Not Going Anywhere: Sermon by Laura, 8.26.12 Pentecost 13B Ord 21B

Scripture Readings: John 6:56-69, Ephesians 6:10-20

There’s no where I want to be this morning but right here. There’s no one I want to be with but you.[i]

It was mission orientation. I was about to go and live for a year in Guatemala. All of us headed somewhere were restless, full of anxieties. About to leave our “known worlds” to live with strangers in foreign places, we were full of aspirations.  God had called us, and we wanted to accomplish something.  We wanted to be going somewhere already, but we had to get through this preliminary training. Our keynote speaker was a Catholic priest, sociologist, and experienced missionary named Anthony Gittins. Every morning of that week, Gittins greeted us with these words:

There’s no where I want to be this morning but here. There’s no one I want to be with but you

When Gittins spoke, you could feel a solemn heft of sincerity; he knew what he was saying, and he truly meant those words. It was just his greeting, but it was also the heart of his message to us, to all who’ve been called to share the love of God in Jesus Christ with strangers and friends, near and far.

There’s no where I want to be right now but here. There’s no one I want to be with but you.

Can you feel those words the way I did? Has anyone ever said them to you before? Have you ever said them to anyone else? They are strong, decisive words of commitment, which offer a profound gift. They offer the gift of steady devotion and attention. They offer the gift of real presence.

There’s no where I want to be right now but here. There’s no one I want to be with but you.

Truth be told, they are not easy words for us. We find them hard to take in, and even harder to say, even to the familiar and beloved people in our lives.  They make a claim which affects everything going forward. And we are a people who like to go forward. We are a people who idealize not only “going somewhere,” but getting there productively, efficiently, and above all, fast.[ii]

“Congratulations! Today is your day! You’re off to great places; you’re off and away. You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.” These are the opening lines of Dr. Suess’s book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go.

It has been a favorite graduation gift, a book to give young people we want to see “go somewhere.” I enjoy this book, but I also think these lines characterize our culture’s ideology of autonomous motion, our glorification of individual choice.  And the rub is, though we might begin feeling like we are going somewhere, our grand quests in “pursuit of happiness” often turns into frenzied shopping trip to satisfy basic desires.

“It’s just not going anywhere,” we say, when we become dissatisfied with something,  not only for products we are using, but also the community we live in, or our personal or professional relationships,. When whatever it is no longer seems productive or efficient. Our bottom line is not being met at the speed we demand. So we say, “Don’t take it personally,” and we separate ourselves from challenging relationships, and take our consumer identities and head off “somewhere” else again.

There’s no where I want to be right now but here. There’s no one I want to be with but you.

I believe these words reflect the substance of what Jesus has been telling us over the past five weeks we’ve been reading John’s gospel. Jesus has been offering us the gift of real presence. He’s been offering it to us in the language of bread. Bread: the staff of life, the basic food of existence. Bread which is both like and yet more than the manna which came down to the ancestors in their wilderness between slavery and freedom. With hungry people in another such wilderness, Jesus took, blessed, broke, and shared five loaves and two fish with more than five thousand people. It was a miracle, but Jesus insisted there was yet more. Not only food for our here and now existence, Jesus’ presence offers sustenance for eternal life.

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.” Jesus has said these words to three groups of people, and each group has ultimately had the same problem in hearing and accepting them. Each one seems only able to receive what they think will get them “somewhere”: what will be most productive or efficient meeting their bottom line at the speed they demand.

The crowds with full bellies seek a bottom line of reliable bread. “Sir, give us this bread always,” they said, but Jesus replies, “You have seen me and yet do not believe.”

To the religious insiders, the bottom line is tradition’s knowledge: “We know this Jesus, son of Joseph. How can he say, “I have come down from heaven?” Jesus tells them, “The living bread from heaven I give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Not satisfied, they ask again, “How can you give your flesh to eat?” Jesus pushes even further: not just the flesh but also the blood of the Son of Man is the food of true, eternal life.

But today, it is the disciples who come up against their ultimate bottom line. They’d followed this teacher, excited by his teachings, which seem to draw them closer to the heavenly heights. Eager for more wise and spiritual words. But the Word Jesus offers is finally too earthy for their high aspirations.  Complaining “This Word is too difficult to swallow,” many turn away to seek more palatable knowledge.

