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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Thirst, Hunger, Call, Response - 08/08/2021

Many of you have probably heard from me several times now that my favorite version of the Gospel story is Mark’s.
(I think it appeals to my grittier sensibilities. I appreciate its straightforwardness. I find the humanity of Jesus, the disciples and even the political and religious leaders relatable, relevant. We’ll be back to Mark in just a couple of weeks.)

My second favorite Gospel is John. I love the way the language and cosmic theology sweeps me into the mysterious and otherworldly love and intention God the creator, God the human, God the Holy Spirit has for me, for you, for everyone you’ve ever met and every will … for the whole of this unfathomable and Divine cosmos.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1.1-5)

Or, how about the familiar language of John 3 that both quells our fears of dark uncertainly and convicts us over those places we kind of wish the light of Christ didn’t illuminate so clearly?

“For God so loved the world that (they) gave (their) only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (3.16-21)

And today we have. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (6.51)

The poetry and sensory call of John’s version of Jesus’ story played a role in my call to ministry. I had gone to Chicago with my mother and daughter to visit the seminary there. I still wasn’t sure seminary was the thing to do. I had a lot of questions and worries about all the practical and logistic challenges of changing my vocation so drastically.

While we were in the city, we visited an exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center. We were in a room with hundreds of small white posters, each of them with black letters and different words from a wide variety of literature. It was hard to know where to look at first.

Text  Description automatically generatedRegardless, out of all those possibilities, I found myself drawn to just one. “Thirsty Woman!” it called out to me. “If you drink this water you’ll never be thirsty again!” It was a play on words from John’s story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. (John 4)

I read it over a few times and realized what I was truly thirsty for. It wasn’t really that I was “thirsty” or “hungry” for the answers to my questions and worries. I mean Larry and I did want those answers, and by the grace of God, we found them.

And we would and will face financial worries again. I had to seek out and do the legwork required for the grants and scholarships that made seminary possible not only for the first year … but also the second and third and fourth years. While in seminary, we came up against unexpected and serious health issues, car troubles, technology challenges, family issues, exhaustion and doubt.

And we will undoubtedly question and worry over these kinds of things again – probably by the end of any given day. But … what did Jesus say to us last week? “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (6:27)

Because, if we can look past our need for daily bread and desire to know how and when everything is going to work out  – if we can look beyond that temporary stuff that perishes,  perhaps we find that’s not what we’re truly hungry and thirsty for after all.

What I realized as that graphic poster drew me in was that what I was thirsty for was a life in which my deeds could be clearly seen as having been done in God. I was thirsty and hungry to share my belief that Jesus is God in the flesh, that in him is life and that life is a light for all people. That Jesus is the bread of eternal life for the world and willingly gave over his precious flesh and blood to make that so. The flesh and blood that recreates and renews us every time we eat at the Lord’s Table – our food and drink for our lives as Jesus followers.

This is what I love about John and the way it draws us into the mystery of Christ … the otherworldliness of life and light we have through him. Thanks be to God.

However, I think it can be dangerous to stop there with the mystical and otherworldly draw each of us hopefully feels through this Gospel. Left as only mystery and otherworldliness, the call of John’s Gospel into the cosmic realm of eternal life in the Risen Christ can become shallow – reduced to five minutes at the table and nothing more. After all – that is all we need, right?

Well, yes, and there’s more ... as solid Lutheran theology so often goes.

John’s Gospel message doesn’t stop there either.

John also gets into how we respond … how we live in that light Christ has brought to the world. In our reading today, the story gives us a taste of what that response can look like.

Here’s a response. “Then the (Jewish leaders) began to complain about him …‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven?’” (6.41-42, para)

The skeptical Jewish leaders’ response was that they would distract and attempt to undermine with questions of identity, with statements of disbelief– “Bread come down from heaven … like Moses and manna only better? Please.” And next week we’ll hear about some of Jesus’ own disciples and followers who just cannot abide by his teachings and expectations. They will walk away from him, despite what they have seen with their own eyes, heard with their own ears, tasted with their own tongues.

Jesus gives us another idea for response though – it is the place where it starts, a path I think many of us are on. He says, “No one can come to me unless drawn by God who sent me.” (6.44) In other words, this belief, or trust or faith we have that Jesus is the bread of eternal life is not something we do or dream up or suss out with rational thought. Rather it is the will and work of God that we come to it. And when that happens – which God has willed for the world, right? – Jesus says our response is to hear and to learn. We are to continually look for and see Jesus here in our table and everywhere else … the font, one another, the trees and the mushrooms, the trumpeter swan and even the woodchuck. And in that response we grow stronger and more confident in our belief, our trust, our faith that Jesus speaks truth for us and the world when he says, “ I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (6.51) Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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