Just a few days ago I had the privilege of participating in the PCUSA’s Big Tent conference; a gathering of over 1000 Presbyterians from all different walks of life. There we gathered for worship, education, and community on the campus of the University of Tennessee as we together envisioned the future of the church. And what amazing things we learned during that time! One of the most memorable teachers from that week was a Biblical Studies professor from Westminster College by the name of Prof. Kang Yup Na, as he taught us several different approaches to Bible study.
On the first day of our studies, Professor Na began with a Buddhist traditional teaching, which goes something like this:
There was a young monk in training with his elder teacher; his Master.
The young monk requested of his teacher, ‘Please Master, teach me all there is to know.’
The Master replied, ‘I will, but first go ahead, fill this pot of water and place it on the stove. Listening to the Master, the young monk did as he was instructed. Suddenly the Master turned on the burner, and the pot of water started boiling and spilling over the sides.
‘Master, the pot is spilling over!’
‘Yes,’ said the Master, ‘…and so are you.’
The Master took the boiling pot, and tossed the water to the ground.
The Master continued, ‘If you wish to be filled with knowledge, first you must empty yourself.’
How often is this true of our own lives? We want to learn and grow, but we often find ourselves falling right back to the old behaviors, old ways of life. Yes, maybe we are happy with our lives, or at least content, but wouldn’t it be nice to see life from a different perspective every now and again? Wouldn’t it be amazing to live like the people did back in the times of the Bible following Jesus, where there were miracles each and every day?
I’m not sure about you, but every now and again I ask myself those kinds of questions. Is this it? Is this all there is to life? Have I learned all that I can learn in this world? To ask the cliché question of our stories and films, ‘Is this as good as it gets?’ But also, if you’re anything like me, there is a feeling deep down inside ourselves that says there IS more to this life and this world; and we yearn for this experience. These are all important…and tough questions to ask in our lives today. What would it take to break free of the daily monotony, routine, and normalcy of our daily lives? What in the world is next for our lives, for our congregation, for our community?
If we are honest with ourselves, we may hear our own words with God something like this, ‘God, I’m doing the best I can! I try to lead a good life, I try to put into action all that you have taught me, all that has been taught to me. But there is a limit to how much I can do. I know all you said is that I need a little faith, but I can’t move mountains, Lord; believe me, I have tried! And this world, as hard as I try to improve it, it seems like it just gets worse and worse. Where are you? What are you doing? What else can I do?
In a time where it seems that we have reached the limits of our own abilities, knowledge, and even faith at times, we seem to come up short of answers, whether it is from ourselves, or even God. What else can we do? Who will lead us? When will we see the miracles of old? Are our pots of water already spilling over? If so, then how do we empty ourselves to allow God to fill us?
I believe our yearnings are much like the many people and characters we encounter in the Gospel of John. Well, let’s get to the scripture passage this morning, and see what we can glean from today’s passage. What can we learn? Where can we find some direction? Some hope?
We pick up in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. Now, we need to understand a few things about the author, John, here, who he is writing for (the audience), and how he writes (poetry and metaphor). John wants us to hear the stories of miracles, but it is even more important that we understand the theological implications and statements of who this Jesus is rather than getting the facts of how each historical event unfolded. Simply put, John wants the readers to understand that it is Jesus who is the Christ, the Son of God, the Word, the True Light—the Messiah.
Here in chapter 6 we read that Jesus performed one of his miracles as he fed a crowd of 5,000. Following this event, he was witnessed walking on water. Then, if this is not enough, the people looked to him for even more answers and signs of faith, as we read that Jesus continued on with this metaphor of feeding and bread; Jesus is the Bread of Life. This is an action packed chapter here!
We first read this statement in verse 35, again this is one of John’s theological affirmations, that Jesus is the bread of life.
We then get into verses 41-44, as John describes the Jews as the people who grumble and argue over who Jesus is. Well, John was not referring to all Jewish people that we know today, but he was referring to those who were in authority; those who did not understand who Jesus was. To put it in today’s context, let’s assume that whenever we read ‘the Jews’, we can even put ourselves in that place. It is us who don’t understand who Jesus is, and it is us who are confused; who argue amongst ourselves.
But Jesus didn’t give up on the people, and the author John doesn’t either. In verse 45 we read that Jesus recites Hebrew scripture (scripture that the Jews would be familiar with, understand and know), as he recites Isaiah 54:13, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’
John will then make a series of theological statements about Jesus, again communicating the most important message that Jesus is not just an ordinary person, or even a great prophet, but the Messiah; the one whom the world has been waiting.
‘And they shall be taught by God.’ We often focus so much on the theological metaphor of Jesus as the Bread of Life, but after reading through this scripture it was this phrase that stuck out to me after all of the affirmations about Jesus as the Christ. What does it mean to be taught by God in today’s world? What do we have to learn from this scripture, from Christ, from the Spirit?
Today we celebrate the ordination and installation of our ruling elders for this congregation. It would be easy to assume that when someone gets the title, ‘ruling elder,’ they know just about all there is to know about the Church, ministry, and God…WRONG! In fact, if we read from the Book of Order, part of our denomination’s constitution, we read:
Ruling elders are so named not because they “lord it over” the congregation (Matt. 20:25), but because they are chosen by the congregation to discern and measure its fidelity to the Word of God, and to strengthen and nurture its faith and life. (G-2.0301)
Yes, even our ruling elders ‘shall be taught by God.’
When we continue to be taught by God, we understand that God is not done with us yet! God will continue to teach us, love us, and challenge us as we live in this world together. And this daily revelation of God in our lives is our miracle to perceive each day!
So how will God continue to teach you? What are some areas of your own life where you would like God to continue to teach you? Where in your life are you afraid of God continuing to teach? What do you think God has to say?
This congregation continues to be taught by God each and every day. While many people have been here for several years, this congregation is called to continue to listen for God’s instruction each and every day. You, the members, need to listen for God’s movement and instruction in your personal lives as well as that of this congregation. Your Session needs to continue to listen for God’s instruction as they seek to discern God’s future plans for this congregation. Your preachers and pastors, especially me, need to listen for God’s Word each and every day. God continues to teach! Our pots of water must first be emptied in order to allow God to fill us once again with the Good News!
And we all have this opportunity as well; and what an opportunity it is! In fact, this is the Good News for us this morning: God continues to move, continues to teach, and continues to transform our lives towards Christ each and every day of our lives! Yes, some days it may be feeding the 5,000 or walking on water, but more often than not God’s presence is found in the daily miracle of the ordinary elements of life; the Bread of Life.
What amazing news we have to share with the world. We worship a God who sent Jesus Christ to the world to offer us not just bread to fill our stomachs, not just bread to nourish us in the wilderness, but the very Bread of Life to offer us new life! As we hear this Good News, allow God to continue to lead you in this world as we are, in turn, instruments of this Bread of Life. Whether we are deacons, ruling or teaching elders, grandmas and grandpas, fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters, family, or friends, God is still moving, still forming, still teaching.
If we can allow ourselves to be open to God’s movement in our lives, then I believe we will be awestruck at how God moves in this world; whether they are legendary…or even every day miracles. Be renewed by God’s life-giving bread and water. Be challenged by God’s transforming Word in your life. Be amazed at how God continues to perform miracles each day as we are taught to walk in the Spirit!