Monday, August 6, 2012

The Bondage of Memory (Sermon 8/5)


Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; John 6:24-35

            Every four years, I have a little jealous streak that rears its head. It’s not because I wish I had put more effort into being an Olympic athlete, though I am admittedly envious of their skills. The little green monster that peeks out dates way back to my childhood when, looking at a poster in the hallway of my house, I realized there were no women presidents. Immediately, I wanted to be one. The presidency became my goal. In high school, I pursued a lot of avenues that were open for politically inclined students. I was voted most likely to succeed and most likely to become President. So every four years, I feel a little nostalgia that it is not going to happen.

            At some point, I realized this was not the path for me. I do not mean a path that was not open to me- I mean not the best one for me. In order to move on to places and things that were better suited for my skills, I had to let the dream of being president die. Yet, the ghost of that dream occasionally haunts me.

            In today’s readings, people are having a hard time letting their dreams die. The Israelites likely dreamt of freedom each night they were in Egypt and, to be sure, it did not look like this wandering in the desert, uncertain, hot, and wistful, even, for the food of Egypt (tinged with the poison of slavery, though it was). They are in bondage to their memory, unable to be thankful to the God who has brought them thus far.

            Their memories will neither allow them to let go of what they thought freedom would be like nor will their memories recall the truth of what life in Egypt truly was. Their memories are holding them back from seeing God’s actions right in front of them- the actions that are bringing them life.

            The people gathered around Jesus in today’s gospel, both Jews and Gentiles, are not able to see who he really is. Their memories are fixated in two directions as well. On the one hand, they are clearly remembering the many baskets of leftover food after an entire crowd ate their fill. On the other hand, they are remembering what has always been promised about the Messiah of God and what his advent will bring. Obsessed with the signs they’ve witnessed, they crowd Jesus- unable or unwilling to hear what he is saying about belief in God and what truly sustains life.

            Their memories will not allow them to see past the obviousness of the miracles nor will it allow them to let go of the messiah of their minds. Their memories are holding them back from seeing God’s actions right in front of them- the actions that are offering them life.

            We too can be in bondage to our memories. Not just to what we once thought we might have been personally, but in many directions. We can hold ourselves captive by society’s standards or the expectations of those we hold dear. We may be enslaved by the memories of our own beliefs about ourselves, our work, our families- what they were going to be, what they could be if we just made a few changes.

            As a church family, we can be in bondage to our memories of what we think we our best times. We can long for the leeks and cucumbers of days gone by, forgetting the work that went with those meals. As part of the church universal, we can hold so tightly to our memories of what we believed would happen when we nailed the theses to the door, ordained women, become more welcoming… that we are devastated by events that do not live up to the expectation of our memories.

            I’m not talking about our memories of people we have loved or times that we appreciated- those are gifts from God that we’re able to recognize. But the memories of what we thought would be… Our communities, our homes, ourselves… can be held back by what we once believed would be our future. When this happens, and it does, we often grieve for what might have been- without taking stock in what is. Our memorial grief can hold us back from seeing God’s actions right in front of us- the actions that are offering us life.

            When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life”- it’s not about food for the stomach. When God provides manna in the wilderness, it’s not about keeping the Israelites alive for another day. It’s about the present… and the presence. About the relating… and the relationship. The reality of the spiritual strength that is offered to us through Jesus, by the work of the Spirit… that reality is so that we can live, right now. So that we can believe that God is with us, right now. So that we can grow into our potential as God’s beloved, right now. 

            Part of the work to which we are called letting go of the idols of our memories, breaking the bonds of what we thought would be, and helping our neighbors to do the same. We have a very real present in which to live, a very Real Presence that feeds and sustains us. In order to appreciate these gifts and their accompaniments, forgiveness, reconciliation, hope, we have to be willing to be open to the immediate work of the Spirit. We have to accept that God is still speaking. We have to expect that Christ will feed us. We must believe that what God is doing, right now, in our lives and in the world, is greater than what we could have expected or dreamed.

            And then we find ourselves released from the bondage of our memories, false as they were. And we find ourselves in a gracious present, lacking nothing, equipped and energized to carry the bread of life into the world. Whether we are Olympian, pastor, lawyer, teacher, accountant, retiree, homebody, or president. 

1 comment:

Ellen said...

I am on the other side of the country from you and yet this spoke directly to where I am in my life now. Thank you for your post. I pray that letting go will lead me to a better place than where I am now.