In nomine Jesu!
One of the most important byproducts of vacation is the time it gives me to think -- to reflect -- on all that is happening and not just respond to crises; and as I reflected on all that has happened this year, all that was happening during the last three weeks and all that continues to be happening -- in our personal lives, in the Church, the nation and the world -- both good and bad, both joyful and painful -- it dawned on me that we are all living in the midst of whirlwind; that life in the whirlwind is taking its toll and that, at least for the past two fast-paced months, the liturgy of the Church has not particularly helped. For nearly two months now, we've been caught in the vortex that it is Gospel according to Saint Mark, where everything happens "immediately;" where immediate faithful action is expected, even demanded -- immediately -- in response to discrimination and injustice, bigotry and hatred, terror, murder and fear. "May you live in interesting times" is an old Chinese saying that sounds like a blessing but is really a curse. This year in the Church, the city, the world and in the liturgy, our times have really been interesting.
Beginning today and for the next four Sundays, the vast majority of the whole people of God in Christ Jesus -- including us -- will be found together in a different place, assembled as one on the grassy slope of an idyllic lake, gathered with all around Jesus; Jesus, who in the simplest and most ordinary of language reveals to us the true essence and nature of God. Beginning today and for the next four Sundays all Jesus expects us to be are listeners, receivers -- dare I say, consumers. To people like me and those others who will stand in this pulpit for the next five weeks, Jesus is equally clear. "Make the people sit down" and "give them something to eat."
Let me put those expectations of us in a slightly different way. About a year ago I told you that my understanding of preaching, of Gospel-centered proclamation was this: you tell everyone that God is for us always, so that they will do something for others. "God for us so that." Well, there is no "so that" in these next five weeks. These five Sundays are all about who God is and what God is doing for us, for you.
Jesus uses the two of the simplest words in any language to convey God's "for-us-ness." In the Greek of John's Gospel, he says "ego eimi."
In English those words are rendered "I am." The only Gospel in which Jesus says the words "I am" is John's Gospel and in John's Gospel Jesus only says those words nine times. Beginning today and for the next four Sundays we will only be living in the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John; and in that one chapter over these five weeks Jesus will says "I am" five of those nine times -- that should tell you how important these words are.
When Jesus says these two little words, he is not simply speaking about his being, his "is-ness;" this is not as if he was saying "I am a Jew" or "I am six feet tall," or "I am hungry." Beginning today and for the next four Sundays, every time Jesus says "I am" in the Gospel, he is not merely being self-referential; he is speaking about the essence and nature of God. Ego eimi -- "I am" is the way the Bible -- what we mistakenly call the "Old Testament" that John was reading in Greek translation -- the Septuagint -- renders the name of God. "I am" is John's code-word of saying the holy name of God.
Now don't get your existential, rational, theological knickers in a wad over this and don't go off on some metaphysical flight of fancy.
Forget, at least for these five Sundays all the problems you have when you choke out those words "of one Being with the Father" that we say every Sunday in the Creed, 'cause if you go down that road, you'll never hear the Gospel. At least for the moment, suspend your disbelief and focus you heart and mind on what it is about God John's Jesus is intending to convey. At least let's try it out with Jesus' "I am" saying in today's Gospel. In my opinion, today's "I am" makes the Gospel point more precisely than all the others.
You don't remember hearing an "I am" statement, do you? Well, don't worry. You weren't not paying attention. You weren't distracted. You're not losing your marbles. You didn't hear Jesus say "I am," you couldn't come to the obvious conclusion that Jesus is talking about God when he says ego eimi -- "I am" -- in today's Gospel because we actually didn't hear it. Not because it's not there, but because of an inadequate translation. Here, let me show it to you.
After Jesus has fed the multitude, that is "the whole people of God in Christ Jesus of every time and every place," with five loaves and two fish;
and after Jesus has had the disciples collect all the left overs -- twelve baskets full -- showing that when God "satisfies the desires of every living thing" God always provides enough for all and a little bit more;" after all the sturm und drang of this amazingly complicated days, we heard John tell us the following:
When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But Jesus said to them, Ego eimi, do not be afraid.
When that Gospel was read today, what you heard was this: "It is I. Do not be afraid," not altogether inaccurate, but theologically imprecise. What you should have heard Jesus saying was this: "Ego eimi, do not be afraid." Not "It is I" but God is here. Do not be afraid -- A bit less miraculous, but infinitely more profound.
We are, as I said earlier, living in interesting times. Ego eimi -- God -- is what Jesus wants us
to hear today. God is with us in these interesting times. That, my dear friends, is the Gospel. Now take your seat by the lakeside. It's time, in these times, for all of us to eat. I don't know about you, but I'm famished.
Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
In the city of New York
THE NINTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
July 26, 2015
2 Kings 4:42-44
Saint John 6:1-21