Sermon for Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 1, 2021
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared in worship and on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
Exodus 16:2–4, 9–15 | Ephesians 4:1–16 | John 6:24–35
The tribes of Israel—we hear in the chapter before Ex. 15—have made it to the other side of the Red Sea. There was singing and dancing to celebrate being saved from slavery in Egypt. Next is the story about needing water and God’s provision. Today we hear about needing food.
If you’ve watched the olympics, maybe you’ve seen the commercial about googling “how to?’—with the implication of “what’s next?”—like starting a new job, starting a home project, etc. It reminds me of this word “liminal” that’s been used more and more lately. Liminal comes from the word for “threshold” and describes that time that comes just before something else happens; you are about to go there, but you’ve never been there and so you don’t know what it will be like. So, it’s like you are standing on the threshold between what has been and what is not-yet. It’s an experience brings up feelings of loss, disorientation, ambiguity, and also potential. It makes me think, actually, that we spend a lot of time in liminality: From the movement of day to night, sleep to wakefulness, transitioning our roles as partners and parents; jobs and places where we live. It’s discovering an illness, or healing. In fact, “the internet” even offers ways to create liminal space—like re-arranging your furniture or wandering around an unfamiliar neighborhood—if you desire also finding those internal thresholds that could lead to something new.
Here’s what happens when we find some resolution to this uncertainty, however: If the results work in our favor, especially—a good health outcome, a new job, escape from slavery—there is an immediate settling in to the new, a feeling of having deserved this and what one theologian calls one major source of our problematic human condition: A short memory. Like, wow was Egypt great! Remember all that good food! But if there’s a glitch, or we don’t like what is coming, or we have to wait longer, then we experience a second major source of problems in the human condition: Fear. Like, you brought us out in to this wilderness… to kill us all with hunger! So, in one chapter, the people of Israel have crossed a body of water, moving out of slavery and into freedom; they then forget how bad things were; and then they enter a space of back fear, wondering: What’s next and how are we going to survive out here? I have a lot of compassion for them: this wilderness wandering with it’s liminal spaces and times—and the whole 40 years being a liminal experience as they wait on the threshold of promised land: A huge pause in Unknowing, in which all they can do is what all any of us can do in the liminal: One step at a time, trusting God’s presence and good will no matter WHAT happens: That is, practicing faith.
God does know there are certain non-negotiable needs; safety is provided along with water and manna and quail. It reminds me of the people chasing Jesus around the Sea of Galilee (Gennesaret) when Jesus says, Okay, “I see why you are following me around! It’s because of the bread of which you ate your fill!” As I said last week, having and desiring food isn’t all bad: Embedded in God’s life among us is the assumption that God’s creatures are worthy enough simply BY BEING, to have enough to eat. It gets a little tricky, however, when it becomes the focus of what people want from Jesus; when the “bread” never seems to be enough and we approach life without ever having a sense of “enough-ness.” There’s the basics of life, and there’s the constant, neurotic “filling up” with food and stuff—beyond what we need in order to try to block out the discomfort of the liminal space. For the Israelites, storing more manna than needed for the day (unless it was the day before Sabbath) resulted in it becoming wormy and foul. Faith—that is a constant, lived-out trust— that God was present and was providing—was the only way they were going to do more than survive in the wilderness, between places.
In fact, this faith place is really where Jesus goes as well: We hear this annoyingly evasive question- like those I’ve had to decode or ask my midwestern-raised husband: What are you really asking? “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 3:00? For one, it feels a little controlling: Like as the “bread-provider,” he now has to report in? Is Jesus just another way to feel like their jars will always be full and they’ll never have to live with ambiguity, disorientation, loss ever again? Or at least if they can keep up with him, maybe they can stave these things off for a little longer? But I think this question, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” also hints at a deep and plaintive question: Are you going to leave us?
So here’s a thing: “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.” They ask about this and Jesus says, “This is the work of God, that you believe (faith) in him whom he has sent.” We remember here that “believing” is really a practice in the midst of feelings of spiritual and physical hunger that involves trusting and “living as if.” As i— as Jesus now says— “... the bread of God … comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
As we talked about this word “enough” last week, what becomes apparent is that it doesn’t mean just getting by in God’s lexicon. The basics are there, now sense how much more there is! How deeply nourishing is the life of Jesus in us and for the world. We will often not know what lies beyond the threshold, but we can live as if God is there, providing for us. Because God is. Thanks be to God. Amen.