August 5th, 2018

Music:  Beverly and Katy Shuck, “Bird Song” by the Wailin’ Jennys

Cover: Bread of Life, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN

Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.
–Thich Nhat Hanh

Ibn Abi’l Dunya
They asked Jesus,
Show us an act by which we may enter paradise.”
Jesus said,
“Do not speak at all.”
They said,
“We cannot do this.”
Jesus replied,
“Then speak only good.”

There Was A Child Went Forth Walt Whitman
THERE was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs, and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal, and the cow’s calf,
And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond-side,
And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there—and the beautiful curious liquid,
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads—all became part of him.

The field-sprouts of Fourth-month and Fifth-month became part of him;
Winter-grain sprouts, and those of the light-yellow corn, and the esculent roots of the garden,
And the apple-trees cover’d with blossoms, and the fruit afterward, and wood-berries, and the commonest weeds by the road;
And the old drunkard staggering home from the out-house of the tavern, whence he had lately risen,
And the school-mistress that pass’d on her way to the school,
And the friendly boys that pass’d—and the quarrelsome boys,
And the tidy and fresh-cheek’d girls—and the barefoot negro boy and girl,
And all the changes of city and country, wherever he went.

His own parents,
He that had father’d him, and she that had conceiv’d him in her womb, and birth’d him,
They gave this child more of themselves than that;
They gave him afterward every day—they became part of him.

Thomas 108
Jesus said,
Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me; I myself shall become that person, and the hidden things will be revealed to her.

SPECIAL MUSIC Bird Song by The Wailin’ Jennys Beverly and Katy Shuck
I hear a bird chirping up in the sky
I’d like to be free like that, spread my wings so high
I see the river flowing, water running by
I’d like to be that river, see what I might find
I feel the wind a-blowing, slowly changing time
I’d like to be that wind, I’d swirl and shape the sky
I smell the flowers blooming, opening for spring
I’d like to be those flowers, open to everything

I feel the seasons change: the leaves, the snow and sun
I’d like to be those seasons, made up and undone
I taste the living earth, the seeds that grow within
I’d like to be that earth, a home where life begins
I see the moon a-rising, reaching into night
I’d like to be that moon, a knowing, glowing light
I know the silence as the world begins to wake
I’d like to be that silence as the morning breaks

John 6:24-35
So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they too got into boats and set out for Capernaum to look for Jesus.

They found him on the other side of the sea and asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus replied, “Let me tell you this: you’re looking for me only because you ate the bread and had all you wanted, not because you witnessed signs. Don’t work for food that spoils, but for food that lasts—food for unending life—which the Human One will give you; on him God has put the stamp of approval.

So they asked him, “What do we have to do to accomplish the work God wants done?”

Jesus answered, “This is the work God wants you to do: to believe in the one whom God has sent.”

They asked him, “What sign ware you going to perform so we can see it and come to believe in you? What ‘work’ are you going to do? Our ancestors had manna to eat in the desert. As the scripture puts it,

“He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

Jesus responded to them: “Let me tell you this: it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven; rather, it is my Father who gives you real bread from heaven. That is to say, God’s bread comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” They said to him, “give us this bread every time.”

Jesus explained to them, “I am the bread of life. Anyone who comes to me will never be hungry again, and anyone who believes in me will never again be thirsty.”

Qur’an 5:46
We sent Jesus, son of Mary, in their footsteps, to confirm the Torah that had been sent before him: We gave him the Gospel with guidance, light, and confirmation of the Torah already revealed—a guide and lesson for those who take heed of God.

Unfold Your Own Myth Rumi
Who gets up early
to discover the moment light begins?
Who finds us here circling, bewildered, like atoms?
Who comes to a spring thirsty
and sees the moon reflected in it?
Who, like Jacob blind with grief and age,
smells the shirt of his lost son
and can see again?
Who lets a bucket down and brings up
a flowing prophet?
Or like Moses goes for fire
and finds what burns inside the sunrise?

Jesus slips into a house to escape enemies,
and opens a door to the other world.
Solomon cuts open a fish, and there’s a gold ring.
Omar storms in to kill the prophet
and leaves with blessings.
Chase a deer and end up everywhere!
An oyster opens his mouth to swallow on drop.
Now there’s a pearl.
A vagrant wanders empty ruins.
Suddenly he’s wealthy.

But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things
have gone with others. Unfold
your own myth, without complicated explanation,
so everyone will understand the passage,
We have opened you.

Start walking toward Shams. Your legs will get heavy
and tired. Then comes a moment
of feeling the wings you’ve grown,

I am following the lectionary readings, at least using the gospel reading each Sunday. During August the gospel texts are all taken from the Gospel of John chapter 6. The guiding metaphor for chapter 6 of John is that Jesus is the Bread of Heaven or the Bread of Life.

It begins with the miracle of feeding 5,000 men plus women and children with a child’s lunch, five barley loaves and two fish. The rest of the chapter has the crowd chasing Jesus back and forth across the lake and Jesus trying to communicate to them and to his own disciples what it all means.

It isn’t always easy to follow what Jesus means as he speaks in riddles and there seems to be layers of editing by later scribes that contradict each other. On one hand Jesus will say,

“If you don’t eat the Human One’s flesh and drink his blood, you won’t have life in you.”

In another instance Jesus says,

“This is the work God wants you to do: to believe in the one whom God has sent.”

Is it belief, or eating his flesh, or eating bread and believing it is his flesh?

You have tensions within the text itself between Jesus as a mystic figure for whom eating the bread from heaven is a metaphor for mystical connection to Jesus as sacrament in which the magic of eating bread is eating his flesh.

