Kalyn Falk’s sermon for the 5th Sunday in Eastertide
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation- If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
This image of tasting the goodness of God made me wonder what it would be like to think of the whole bible in culinary terms.
You’d have your comfort food – chicken soup for the soul, if you will. The well worn, familiar texts you turn to whenever you need solace, or encouragement.
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There’d be those passages that are kind of like vegetables – maybe a bit of work to deal with, but nourishing once you take them in.
A lot of the Old Testament would be roughage – not the most interesting passages, but they keep you regular, and they’re part of a complete diet.
And then there are a few passages that are like the containers at the back of your fridge – they look kind of sketchy and you have to give them a sniff test to see if they still have anything to offer.
If this passage was a food, it would be breast milk, just as it says in its opening lines. This is a text for newborn infants, brand new members of God’s own family. Before we move to the meat and potatoes of things, before we even get to strained peas, this passage is a call to the very foundations of faith, of the primary nourishment.
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. We belong to God.
One of the first tasks of infant development is establishing a strong attachment. It is important that the infant feels safe and knows they belong.
As we grow, we learn to tell our own stories based on the way we’ve been written in to our family story; you are mom’s favourite, you are the trouble maker, you were the good girl. These statements affect how we see ourselves and how we fit into community.
In my work as a spiritual director, I have the privilege of hearing many people’s stories.
I had one directee who had been labeled the “difficult child”. Her family perceived her as willful, obstinate and fussy. As an adult, she learned that she had fairly significant food allergies and, as she learned more about how to nourish herself, she came to see that she hadn’t been “difficult”. She had been sick. This brought about a time of healing and restoration for her in terms of her own story about what kind of child she had been and allowed her family to start perceiving her in a new light – to take on a new role in the family system.
This passage in 1 Peter is also one of reclamation. In it, a small faith community facing persecution, who had been told that they were untouchable, unworthy and of little value, is being given a new identity.
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.
And this new identity is though the lens of Jesus, himself rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight.
Jesus came as a stumbling block. We wanted him to be a mascot, a lucky penny, a champion who would make life easier for us and ensure that our enemies would quite literally go to hell.
What we got in Jesus is someone who turned the world upside down and offers us a challenge instead. Jesus came to the women, he ate with the tax collectors, he befriended the disfigured and disabled, he had conversations with non-academics.
He messed around with all of our preconceptions of privilege and understanding of who has value. He challenged our fixation on law and rule keeping. He made us wrestle with God instead of giving us easy answers. Always with the parables and never with the simple black and white answer. He continues to invite us to participation in a relationship with God when all we often want is security.
And he is chosen and precious in God’s sight.
This year, for Lent we used an empty chair as an icon. We wanted it to act as a reminder to look for the people and the parts of us that are rejected and overlooked, the things that make us uncomfortable or unwilling to offer welcome; we wanted to be like Jesus and make space for the ones who have been told that there is no room at the table for them.
From a global perspective, we think of landless people, refugees and those who have lost their security because of environmental damage. We think of African American teenage boys in hoodies, Indigenous women in Canada, people who are transgender, especially trans women of colour, people with intellectual and physical disabilities. These are the people who are chosen and precious in God’s sight.
From a closer perspective, we think of the people that we choose to ignore or treat as though they are invisible. The ones we have deemed immoral, unwelcome or unworthy. These are the people God has invited to the table. They are chosen and called by God.
And even closer in, we think of the parts of ourselves that we are ashamed of and wish we could ignore. The parts of us that we despise or are afraid of. Instead of hiding them, God invites those parts to come close. Those are the parts that are most in need of mercy.
I had one directee who was a pastor and he was struggling with a faith crisis. And he said, “I’m working on that on my own. I want to bring my best self to God.” And I was like, “Mmm… I think God is MOST interested in the part of you that doesn’t believe and would love to have that part sit real close and receive.” God is big enough to hold the parts of us that make us uncomfortable. Your doubt does not threaten God.
In fact this is most of the work I do in spiritual direction. Most people come wanting to fix a part of themselves. They want to amputate the part that causes discomfort. An alcoholic who has tried to medicate the part of herself that feels pain. A counselor who wants to be strong for others but has contempt for the part of herself who is vulnerable and pathetic. A young man who is terrified of his sexuality and has tried to lock that part up in a closet. An anxious mom who is disgusted at the part of herself that is lazy and selfish. Life would be easier if we didn’t have the parts that made us feel vulnerable.
