Pentecost 11B: Never Enough

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Near the top of Mt. Sinai
Text for preaching on 11 Pentecost: John 6:35, 41-51

In John’s story about Jesus
we hear a harking back to Moses.

Whatever we read in the Bible
is family history
and it is interconnected
across a thousand or more years –
whether those connections were
or mythical
or theological.

Most importantly,
it is impossible to understand
what the authors of the gospels
were trying to tell us
if we don’t connect the dots
between the gospel stories
and those earlier stories.

Trying to understand the Gospels
without understanding the connections,
would be like trying to conduct foreign policy
in the Middle East
without understanding the history
and relationship
between Sunni and Shia
and British Colonialism.

Oh, excuse me, we did that,
and we see
how well it has turned out.

So I begin with an annotation
of that reading from John’s gospel”
“I am the bread of life.

Whoever comes to me will never be hungry,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Do you hear it?
Can you hear the Biblical whisper
to another time and place?
It is the wilderness.
Remember bread in the wilderness?
It didn’t last forever.

Remember water in the wilderness?
They kept getting thirsty anyway.
So this speech from Jesus says,
”I satiate a different hunger
and I slake a different thirst.”

Now we know this isn’t Jesus talking to us
but rather, a speech John gave to Jesus.
John didn’t know Jesus
and John wasn’t writing a verbatim report.
What we have here
is a rendering of John and his community’s “vision”
of what Jesus would say and do.

It is also a description of John and his community’s
experience with religious leaders.

The religious leaders
who hear Jesus make these big claims,
do exactly what the original ancestors did
after God had escorted them
to safety
into the wilderness
with brilliant, never before seen miracles:
they whine.

It is another nod to that Exodus story
in which the people whine
about their new freedom
and demand bread, meat, and water.

John draws a parallel to Moses and Exodus
with HIS story about Jesus and the religious leaders.

“We know Jesus is Mary’s son,”
the religious leaders say.

“He has no father
in heaven or anywhere else,” they say.
“We know where he lives;
we know his address,” they say.

“If we know where he came from and
we know where he lives,” they mutter,
“then how can he be bread from heaven?”

It doesn’t matter if Jesus
has just walked on water
and fed five thousand,
just like manna in the wilderness wasn’t enough;
and birds being blown into their camp to eat
wasn’t enough;
and water gushing from rocks wasn’t enough.
In response to their whining,

Jesus says, “Stop it! Enough already.”

But the religious leaders haven’t had enough.
The people trotting along behind Jesus
hoping for more bread and fish
or a healing
haven’t had enough either.
I suppose there are all kinds of punchlines
we can read in these stories
but here is the punch line
that resonates the most for me.

When it comes to the things that really matter to us:
No one can satiate our appetite for more.
Answer my prayer today
and tomorrow I will have another one;
and if you don’t answer that one
then I will be just as agitated.

When blood is gushing from one wound
it doesn’t really make a difference to us
that another wound has been bandaged:
“What about THIS wound!”

This has real-life implications for us.
For people who see Jesus
as just another myth
or an interesting wisdom teacher
or a literary illustration,
then no amount of preaching
or personal witnessing
or impassioned proof-texting
will convince them
that Jesus can satiate their hunger
and slake their thirst.

Preaching and witnessing
are as powerless as miracles
to give someone an experience
they do not already have.

In spite of the idea of evangelism,
deeply embedded in Christianity
is the belief that revelation
cannot be given by humans.
And by revelation, I mean the unveiling of God
or information about God.
As I have illustrated before,
world religions can be lumped into two categories:
“Revealed” and “Unrevealed” religion.

“Unrevealed” religions,
like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism,
are practiced
and with that practice comes wisdom.
Any secrets or mysteries — if they can be discovered —
are discoverable through practice and learning.
That may also be why it takes many lifetimes.

In “Revealed” religions,
like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,
that which is important to know
is revealed only by one source,
and one source only: God.
No matter how hard we practice the spiritual steps
God will not be revealed to us
unless God reveals godself.
It is all God’s action
and none of ours.

So, according to our wisdom tradition,
we are powerless.
No matter what we do
no matter how good, bad, or ugly we are,
if God wants to be known
or unknown,
it is God’s choice.

But this is also true:
whatever is here in the field around us
to be seen or heard or known
will go unseen, unheard, and unknown
if what we are doing is whining
and cheeping for more and more
like baby birds.

While it is true
that no amount of preaching
and teaching
will reveal the mysteries and love of God,
it is also true
that we can always be more open
to the presence of God
that is right here
and right now
in every moment.

But God’s presence in our midst
goes unseen while we whine
about what we do not have
and when we are focused
on what we have decided is not enough.

Not enough and whining
takes away our sight.
Not enough and whining
takes away our sensitivity.
Not enough and whining
takes away our understanding.

Not enough
creates all kinds of static
in the field all around us
and makes it nearly impossible
for us to pick up on the signals
of God’s ordinary presence in our face.

A scarcity mentality
that always sees the glass half empty
leads to whining as a default,
whether in our own head
or out loud.
Ceaseless sorrow and insistence
that we do not have enough,
simply sucks the sacred
right out of any moment.

Sometimes there really and truly
is not enough,
and sometimes
that “not-enough”
is a justice issue that we must demand
be changed.
But much of the time…there is enough.

If I learned anything
from the decade I spent learning
from communities in El Salvador,
it is that affluence
utterly distorts our perception
of what is and what is not

What I suspect now,
is that whenever things are not enough,
or not good enough,
or simply not to our liking,
it is still probably enough.

The problem is not
what is missing
or that we do have what we need,
it is that we do not have what we want,
or as much as we want,
or exactly the way we want it.

The point of John’s story,
is that Jesus could be standing on water
right in front of us,
right here and now,
and handing out wine flavored ice cream,
but we could still be saying or feeling,
“That’s not enough.”

The solution
is not for someone to preach at us about Jesus
or try to convince us that Jesus is miraculous
or supernatural —
or try to convince us of anything.
The solution comes from within:
to address the anxiety
and the fear
and the resentment
and the grief
that whimpers or screams, “Not enough.”

But addressing all of that
is a topic for another sermon,
and may be above my paygrade.