August 5, 2018 – 11 Pentecost B, Proper 13
Exodus 16:2-4,9-15; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
One of our oldest parishioners has a saying that I like a lot. “People are no damn good,” she says. And I totally agree. I’m basically an optimistic and positive person but from an early age it has appeared very obvious to me that people do more harm than good. That observation forms the foundation of my optimistic and positive attitude. People are no damn good. People do more harm than good. And yet, we’re still here. And yet, life is downright joyous. The harm we do doesn’t destroy the goodness that abounds in this life. There is pain and suffering, much of it by our own action or inaction. And somehow that pain and suffering gets turned around into sheer goodness. I don’t trust you or myself as far as I can throw you but there is something bigger than us that I do trust. My mistrust of you and myself leads me to a place of faith and belief. There is great hope in life. But that hope is not you or me. That hope is the grace of God which saves us from ourselves. That hope is the redemptive power of Jesus Christ which, more despite us than because of us, turns evil into goodness. I do think that you and I are basically good but only because of the God who made us and the God who busts a gut every day to keep this world spinning. The Christian doctrine of sin and redemption is pretty cynical about us but it is pure hopefulness about God and what God is doing for us and in us.
Our collect today acknowledges the great challenge the church faces and the great hope that is available to us. We ask God to cleanse and defend the church and we say right out loud that the church could not continue without God’s help. Mostly what God has to cleanse and defend the church against is you and me. The evil out there in the world doesn’t threaten the church nearly as much as you and I do. We’re petty and self-centered, narrow-minded, defensive and hardheaded, we’re lazy and we don’t want to change anything even when we know we need to change. God has his hands full with you and me. But look at what God has done with the church. God pulls frightened, petty, self-centered, lazy people together and somehow gets us to love each other, somehow gets us to grow, inspires us to become more generous than we ever would or could be on our own. God pulls us together and shows us that out of the brokenness in life come the greatest lessons. God inspires us to care for each other when we are in need. And most remarkably God somehow inspires us to look for the lowliest people in the world and put their needs above our own. You and I could not be the church without God’s help. The fact that we are the church is daily proof that God’s grace is never ending.
The lesson from Exodus refers to the people of Israel as a congregation. We can tell they are a congregation because they are complaining about how things aren’t as good as they used to be. The congregation of Israel is complaining that Moses has led them out of Egypt and into the wilderness where they think they are starving to death. Even though they were oppressed and miserable in Egypt, even though they were rescued, they resent life being hard. Moses is ready to quit or kill them all but God is more generous. He sends them meat to eat and bread for all their days. Quail cover the land at night. And every morning manna is provided for them. Left on their own, Moses and the congregation would have languished in the wilderness. But God’s generosity provides for them. And God provides for them, not just to solve the immediate problem but to instill faith.
In the gospel lesson Jesus has fed the 5000 and the crowd has chased him down, wanting him to come back and be their king. Basically what they want is for Jesus to come back and make their lives easier. Jesus invites them not to search for food that perishes but for the food of eternal life. Like the people of Israel, the crowd has focused on their stomachs instead of their hearts. They have focused on the present struggle rather than hope for what is to come. Jesus imagines a deeper way of living, one built on journey and trust. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, whoever believes in me will never thirst.” But he’s not talking about comfort and ease.
The basic sin of the congregation of Israel is that they are looking for someone to fix their immediate problems. Jesus invites them to look for the meaning of life beyond the immediate problems. The people are short sighted. Jesus invites them to look higher. That’s our basic sin as well. We typically don’t want God in our lives until we have something we want God to fix. Then we clamor around praying and pleading. God is gracious enough to lead us through those immediate problems. And then we tend to push God aside and go on our merry way.
You and I are evidence that people are no good. We get lost in our problems. We only call on God when we need something. Anything new in life threatens us. We give into fear. But you and I are also evidence that, with God, all things are possible. Even though we’re pretty much unlovable, God loves us into goodness. Without God the church would crumble, the human race would crumble. But God’s constant and irrepressible love changes us into loving and generous people. God’s constant and irrepressible love heals our fears and gives us hope.
Jesus is the bread of life. That’s more than a quick fix. God’s love is revealed in Christ so that we might come to live in trust and hope. You and I are certainly evidence of human sinfulness. But we are also evidence of the great love of God which makes this world a good and holy place.