10th Sunday after Pentacost, 2006
John 6: 37-51
Recently, I watched again, for probably the 10th time, DVD of the musical “Sunday in the Park with George”. Sunday in the Park with George is a musical written by Stephen Sondheim.
It is not, in my opinion, his best work, but its subject is fascinating to me.
It’s a loose account of a small segment of the life of Georges Seurat. Georges Seurat was a 19th century artist who dedicated a segment of his life to perfecting a style of painting known as pointillism. Pointillism is just what it sounds like. Points…dots….hundreds and thousands of dots placed on a canvas.
Up close these dots look random, if you will, pointless. But from a few steps back… the points, the dots melt together….the colors blur and form other colors and an actual recognizable scene comes into view.
So there are two ways to view Seurat’s work. You can move up close and marvel at the science of pointillism and view for yourself the color combination choices that were made to create the illusion of another color when viewed from a distance…
Or one can take a few steps back and admire the scenery, examine the clothing styles of the late 19th century working class, consider the almost primitive 2 dimensionality of the characters in the painting or marvel at the size of the canvas.
The work that is the center of the play I’ve mentioned is on a canvass that is approximately 7 X 10 feet.[i]
One of the problems that Seurat had with the critics of his day was that they could not get over the dots. The could not overcome their dislike for a new style that was foreign to them even though it was a time of great innovation in art, and that innovation was celebrated in the art galleries of Paris….in that time period.
With Seurat’s work it was the big picture that mattered. He wanted the viewer to appreciate the tedious work put into placing millions of dots on a canvas…but what he wanted us to see was the painting,
The interaction of light and shadow,
The people in the park,
The boats on the water and the trees and the birds…
No matter how they got there….they were there…. the viewer should be looking at the big picture…the 7X10’ picture…
But many people could not and mores’ the pity.
In today’s Gospel Jesus brings a word from heaven about THE BIG PICTURE. And it isn’t an easy sell.
One of the missions the God gave his Son and then the disciples while they were ministering on earth was to help the people of God…actually help everyone see that God had worked in the lives of his people in one way for a long time and now…in Jesus….everything was coming to a climactic completion.
The message was that all of the history of the people Israel, all of the law, all the struggles, all the failures and redemptions; all the covenants with God; all of the seeking and searching; all of the behavior was about to come to completion, to fruition in a Savior.
That from now on if the question was “what must I do to get to heaven” the answer is now “Jesus”.
If the question is, “how do I live up to the level of perfection that God has set for us in life” the answer is “believe in Jesus, for he will take on our burdens.”
If the question Is, “what must I do to be forgiven of my sins?” the answer is no longer “make a animal sacrifice in the temple”…the answer now and forever more is “repent, turn from our selfish ways and ask Jesus for forgiveness”….
Jesus is saying that God has been pursuing you and your people throughout history and now he pursues you still, in this moment, face to face, in me.
The answer seems so user friendly… it’s certainly less work intensive. No more culling the herd for the perfect calf. No more living in fear of the temple priests who could condemn you or banish you for your sinful behavior without chance of forgiveness, without a second chance…
In Jesus there are only 2 steps…believe in Him as savior…and then while knowing him and being filled with His spirit, live the life He wants for you…
But this message was not easy for the people to hear.
For there is comfort in the law. There is comfort in knowing that if one makes a sacrifice and then takes a ritual bath and then does the prescribed prayers that all sins are forgiven. It’s formulaic, it’s comforting.
Like working for hourly wages over a salary. When you work for wages, even though you might not be making much, you know what you’re getting for the work you put in. If Work a little more you’ve been required and over-time kicks in.
But when you go on salary…well…at first it feels like you’ve lost some control over your destiny. Although I was glad to leave the McDonald’s drive through and I did not miss the uniform….
For the history of the people of Israel God had been the provider of physical needs. Food in famine, water in drought, land to the homeless, health to the sick, maker of victory in battle, and most of all keeper of the promise that he would bring salvation to the world through his people.
And through all this there was a formula, follow the Law…to the letter…and God would save us.
And Jesus, at this moment in the Gospel, is trying to make His important point clear…
The people only have the small picture. Just like us many times, they have tunnel vision.
What they know is: We have needs, and do the right things, God provides. We are hungry, and do the right things, God gives us food.
“You gave us food”, they say to Jesus…”you fed 5000 of us just the other day. You are the new Moses. Feed us again. We want manna in the wilderness again. The word from the rabbis is that the Messiah will bring to us Manna from heaven just like Moses.”
Jesus answered by saying…you want the wrong food….you have to change the way you think about God from now on…
There is no more “doing” to reach God…there is only me.