What all three groups have in common is the desire to be going somewhere, productively, efficiently, at the speed they demand. In this pursuit, they separate out the bottom line they most desire. Just satiate my hunger. Just meet tradition’s expectations. Give me spiritual wisdom but do not touch my flesh and blood autonomy.

So Jesus says today, “It is the spirit that gives life. The flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

Spirit, Flesh, Life, Jesus says. These things cannot be dissected into bottom lines. From the beginning, at creation, God purposed, by his Word, to breathe spirit into flesh. We are made for union with God and one another. To feed the body without feeding the spirit or to feed the spirit without feeding the flesh is to misunderstand the gift of the incarnation, the eternal life of God’s real presence here and now, with, for, and within us: “the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory…”[iii]

This is the mystery in which we participate by receiving the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper. It is the mystery theologians call “mutual indwelling.” To receive the flesh and blood of Jesus is to be drawn into the real presence of Word become flesh. Accepting Jesus’ real presence draws us into the eternal life of God, a life that is more than immortality, a life that is fully alive, here and now and to the end of time.[iv]

Jesus has been sent by God to offer us this grace. But Jesus will not coerce us nor cajole us to accept him and take him in, body and spirit. To force the flesh to accept real presence violates the gift itself. To assent with our minds but refuse in our bodies profits nothing.

It is a real choice that is ours to make.  Will we accept the Word that’s been offered? Will we receive the bread from Christ’s table? Will we take and consume the real presence of God, that Christ’s spirit and life might enter and take hold? The offer of real presence is on the table, but the choice is ours. Jesus’ arms are open at the crossroads, where he stands ready both to welcome and to release. He says:

There’s no where I want to be right now but here. There’s no one I want to be with but you. I’m not going anywhere. What about you? “Do you also wish to go away?”

This decision might take some time. Jesus knows there is a cost. People conditioned to be going somewhere must learn what it means to “abide.” At first it feels we are just not going anywhere. for abiding with Jesus is not efficient or fast. But we cannot be nourished by the bread Jesus gives at a one-time fast-food pit-stop on the road to “going somewhere.” It takes time for mutual relationship to show us our way. It takes time to slow down, settle in, and change our focus. It takes time to take in the real presence of the person in front of us, flesh and spirit together. There is no easy or fast way, no bottom line to aim for. There is only the slow consummation of faith, hope, and love, for that is what “real presence” is made of.

Faith we learn from the God who abides with us and never abandons us, steadfast, enduring and faithful. God is with us for the long haul, no matter what.

Hope we learn from God’s utter devotion to us, as God gives body, blood, and spirit for us with lavish extravagance in Jesus Christ.

Love, which is the continual unfolding of abiding and devotion as God never stops attending to the daily details of who we are and how we are becoming. Love which desires to live not just with us or for us but beyond all separations, takes fire within us, transforming us slowly, slowly that we also might become those who can offer such faith, hope, and love to others, people who can say truly to another,

There’s no where I want to be right now but here. There’s no one I want to be with but you.

Friends, this morning and every day, Jesus stands at the crossroads. Even when we don’t at first see him, he is there, flesh and spirit, in the face of every other, every friend and stranger who crosses our path. In faith, hope and love, his arms stretch out from here to eternity.  He wants to be with and for and in and through us, Word become flesh, but we always have a choice: to embrace him or to turn away.

I pray this day we may answer him in Peter’s voice, recognizing the profound gift of the true life of flesh and spirit, the life we were created to enjoy. May we say, Holy One of God, You have the Words of eternal life. Help us to learn your way, slow down, and stand before one another, letting the gifts of mutual presence unfold not just “somewhere,” but anywhere and everywhere.

May our open arms become yours, Jesus, as we let us say to one another,

There’s nowhere I want to be but right here. There’s no one I want to be with but you.

 In the name of the God who creates life, in the name of the Savior who loves life, in the name of the Spirit who is the fire of life, Amen.[v]

[ii] Much of the substance of this sermon was derived from listening to this podcast of Phil Kenneson’s presentation “Practicing Ecclesial Patience: Practice Makes Perfect,”

[iii] Loye Bradley Ashton, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009: 382.

[iv] Kenneson, as above.

[v] J. Phillip Newell, Celtic Treasure, Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2005.


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