John 6:35, 41-51
August 12, 2018
– Carla Wilks
This morning’s scripture reading comes immediately after John’s version of the feeding of the 5000. Jesus states I am the Bread of Life, and then what follows is a bit of complaining. The crowd says but hey we know who your parents are, you can’t be the bread of life sent from heaven, because your mom and dad are Mary and Joseph! Jesus tells them to stop their complaining and basically tells them they are missing the point. Their insistence that they know Jesus’ parents, only shows their ignorance of the significance of Jesus’ life. The truth isn’t found in knowing the human parents who nurtured Jesus’ childhood – the truth is found in knowing that Jesus has come from God. This self-assured knowledge of the crowd stands in the way of them seeing the truth.
The statement of Jesus that follows is: “No one is able to come to me unless drawn by my Father” (verse 44). This is one of those problematic scripture verses for some, that is used in an exclusionary way, to proclaim that there is only one way and that is the way of Jesus. But as I was looking closely at this scripture to try to unpack it this week, I discovered that the verb translated as “drawn” could actually be translated as the word “dragged.” It is the same verb that is used when in the Gospels, the fishermen are pulling their fishing nets onto the boat, dragging them up onboard the boat. No one comes to Jesus without God’s pull. We get pulled into Jesus’ ways by being pulled by God – and yes sometimes it feels like we are being dragged! That sounds a lot different than the way this verse is often used. Jesus goes on to expand on this and state it in a slightly different way and in doing so, refers back to scripture in Isaiah. “All who heard from the Father and learned from what they heard will come to me.” Here, the teaching from God and the learning from that teaching will result in coming to Jesus.
Different church contexts have different understandings of what it means “to come to Jesus.” John’s own context and community had different layers of meaning for this also. For the Jews in Jesus’ context, to ‘come to Jesus’ would be to choose the messianic understanding of their own Jewish tradition. For the Jews in the context of the Gospel of John, it would mean choosing to step outside of the Jewish tradition and move into the Christian context. For us today it might mean moving outside the typical pattern of our own culture and choosing a radical Christian understanding of the world. Where might we need to move beyond our own culture and choose a different way – this radical Christian understanding of the world?
Whatever this choice involves, Jesus is clear that it cannot happen individually. It is dependent upon God’s pull, God’s instruction, and the disciple’s learning. One cannot come to Jesus on one’s own.
I experienced this radical Christian understanding of the world on Friday. We had our picnic at Panorama Park with a busload full of community members from First United Church in the Downtown Eastside. Since I began here at Mt Seymour in November, I have had many memorable and profound experiences, but this picnic may have topped it off. In our Mission and Outreach Team meetings, we have been talking about the picnic for many months, but I had always been thinking about it from a planning perspective, figuring out the details and making sure that we had everyone set for what their tasks were, and things lined up to get done. A couple of us got there early in the morning to get the muffins and coffee ready, in anticipation of the arrival of the bus full of guests at about 9:30.
This was my first experience of this picnic, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. But what I found was that it was one of the most beautiful experiences of Being Community that I have seen since I started here. And that is saying a lot – because one thing that I have learned since being at Mt Seymour is that you folks are really good at being community.
Those three phrases – the vision that this congregation lives by – Being Community, Nurturing Spirit, Living Generously – were so evident at the picnic.
The picnic made me think a lot about the last worship series that we did here in June and July before my vacation: The Outsiders series. How in Jesus’ ministry he regularly welcomed to the inside, those who were typically on the outside. At this picnic for me this was turned around – I felt like I was welcomed in to their community, while I anticipated that we would be welcoming them into our community. At the picnic before lunch we spent time getting to know each other, I kept getting up and then sitting down with different people. The thing that struck me was that our conversations were never about our differences or about their life circumstances that landed them in their current situation. Our conversations were about our similarities – we have kids the same age, we enjoy the same music. Communication was free and easy all morning.
I watched the joy on faces as people from the First United community and people from Mt Seymour recognized each other – and even remembered each other’s names from picnics in years past, and I can’t wait to be part of that aspect next year.
After lunch it was time for kayaking, canoeing and boat rides. Folks from First went out on the water and had a wonderful time. Near the end of the afternoon there was an available kayak, so I had an opportunity to join them on the water. It was only my second time kayaking, and I loved it! A seal came up beside us out on the water, and the joy that I could see on their faces filled me with joy to last me until next year’s picnic.
This sense of community that I experienced on Friday was like no other. If you have never been, it is something you don’t want to miss next year. I think most people who attended could say that it is a highlight of the summer, and it was certainly a highlight of mine!
My ideas ahead of time of what the picnic would be like, I felt was a little bit like the crowd in today’s scripture, how their self-assured knowledge stood in the way of seeing the truth. My preconceived notions of what I might experience at the picnic was turned on its head. I was expecting to welcome the people from First into our community, into our neighbourhood, but instead I felt the welcome into their community. I felt like I was dragged or pulled, like fishing nets being hauled into a boat – pulled by God into a new understanding of community – the one that Jesus calls us to be – one community, feasting on the bread of life, this time in the form of muffins and hot dogs and home baking, opening our eyes and hearts to new possibilities. This was indeed the Body of Christ – together in Deep Cove on a Friday afternoon. Thanks be to God for pulling us together into community.
John 6:35, 41-51
6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
6:41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”
6:42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
6:43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves.
6:44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.
6:45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.
6:46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.
6:47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.
6:48 I am the bread of life.
6:49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.
6:50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.
6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”