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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 08/09/2015

About now, one might say, “Enough with the bread already.” We’re three weeks in, two weeks to go on Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse which makes up chapter six of John, and it does get repetitious; the readings don’t vary a lot from week to week. It started a couple of weeks ago with Jesus feeding the 5000 and at that time I said that the fact that this loaves and fishes story is repeated so often must mean that what it has to say is pretty important. The same could be said about five weeks of the Bread of Life; those who organized the lectionary must feel like this is an important image for us to consider.

Still, my first inclination this week was to preach on Ephesians and lay a little guilt on you, to make you feel guilty for not living up to the vision of Christian life that is described. The trouble is, when I do that, it lays a little guilt on me too. Be angry but don’t sin? I haven’t figured out how to do that. Put away all bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander, and malice? On a good day maybe, but then there are other days. Be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving? Same thing; maybe on some days, others, not so much. Don’t get me wrong; it’s all good advice, but it can just set up a seemingly impossible standard or make it seem like Christianity is mostly about trying harder to be good and feeling bad because you’re not good enough.

So…ignoring my first inclination I then went back to the gospel as an opportunity to take a different approach to today’s sermon. What we’re given with the bread of life material, is an opportunity to muse, which is a good thing to do most anytime, but it seems especially appropriate for the summer when the days are longer and maybe the pace of life is a bit more relaxed. In its entirety though, the gospel of John is very muse-able.

It is quite different from the other gospels, written later, seemingly drawn from different sources. John’s intent, as it says in chapter 20, is that we might come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing we might have life in his name. That’s pretty much the intent of the other gospels as well, but John goes about it differently, not so much using narrative storytelling as the others do, but incorporating more poetic images and metaphors and symbols that address who Jesus is, images like Jesus as the Bread of Life. Such images invite us to muse.

I was looking at a new book by the poet Jane Hirshfield titled, “Ten Windows,” in which she says that “’To muse’ implies entering a condition of idleness, outside the responsibilities of the fully adult: a playfulness marks the self-amusing, musing mind. It lifts a thing, turns it over, licks it, sees if it moves; explores in a way that leaves behind both simple preconceptions and the directionality of strict purpose,” and I think what that last part means is that musing doesn’t mean trying to figure something out as if it were a puzzle to be solved or approaching it like a piece of information to be learned and mastered which is what we’re taught to do at a pretty early age. Using words like idleness and playfulness to describe musing, placing it outside the responsibilities of the fully adult; to me that sounds like the good part of the Peter Pan faith I talked about last week, faith that says “I won’t grow up if it means losing that sense of playfulness and wonder.”

So I’m here this morning to help you muse. I’m not going to explain anything, or if I do it’s by accident. I just want to poke around at some of the things in this Bread of Life discourse, to lift them up and turn them over, maybe not lick them, but to see where they take us and what I really hope is that it helps you to find that this is a useful way to approach the Bible, or at least large parts of it, more as poetry that can have lots of meanings and can take you in a lot of different directions as opposed to approaching the Bible as literal history that seeks to explain what happened and how it happened. With ancient texts like the Bible, such historical explanations are often difficult, even impossible to provide and seeking them can wind up being a distraction, causing you to dwell on questions that get in the way of the divine truth that’s being conveyed.

One of the things that happens when you muse, is your mind wanders and in its wandering, it makes connections, moving from one thing to another. Sometimes the connections are ones that the author wants you to make or expects you to make and that’s true with the Bread of Life material. It starts with Jesus feeding the 5000 and in all the gospels the expected connection is with other feeding stories in the Bible, especially the manna in the wilderness story from Exodus.

As we muse, that connection in turn makes a connection between Jesus and Moses, an important connection in helping Jews come to understand Jesus as the Messiah because for them Moses was such a commanding presence, he was the man; invoking his memory has an impact. So the Jesus/Moses connection is important but it uncovers an even more important difference: in the manna in the wilderness story, the Lord provided the manna, not Moses, where in the loaves and fishes story Jesus himself is the provider so it becomes clear that while Jesus is like Moses, he’s also greater than Moses as he doesn’t play the role of a middleman, he plays the role of the Lord. We perhaps take that for granted with Jesus as Lord being what we’ve always been taught, it’s what’s ingrained in us; but back in the first century, Jesus as Lord is a rock the world connection, one that some interpreted as blasphemy as it put Jesus in the place of God.

As we muse though, the questions about Jesus’ identity are confronted; is he a prophet, is he more than a prophet, is he the Lord, God himself?; and note that the text doesn’t directly answer any of it. It requires musing that leads to further musing, because John doesn’t stop there but moves on to Jesus’ statement, “I am the bread of life” and with that something else has been poked at and turned over.

If Jesus is the Lord who provides bread, but then he is also identified as the bread, does that mean that in some way God physically becomes part of who we are? That’s pretty radical, a different way to think about God and how God is available to us and if you’re musing along with me, it’s probably leading you in the direction of Holy Communion. In John there is no Last Supper story like in the other gospels, so is this John’s way of addressing the sacrament and what it means?

You get the idea of how this works? Your mind moves from one thing to another and maybe at some point you want to linger longer with something you’ve turned over, but again not so much obsessing about answers, just sitting with the image or the question. Or maybe not; maybe your mind keeps going. Either way, it’s OK.

In that definition of musing I mentioned earlier it goes on to say that the word muse comes from the Latin word mussare which means to carry in silence, to brood over in silence and uncertainty and finally to murmur, to speak in an undertone. In my musing on this text my mind went to the word murmur; in the Exodus story that includes the manna in the wilderness, the people of Israel are constantly murmuring, complaining about Moses. In today’s gospel it says, “The Jews began to complain against Jesus,” and the Greek word translated as complain also means murmur so the use of that word is probably not an accident on John’s part.

In the Bible this murmuring seems to have a negative connotation and that is probably the way we’re supposed to read it, but maybe they were doing some of the same kind of musing I’m talking about, as they wrestled with things and situations that were entirely new to them, things that were difficult or impossible to understand in a logical straightforward way. Maybe their murmuring was a way for them to encounter the mysteries of God.

For me, this kind of musing has been very transformative in how I read the Bible. I don’t feel so compelled to figure everything out so I can explain it and tell you what it means. Instead, I invite you into the process and lest you think this is some weird thing I came up with, actually what I’m talking about is just a variation of a time honored practice called Lectio divina, or Divine reading, which I think some of you are familiar with, but which most often involves taking even smaller slices of scripture not as texts to be studied but as a living word to be pondered, to muse upon. As a living word it’s not about settled answers and it’s not instruction that tells you what to do. It’s a word that speaks in the present in different ways to different people, a living word that draws one closer to God.

However it works, wherever your mind takes you, the idea is that the word is bread, bread that feeds you and brings you into God’s presence.

So…happy musing.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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