Sunday, August 9, 2015

11th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 14B

11th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 14B August 9, 2015 One of my friends shared an article from the New York Times Sunday book review this week that captured my attention. The article is titled Walker Percy’s Theory of Hurricanes, and it is written by Walter Isaacson. Issacson opens the article by saying, “Walker Percy had a theory about hurricanes. ‘Though science taught that good environments were better than bad environments, it appeared to him that the opposite was the case,’ he wrote of Will Barrett, the semi-autobiographical title character of his second novel, The Last Gentleman. ‘Take hurricanes, for example, certainly a bad environment if ever there was one. It was his impression that not just he but other people felt better in hurricanes’.” Isaacson writes about how Will Barrett, after making these observations, goes on to recall a date that he had with a girl named Midge. “Driving through Connecticut, they are caught in a Northeastern hurricane and seek shelter at a diner. When the wind breaks a window, they help the counter attendant board it up. ‘Midge and the counterman,’ Percy writes, ‘were very happy. The hurricane blew away the sad, noxious particles which befoul the sorrowful old Eastern sky and Midge no longer felt obliged to keep her face stiff. They were able to talk. It was best of all when the hurricane’s eye came with its so-called ominous stillness. It was not ominous. Everything was yellow and still and charged up with value’.” Isaacson continues, “Percy’s diagnosis was that when we are mired in the everydayness of ordinary life, we are susceptible to what he called ‘the malaise,’ a free floating despair associated with the feeling that you’re not a part of the world or connected to the people in it.” Isaacson is positing that all of Percy’s heroes deal with this malaise of being mired in the everydayness of ordinary life and that each one of them wrestles with going on the search for something more—the search that “anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.”i Isaacson goes on in the article to talk about how Percy sees in hurricanes the opportunity to shake normal, everyday people up out of the malaise, putting them in circumstances that break them out of their ordinary lives and give them the opportunities to be heroes or saints. And we get that, don’t we? Part of our focus today is the beginning of another school year and the beginning of a new program year in the life of the church. On the first day of school, we all pick out a special outfit. We buy new backpacks and school supplies. We start fresh and new, and we have the opportunity to be someone different, at least for that first day. And in the church, we have a chance, also, to start out new and fresh, to create new offerings, new rhythms, new patterns. Then there’s our gospel reading for today, in which Jesus says to the crowds who are following him, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” The first thing that you need to keep in mind is that this is our third out of 5 Sundays in this lectionary year when Jesus or the gospel reading itself talk about bread. By the end of this sequence all of us, preachers and people, will be most ready to go on the Adkins diet. The second thing that you need to realize about today’s gospel reading is that this particular crowd that Jesus is talking to isn’t buying it. “Now, wait just a minute, they say. We know this guy. He’s Jesus, son of Joseph whose father and mother we know! Who does this ordinary, everyday one of us guy think that he is saying that he is the bread that has come down from heaven?!” And we get that too, don’t we? While we are busy longing for some super-extraordinary circumstances, something to shake us up out of our malaise, give us a fresh start and a new rhythm, Jesus is telling us that he is that, but that he is also ordinary and humble. And he tells us how God calls to us, speaks to us out of the ordinary and humble aspects of our lives (the regular old wheat bread that we make the sandwiches for school lunch out of; the loads of laundry to be folded; the papers and the homework to be done and checked) just as much as God calls to us in the extraordinary times(the hurricanes and the vacations at the beach and the first days of school and the new program year). And maybe that’s why we need to hear about how Jesus is “the bread of life” Sunday after Sunday for five weeks in a row. Because we want to see God in the grandiose, and God is often there. But God is always there in the everyday, in the ordinary, calling to us to see and to know and to recognize God in that humility. “This is the claim Jesus makes in today’s gospel reading, the claim which offended the crowd who followed him then, the claim which still offends any who take it seriously today. For where we expect God to come in might, God comes in weakness; where we look for God to come in power, God comes in vulnerability; and when we seek God in justice and righteousness – which is, after all, what we all expect from a God – we find God (or rather are found by God!) in forgiveness and mercy.”ii i. ii.