Grace and peace to you, from God our Creator and from Jesus Christ, our Savior, and Lord. Amen.
So here’s my question for you today. It shouldn’t be too taxing: “Where are you from?” Where do you come from? What is your point of origin? I’ll start: I’m Todd, and I’m from Minneapolis. That’s where I grew up.
So how about you? Where are you from? Here’s what I’d like you to do. Turn to someone near you. Introduce yourself, and then tell that person where you are from. You’ll have 15 seconds to do it. Got it? Ok…ready…set…go!
Everybody done? Excellent. Here we go…just because I’m curious. Let’s find out where folks are from.
- If you’re from outside of Owatonna, raise your hand.
- Ok, if you’re from outside of Minnesota, keep your hand up.
- How about outside the 5 state area
- Outside of the United States?
- Where? (The farthest person: Free donut!)
Where we come from makes a difference. Not like one place is better than another, that’s not what I mean. But rather in that where we come from is a part of our story. It is one of the things that shape who we are. For example, I grew up in the city. My neighborhood was in south Minneapolis. For fun, my friends and I would ride our bikes down Minnehaha Parkway and hang out at the lakes. I’d ride the city bus downtown to go skateboarding. (Yes, I was a skater kid) It was a great childhood and adolescence…and a great way to grow up.
In contrast, my wife, Lori, grew up on a dairy farm between Kasson and Byron. In fact, she was quite literally a dairy princess…just one step away from having her head carved in butter. To me, when we were dating, this was all kind of a novelty…it was kind of cute. Until the first time I went down with her to meet her family. On the way, she said to me “you need to know, there might be a quiz.” A quiz? “Yep. You might need to know the 6 different breeds of dairy cows.” “Excuse me?” Yep. There’s Jersey, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire, Milking short horn and of course, Holstein (which was the most important because it was what they raised). “My Dad might quiz you.” So all the way from Minneapolis to the family farm, it was like flash cards. As we drove by cows in the field, she made me identify them. “Brown swiss…Jersey…no wait…Guernsey…ugh…” Of course when I got there and met her family…there was no quiz, just pleasant conversation. When I confronted her on our drive home, she just said “Nah, we just like messing with city kids.”
Where we come from makes a difference. It helps to shape who we are.
This was certainly the case for those who surrounded Jesus in our Gospel lesson. St. John narrates that these people have followed Jesus, regarded him as a teacher, and witnessed his miracles. But they also know him as one of their own. He’s from the neighborhood. They knew his parents and his brothers and sisters, they watched him play, grow up, learn his trade, and eventually leave home. They know him. He’s just Jesus…Joseph and Mary’s boy. Sure, he can turn water into wine, and feed a crowd with just a few fish and loaves, but those are just tricks. Minor miracles. He really can’t be all that special, and he certainly can’t be the one God sent for redemption.
So the people in the crowd are bothered, offended, angered even, by Jesus’ suggestion that he, the local boy, is the answer to their deepest longings and greatest needs. “The Bread of Life? What is he talking about?” they had to wonder.
It’s an audacious claim that Jesus is making. Who ever heard of a God having anything to do with the everyday, the ordinary and the mundane? Gods are made for greatness, not grime; they’re supposed to reside up in the clouds, not down here with the commoners. I mean, who ever heard of a God who is willing to suffer the pains and problems, the indecencies and embarrassments of human life? It’s down right laughable. No wonder the crowd grumbles against Jesus’ words, for such words seem to make fun of their understanding of God’s majesty and, even worse, to mock their own deep need for a God who transcends the very life which is causing them so much difficulty.
They know, first-hand, of their own flaws and shortcomings, of their own faithlessness and failures. They know of their doubts and fears, of their betrayals and broken promises, their petty grudges and foolish prejudices. And so they grumble because they are angry, yes, but even more, I believe, because they are afraid, afraid that, maybe in the end, they’re really not worth saving.