I find it hard to follow what is happening, but thankfully, there are some folks who have been helpful in navigating a path. Bishop John Shelby Spong wrote a book a few years ago on John called The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic.

In Spong’s reading of the Gospel of John, it is designed to be a mystical text as opposed to a literal text. The Jesus Seminar determined that none of the sayings attributed to Jesus in John go back to an historical person. The sayings of Jesus, the signs and miracles, and the events are all metaphorical and symbolic.

The stories about Jesus are as Spong calls them, tales of a Jewish Mystic. These tales invite us to interact with the spiritual message that is presented. We are invited to enter into this world created by the Gospel of John, in which Jesus is all of the following and more, the shepherd, the vine, the living water, the bread, the lamb, the door, the way, the truth, the life, the son, the Human One, and on we can go.

The focus is to connect with this mystical Jesus. When I say created by the Gospel of John, I don’t mean that the author consciously made stuff up. It is more like Mohammad who received revelations. It is trying to tell someone about an important experience, a spiritual experience, and how do you do it? How do you tell about your encounter with the Divine?

You might say something like this:

“Jesus explained to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Anyone who comes to me will never be hungry again, and anyone who believes in me will never again be thirsty.’”

The question is this. Have you done it? Have you come to Jesus, the bread of life?

The institutions, the various churches, have made this into religion and ritual and belief and orthodox creed and authoritative sacrament and what have you. The churches are not wrong to do that. It keeps the story and the invitation in front of us.

But it is only a beginning. At the end it is up to us to come to Jesus or not. It is up to us to enter this mystical world, to eat and drink this Bread of Life. It is up to us whether or not somehow in some way the Gospel of John is talking about something real. Not something you think you are supposed to believe, but something real. Is there truth here? Is there something for me? Is there something for our world that is real and true in this very strange, very old, very odd Gospel—in these tales of the Mystic Jesus.

Well, every question is ours to answer, because the Gospel is written for those who read it or hear it.

Here is what scholars call the original ending of John, chapter 20 verses 30 and 31.

“Although Jesus performed many more signs for his disciples to see that could. Be written down in this book, these are written down so you will come to believe that Jesus is the Anointed One, the son of God—and by believing this have life in his name.”

There is the purpose of the book, although it raises more questions because we have to unpack even more metaphors, “Anointed one, son of God, believing, life” what is all that? What is this mystical bewilderment?

But, nonetheless, it still comes back to this: Have you come to Jesus? Do you want to?

Here is a poem from a little book I picked up in seminary 26 years ago, called Our Daily Rice: Asian Poems on Freedom and Justice. It is a collection of Christian poetry from all over east and southeast Asia. This one is called God Comes to Me by someone named Jaini Bi from India.

God Comes to Me

Every noon at twelve
In the blazing heat
God comes to me
In the form of
Two hundred grams of gruel.

I know Him in every grain
I taste Him in every ick.
I commune with Him as I gulp
For He keeps me alive, with
Two hundred grams of gruel.

I wait till next day noon
And now know he’d come;
I can hope to live one day more
For you made God come to me as
Two hundred grams of gruel.

I know now that God loves me—
Not until you made it possible.
Now I know why you’re speaking about
For God so loves this world
That He gives his beloved Son
Every noon through YOU.

I should add to the question, “Have you come to Jesus?” with “Has Jesus come to you?”

Jesus first came to me in the form of my mother. My mother was Jesus for me from the time I was an infant. That Jesus is embodied deep within me like air, like bread, like drink.

The Jesus that comes to me now at the age of almost 57 includes my mother but is much more. Like the Walt Whitman poem,

“There was a child went forth everyday;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, for many years; or stretching cycles of years.”

Whitman was among many things, a mystic.

Everything from lilacs to the noisy brood in the barnyard, to apple trees to the quarrelsome boys to the old drunk from the tavern, all became part of him.

That is the mystical.

And Jesus?

In the bread. In the gruel. In the tears. In the laughter. In the success. In the failure. In the companion. In the opponent. In the destruction. In the new life.

Everything is Jesus.

Have you come to Jesus?

Has Jesus come to you?

The Jesus who comes to me now, when I notice, has a lot of work to do to keep me mindful. I want more signs, more proof that whatever I think I want is going to happen.

But then I read the Gospel of John and Jesus says to me, “You are missing the sign for the bread.”

“Work…for food that lasts—food for unending life.”

I don’t get proof or a sign. I get Jesus in bread, in the hand of my spouse, in the congregation, in the struggle, in yet another day to live and breathe.

“Jesus explained to them, “I am the bread of life. Anyone who comes to me will never be hungry again, and anyone who believes in me will never again be thirsty.”

That is true, you know.

Have you ever had that experience, that feeling of peace, of release, that whatever happens, it will be OK? The feeling doesn’t last often. The old fears resurface, but for the moment, the mystical moment, when everything is connected.

Thomas Merton, who was killed, murdered it appears, 50 years ago while in Thailand, wrote about a mystical experience he had in downtown Louisville. There is a monument in Louisville to mark the place. He shared it in his book Conjectures of A Guilty Bystander:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness… This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud… I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and ‘understood’ by a peculiar gift.”

Merton was awake. He knew so much of what was going on, the deceptions in high places. The shadows, the propaganda. He knew more than that. He knew Jesus. He knew the mystical Jesus, the Jesus who comes to him, like he did that day in 1958 on the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville and who showed him that we, all of us, are walking around shining like the sun.

Have you come to Jesus?

Has Jesus come to you?