Sermon for Sunday, August 26, 2018 || Proper 16B || John 6:56-69
Sometimes ordinary conversations spur the deepest of thoughts. This past Monday, I was cleaning up the breakfast dishes while listening to the kids talking to each other at the kitchen table. At their recent birthday party, they had decorated small terra cotta pots with glitter glue and stickers. Inside the pots they planted seeds that hopefully will grow into tiny spruce trees by Christmas. So there they sat at the kitchen table, and then they started listing off all the people they wanted to invite over to see their Christmas trees when they’re done growing.
They began with close family friends who had helped bake their birthday cake. Then they listed all their family members – Nana and Papa, Amma and Abba, their aunts and uncles and cousins. Then they moved onto friends who attended their party and their parents; then to other friends from school; then to people from church. They kept naming people they know, people with whom they have some level of relationship. And for a pair of four-year-olds, they had a pretty extensive list.
I listened in from the sink, not saying a word, and their heartfelt, earnest conversation touched me deeply. I began thinking about all of the people who have touched my life in one way or another. As I started listing them in my mind, I realized two things. First, I realized I was praying – a prayer of thanksgiving and intercession. Second, I realized I could never complete the list because my memory is certainly not good enough to recall the names of every person I’ve ever been in relationship with and because there are so many, many, many more that I have related to in some way whose names I will never know.
I know it can sound a little trite to bring up the fact that we’re all connected, that we’re all related, that we all belong one to another. Of course, this sermon has been written before by many a priest in many a place. I’ve probably written it before too. But sometimes the rediscovery of this foundational truth is just as important as the original realization. Last week, my kids gave me the gift of remembering and celebrating that I am not alone, have never been alone, and never will be alone.
And I needed that gift in that moment when I was washing the dishes. I was in a dark funk, coming off only three hours sleep the night before, and I was facing a full day with an attitude of fatalistic purpose. Just get through the day. That will be victory enough. I was ready to put my head down and barrel forward, knowing that sleeplessness makes me prone to panic attacks and waves of depression. But when my kids started listing their relations, I looked up and saw the sun come streaming in. I took a deep breath. I was still facing a day on little sleep, but suddenly the day didn’t seem as dark as before.
I wonder if that’s how Jesus felt at the end of today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus has finally finished his long sermon about being the bread of life. With each iteration of the sermon’s theme, he developed his central metaphor until he was talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. So it’s no surprise many of his disciples balked at the difficulty of his teaching. It’s no surprise many of them “turned back and no longer when about with him.” I can see the crowds in my mind’s eye: they returned after the miraculous feeding of the five thousand expecting more food – physical food to nourish their hungry bodies. Jesus had only words of nourishment, which began their disappointment. When he finished his speech without producing more bread, but instead by inviting them to eat and drink him, they threw up their hands and walked off.
So Jesus asked the twelve disciples, “Do you also wish to go away?” This is Jesus’ lowest point prior to the crucifixion. This is Jesus’ first brush with abandonment. This is a dark day for the Light of World. And this is the day his disciples give him the same gift my kids gave me last week. Simon Peter says, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
In John’s account of the Gospel, belief is synonymous with relationship. So when Peter makes this remarkable declaration, he is, in effect, saying, “We’re not going anywhere. You have formed deep and abiding relationships with us, and we have no wish to break them.”
It is also all too easy in life to ignore the relationships that sustain us, to take them for granted, to focus so much on ourselves that we forget we belong to each other. So we need reminders: reminders like the one my children gave me last week, or like Jesus’ disciples gave him, or like we will share together when we gather for Holy Communion, the ultimate symbol that we are not alone.
And it is all too easy to forget the God who stands under all those relationships, threading them together in a great tapestry of creative energy. In a wonderful recent article on the literary mastery of J.R.R. Tolkien, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams makes this breathtaking claim: in his great works of fantastical fiction, “Tolkien is seeking to model the way in which the creator works not by intervening but by interweaving.”
The creator works not intervening but by interweaving. That is, God stitches us together, and that very stitching is the work of creation. God’s weaving of the tapestry of life is God’s work that we are blessed to participate in. The joining together in relationship is not just a means to an end; it is an end in itself. An end that is full of beginnings.
This week I needed this reminder. Perhaps you did too. In a world full of fractures and broken relationships, we can find it difficult to remember we are not just isolated threads. The creator interweaves us together, and this is most often how we notice the creator’s presence.
A final reminder of this wonderful reality hits me most days when I’m in the car with the kids. When they hear songs they like, they request them over and over again, and recently the #1 hits in our car have come from the Tony award winning broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen. The show is about a teenaged boy who suffers from social anxiety. When an acquaintance named Connor dies of apparent suicide, a series of wrong assumptions leads people to think Evan and Connor were best friends. Glad that others think he had a friend at all, Evan allows those false assumptions to stand, leading him to speak at a gathering in Connor’s memory. Evan’s speech about interconnectedness – or what Rowan Williams calls interweaving – goes viral online, and the cast sings the song “You will be Found” to close out Act One. The chorus keeps coming back to me. I think they are words Jesus might have said:
Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground
You will be found.
So let the sun come streaming in
‘Cause you’ll reach up and you’ll rise again
Lift your head and look around
You will be found.