Are we all that different? I know that I, at least, am not. I think we all, at some level, experience low spiritual self-esteem. We look in the mirror and we see the character flaws…the problems…the habits…the hang ups. I had a person tell me once that they quit coming to church. When I asked why, they told me “because when I compare myself to everyone else there, and I look at Jesus, who I’m supposed to try and be like, there is no way my faith measures up. So I just gave up.”
Sometimes, the foundation of our faith can feel so fragile that none of us feel like we are worth God’s love.
But God has this habit of taking the absolutely ordinary…the unworthy even, and doing extraordinary things with it.
Look at the sacraments, for example. The water we use in baptism, it’s not holy, or special, or different. It’s water. It comes from the tap. The same with the bread and wine of communion; these aren’t special either. They’re ordinary, common, mundane; hardly worthy of God’s attention, let alone God’s use.
And yet…. and yet God does use such ordinary things, such common elements, to achieve God’s will and to bring to the world God’s salvation.
And God chooses to work with ordinary, flawed, sinful people. Look in the Biblical stories:
- Moses was a murder who was terrified of speaking in public.
- David was an adulterer and a murderer.
- Jonah ran away and had anger issues.
- Jeremiah was suicidal.
- Samson was an arrogant womanizer.
- Mary was a teenager.
- Peter was a coward.
- Paul had a problem but never would lay out the specifics.
- Timothy had anxiety issues.
- And John the Baptist? He liked to eat bugs.
Not the most impressive set of resume’s are they? But with the ordinary and the flawed, God does the extraordinary. How and why does God do this? Because of this very one, Jesus, who was common, ordinary, mortal like you and me, and at the same time was uncommon, divine, the very Son of God. This is the claim Jesus makes in today’s gospel reading, the claim which offended the crowd who followed him then, the claim which still puzzles any who take it seriously today. For where we expect God to come in might, God comes in weakness; where we look for God to come in power, God comes in vulnerability; and when we seek God in justice and righteousness – which is, after all, what we all expect form a God – we find God (or rather are found by God!) in forgiveness and mercy.
I was visiting someone in the hospital once who had just been through heart surgery. Before I left, we prayed together. When I finished, the person, teasing me just a bit, asked why I spent so much energy praying for the doctors, the nurses, the medicines, the technicians, and all the machines that he was attached to. “I think I’d rather you just prayed for something dramatic…a healing…a miracle!” he said.
“But sometimes” I replied, “I think it’s through the doctors, and nurses and medicines and machines that God works the miracles.”
God works through technology and instruments, through bottom-line corporations and imperfect labor unions, through ordinary, fallible human, doctors, nurses and technicians. This is the miracle. I also find it amazing and miraculous that God works through flawed pastors, exhausted teachers, worn-out secretaries, over-worked government officials, tired parents, and the like, even when they don’t suspect it.
God, who is perfect, chooses to work through the imperfect. Just as surely as God uses ordinary bread and wine to bring to us God’s saving word, so does God also use each of us to accomplish God’s will and work in God’s world.
Jesus came from an ordinary place; just this little, podunk, backwater town…barely a dot on a map. And to his neighbors, he was just Jesus…Joseph and Mary’s boy. And these neighbors were a little put out that he was calling himself the “Bread of Life.”
But Jesus wasn’t just a local kid. He was the Son of God…He was God made flesh. And God has a history of taking the everyday, the ordinary, the mundane, and doing extraordinary things with them.
You and me, my friends: it doesn’t matter where we come from. God has chosen us. God has blessed us. We are just ordinary people. But God has given us extraordinary grace.
So come. Come each and every week. Join the rest of your ordinary and flawed friends to hear God’s word proclaimed in the liturgy and hymns, the lessons and preaching. Come to receive God’s sacraments and to be touched by God’s presence. Come with your hearts and minds, your hands and mouths and bodies, to receive the incarnate God, the God who took, and still takes, physical form for us. Come to give all that you have and all that you are for God’s mission.
And then go. Go from here to live lives that are full of God’s love and directed to God’s purpose in the world. Come to this service of worship and then leave for service in God’s world. That’s our call.
Where we come from, who we are and what we can do matters far less to God than where we are going together. And together, we go to follow the call of Jesus.