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Godly surprises

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Eleventh Sunday of Pentecost – August 5, 2018

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78:23-39; Ephesians 4:1-16 and John 6:24-35

Suprises—pleasant surprises, who doesn’t like pleasant surprises? They break the dull, the routine, the blah of life and give us new views to keep life full of adventure. Having our days spiced up can be fun. Even some bright, crisp and clear new flowers in our garden can fill us with surprise and delight.

But I do know, not everyone really likes being taken by surprise. I for one, don’t enjoy it when all out of the blue I get a flat tire on the car, or a huge notification of assessment from the revenue agency. 

It really depends on the nature of the suprise. Even pleasant surprises can have a way of catching us off guard and we bock against them. Surprises, good or bad, have this way of upsetting the apple cart and making you feel all unsettled and unprepared and insecure. 

After reading the passage from John 6, I have to say that it made me wonder just how I would have taken to Jesus, as He seems, particularly in this Gospel according to John, to delight in surprising people.

Today’s reading is no exception. Jesus comes and encounters a crowd and surprises them with what He says. While I know that I am supposed to identify with Jesus and the disciples, I find myself so drawn to the crowd Jesus fed in last week’s gospel reading and who follow after Him in this week’s reading. For they, too, have been caught off guard, surprised, upset. And I gather that they don’t like it much either.

And from here on out, things only get worse. First, Jesus accuses them of opportunism: “Ah, you’re only here because you want another free meal,” He scolds. And, truth be told, He was probably right.

Jesus goes on with his lecture, by saying: “Do not work for the food that spoils,” He persists, “instead, work for the food that lasts for eternal life.”

“Okay,” the crowd says, “we’ll go with You on this one, what kind of work do we have to do to get this food?” “Just believe,” Jesus says, “just believe that I am the One God sent.” At this point the crowd balks, wondering just who in the world this man thinks He is. Just let’s pause for a moment to think what Jesus is offering. He is is holding out the best of all we can ever think of, the first prize. He’s offering the bread of life—it’s the food of myth and of legend, the nectar of gods, in essence it is that which grants life eternal.

This fills the crowd with some skepticism—wouldn’t we also feel that way.

Just let’s think about it: at Baptism we pour water over an infant’s head and announce to her God’s promise to be with her forever, to go with her wherever she may go, to hold on to her through all that life has to offer – including even death – and to grant her life eternal. My goodness, that’s some promise! And exactly the same happens in the Lord’s Supper. For each time you come to the Table you are promised nothing less than forgiveness, acceptance, wholeness: in a word, life, both now and forever.

The thing about all this – about forgiveness and acceptance and the like – is that such things, as we know, just can’t be gained or earned, coerced or accomplished. Like love, they can only be given as a gift by one person to another.

But God, you see, our God rarely does what God is supposed to do. For our God is a God of surprises, a God of upheavals, of reversals. That is why rather than do what God is supposed to do, God does the unexpected: instead of pronouncing judgment in the face of our sin and selfishness, God offers mercy; instead of justice, love; instead of condemnation, forgiveness; instead of coming in power, God came in weakness; and instead of giving us a miracle, God gives us God’s own self. For as the reformer Martin Luther would remind us, the whole of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are summed up both precisely and eloquently in the two words we hear when coming to the Table: “for you.” This is Christ’s body, broken for you. This is Christ’s blood, shed for you.

Perhaps this, in the end, is the hardest thing of all for us to accept about the sacraments: that they contain God’s unexpected, surprising, unforeseen gift of God’s own self. It is because, as we’ve already said, against much of the pain, and disappointment, and grief of this life we can defend ourselves. But against this gift, against this surprising and disarming love, we are helpless, as at this Table God’s promise comes to us again just as it did when as helpless babes we were brought to the Font. 

This morning we are once again invited to come and receive the surprise of our lives. For those who come to Christ will never be hungry, and those who believe in Christ will not thirst. What an awesome promise!


Copyright 2018 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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