We saw Garrison Keillor last night at the Pavilion. He opened the show with a story about the rationale for his summer tour. It turns out his family had invited him to go camping. They explained to Keillor that it is through nature that they felt the presence of God…Garrison explained that it is in a nice luxury coach that he finds God. That God is found in luxury hotels and over great meals, too!
Where do we find The Presence of God? A question that many of us wrestle with is the subtext of the conversation we hear in our Gospel Lesson. Jesus and his Jewish interlocutors are discussing the whereabout of God. The presence of God.
Jesus, fresh off walking on water and feeding the five thousand, has entered into a debate about bread. Bread serves as a perfect metaphor for illuminating the presence of God. Bread or Manna had become a tangible symbol not only of life and nourishment but God’s presence.
The people of Isreal heard during the Exodus:
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day.
Jesus’ language does not sit well. His attempt to direct the question about the presence of God back onto himself seems to fall flat. The Jews began to complain, they murmured to each other, graveling about this and that. Jesus on one side and a group of “huffy-puffy” know it alls on the other. Shaking their head and trying their hardest to discredit this man.
They attempt to decipher Jesus words through their own lens.
It cannot be true they think. It breaks down to many of their ideas and history of the knowledge of the Lord.
Jesus does not measure up, they must be thinking:
- We remember the bread from Heaven, it came from Moses…
- We know your parents, you did not come from Heaven…
- We know where you are from, a slum like Nazareth…
Even though they heard with their ears and saw with their eyes, it just did not measure up. It did not make sense. They could no accept it. It must be more complicated.
You and me do it all the time. We murmur against a relative or a friend who speaks of the presence of God. I often look skeptical when someone tells me about a grand experience with God or the presence of the Holy Spirit if it is out of my comfort zone. For instance, if their story lacks a Book of Common Prayer reference! I want to put God into a backpack and carry Him around with me.
I worked for a summer as a Chaplain in a Hospital. When I was interviewing for the position, Jeff, my future boss, asked, “where do you think Jesus is in the Hospital? I replied I think he follows me into the rooms. I know that Jesus was going to be in a backpack coming with me to make visits, etc.
“Jeff, looked at me, and said, I think he is waiting for you in the room.” Well, I murmured and bristled after he said that…many months later I understood what he meant. I understood that I, too, was holding God’s presence in a form or a construct. I do this because I want to know where God is!
We all want to know where Jesus is. We are no different than Jesus’ interlocutors. We want to feel the tangible presence of God even though we are resistant to hearing it might come from a different direction, in a different form or a different manner than we expect.We are resistant until it hits us over the head or smacks us in the face.
Back to our question. Where is God? We want to know!
We can use Christ’s reply to point us in the direction. Christ makes it clear that it is God drawing us to Him. The Creator comes to us through the Son. To know the Father, you must Know the Son.
To know God, you must know Jesus.
Who is Christ?
God became flesh in the person of His Son and Christ. God provides a real and tangible person so that we might know the Love and Favor of God towards us. This is the revelation of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. The presence of God not in a backpack, not abstract, but real and fleshly.
So we read Jesus’ words. The bread that was offered for the world. The flesh that was offered for you and me.
Why? For the salvation of the World and the revelation of Christ that restores our relationship to the Father. This revelation, this bread, this person, reconciles us to the Father, not by our deeds or actions, but my the life (flesh) that was offered to you and me. God offers his presence to the world and have the last word on sin and death. To show us once and for all that God’s love and presence is with us.
God sent his Son as the “bread for the life of the world.” The flesh of Christ is the tangible presence of a God that loves us and offers us eternal life.
Yet, I still murmur. I am still skeptical. Where is God? I think. I still yearn and long to touch God.
When we realize that God’s presence is deeper and wider than we could imagine and our narrow constructs of God’s presence break down, than we bump up against this truth which is that we feel unworthy of God. Underneath my questions and skepticism is a feeling of unreservedness or unworthiness of such Good News. I am unfit for the presence of God. That we are unsure of God’s presence.
“The bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” Says Jesus.
The Communion Table has long been a place of debate about the presence of God. This debate has been along matters of doctrine, but the Invitation that we proclaim every Sunday is not one of debate.
– The Gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in Remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your heart by faith with Thanksgiving.
These words spoken before we are drawn to the remembrance of our Salvation speak about the One who offered Bread/Flesh for the life of the world. This time becomes one of remembrance and presence.
AS we kneel at God’s rail, we hear these words:
“The Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ given for you. The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ Shed for you.” Drawing us ever closer to the presence of God.
This is not a presence that we create or construct.
Rather, this is a presence that draws us into the relationship. That breaks into our life and says: I love you. I am with you always. It is a presence that drew us to the Cross, and meets us in the Resurrection.
A story that shows us the presence of God. This is a story of Agnes, who is a whore in Honolulu. She spends her night selling her body in order to subsist from day to day – in order to buy her bread. This is a story about Tony as well. Tony is traveling in Hawaii for a conference and cannot sleep at 330am and goes across the street to a diner for eggs and coffee. The same diner that Agnes arrives every night with her fellow prostitutes to end their evening. So as Tony was eating his meal he overheard Agnes and her friends talking about her birthday the next day. Agnes explained about the pain that involves her birthday. Pain relating to her current state in life and deeper and more lasting pain related to her broken childhood and family. She wished that she would not have a birthday. The other girls agreed that birthdays do nothing but bring up pain and remind them that they are unlovable.
After Agnes left, Tony asked Harry, the diner’s owner, if they could throw a birthday party for Agnes. The following happened the next night:
At 2:30 the next morning, I (Tony) was back at the diner. I had picked up some crepe-paper decorations at the store and had made a sign out of big pieces of cardboard that read, “Happy Birthday, Agnes!” I decorated the diner from one end to the other. I had that diner looking good.
The woman who did the cooking must have gotten the word out on the street, because by 3:15 every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place. It was wall-to-wall prostitutes and me!
we all screamed, “Happy birthday!”
Never have I seen a person so flabbergasted so stunned so shaken. Her mouth fell open. Her legs seemed to buckle a bit. Her friend grabbed her arm to steady her. As she was led to sit on one of the stools along the counter, we all sang “Happy Birthday”‘ to her.
As we came to the end of our singing with “happy birthday, dear Agnes, happy birthday to you,” her eyes moistened. Then, when the birthday cake with all the candles on it was carried out, she lost it and just openly cried.
She got off the stool, picked up the cake, and carrying it like it was the Holy Grail, walked slowly toward the door. As we all just stood there motionless, she left.
When the door closed, there was a stunned silence in the place. Not knowing what else to do, I broke the silence by saying, “What do you say we pray?”
When I finished, Harry leaned over the counter and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he said, “Hey! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?” In one of those moments when just the right words came, I answered, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning.”
Harry waited a moment and then almost sneered as he answered, “No you don’t. There’s no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. I’d join a church like that!”
Wouldn’t we all? Wouldn’t we all like to join a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning?
Well, that’s the kind of church that Jesus came to create!
The Good News is that Jesus offered his flesh so that you and I would never hunger and would know once and for all that God loves us and draws us into this love at the Communion Table and in Diners at 330am.