Thursday, February 05, 2015

John 6:28-71 Creating a community of followers of Christ

In the second half of the sixth chapter of John there is a conversation between "the people" and Jesus that starts simply with their question of "how did you get here on the other side of the Sea of Galilee without us seeing you go?".  From there it moves to a discussion of the bread that he had miraculously provided for them the day before to a discussion of manna, to the bread of life.

It's a rather long and interested discussion as New Testament discussions go.

One thing I recently learned was that the Jews of that era had a traditional belief that, just as the great prophet Moses had given the people manna, "the bread of God", so would the great Messiah, when he came, give the people "the bread of God" as well.  So that's likely why, with the bread of the day before and the hope for a looked-for manna-bearing Messiah, they bring up the story of the manna which leads, in turn,  to the discussion of the bread of life.  

Jesus says in this chapter that just as God had sent manna (the bread of God) in Moses' time to sustain the mortal life his people, so has he sent the bread of God (manna) in the time of the Messiah to sustain the everlasting life of his people.  And that bread is him.

Now, it's interesting to me how the various people in this episode respond.  But first, it's important to note that all of the people in this scene are people who have come to listen to Jesus.  Some of them came in the boat with him. Some made the long journey across the water to get to where he was once they figured out that he'd left.  Others were already living on this side of the lake and had come to listen.  All of them were interested in hearing what he had to say, either having already decided to follow him or trying to figure out if they should or wished to follow him.  They were a community of seekers.

Like, you might say, the congregation I attend, and, if you attend a congregation, probably like yours as well.

As the conversation continues there are a number of reactions.  There are some who don't get it because they don't understand Jesus' meaning.  (vs. 41-42)  There are some who just don't believe him on this particular teaching but are willing to stay and keep discussing..  (vs. 64).  There are some who don't understand him and think what he's saying is too much and leave, at least for now. (vs. 66)  There are some who think they get it, at least the part about him being the Christ, though we know that there is much that they have yet to learn (vs.67-69).  And there are some who just don't get it at all, have potential to cause harm, and don't leave. (vs. 70-71)

I'm betting that in your congregation, like mine, there are corresponding individuals as well (as well as other situations of being that are not in the above list).  

Jesus engages all of them in the conversation instead of dividing and creating separate groups to talk with. He's willing to address and interact with a community of seekers that involves various levels of comprehension.  And so the ones who stay as part of that conversation are a very diverse bunch in terms of their comprehension and understanding.

So I think about myself and the community of seekers I worship with.  What do I learn?  

I learn that in the eyes of Jesus, we are seen as a community and that he teaches all of us together, regardless the current status of our comprehension or faith.  

I learn that there will be people in my congregation who understand Jesus' message the way I do, and, because our particular congregation is organized by geographic location and is not self-selected due to our having similar understandings there will plenty who understand and apply Jesus' message differently; some who understand it better than I do, and some who find it more confusing than I do, and some who really are missing the major points and have potential to do serious harm.  Though Jesus hopes we will eventually all  become one as he is one with the Father (John 15) he understands that that happens one person at a time and so he doesn't require that all of his disciples be at a similar level of understanding at the same time, or even  progressing,  in order to be part of the community..

Thinking about the trajectory of belief that Peter will undergo as the story continues, I learn that I and every other well meaning disciple still have much learning to do.

And, by extrapolation, if we all in that community are either learning good or heading treacherously towards dangerous error or muttering about what we don't yet understand, or feeling confused by what we've heard, or any combination of the above, then we are all, personally, in a state of flux.  Which means that we, as a congregation or community of seekers, will never, at least in this life, all be at the same level of understanding at the same time.  And Jesus understands that.

And that last paragraph is good for us to know.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Shuv. Metanoeo

L. and I were talking about the Hebrew and Greek words translated as "repent" in the Old and New Testaments this morning.  "Shuv", the most commonly found one in the O.T., means to turn, return, or come back.  "Metanoeo" can be described as a change of mind, thought, or thinking, a turning back to the Lord that changes our very essence.

We talked about how repentance is seen as a coming back to God, or a refocus on our merging our will with His, or a turn to his grace.  And L. mentioned that it occurred to him that the same sort of healing process starts to happen not only as we turn towards God and away from our own sins, but also as we turn our minds towards God and away from the sins of those whose sins have caused us immense pain as well.

Jesus said "In the world you shall have tribulation".  And we do.  Even he himself could not escape the pain and sorrow the world was to give him.

Wayne Muller  pointed out in his writings that the thing is that, rather than fully acknowledge and accept that pain and sorrow, when it comes, as part of mortal life that takes place in the time it happens, we instead habitually seek to name or blame the ones whose sin "caused" us this or that particular pain.  Or, if we feel guilty about blaming that person, we subconsciously find other actions done by other people to blame for the pain we feel--as if it weren't for them and the stupid things they do or did, we wouldn't be dealing with this pain and its attendant sorrow.

Sin is one thing that may be assignated as perpetrated by an individual.  But pain is independent of that.  Pain just is. It is  something that blows through our lives and opens great depths of emotion. And it "is" in the life of each individual, sinner or sinned against, innocent or guilty, malicious or clueless, independent of the side or position taken in any conflict or relationship in any area of life. Removing our focus from the sin committed against us or against those we love--removing the notion that our pain was caused by that sin-- and understanding that the sin and the pain we feel are two independent things, allows us to see our pain face to face, accepting it for what it is and begin to truly grieve, which softens the pain and starts to allow us to let go.  

Our challenge is simply to let what was true be true: We were hurt. It was real. What we needed, and hoped for and longed for was not there. When we simply and independently acknowledge the deep sadness of that loss, the pain and/or the loneliness, when we simply grieve over deeply painful experiences without "if onlys" or "whys", but just fully face, name and acknowledge the hurt and pain we feel we are on the way to closing the story and healing and "turning back" (shuv) to the sense of life with God and changing [metanoeo] the core of our being.. 

Years ago I served as moral support for a friend in group therapy sessions she was participating in to deal with childhood abuse.  I learned the value of naming the pain.  It seems that just as "repenting" (shuv, matanoeo) of sin requires naming that sin clearly and fully without blaming others or casting blame on your circumstances, so does turning and transforming from pain require naming our pain, clearly and fully, without blaming others or their actions or seeking to name the reasons "why".  

It is when we name our pain, independent of the actions of others, divorced from the blaming (logical or diverted) we've married it to, and bring that to God, that we have turned to him with what he can heal in us.   All souls can be healed by His power. All pain can be soothed. In Him, we can “find rest unto [our] souls.” Our mortal circumstances may not immediately change, but our pain, worry, suffering, and fear can be, slowly and surely, swallowed up in His peace and healing balm.  But we must know, speak and bring that pain by itself..

And that turning to Him with the fully named pain, without its being attached to anything else, is what starts us on the path to freedom from the past, letting go of our rancor or anxiety and pain, free to be born fresh into this moment, slowly but surely increasingly unencumbered by our endless struggles with past stories and able to see the now more clearly.  It does not mean that we will not be sad anymore or ever again.  It will just mean that we are on your way to becoming people for whom sadness grief and pain have become the author of greater understanding and peace and universal in our life instead of the author of misery and anxiety and a troubled mind.

Ette Hillesum, a holocaust survivor, wrote:

And you must be able to bear your sorrow: even if it seems to crush you, you will be able to stand up again, for human beings are so strong, and your sorrow must become an integral part of yourself; you musn't run away from it.
...Give your sorrow all the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate.  

There's a helpful exercise and meditation to consider HERE, on pp 13-17, if you are interested.