When we deny those parts of ourselves, we lose the invitation that God is offering. We don’t need to be fixed, we need transformation. We need to know that Jesus will come to us in our darkness, our shame, our loneliness and offer grace. That Jesus would meet us exactly there. Where we want to cover up and earn God’s love, we are called to reach out and let ourselves be seen and loved for who we actually are, not who we wish we are. Instead of relying on self-sufficiency, we must learn to receive mercy. This is the feast offered to us. Sometimes it feels like a bitter pill.
This can sound sentimental and ephemeral, but mothering a child with profound autism has forced me to learn this first hand. I did not want to be the mom of a disabled person. I wanted to sit at the cool Mom table, where everything looked like a perfect Pinterest board. Living with someone with autism can be beautiful, but it can also be really frustrating and difficult and tedious. But through this I’ve come to appreciate Jesus in a new way. It has been precious to me that God knows the beauty of living in the margins. That I am seen and loved even when I feel inadequate.
Parenting Noah has made me realize that God’s love for me is not dependent on how well I speak or what my IQ is. It’s just freely offered because God chooses to love me and call me family. When I was younger, I thought I’d be able to offer some of my strengths, to make the world a better place. But I see now that all I can really offer is this: you are seen, you are loved, God is big enough to hold all of you, not just the nice bits. And I can say this because I’ve felt seen and welcomed by God, even though God fully understands my limitations. This has sometimes been a stumbling block for people, from conservative Christian culture who would prefer that I focused a little bit more on who is in and who is out, but it is precious to me.
John is a continuation of this theme. Once we know our identity as God’s people through the lens of Jesus, the head cornerstone, the stone the builders rejected, we are continually reminded to live out that identity through relationship with God.
We hear Jesus’ words, “Don’t be troubled.” “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” Words of comfort and of welcome. God has the capacity to meet each of us. All that’s required of us is to believe.
Jesus continues on to reassure the disciples “I’ll go and prepare a place. I will come again. I will take you with me.” All words of relationship, of ongoing interaction, where all that is required of us is trust to stay open, to keep listening.
This is the equivalent of how we teach children object permanence, the knowledge that something can exist if we can’t always see it. Without this ability, it is hard to have any understanding of the world other than our current point of view. We play peek a boo to have them learn to watch for us, to know that we are still there even if they can’t see it. It also teaches them impulse control, which is foundational for both patience and faith. Jesus explaining this dynamic of leaving and returning is like a gentle game of peekaboo. I’m going to go, but I’ll come back. That does not mean I have abandoned you. This is key to the faith formation of the disciples, and also a preparation for the idea of the Holy Spirit.
When poor Thomas tries to figure this out “Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” We get the sentence that has been used as a call of judgment against other faiths for centuries: “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
This verse has been used in the words of the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary, as “a weapon with which to bludgeon one’s opponents into theological submission” but that’s an interpretation that comes from the context of Christianity as empire. This was not the original intention.
Jesus was speaking to a small tribe, a faith community of people who had been overlooked, rejected and despised, but who had an experience of tasting that the Lord was, indeed, good. They were worried about how to posture themselves for the future. They wanted to know if there was a guidebook, a set of rules to follow, some way to ensure that they would stay invited to the table.
When Thomas says “we don’t know the way”, Jesus reassures him, “I AM the way” You don’t need to know exactly what’s going to happen. You don’t have to worry. I abide in God and you abide in me. Don’t look for security – just stay in relationship and all shall be well.
We are sometimes so scared of being dependent on God that we’d prefer to rely on a formula instead. If I do this, or say this, or give up these things, I will be safe. The truth is, we don’t know where Jesus is going or where he will take us and this can feel scary. All we want is for Jesus to show us the way, so we can get on it.
There are no shortcuts, no ways of getting to God without relationship. Jesus reminds us that being invited to the table doesn’t depend on dogma, proper theology, rule keeping or privilege. It is only through abiding in Christ that the way will open.
Right now our family is going through several transitions. All together, it seems daunting and more than we can bear. There are many times when I’d prefer a roadmap for how to navigate these next steps instead of relying on faith. I want to know that God will be revealed in a way that satisfies me and puts my anxiety to rest. But Jesus has been gently calling me back to relationship, to trust. Where I ask for security, all I get is a promise – that there is an open chair for me. That I am not overlooked as I figure things out. God will be revealed as we go. And as I abide in Christ, the way, the truth and the life will unfold.
This is the feast we’ve been offered. And you are all welcome to pull up a chair. Amen.