So much of life is limited by habits, customs, traditions, and restrictions. Society poses regulations to guard the innocent, defend against the reckless, and promote what we call the common good. Environmental safety, consumer product safety, and traffic safety are all watchwords for the promise of an ongoing conversation, a conversation about the need for private and commercial interests to operate within limits--limits that will afford reasonable protection for families and communities against possible dangers. Such limitations, therefore, are not bad in and of themselves because we need to know that material goods have been properly tested and approved. We need to know that corporations are not able to take unfair advantages in their competitive struggle for market shares and for sales. We must have guidelines, we must have standards, and we must have policies that promote safety, stability, and predictability within our world.
But what happens when we are confronted with an invitation to enter into a new world, a world defined by the mystery and promise of God's gifts of grace and truth. What becomes of the old regulations when we encounter a man sent from God who came to his own people, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Certainly, a new kind of conversation is needed to communicate a new understanding of this new potential in our existence. This is the nature of the conversation recorded in the Gospel of John, a conversation initiated and directed by the One who came down from heaven in order to raise up a new people and prepare them for a new world. This is a conversation that clarifies and extends a divine invitation to experience the freedom of this new world, the world of the Father announced by the coming of the Son Jesus Christ.
Chapter by chapter, John's Gospel challenges our habits, our customs, our traditions, and our restrictions by articulating the vision of Jesus for a new world. Jesus' mission is to alter our reality and cause us to hunger and thirst for something new, something different, holy, and wonderful. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and this automatically transforms the old world order. He is the good thing that came out of Nazareth, who promises you will see heaven opened and you will see the angels of God ascending and descending. He tells teachers of the old way-- unless you are born again, you won't even be able to see this new world. But those who are ready to respond to his invitation are healed from fevers, healed from blindness and paralysis, and even from death itself. He promises that this new world has a great house with many rooms which he assures us will be made ready for those who will go where he leads the way. And he further assures us that if he makes us free and brings us to our place in the new world, we can stay forever.
As this Gospel conversation continues, the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of those who begin to believe, and the limitations of old world thinking and old world living seem more and more like unnecessary impositions. Jesus is indeed something greater than Abraham, showing us the meaning of true worship in spirit and in truth, needing neither the holy mountain nor the holy city to reach the Father.
Perhaps we can allow the metaphor of hunger and thirst to represent the growing capacity within people of old world thinking and old world living to respond to the message of Jesus Christ. Surely, we hunger for something new when we share in the grief and the anger of the family of Amadou Diallo who was shot 19 times in the doorway of his New York home by police who ultimately admitted with great regret that they had shot an innocent, unarmed man. Surely we are thirsting for something more satisfying than the bitter cup of misery and neglect that so many children in every corner of the world must drink everyday of their impoverished lives.
Surely this kind of hunger and thirst drives us to seek an end to the violence that is driven by religious intolerance and ethnic hatred fueling the fires of terrorism and racism, holding nations and neighborhoods hostage to the warfare of hostilities that seem to never end. We are hungry indeed for peace and thirsty for reconciliation in this old and troubled world. We long for a way to overcome the social chasms of race, class, and sexual identity. We pray for the day when the burden of mistrust is lifted from the backs of those who are different from us and we from them. Yes, we are hungry and we are thirsty for a new world, a world where we celebrate the gifts of grace and truth and look one another in the eye and recognize the kinship of sisters and brothers who are all children of God. The promise of this new world is set forth in the strongest possible terms when Jesus declares, "My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, not like your ancestors ate and still they died, because whoever eats this bread will live forever."
Can this be possible? One man set free is worth a thousand speeches. The first time I heard these words I was listening to the radio as I drove my car down a highway in Washington, D.C. I wanted to pull over and roll down my windows and shout to all who were passing by, "Did you hear that? Isn't that the truth? Isn't that the God-honest truth? One person set free is worth a thousand speeches?" Thankfully, the words of Jesus are not a series of speeches. They are not high-sounding platitudes, the work of spin doctors and publicists trying to promote some candidate. They are not a resume of someone's wishful thinking, a compendium of dreams, visions, and ideals disconnected from the will and the power to actually achieve them. The words of Jesus are an invitation to come and see and in John chapter 6, they become more explicit as they bid the hungry and the thirsty to experience the freedom food of a new world.
In Jesus Christ we are already living forever in a world that is rooted and grounded in the love of the Father and the power of the Holy Spirit. We are already there. We are already free, and we must be continually nourished with freedom food. We must take the food and the drink that is the message and person of Jesus Christ and feed on him in our hearts by faith. We must openly celebrate our new lives for we are God's children now. It does not yet appear what we shall be. It is not yet fully revealed how we will experience the fullness of the new world, but we do know this. We have great work to accomplish as we walk the streets of an old world that is hungry for something new.
And like Jesus, we are not called to give speeches but to proclaim freedom to the captives, give sight to the blind, and life to the dying. To feed on Jesus is not only to believe in him but also to experience his grace and truth as resources for living in a new world as he would ultimately reveal.
As we receive him, we are no longer of the old world just as he was never of this world. Before his death, he prayed to the Father, "Do not take them out of the world, but keep them from evil and sanctify them in the truth and bless those who will come to believe because of their word." This word is not a speech; it is rather the invitation to a new world in Jesus Christ.
While living in an old world and kept from evil and nourished with freedom food, we are given power to become children of God who belong to another world. Thanks be to God that other world has room for many others. Let our faith be seen and felt as we participate in the work of setting others free because one person set free is worth a thousand speeches. Blessed are those who hunger for the freedom of a new world and blessed are those who live their lives in the manner of Jesus, sharing with the hungry the food of freedom and the divine invitation to become children of God. Amen.