Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost - August 5 2018

Sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
August 5, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Psalm 51:1-13; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

In last week’s Gospel we met Jesus the healer.  People came to him from miles around, just to touch so much as his cloak, and were healed.  Then, perceiving that they wanted to make him king, Jesus went away to a secret place with the disciples.  But then the crowds followed him and he had compassion on them, so he continued to heal and to teach, and, finally, late in the day, made sure everyone had something to eat, even though all that he had to work with were a couple of fish and a few barley loaves.  And again, he and the disciples go away.  But again, the crowds come after then, asking for what they think they want - a Jesus who will be there to make sure they are fed.

But Jesus isn't that sort of messiah, is he?  I mean, yes, he healed many and he fed many; that was what he did.  But it’s not who he is.   In response to their desire, he doesn't offer what they think they want, but, instead, what God knows they need.  And that's not about 3 squares a day, or any other small time miracle.  Jesus is not a vending machine.

So this opens the question, what does God know we need, and is that need the one we perceive?  It sounds to me as though the answer to the second half of the question at least might be no.

We know what Jesus promised - eternal life - and we know what he asked of us - to love God and neighbor and ourselves.  We trust that in some way we cannot fully understand he obtained forgiveness of our sin and our hope for eternal life through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

But do we have any idea what eternal life is?

And do we really want it?

Or do we, like the crowds who followed Jesus, simply want good food, good health, and not too much struggle, thanks very much?

Be honest now.

Who among us wants to carry the burdens of poverty, or illness, or social ostracism?  Not one, am I right?

And if we'd prefer to avoid those things, does that mean we are bad people?  No.  But the question they ask is the wrong question. 

The point is, as far as God is concerned, those goals are too low; they are too narrow; and they are not the point.

We weren't brought into life to set our sights on this life.

We were brought into life so we might live.  Or as Scripture tells us, that we "might have life and have it abundantly."

And that doesn't mean to be rich or comfortably well off or even to have a roof over our heads each night and 3 squares a day.

Eternal life.

Abundant life.

What do these ideas mean?  How can we understand them?

We may need to give up any idea that we can understand them.  Oh, we read the Gospels, we know the stories, we know what happened then, and we know the right phrases to say – but, well, that’s not the end of things.

Is there anyone here who has never seen the ocean?  You may have read about it, you may have heard about it, you may have seen pictures or videos, or listened to one of those meditation apps that let you hear the surf … but have you seen it? Stood by it?  Walked into it?  Been lifted by the water, and cast upon the shore by it?

How about who has seen the ocean?  Who has walked on the sand, swum in the waters, felt the waves crashing on the beach in the soles of your feet? Maybe been on the ocean, in a boat or a ship, and felt the waves rise and fall, heard the water chattering along the waterline?

Has anyone made a study of the ocean?  Learned about the currents, and the life within the waters and along the water’s edge, walked along the shoreline, seen it in calm and in storm, spent a lifetime exploring one coastline after another, sampling the water temperatures, exploring the different animals and plants that inhabit the ocean, and how one affects the others?

And if you have done all that, you know that there is always more to be learned, more to explore, more to understand, and you know that no matter how much information you have, no matter how many data points you have gathered, no matter how much time you have spent in this work, you will always know that you will never fully know what is the ocean.  Right?

So maybe this eternal, abundant life that Jesus talks about is like the ocean, only more so.  We will never fully understand it; we can only receive it as a gift.

That’s what theologian William Willimon once wrote.[1]

He also said that to do so is difficult, that we want to think we have a God-given right, so to speak, to understand anything we choose to attend to.  John’s Gospel says the opposite:  we may think we know something, but in truth, we know next to nothing.  The truth of God is too different, too deep, too inexplicable; and too hard.

Willimon also wrote that “The needs of the world are too great, the suffering and pain too extensive, the lures of the world too seductive for us to begin to change the world unless we are changed, unless conversion of life and morals becomes our pattern. The status quo is too alluring.  It is the air we breathe, the food we eat, the six-thirty news, our institutions, theologies, and politics. The only way we shall break its hold on us is to be transferred to another dominion, to be cut loose from our old certainties, to be thrust under the flood and then pulled forth fresh and newborn.  Baptism takes us there.”[2]

Jesus reveals the way, the truth, and the life in himself, but we would prefer that the way, the truth, and the life that he reveals would be something that we can understand, something we can aspire to, something that we can earn or learn or attain if we just try hard enough.  Something that would not require us to struggle physically, economically, politically, philosophically, in confusion and in darkness and in pain and in loss.  We want our comforts; we don’t want to change.  We want to be right; we want to think that because we are kind or good, or doing great mission work and feeding the hungry and advocating for justice, that we are somehow better people – and that God will reward us for those things. 

But it’s never ever been about our earning God’s love; we don’t need to do that, because nothing can ever separate us from the love of God.  Not even our failures.

We are offered this love so we might love, with all the love that God offers us to aid us in loving God and others and even ourselves. 

We are offered life so that we might live, abundantly, extravagantly, without fear for the future, in love, unselfish, self-giving, courageously, ridiculously, openly, endlessly, knowing we can never love as God does, but wanting to all the same, because God loves us beyond all measure and somehow that is enough.

Even if we don’t understand it, can’t understand it, will never understand it; even if we can’t earn it, but just because it is given.

This should be the most liberating experience, something akin to casting ourselves into the ocean and letting it carry us where it will, even to the bottom of the deepest basin or to the farthest lands, completely without fear. 

Cast off your fears, my sisters and brothers, cast off your fears of unknowing and go forth, trusting that God will be with you along the way, and will reveal the truth when you are ready to see and understand.


[1] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 3, Kindle 11103

[2] William Willimon, Bread and Wine


  May 2021  
This Week's Events
Bible Search