Every now and then, a preacher just hits a dead spot, a writer’s block where one looks at the text and there seems to be nothing to say.
We are heading into Round 3 of summer and the dog-days of August are still ahead of us. Much of the country is suffering from a long heat wave and experiencing the worst drought in generations. This meteorological reality can be extended into a preaching metaphor, because most daunting of all for some of us is we are turning the liturgical corner into the ‘bread of life’ texts from John, five long weeks where we foxtrot in the pulpit around Jesus as bread.
We know that the folks who put together the Revised Common Lectionary labored over it. They spent hours poring over the bible, debating over what texts should be included and what would fall on the editing room floor. They chose to focus the three-year cycle on the synoptics, which is all well and good but the gospel of John seems to get the short end of the stick. Not only is John chopped and diced throughout each year, some of the best of John never gets to see the light of day, and what we do get is a lot of chapter 6, a whole lot of bread at the end of summer. You have to wonder if they were getting tired, tried to cut corners, or some prankster in the group thought it would be funny to make us preachers squirm a little bit.
I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve looked over some my past sermons on this long, dry stretch and frankly, most of them aren’t all that great. My textual wrangling and preacherly posturing are all too obvious especially when I’ve tried to plow through each week as outlined by the RCL like a good little liturgical warrior. Of course, you can preach on the psalm or one of the other readings.
If worse comes to worse, you can drag the youth group in to do a skit instead of the sermon. This provides the double-whammy of you getting a Sunday off from preaching while keeping the kids busy and on their toes engaged in (probably bad) biblical exegesis. In other words, you can hold your nose and dive into John 6 or you can steer around it, maybe popping in briefly for some highlights.
But, I think I’m going to do something different this year. Instead of avoiding these texts or trying to find something revelatory to say each week, I’m going to use John 6 as a lens into the whole of John’s gospel. The gospel of John is more than just the ‘fourth gospel’; it is brilliant and unique and beautiful, full of meaning and symbolism, and packed with profound imagery. One could even venture that it is the most pastoral of the gospels. You don’t want people to miss it, because as Craig Koester notes, the gospel of John asks the fundamental question of all Christianity, how do we know God?
John, Chapter 6 reminds us that we know God through such ordinary material as bread. Jesus – this One who is all abundance, all life, so much so, that no matter how high and heavy we pile sin and evil and death upon him, can only bring us more life — beckons into this new way of being where bread bears promise, where small acts of love matter, where even grief is not without hope.
The writer of John reminds us that Jesus is how we know God, and so through this little discourse, we get a glimpse of who God is, what God loves to do. And God it turns out is absolutely self-giving, entering even our ordinary days and events, and blessing them. Gathering the dry fragments of our words so nothing may be lost.