I was home in Colorado recently, and while there I took a tour of Stranahan’s Whisky distillery. Stranahan’s is a Scotch style American whisky, a very fine whisky. At the end of the tour, they let you sample the product, and then in a stroke of marketing genius AFTER you have sampled the product you are invited to make purchases in the gift shop. As our tour guide sold us what seemed like very reasonably priced fine whisky, she shared some advice from the owner and founder.
The tour guide said that the folks at Stranahan’s would never pretend to tell you how to enjoy your whisky, but, and this is apparently a direct quote from the founder, “if you mix Coke with this fine whisky, you make the baby Jesus cry.”
If you mix that fine of a whisky with Coke, with anything really, you dilute the taste. You lose the flavor of the whisky.
Don’t miss it, there is a theological point being made here, Don’t mix your fine whisky with Coke. It’s theological, and I promise, it has something to do with our Gospel today.
We really have about three Sundays worth of Gospel text today, but don’t worry we are going to spend the next five weeks in chapter six of John’s Gospel, so there will be time for me and Gini to get to almost all of the finer points. Today I want to focus on the transition that occurs between the two narratives: between the bread and the walking on water. Immediately after Jesus performs the miracle of the loaves and fishes, what happens? He has to run away because the people want to SIEZE him and make him king. “This is the prophet we have been waiting for!” they say. They are ready to seize Jesus, to grasp ahold of him. The word “seize” is the same as Paul uses in his letter to the Philippians. He tells us, “Equality with God is not something to be grasped.” Jesus knows this, and avoids the grasping.
Jesus’ time was full of expectation for a coming messiah. There were many candidates running around Palestine, and there were militias ready to get behind one of them to try and replace the Roman governor. You know this if you’ve read any biblical history, or if you’ve scene Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian.” The time of Jesus was the time of expectation of the coming savior of the Jewish people from the Roman imperial oppression. So the people hear in Jesus, the see in Jesus, what THEY WANT TO SEE.
The expectations are dangerous. The people here are ready to try an install Jesus as King with armed rebellion, so Jesus takes off. This story about Jesus seems so long ago, but we know something of the reality of those who would seize God for their agenda. We have survived the terrorism of some who claim God is diluted in their own prejudice.
If you watched the opening ceremonies on Friday night, you missed something. Here in the United States, NBC decided NOT to air the final portion of the ceremony, just before the parade of nations. The last act was a memorial to those who died in the London Underground attacks just after UK was announced as host for the 2012 Olympics. If you haven’t seen the memorial, google it later. I found it online, and I was amazed. It is mostly a modern dance piece, which wasn’t what amazed me. I have to confess, I don’t really get modern dance. What amazed me was the singing of a hymn. In response to a terror attack, a religiously motivated terror attack by a group of people who claim a dangerously deluded vision of God, the London Opening Ceremonies planners asked us to listen to a hymn. One verse:
3. I need thy presence every passing hour;
what but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?
Who like thyself my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.
What a way to counter spin, to counter the claims of those use God for their own agenda of terror. The planners of those opening ceremonies offered a old vision of the God who abides, the God of hope. This is important. Rather than avoiding the danger of religion altogether, they addressed specifically the dangerous vision of those who would hijack God for their own ends. The hymn has another vision of God, not one set to our own agenda.
Our world needs this God. Jesus needs followers who are not ready to seize him and make him king. After the crowds have dispersed, Jesus comes looking for the disciples. By this point they’ve gotten in a boat, and, not surprisingly for this crew, things aren’t going so well. Then they see Jesus, walking across the water. Do not be afraid, he tells them, and suddenly they find themselves on the other side of the sea.
If anything is clear from the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t leave things where they are. Jesus doesn’t leave people where they are. When people encounter the real Jesus, undiluted Jesus, their lives change, and not necessarily in the way they were expecting them to change. A bunch of fishermen go around proclaiming God’s justice. People walk away healed. Women are sent back to preach to their communities.
Can we let go of our agendas? We have a world that desperately needs an undiluted Jesus, a Lord who comes to heal, to feed, and to save us from drowning.