Grace, my traveling and hiking companion
This past Friday morning, the family with whom I am staying invited me to go hiking with them. (More "let's got for a hike" and less "go take a hike" for which I am grateful.) It was to be a 4 mile trek. It was listed as a “moderate for children” hike…easy, peasy! So, I packed my backpack, harnessed my 90 lb lap dog, laced up my hiking boots, and set off to climb a mountain. What the guidebook didn’t say is that the hike is actually 5.8 miles, with an elevation gain of 800, and that the entire trail is covered rocks of all sizes…well not the entire trail. In some parts, there were no rocks…just tree roots gnarled and jagged and perhaps more treacherous than the rocks!
About 20 minutes into the hike, I set my foot firmly down on a small boulder, gained good footing and began to step forward. About the same time I realized that my body was in forward motion…you know once you’ve committed to a step and you feel yourself falling forward before you catch yourself with your other foot…I realized that the toe of my hiking boot on the foot that was supposed to catch me was stuck under a rock’s overhang. I was committed to the forward trajectory, time slowed way down, but my dog did not…and I crashed to the rocky, jutted earth. As I struggled to get up, it was so very clear to me in that moment: I am not twenty-something anymore. This body is beginning to betray me. I am realizing that I no longer have the indestructible nature of youth, I am woefully ordinary.
And the remainder of that hike as my hip and wrist and hand screamed for rest and water and Motrin, I was thinking about this gospel lesson.
It’s time for “True Confessions”. The Gospel of John is always a little mind bending to me. Maybe you’ve heard me say this before, but nearly every reading of John leaves me comparing the writing in this gospel to a Dr. Seuss book. John says something, and before I can finish thinking it through, he says it again in a different, more challenging way. In my better moments, reading John propels me to deeper study, deeper thinking, but other times, it leaves me feeling a little like I imagine the crowd from this morning’s reading to feel: confused and irritated.
Now my irritation may only be due to the deficits in the inner-workings of my own ordinary brain, the limitations I have in processing, the personal demand I have for myself that things happen and be understood quickly. But the crowd in the lesson today is irritated because Jesus is making really bold claims about himself, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” The crowd says, “wait a minute. We know this guy. We know his mama. We know what kind of hi-jinks he pulled as an ordinary 10 year old. Bread of Life…sure.”
Jesus hears their argument, their resistance to listen to him based on his origin. (Didn’t we hear something similar earlier this year “prophets are without honor in their hometown?) Most of us, when confronted with people who just don’t get it, would stop and say it again in plain language. But not Jesus in the Gospel according to St John. He goes on to make it more complicated…more explicit: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
In this sentence, Jesus lays claim to his divine origin…that he comes not only from Mary but also from God. Matthew's gospel traces the lineage of Jesus to Abraham. In Luke, it’s traced back to Adam, but here in John, we see the origins of Jesus traced all the way back to God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Traced all the way back to God’s very self before the world was created.
If Jesus comes from God…if Jesus IS God…well then why? Why is Jesus here?
If God is found in this ordinary person, in this man who eats, sleeps, and who gets all kinds of cranky…well then, God is found in someone who looks an awful lot like me. Really? I know my flaws. I know intimately my shortcomings physical and otherwise, and I suspect, you know yours too. How are we to stake our lives, our hope, on someone who is so much like us? How are we to stake our faith, our understanding of God, on someone who poops?
“The reason for the incarnation is for us now to see God, to experience God in fullness of relationship”, because throughout the history of humanity, unless God puts on flesh for us, we have demonstrated over and over again, that we can’t see God.
God puts on flesh in the person of Jesus so that we can see and feel and hear…so that we can get “out of our heads” and “into our hearts”. So that we can satisfy our concrete thinking.
But also, God puts on flesh in the person of Jesus so that we understand that there is sacred in the ordinary.
God puts on flesh, skin, bones, muscles, and blood. God embraces the fragility of humanity, of aches and fatigue and hunger. God becomes carnal: crude, worldly, earthly, embodied.
“The carnal God; the God who does not despise the ordinary and common but rather who seeks such out by which to achieve God’s will: this is the promise that rests behind the sacraments. For as God does not despise water, bread, or wine, such ordinary, common things, so we also know that God does not despise or abandon us, who are similarly such ordinary and common people. And so in the sacraments we find God’s promise to take hold of us and make us God’s own, to remain with us and to never let us go.”
We who are human and need sometimes to be able to see, to hear, to feel the promise of God. The promise of God with us. And so with bread, with wine, with flowing water…in ordinary things, God embeds God’s promise of claiming and reclaiming and liberation…so that we might see and hear and feel and smell and taste…and with our whole bodies respond to the gift and movement of God in our lives
“But we also find in the sacraments another promise which God makes to us. It is the promise not only to redeem us, but also to use us – to make use of our skills and talents, inadequate or insufficient though they may seem, to continue God’s work of creating, redeeming, and sustaining all that is. And that, also, is an incredible promise.”
A promise that you, exactly as you are, with all of your faults and limitations, with all of your irritability and sometimes thick-headedness, with all of the ways in which you are plain, flawed, common…you are sufficient for the work of bringing forth the kingdom. In your ordinary, fleshly body, which is sometimes bruised and battered from rocky earth and tired and cranky and weak, you have what it takes to help usher in heaven on earth; you are gifted for the making of spaces for the in-breaking of the reign of God.
You can share your food, your money, your time. You can read a book with an eight year old. You can call out injustice. You can accompany those who feel most alone. You can proclaim that “Black Lives Matter” and that “Native Lives Matter” and set about making that true in this city. You can shed your need to be right and most important and first.
You are called and created into the family of God, empowered by the life and witness of Jesus of Nazareth, and propelled by the Great and Holy Spirit into action that you and all people might understand that God is found in the ordinary. In bread, in wine, in water, in you, imperfectly perfect embodied you…