In 1991 a brilliant and troubled artist let out a cry for help that became a short lived anthem for a generation of apparently apathetic teenagers who were raised in excess. Smells like Teen Spirit was both a pun and a rallying cry. It was a canary screaming garbled speech about those who were united through feelings of meaningless. The canary screamed before 9/11, before the term “school shooting” existed, and during a time of relative peace when I naively believed that our nation might have an entire generation live and die without partaking in the game of kings known as war.
What a different world it is today, and how I wish that we had the things to complain about now that we did then. I guess everyone who lives long enough says that at some point. Perhaps that longing for something more perfect is why we enjoy the Olympics so much. Competition is pure – or at least it can be. Perhaps that is why the Olympics have always held such promise of peace and hope. Perhaps that is why every developed civilization has had games of some form to settle disputes and demonstrate power.
The bread of life, the bread of heaven – these are phrases that are typically only spoken in Christian worship. Here’s one that is a lot like it that I bet you’ve heard in a lot of different situations – the stuff of life. Now that’s one you could hear or say just about anywhere!
Sometimes “the stuff” is a really satisfying meal. Sometimes it is something less tangible like a memory or an observation of someone else’s experience. Children playing, a young couple struggling, a husband or friend sitting by a bedside in a hospital – that’s the stuff of life. We make it through life experiencing both joy and sadness, both hope and fear.
Job reminds us man is mortal. He also reminds us that some of God’s creations have the capacity to regenerate. More importantly Job tells us there is hope – hope that humankind might find eternity.
Jesus in his ministry traveled back and forth between Galilee and Judea, passing through Samaria. On one trip he spoke with the Samaritan woman. Jesus being fully human and fully Devine was thirsty. The scripture goes on beyond quenching human thirst. Jesus used the occasion to build the analogy of living water, that whosoever drinks of His living water shall not be thirsty for spiritual water ever again and those who believe shall have eternal life.
Earlier this Summer, my daughter and I participated in what has become somewhat of a tradition – the annual building of a drip castle. If you have never built one of these it is the careful result of filling your hands with wet sand and letting it slide through – little by little – to create larger structures. Usually there is some kind of hard packed base, and usually there are portions that break off due to their height and weight becoming out of balance.
But, with enough patience or persistence – which ever characteristic suites you best – you can eventually come up with something quite unique! The most unique thing about it is that it never comes out the way you have in mind, and it always ends up as the result of participating with forces beyond your control. That seems to me to be a lot like who we are and what we do in the church. In fact, this tension between building something unique for God and becoming something unique by God’s grace seems to me to be the central issue of our texts today.
Our readings today have a lot of expectations in them, both implied and obvious. The idea of expectations reminds me of a joke about opinions. Opinions (or expectations) are like arm pits – we all have them, and some of them stink! It’s true. Hard to believe – I know – but not everything that I want or expect to happen is going to happen. Not everything that I expect to happen, even the things that should happen – good things, great things – are the right thing or even the likely thing to happen.
That is not a bad thing. It is not necessarily a good thing, either. It’s just the way things work. Even the Rolling Stones knew it. Mick Jagger sang [though I will not as I do not have the moves like Jagger], “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you’ll find you get what you need!” That’s true, but I’m not sure that it’s the best theology. At least, it’s not a complete witness. It’s still pretty dependent on me and my actions.