gift of bread - and water - and Spirit - that gives us the ability to overcome that which we need to overcome, and the ability to embrace that which we need to embrace. Not that those obstacles and embrasures are all soft and cuddly. But in God’s promise to be the very basic that we need, we can appreciate the gift of that promise as often as we can think of it in this coming week as we make the journey to the cross of resurrection life. So let us begin by recognizing God’s part in this.
Holy God, who embraces us into your arms, we have gathered on another ordinary Sunday to sing and pray and say nice things to each other. But we know that is not all you desire for us. So as we go out into each of our weeks, send your Holy Spirit to attend each of us in ways that cause us to recognize the provisions you give us - not just provisions for the very core of our beings, but for all of that which blesses us and fills our hearts to overflowing, that then gathers up into all that is good. Help us to respond to your provisions in ways that are honorable and life-giving and shine on us as followers of your son. For your bread, and water and all that you are - now and now and now and forever, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.