There is no more behavior…there is me.
God has sent me to you to bring you out into the light so that you can see the big picture.
So that you can see that God kept His promise that He made to Abraham that he would save his chosen people….that He would deliver the world…
And the great thing is…there is only one tiny thing that you must do to be connected to …the big Picture.
Jesus says, “Believe in me!! That’s it… And every single one of you who comes to me…. without a personality test, without a background check, without references…every one of you who comes to me and believes will be saved. No if’s ands or buts!”
And the answer came from the people…and you can hear it clearly…they said, and I quote….
Hey, don’t we know that fellow? Isn’t that Mary and Joseph’s kid from the neighborhood? He didn’t come down from heaven. He lives on Tradd St. No Messiah ever came from Tradd St.”
On that day many people walked away empty handed and empty hearted…and many people continue to walk away.
Because it all sounds so far fetched… to some it sounds to easy a plan…to good to be true.
And maybe it is too good to be true and it’s offered to us anyway.
Free and clear…
You may be asking yourself….what does that have to do with me. I’m not a Jewish person with 4000 years of faith history. I mean my Granddaddy was a Methodist…
And I know all about Jesus. I know the Lord’s Prayer. I go to communion every Sunday or every other Sunday depending on what service you go to.
What does this verse have to do with me?
And that’s a good question because I think this verse, while profound for everyone, has a particular poignancy when applied to Americans.
Because the big picture of today’s gospel is not just Victory …and I like Victory, I like my team to win. Too bad it’s the Redskins…
Not just something I can get behind and buy the bumper sticker and endorse the candidate for…
It’s not just about winning.
The big picture theme, that through the people of Jesus’ day for a loop and does the same in our time is on of ….. Is centered on surrender and submission
surrender and submission…to words that I do not like to hear in any context and there they are:
surrender and submission to God, through Jesus Christ.
I mean no wonder there are so many un-churched people in this Country…the church is asking people to change a very key part of who we are… the church is asking, teaching…pleading for the people of this world to bend a knee…to give up the helm…to surrender and submit and gain LIFE.
That kind of message just doesn’t sell does it.
It means that we will have stop the struggle for our salvation…stop our striving for good standing in heaven and admit that we are helpless and that we need a messiah to do it for us.
God the Father cries out to us saying, “I have given you a way to me that removes all impediments. A way that takes the struggle out and give you peace instead.”
Remember the words of God from last week’s Gospel reading….
“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
So let’s listen to him….Just what does Jesus say to us that is so important. What can He do for us that we can’t do ourselves by simply being as good as we can?
“It is my Father's will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life--that I should raise them at the last day."
Believe it or not that is the main theme of the entire Bible…both Old and New testaments… Every word, every Author, all the stories, the lessons, everything leads us to this moment…the moment when (God willing) the Big Picture comes into focus for us and we cry out for the Son to take our part and save our lives.
Throughout scripture we see that God has been in relentless pursuit of his children, that He has been tenacious and proactive and sometime even a little annoying….pursuing us like, CS Lewis calls Him, the Hound of Heaven, on our trail…soon to catch up if we just stop running.
And it is only after we do stop, take a breath and let the love of God over-take us...sweep over us that we are able to walk out into a world that does not love Him and bring His love to our neighbors.
Our neighbors who still hunger for the spiritual food of Jesus. Our neighbors who, like us, thirst not only for water but for the Water of Life which IS Jesus.
Over and over and over again in my walk of faith, I find myself committing and recommitting my life to this Jesus.
I rise, I go forth, I live for Christ, I stumble, and I fall,
I repent, and I rise again…daily….sometimes hourly.
Today we hear the Psalmist tell us these strange words:
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Words written 1000 years before Jesus was born but we must remember that the Son of God was present at time they were written. Forever before and forever after.
And today we hear, as the people of Israel heard in that town by the shore of that lake so long ago.
I am what you need. Take me instead of whatever you had in mind.
For no matter what you think you know…
Jesus says I AM
The Bread of Life
- The Light of the World (8:12
- The Gate for the Sheep (10:7)
- The Good Shepherd (10:14)
- The Resurrection and the Life (11:25)[ii]
We are the people of HIS pasture and the sheep of HIS flock.
And that is the Big Picture.
Victory through surrender…
Life in His Death
Salvation in the form of a local boy…someone whom we can relate to….someone actually who knows what our lives are like.
Someone who’s real Father is God, Someone who calls us close...to believe in Him…instead of make demands of Him.
Someone who is with us today.
Inspiration for the opening illustration was found in the work of
The Right Rev. N.T. Wright from his commentary "The Gospel of John for Everyone."