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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 08/16/2015

In the lectionary, John’s gospel always comes to us as something of an interlude. We have four gospels but only a three year lectionary cycle so in year A Matthew is featured, in year B it’s Mark, C is Luke but there is no fourth year for John. Instead, readings from John are scattered throughout the three years, always during the Easter season but here and there at other times as well including these 5 summer weeks in year B with the Bread of Life.

I don’t know much about how the lectionary was put together but I assume having a four year cycle and a year of John must have been an option but I think it was probably wise to do it the way they did; a full year of John would be quite daunting for all of us. As an interlude though, it works pretty well. It’s not just filler material though, don’t get that idea as it’s quite the opposite actually, as John always encourages deeper reflection on who Jesus is and what he means, deeper reflection on what the other gospels say about Jesus.

Walter Brueggemann wrote a book titled “Finally Comes the Poet,” in which he references part of a poem by Walt Whitman: “After the seas are all cross’d, (as they seem already cross’d,) After the great captains and engineers have accomplish’d their work, After the noble inventors, after the scientist, the chemist, the geologist, the ethnologist, Finally shall come the poet worthy of that name, The true son of God shall come singing his songs.”

Whitman’s point seems to be that after all the work that the world sees as useful has been completed, the work of engineers, inventors and scientists, finally comes the poet to add a different dimension to life. Brueggemann’s point isn’t exactly the same as he reflects on the fact that in the Bible, finally comes the poet to say things about God that can’t be said in any other way, to point us to divine truth that can’t be revealed in any other way, truth that can’t be conveyed in a memo.

That’s pretty much what John does. Matthew, Mark and Luke took the remembered tradition concerning Jesus and developed it to make their case for Jesus as the Messiah. What Matthew, Mark and Luke wrote isn’t history as we think of it as they’re also trying to craft stories that people will remember, but there is a historical dimension; part of their intent is to tell about some of the things Jesus did, to preserve some of the sayings and parables for which he was remembered. Of greater concern than history though was the effort to convey the truth concerning who they believed Jesus to be, Jesus as the Messiah, the revelation of God.

John though, takes the remembered tradition and pushes it even more, encouraging further and deeper speculation on Jesus’ identity, on both his divine nature and his human nature. History gets pushed even further into the background as what we really deal with in John is imaginative theological reflection also intended to bring us to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. The stories of Matthew, Mark and Luke are effective in doing this, but then, finally comes the poet, John, to add another dimension.

The Bread of Life material that we’ve considered over these past weeks is a good example of John’s theological imagination. It’s clear that when Jesus is identified as the Bread of Life John is not talking about him being a baked mixture of flour and water and grain and whatever else; it’s obvious that we’re dealing with a metaphor and it doesn’t end there. On the surface of things the term eternal life is an oxymoron; we know that things live and they die; as Ben Franklin said, the only things certain in life are death and taxes. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, whoever believes in me will never be thirsty; again we know that hunger and thirst are part of life and no matter how much you eat or drink you will be hungry and thirsty again. Today we also get words about eating flesh and drinking blood which, if taken literally, sounds barbaric and always prompts an interesting conversation when it comes up in first communion classes.

John wasn’t sending a memo describing the facts on the ground. For him, life with Jesus at the center represents a new reality. With that he invites us to break out of a closed, settle world where the inventors and scientists and other masters of technology have answered all the questions and instead to imagine life and its possibilities differently. We imagine a spirit infused world in which the old assumptions and settled answers are no longer absolute but open to question. We consider Jesus as bread and think about what that means and what it has to do with eternal life, what it has to do with eating and drinking so that we are never hungry and thirsty again. Reason and logic say that none of it is possible, but what John tells us is that in and through Jesus the world and what is possible looks very different, the world and what is real looks very different.

We need John to help us see the world differently. The reality that becomes dominant for many is the reality that concludes that the days are evil as it says in the Ephesians text. It’s interesting that 2000 years ago they too thought the days were evil. As I talk to people though, I hear it a lot; there are varying degrees of despair and resignation regarding the state of the world and where things are headed and it’s easy to understand; you don’t have to look too far to find evidence that the days are evil.

But finally comes the poet, John, to remind us that that’s not the whole story. He offers the image of Jesus breaking into this reality as bread that feeds and sustains not only in this world but into what he calls eternal life. He creates a new, hopeful reality if we can imagine it, if we have eyes to see. Not everyone can; John knows about that too. Last week it was, “We know Jesus’ parents; what does he mean saying he came down from heaven?” This week it’s “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” It doesn’t make sense if all we can see is that the days are evil so that we’re defined by that reality.

John does invite us to muse on Jesus as the Bread of Life and all that it means, but our musing also includes a summons to consider what it means to live in and be part of this different reality. The biblical testimony would say that it starts with worship. Ephesians mentions singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs; that’s worship. Even more, as John works through the Bread of Life material, while it can be considered on many levels, it seems evident that he is thinking about Holy Communion and Jesus’ words, “This is my body; this is my blood, given for you.” This meal represents the central act of worship in the vision of John, the meal that provides nourishment, the meal in which we abide in Jesus and he abides in us.

Worship is part of the different reality but it doesn’t end there; we go from worship out into the world and how we live also reveals a world where Jesus is at the center. How to live has been the focus of the readings we’ve had from Ephesians for the past few weeks. Some of the advice given is quite specific but of more interest are the areas that call for reflection on what they mean for each of us individually. How do you live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called? Where in your life is there a need for more humility, gentleness and patience? How do you understand what the will of the Lord is for you in your life? I could almost go verse by verse over the readings we’ve had, but you get the idea.

If you’re resigned to the fact that the days are evil, the advice and questions of Ephesians don’t make much difference. Sharing John’s vision of Jesus as the bread that feeds and sustains the world, they makes a huge difference as we are guided into becoming part of something that is different, something that is life giving.

Our Bread of Life summer interlude is almost over, but not yet, there’s one more week. John still has a little more bread for us to chew on.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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