Crazy Bread

John 6:56-69

When you think about it objectively, religion is kind of strange.  The whole idea of it, if you step back and look at it from a certain perspective, is just king of odd.  The idea that if we meet regularly and perform certain rituals and pray a certain way and sing certain songs in a certain way, somehow God, the almighty, all powerful, omniscient Maker of the Universe, will like us better or come closer to us or overlook our bad behavior or give us things—that whole idea is, on the face of it, kind of bizarre.  And yet, that seems to be the way a great number of people understand God and church and faith and religion in general.  

Years ago, the late George Carlin had a very funny routine about all this.  I’m going to change one or two of his words because I don’t want to say them in church, but here’s what he said:

“When it comes to [bull puckey], big-time, major league [bull puckey], you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion. No contest. No contest. Religion. Religion easily has the greatest [bull puckey] story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever ’til the end of time!

“But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good [bull puckey] story.” 

I have to tell you, if I thought for half a minute that God was anything like that, I’d be an atheist, too.  And the sad fact is, that this is exactly how a lot of religion and the Christian faith is presented and represented.  You think I’m exaggerating?  Go watch religious TV for a day and get back to me.  The picture you get is that God is distant, generally ticked off and inclined to be cranky, and it’s a good thing Jesus is there as our go-between because he keeps talking the Father down when he’s just itching to wipe us out altogether.  Except that in a lot of these “Christian” broadcasts, they think Jesus, himself, is going to come back any minute now  to settle our hash.  

Yikes!  He’s making a list, checking it twice, and you better believe he knows who’s naughty and who’s nice.  That’s not God!  That’s Santa Claus—and not in a fun way.  That’s Zeus throwing thunderbolts from Olympus!    

Richard Rohr said, “Jesus did not come to change God’s mind about us.  Jesus came to change our minds about God.  God did not need Jesus to die on the cross to decide to love humanity. God’s love was infinite from the first moment of creation; the cross was just Love’s dramatic portrayal in space and time.”[1]  

Instead of responding to our violence with more violence, God, in Jesus, endured our violence and responded with grace, love, forgiveness and resurrection.  Jesus came to give us a new understanding of who God is and how God is at work in the world so we could have a fresh start in our relationship with God and with each other.

If God and Jesus are not punishing, vindictive, or violent, then we have no excuse for being that way.  Ever.  

Jesus is the human face of the Cosmic Christ—the nexus where spirit and matter intersect.  The Gospel of John[2] tells us that “all things came into being through him.”  In Colossians we see it spelled out a different way.  “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible…—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.[3]

This is not an invisible, cranky old Sky Man watching from a distance.  This is not Zeus or Santa Claus keeping score to determine rewards and punishments.  This is God who has poured the divine self into all of creation to infuse everything with love and goodness.  This is Christ in, with, and under not only the bread and wine of the table, but all things.  In him all things hold together.

In other words, there’s more than meets the eye in everything you see or touch.  There’s more than meets the eye in everything.  Period.  As it says in Ephesians, Christ is in all and through all.[4]

It’s like Crazy Bread at little Caesar’s.  If you just glance at it, you’ll just see breadsticks.  If you pick one up, though, you’ll find it kind of slippery because it’s slathered in butter and dusted with granules of Parmesan.  And if it happens to be a piece of stuffed Crazy Bread, the minute you bite into it you’ll discover a surprise because it’s filled with melted mozzarella.  There’s more to it than meets the eye.  If you pass it up because you think it’s just a breadstick, you’ll miss the surprise. You’ll miss the experience.

When Jesus was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, he said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”[5]  

He wanted us to understand that he is incarnate, God is incarnate, in all things. The world is full of the life and light of Christ.  Yes, Christ is absolutely present in the bread and wine of communion.  But also in the soil where the wheat grew, and in the stalk of the plant and in the grains that were ground into flour.  He wants us to understand that he was incarnate in the vine and the grape and the yeast that ferments it into wine.  He wants us to understand that he is present in our coming together at the table in the same way he is present when water that bonds with flour to make dough, creating a new thing altogether—a thing that is still water and flour but also something different, something greater, something more.  He wants us to understand that he is present in the trials and troubles we share the same way he is present in the fire and heat that bakes the bread.  He wants us to understand that “taste and see the goodness of the Lord”[6] is more than a poetic metaphor—it’s an invitation to open our eyes and broaden our understanding so we can see Christ, so we can begin to see that in him all things hold together.  It’s an invitation to hold all life more dearly—not just ours, all life—because in him was life, and life is the light of humanity[7].  And by that light we understand that the life of Christ is infused into all living things and the planet itself.  By that life we participate in the eternal cycle of life, death, and resurrection—like the grains of wheat that fall to the earth and die but rises again in the fullness of a new existence.

“The words I have spoken,” said Jesus, “are spirit and life.”[8]  He went on to acknowledge that some people had difficulty with what he was saying.  Some took him far too literally when he talked about eating his flesh and blood.  They were offended.  They didn’t understand that it was his words that carried spirit and life.  They didn’t understand that he was the Word—the Word that became incarnate, embodied, living among us full of grace and truth.  The things he said didn’t fit the context of their religion—or at least not as they understood their religion.  So they turned away.

