I recently preached this sermon, entitled This I Believe, based upon the gospel lection for this week: John 6:35, 41-51.
I have a favorite radio program, perhaps not an unsurprising one for a minister type. It airs on Monday mornings on NPR, at a time that I am rarely by a radio. Through downloaded podcasts, I enjoy This I Believe, which from its very beginning has sought "to point to the common meeting grounds of beliefs.” Anyone can offer an essay and they get to read it on the air. I turned to the archives of This I Believe as I thought I would surely discover the story of someone that had started their story with the brave words, “I am.”
And, these are brave words. These are very brave words. These brave words are the answer to the interview question that I most dread from search committees. Tell us something about yourself, they ask. I am… I pause. I don’t know how to continue with this phrase. I am… I stutter. I feel that I need to perform miracles to prove myself. But, Jesus doesn’t perform a miracle to the challenging crowd. He boldly says, Ego eimi. I AM. He continues this bold statement: I am the bread of life.
Bread? Really? I’m not even sure how to begin to talk about bread. It’s… it’s… the appropriate measure of flour and water with a dash of yeast to create this loaf that is so basic to our daily living. So basic that I don’t even know how to describe it. So basic that half of our nation is rejecting it from their diet to embrace a low-carb lifestyle. So basic that the crowd doesn’t stop to question. “Bread really was a matter of life.”
And to this bread-eating crowd, Jesus says, Ego eimi. Jesus’ language is just strange. But, it’s not really the fact that he’s calling himself bread. For a crowd that ate mostly bread, the metaphor of bread translates easily. Instead, I imagine that this crowd would have stumbled over the first part of this sentence. Ego eimi. In these two words, Jesus claims an unmistakable connection to God. These two words are not spoken unless referring to the divine. With a mere two words, Jesus tells us who he is.
And knowing the power of Ego eimi, it seems that I should pick up my pen and write my own essay for This I Believe. But, where would I start? Maybe I’m placing too much weight on these words. Maybe I shouldn’t be searching through these words in the Gospel of John to begin my statement of belief. I mean, could I really start with the revelation of a doughy divinity or a crusty Christ?
Maybe instead, I should instead turn to the flesh that John offers at the end of this passage. The part where Jesus says,
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Flesh. I’m not sure that it’s really any better than bread. But, it is this flesh that returns us to the person of Jesus. It’s this flesh that reminds me of the wondrous event that began John’s gospel story: “and the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Not to take away from the power of these words in the sixth chapter, but these nine words in the very first chapter of John embody the holy mystery of Ego eimi. This I Believe. In these nine words, I can discover the wonder of my own hands, of a baby’s soft touch, of my grandmother’s papery skin, of my sister’s new sunburn and of you.
This I Believe. Not because bread isn’t basic to us. Not because I am not hungry. But because, I am a woman with flesh, as you have flesh. And the wonder that Jesus had flesh that was baby soft and grew to be sunburned in the hot sun reminds me of God’s image in each of us.
But, is this revelation enough to begin my essay for This I Believe? I am… I still stutter. Or do we join the crowd in shock that someone has the audacity to assume these divine words for themselves? It’s a big jump, and I admit I’m not sure if I’m ready to claim Ego eimi for myself. After all, these are brave words. These are divine words. But, I wonder if we could claim it together.
Barbara Brown Taylor wonders what would happen “if people were invited [to church] to come tell what they already know of God instead of to learn what they are supposed to believe?” Maybe this is what it means to claim Ego eimi together. It’s within our very flesh. We already know a whole lot about God. We encounter God in the most mundane and ordinary places. We encounter God in our very own flesh.
And, I wonder what would happen if we shared these experiences with each other. Instead of looking up to heaven to find a loaf of bread appearing from the skies, could we touch our own skin? Sitting in these pews, could we hold hands? Embedded in these cells, in these wrinkles and creases, in these calluses and blisters, in these cuts and scars, could we feel the mystery that began John’s gospel story in our very own flesh?
In our very own flesh, buried beneath these layers of skin, we have already touched and felt the mysterious wonder of the divine. We have already found how "to point to the common meeting grounds of beliefs.” We have found it in our own flesh. We have found it in the boldness of the Christ that first claimed Ego eimi, and invites us to discover its mystery in our very own flesh. This I Believe.