Bucket List

John 6:37-51

Several weeks ago a former parishioner came to noonday Mass. She was on her way to Mystic and stopped by because she loves this old church. I asked her what she had been doing, and she told me about an over night trip along the coast that she took on a sailboat. She said that she had always wanted to do that and now she could scratch it off her “bucket list.”

The phrase, “bucket list,” was made popular by a film of the same title that starred Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. In the film, two men escape from a cancer ward in a hospital and go off on a spree to do/or visit the 100 things that they wanted to do before they die.

As you know, I celebrated my 77th birthday last week and Faye has now retired. So we are tending to gather a bucket list of things that we want to do before we are too old to do them. Faye wants to travel to London, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, etc. I would prefer to travel to West Nyack, New York and sit in the chapel at Holy Cross Monastery. If I can’t do that, then at least travel from my study to my easy chair in the family room.

I have spent a lot of time in that chair this past week as I nursed a summer cold. Much of my time I was working on today’s passage from St. John. Next to me was a bucket in which I tossed various things I was thinking about. It was “a bucket list of thoughts” that came across my radar. The first was an article by David Brooks in the NYT regarding who gets the credit for how one (who is successful) turns out.(1) Then there were my thoughts about the Olympics. There was the reporting of the massacre in Wisconsin of the Sikhs at their temple. Lastly, there were some thoughts about “curiosity,” the robotic land rover that we put on Mars. It is sending back some incredible photos of the crater it is in and the topography on Mars.

I think we all have a “bucket list” of thoughts that we carry around with us – things that are sort of “outside the box,” and we speculate or worry about them – education, elder care, the future, the past, things done and left undone.

I suspect we also have a “bucket list” of faith – what we believe, almost believe, should believe, and don’t believe. Faith issues that are important to us and those that absolutely aren’t. I read this week that “To those that love her, The Episcopal Church is known as “the thinking person’s religion.” It is also “a Church that will not accept simplistic answers to complex questions.” Well, maybe “yes” and maybe “no.” I also read in a Forward Movement publication that’ “The Episcopal Church is a church which ask not for blind faith and unthinking obedience, but for thoughtful, responsible commitment.” There maybe a special “bucket” for those statements, or they may be “beyond the pail.”

Two weeks go we talked about God as our “refuge and strength.” Jesus is our very present help in times of trouble. Last week I talked about “soul food.” We are what we eat. Through the body and blood of Christ our many hungers are fed. In turn, we feed each other and those in need. In today’s reading from The Gospel of John, we have an expansion of Jesus’ discourse of himself as “the bread of life.” “He who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”

John tells us that Jesus makes a direct identification of Himself as the Son of God, the Father, as having come down from heaven (pre-existent), as doing the will of God (having authority) and that everyone who believes in Him and who eats the living bread will have eternal life. At the last day they shall be raised up.

Up to this point, in the other three Gospels, for the most part, the disciples have known Jesus as a teacher, preacher, prophet, healer, miracle worker, and as divine. He has been seen as one sent by God who is still within the bonds of the Old Covenant and the teaching of Moses, the Law and the Prophets. Those are the contents of the disciples’ individual and collective buckets of faith. John emphasizes the preexistence, the authority, individual resurrection and eternal life. John puts these elements also into the disciples’ buckets of faith.

Now I mentioned the article by David Brooks. In it he talks about different phases in one’s life. In the 20’s you see possibilities and want to take advantage of everything. In your 30’s and 40’s you become more analytical and are aware of the institutions you live within. You develop skills. In your 50’s and 60’s you understand that relationships are more powerful than individuals. You enjoy coaching this phase of life, your dreams and ambitions. In your 70’s and 80’s you are like an ancient historian. You graze over decades and back again. You see yourself formed by the ancient traditions of your people – Jewish or other. You appreciate how much power the dead have over the living. Maturity develops. Perspectives widen. You are aware of the greater power of those forces flowing through your life.

Now, I know something about the four Gospels. Much of it I have forgotten. I prepared my masters’ and PhD theses on The Gospel of John. David Brooks’ analysis reminded me of the composition of The Gospels. There is a common core in the three synoptics, Mark, Luke and Matthew. That common core is like the individual in his/her 20’s: specific, to the point. Mark is like a man/woman in his 20’s approaching 30. The events are “straightway” (KJV). Matthew is like one in his/her 30’s 40’s: aware of the traditions – particularly the Jewish traditions. Luke is like one in his/her 50’s and 60’s: aware of the relationships between the Jews and the gentiles – the Greco-Roman world and Hellenistic Judaism. John is like someone in his/her 70’s and 80’s: aware of the deeper cosmic sense of things.

