Can you believe that school is starting in two weeks? I know my kids can’t. Summer sure went by fast. Actually, time in general goes by fast. I can barely believe that it’s 2018 as I just finally got used to it being 2017. And you know what will go even faster? These holidays that I’ll be going on. A couple weeks ago I was really looking forward to them and I was thinking that they start 2 weeks from… uh… 2 weeks ago, and that is how long my holidays are. So the faster they come, the shorter they’ll seem, if you know what I mean. Probably not? Yeah, probably not.
Anyway, time does fly. It is like the plague that none of us can get away from, but not for lack of trying or at least desire. I mean, all of us here wish we were younger, maybe not just physically or definitely not financially, but perhaps we wish we could go back to change something that we regret, make a better decision than the ones that have been made, or do something that we can no longer do because we’re older now.
But the fact of the matter is once that year, that month, that second is gone, it is not coming back. And man alive those seconds go by fast. Whoa, there goes another one now! Barely noticed it.
And so we toy with the concept of time. Things like time travel, quantum realities, or alternate time lines where we can fix the mistakes of the past, undo regrets, or overall live better than we are now. Which, apparently, in constant fear of those passing seconds, knowing that we’ll never get them back, wondering just how we might to screw it up this time.
I know, sounds kinda bleak. But you have to admit there is truth to it. We all wish that we could go back in time to change something, even though doing so might cause a rift in the space-time continuum, sparking a chain reaction that could make things even worse than they are now. I mean if we learned anything from Back to the Future, Star Trek, Terminator, Minority Report, and of course Time Cop starring Jean Claude Van Damme (I know everyone saw that one), and a plethora of other sci-fi movies regarding time travel, we really shouldn’t mess with time. It usually doesn’t end well for all those involved.
And so, in our modern mindsets, knowing that we can’t go backwards in time to change things, the next best thing is to go forward in time and build a utopia for ourselves. We look forward and cling to things like Back to the Future, Star Trek, and Terminator, where they promise a better future as long as we don’t screw it up anymore. If we get our act together, stop creating bad situations for ourselves, and generally just learn from our mistakes, then the future will be bright. We can’t control the past, but we can learn from the past and the future will be better than it would be otherwise.
Maybe… just maybe… if we’re good enough we’d get that illusive invite to the pearly gates and make it into heaven as our reward of a life full of discipline and hard work. We then get this “eternal life” that we no longer have to worry about the passing seconds and the accumulating regrets and the fleeting holidays, and just live the rest of eternity in bliss.
“Well, yeah,” you might think, “eternal life, isn’t that the point of all this church stuff anyway? Make our way to heaven and then live forever? Why else would we give up our Sundays and roughly 10% of our gross income?”
And I know I have to be careful here, because I don’t want to make any claims that I’m not absolutely sure of. But I know some people make Christianity and all this church stuff about that reward, the reward of heaven. It is what they look forward to, it is what they hope for their loved ones who have passed, it is the entire point of all of this, what happens to us for eternity.
I want to be clear here, because again I know this is like a make or break point for some, but I don’t think eternal life is the point or the main focus of our faith. I’m not saying that it won’t happen or that there isn’t a heaven, I’m just saying that it doesn’t matter if there is or not. Because again, that is not the point of our faith, it isn’t what we’re about, and it isn’t what Jesus promises us.
Whoa wait… he didn’t? You might think that I didn’t even read the gospel reading for today, where Jesus specifically says that he is the living bread from heaven, and whoever eats of this bread will live forever. Trust me, I didn’t miss that, not today, not for the past few weeks where Jesus has been talking about this same exact thing. What I’m saying is that our understanding of what eternal life is might not be the same as Jesus’ understanding of it.
I know, I’m going to tread lightly, but just hear me out.
As we might remember, the story so far in John 6 is about Jesus being the bread of life, starting with Jesus giving actual literal bread to the people to eat. He starts calling himself the bread of life once the people got hungry again and started looking for Jesus for another handout, because… you know… free food. But Jesus says no, stop thinking only of your stomachs, of filling your bellies, of rewarding yourselves, but look to the generous and gracious act that fed you to begin with. Look at what this symbolizes, what this means, how this action around the bread, not the bread itself, is the point of this whole episode.
Then the people just got more confused and grumbled and maybe even disrespected Jesus, and to that Jesus responds with “eat me”. Like not actually, but kinda actually. And this is where the confusion comes in. Clearly Jesus isn’t speaking literally here. Jesus isn’t literal bread nor does he want anyone to take an actual bite out of him. He was speaking metaphorically, and I believe he continued to do so when he brought up eternal life in this particular conversation.
Again, I’m not saying that there is no such thing as eternal life or that it is through Jesus where eternal life can be had. What I’m saying is that Jesus isn’t literal here in this particular passage about living forever. Rather, it would make more sense that ‘eternal life’ in this context is more about a quality of life, rather than a quantity of life. Jesus is saying that if we ingest this bread, this Word, this teaching of wisdom that he offers, then our lives will then be more full as we learn to better live in community and right relationship.
See, Jesus fed the people with the 5 loaves and 2 fish because he cared for them and wanted to see their needs met, and he was teaching them generosity, service, and community. So when the people thought that they were somehow rewarded with food for something, they came back for more. Hey, they deserved it yesterday so they should still deserve it today too, right? So Jesus says no, this life isn’t about gaining your own rewards, it isn’t about building your own egos and giving yourself reasons to pat yourself on your own backs. Rather, this life is about generosity, service, and grace. It is about giving and opening yourself for others, and displaying community for all.
This is the eternal life that he’s talking about, that we can see life more fully, we can live life more richly, and we can go through life more confidently knowing that there is forgiveness in all that we do, that we can live without regret and guilt, and look ahead to help form and shape that utopia that we all long for.
So yes, time does go by fast. We cannot get back the seconds. And we are very very limited in the great grand scheme of things. So Jesus instructs us to not spend our remaining time by living for and rewarding ourselves in trying to ensure our own comfort and joy, but learn to see the joy and comfort and reward in living for others. This is the wisdom that we read about in our first reading out of Proverbs, that we live lives of hospitality and charity, that we see the value in each other and all people, and we hold up community and right relationship as the point of our faith.
“Make the most of time, the days are evil” we read in the second reading for today. We are to be careful with how we spend our time, but not because we might forfeit the reward we think we’re getting at the end of life, but because of the joy that comes now when we live in community, when we live for others, when we live in the wisdom of Christ, following the will of God, and proclaiming to all the good news of forgiveness and peace, graciously given to us by the God who created the universe and all time.
Our concern then, our focus, the point of our faith shifts from what happens to us after we die from these lives, and it lands squarely on how do we live our lives now in these lives. Do we live in hopes that we will gain a reward that we might not be entirely sure of? Or do we live for others in service and ministry, live in community offering our love and support to those around us, live the wisdom that extends ourselves to others, working together to make this world, here and now, a better place to live? That is a reward that we can plainly see as community grows, service strengthens, and hope abounds.
These here are the teachings of Jesus, the Word of Jesus, the bread of life that Jesus feeds to us, nourishing our souls with the message of truth and grace, not that we can learn how to appease this God that will grant us reward for a job well done, but empowering us with the wisdom of God to live lives full of love as we are saved and redeemed out of guilt and the fear of the ticking seconds, that our lives can be full of meaning and purpose and intention to live for others, live in ministry, live in community, now and forever.
As we part ways for just a couple weeks while I’m on holiday, may our time apart be full of the grace and peace of God, that we might live for one another in love and joy. Thanks be to God. Amen.