As I said at the beginning, religion is an odd thing.  It can help us understand or it can get in the way of our understanding.  It can open our hearts and minds, or it can close them.  It’s important to remember that Jesus didn’t come to give us a religion.  He came to show us the love of God in person.  He came so that we may have life in all its abundance.[9]


[1] A Nonviolent Atonement (At-One-Ment); Fr. Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation; 10/12/16

[2] John 1:3 ff

[3] Colossians 1:15 ff

[4] Ephesians 1:23; 4:6

[5] John 6:56 ff

[6] Psalm 34:8

[7] John 1:3

[8] John 6:63

[9] John 10:10

Our Down-to-Earth God

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. –Luke 2:9 (NRSV)

It’s funny how you can look at something a hundred times or more and then one day someone will point out something you hadn’t noticed and the whole thing looks different to you.  That happened to me last week when a colleague pointed out one simple word in Luke’s Christmas story that had always just flown right by me.

Stood.

The angel stood before them.  On the ground.

In all the years of reading or hearing this Christmas story I had always imagined this angel and the subsequent multitude of the heavenly host hovering in the air.  I think the Christmas Carols taught us to picture it that way.  Angels we have heard on high.  It came upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the earth.  

But that’s not what it says in the Gospel of Luke.  The angel stood before them.

If you were a shepherd in a field on a dark night, it would be pretty unsettling to have an angel appear in the air above you making announcements, but at least if the angel is in the air there’s some distance between you—a separation between your environment and the angel’s.  But if the angel suddenly appears in front of you standing on the same ground you’re standing on, shining with the glory of the Lord… well I think my knees would turn to rubber.  And then imagine what it feels like when the whole multitude of the heavenly host is suddenly surrounding you and singing Glory to God.

Angels in the air feel slightly safer than angels on the ground.  If the angels are above, that means that they came from above.  It means that heaven is “up there” somewhere.  But if the angels appear standing in front of us or behind us or around us, what does that say about heaven?  Could it be that heaven, the dwelling place of the angels, is not just “up there” but also here, with us?  Around us?  Could it mean that the angels of God are standing near us all the time and they simply choose not to show themselves?  Or that we’re just blind to their presence? Could it mean that this ground we walk on and build on and live on is also part of the dwelling place of God—so holy ground?

The angels didn’t bend near the earth.  They stood on it.  

We have this tendency, we humans, to want to separate the material from the spiritual, the divine from the physical.  We are such binary, black and white thinkers in a universe that’s full of colors.  We want to put borders on oceans.  And we certainly seem to want a border between heaven and earth.

We seem to be most comfortable when there’s a little distance between us and angels, a little distance between us and God.  That seems to be the way most people talk about it, anyway.  “Put in a good word with the man upstairs,” they say.  And then there’s that song: “God is watching from a distance.”

But that’s not what Christianity says.  That’s not what Christmas says.  The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.  In him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.  Not from a distance, but right in front of us.  As one of us.

We have trouble seeing the presence of God, seeing Christ in creation.  We have trouble seeing Christ in each other.  We even have trouble understanding Christ in Jesus.  How can Jesus be both divine and human?  We struggle to wrap our minds around that idea, so we have a tendency to make him either all human or all divine.  We picture that baby in the manger with a halo, and it doesn’t cross our minds that he might need to breastfeed and need his diapers changed.

“We need to see the mystery of incarnation in one ordinary concrete moment,” wrote Richard Rohr, “and struggle with, fight, resist, and fall in love with it there. What is true in one particular place finally universalizes and ends up being true everywhere.”  In other words, Christ is present everywhere, in, with, and under everything.  Including you.  And me.  And all those people we’re inclined not to like.

That, in the end, is what Christmas, the incarnation, is all about.  Christmas is God’s way of teaching us that there never really was any distance between heaven and earth, between the divine and the human, between the spiritual and the material.  Christmas is God proving once again that Christ is in, with, and under all the things we think we oversee and all the things we overlook.  Christmas is angels standing on the earth to sing to shepherds and surrounding them with the glory of the Lord to remind them that they, too, are spiritual beings immersed in a human experience, as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said.  

Christmas is God’s love made visible.  Pope Francis said, “What is God’s love? It is not something vague, some generic feeling. God’s love has a name and a face: Jesus Christ, Jesus.”  I would add that, if you open your heart and your mind to it, God’s love can have your face, too.

Christmas is earthy and concrete.  It needs to be fed at a mother’s breast.  It needs its diapers changed.  It cries when it’s hungry and shivers when it’s cold.  It looks out at the world with new eyes and tries to see and understand.  Christmas wants to be loved and to give love.  

Christmas is our down-to-earth God made manifest.  Yes, gloria in excelsis deo, glory to God in the highest, but glory, too, to God on earth where the angels stand to sing to shepherds, because the Spirit of God is in them, too, and God loves them like crazy.  Just like God loves you.

My prayer for you this night is that you would enter deeply into the concrete, down-to-earth, human and divine mystery of incarnation.  May your eyes and ears be opened to the angels who stand upon the earth and minister to all God’s children.  May you come to see Christ incarnate in all creation so that you are always standing on holy ground.  May you dispense with artificial borders in your heart, in your mind, and in this lovely world.  And may you come to see yourself and all the others who share this world with you as spiritual beings immersed in a human experience.  May Christ be born anew in your heart.  In Jesus’ name.