John opens with the prologue that we read at the end of every Mass. “In the beginning was the word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God…. and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…. and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” John is telling us right off the bat that Jesus is pre-existent and was present at the creation of the cosmos and the world. John is like the land rover on Mars, looking into the crater and sending back pictures. John is looking for sense behind the events which Mark, Matthew and Luke (and St. Paul) report. The synoptic Gospels record the institution of the Eucharist. John explains what the Eucharist does for the Christian. It makes a new testament, a new covenant between the believer and the Christ.

Those who come to (the Son) Jesus are drawn by (the Father) God to Jesus. Not everyone who has heard and learned from God come to God (from the Father to the Son). This is tough material. It has caused enmity between Christians and Jews and between Christians and those of other religions. John is using “us against them” language (and probably properly so). He is not, however, sanctioning, or calling for, total enmity against those who do not agree with the Christians. This type of “us against them” language is meant to define who Jesus is and what the results are of believing in him and in “eating the bread of life.” Calvin and Luther tended to emphasize the predestination of those who come to Jesus and those who do not believe. Absolutists and extremists use this same thinking to justify intolerance and even the killing of those of other religions, such as the Sikhs.

This chapter is placed in the context of The Passover. For the Jews this was a most sacred time, and Jesus observed it. Traditionally a lamb was sacrificed and the sins of the nation and of individuals were collectively focused on this lamb. The feast celebrates the escape of the Jews from bondage in Egypt. As a people they are able to focus their identity with this event. John embraces the Passover focus and Jesus identifies with the lamb. His followers are to identify with this also and receive God’s Son in the new meal, the Eucharistic meal.

I am struck in watching the results of the Olympics at how nations and races identify with what happens to the performers. A victory by someone from Jamaica unites all Jamaicans. The winner is the people and his honor is their honor. This is the kind of movement of thought that we find in John’s Gospel. John moves the Gospel story from literal and factual to reasonable, then to more complex and nuanced to questioning, then to imaginative and creative to outside the box, and finally to reflective, which connects the themes of life and ponders the ultimate meanings.

So you and I have in our buckets of faith, new and valuable insights from how The Gospel of John deals with the nature of Jesus. Jesus is seen as the Son of the Father, and as from heaven (beyond Mars), pre-existent, as doing the will of God (having authority) and as offering individual eternal life. At the Last Day, the time of ending of the world as we know it, those who have come to Jesus, and eaten of the body and blood, will experience the fullest meaning of salvation.

As you recall, last week I talked about the kinds of hunger that the Eucharist feeds. I spoke of the hunger for meaning in life, a hunger for seeing the connections and making sense of things, and the hunger for peace and freedom. The Gospel of John pushes the edges to lead us into seeing that at the base of the cosmos there is meaning. John helps us to make connections between what is simple and what is complex, what is human and what is divine. By combining the Word with the Eucharist, John helps us to see that in the divine person of Jesus Christ, God’s intention and God’s action are united. Many faiths or denominations focus on the experience of the Holy Spirit, or the Power of the Word, or the racial traditions. The Anglican tradition, with the centrality of the Mass, helps us to see that Christ is present not only in the proclamation (the Word), but also in the elements of the Mass (the Bread and the Wine). That means that you and I are given a “blessed assurance” in the New Covenant instituted at the Lord’s Supper before his crucifixion and resurrection.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on “this day of radiant gladness,” this “day of joy and light” hold firm to your buckets of faith. Treasure those parts of its contents that bring you hope and joy. Share those things of faith for which you rejoice. Give thanks to the old and for the excitement of the new. You and I, this parish, are assured that we count, that we have a future here on this earth and beyond. You and I are blessed to have friends and family that brought us here, often from distant shores. You and I stand united in the body of Christ, and free to be gracious to one another and to those who have not yet tasted and seen the wondrous love of God in Christ in the Mass and in the body of the Church temporal and eternal.

Let us go forth in the name of Christ! Alleluia, Alleluia. – Amen –

1) David Brooks, “The Credit Illusion,” The New York Times August 2, 2012.