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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Mystery of The Last

2015-07-26 Jn 06 01-15 The Mystery of the Last

The mystery of the last. Who gets the last? Who took the last? Who deserves the last?


The last fried chicken leg.

The last cold canned drink.

The last slice of pizza.

The last brownie.


The last piece of food or drink is always an ethical dilemma, isn't it? These last things are always kind of important, aren't they?


When you live in a household of one, you know who the last belongs to. Who gets it? You do. Whose is it? All yours. Of course, there are downsides. Like, when you realize the last roll of toilet paper's gone. Who let THAT happen? Unless your cat is really, really evil (and some are), when you're one of one, you don't have to wonder. You - get the first and the last. You - are the Alpha and Omega. There is no mystery when it's just you.


When you're one of two, there's still not much mystery. "Who gave you that apple, Adam?" "She did! It was her!" Nobody's buying that snake story. "No, dear. I did not take your chimichanga to work." Of course you didn't. The snake did. Right. No mystery.


But when you're feeding 5000. Even when you're feeding a group our size, everybody always wonders, "Will there be enough?" "Did we buy enough chicken?" "Did Connie send bread?"


Churches call it "potluck," but that's not right. It's "potMYSTERY". Because you can never know how it's going to work out until the last serving, right? You could be "potUNlucky." You let one person go ahead. Dang it. No banana pudding for you.


So -- what if the disciples miscounted? What if there weren't 5000 people to feed? What if there were five-thousand and ONE? And what if that last one was you? What if there's an end to the abundance of Jesus?


And now the mystery of the last takes a dark turn. Because we're no longer talking about loaves and fishes. Now it's Jesus himself. Now it's life or death suspense. How can there possibly be enough Jesus to go around, for everybody? Shall the first be the first and the last be the last, and, "Sorry. No salvation for you"?


There's the mystery of the last.




People crave mystery. Why is that? Because without mystery, life is boring. So if there isn't enough mystery, we invent some.


Some people say they don't like mystery. I find them suspicious. Look at the top-rated TV shows. They're all mystery. They're all suspense. CSI. SVU. The Walking Dead. Which bachelor will Kaitlyn marry? What's Donald Trump going to say today? Which Property Brother is that? Will Peyton get the second ring THIS year? Mysteries. Suspense. Shows, sports, movies, books - among the top-rated are always mysteries. We need mystery.


And if there aren't mysteries? We create them. Why? So we can solve them. The only thing better than a mystery is being the one of one with the solution. The cure. The real story. Which is why conspiracy theories are always beguiling. Is Elvis alive? Did they fake the moon landing? Did Hillary Clinton meet with Bat Boy? Yes, yes, and of course she did.


How could Jesus possibly feed 5000 people with five loaves and two fish? Extremely tiny bites. Some say the people had already brought their lunches, and they shared, so it LOOKED like Jesus was feeding the whole crowd. Some say Jesus is just magic. It was a trick. Like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. But instead of a rabbit, it was loaves and fishes. It was a mystery. But thanks to some really creative Bible-reading, we can solve it. And a lot of people want to do that. They want to solve the Bible. Here's how that feeding thing really happened.


But if you take away the mystery, you take away the miracle. And if you take away the miracle, it's just luck. Having the right place in line. Boring.


Except that - and I think this is a basic theme of the Bible - God may be a lot of things, but God's never, ever, ever, ever… boring. God's always got some kind of mystery up a sleeve. But what kind of mystery? And is there a solution to the mystery of God that will totally and completely satisfy our cravings? Should there be?




When we're talking about God, I think a lot of times, we make a critical mistake. Instead of letting God be a mystery, we turn God into a puzzle. Puzzles might seem mysterious, but there's always a solution, an explanation, a trick. Like the Rubik's Cube. For most of us, it's unsolvable. You might finally figure it out. But there's always some smarty-pants kid who can do it faster. That's a puzzle for you.


God is not a dot-to-dot. God is not a Sudoku book. There's one and only one way to get a puzzle right. God's not like that. God might be puzzling, but God is not a puzzle. God's more than that. There's more than one way to approach God, more ways to experience God, more ways to serve God than one and only one. Maybe infinite ways to encounter an infinite God. God is not a puzzle; God is a mystery. And God has filled the world and everything in it with mystery.


When you're out here at night, if it's clear, you can see stars. More than you can count. And some of those stars? They're galaxies of countless more stars. How can that be? It's a mystery.


Take a good look at some lilies. See how the colors blend one to the other. How they open at just the right height for just the right insects to get just the right amount of pollen on their tiny insect feet. How can the bugs get just the right amount of nectar up their noses? How is that? It's a mystery.


You say, "Oh, science can explain that." Well, yes, but who explains the explanations? Teachers. And why would anyone want to take a teaching job? It's a mystery.


This sense of mystery is at the heart of Christianity. Why would God, why would Jesus want to serve you up a plateful of grace? A cup of compassion? A taste of salvation? Because you deserve it? Because you're the solution to God's puzzle and without you the whole universe falls apart? Sorry, but no. It's a mystery.


Puzzles lead toward answers. But mystery, properly speaking, Godly speaking, mystery leads toward more questions, more mystery. More mysteriously nourishing stuff in more mysteriously appearing baskets. There's always more. Which is good if you come late. Good if you're number five-thousand and one.




Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 


You see what Jesus was doing here? He was never planning for just 5000. He was always planning for twelve more baskets. If one basket could feed 5000, imagine how many more 12 could serve. And if each basket produces 12 baskets of leftovers, then 12 baskets could produce, well, you can do the math puzzles.


The greater point is that there's always a greater point. That's how God is. Just when you think you've reached your limit, just when you're feeling satisfied, just when you've consumed all you want, along comes another basketful. Along comes another person who brings the face of Christ. Maybe it's a kind face. Maybe it's an ugly face. Maybe it's a mysterious face. On an earth of infinite variety, why would we expect anything less of an infinite God?


With God, there is no "last" anything. How can that be? The mystery of the last is that there is no "last." We crave this God whose mercy has no end. We crave more servings. And then, having been fed, we are drawn to serve this mystery, to help dish out this unlimited grace to this line that has no end.




OK. Back to reality. I know - and you know - that someone has to be last in line for lunch today. Who will it be? I'm betting that we have more food than people, knowing this church. I'm not worried. But it will be fun to see who it turns out to be.


I'm also sure that there's someone here who feels like they're last in line for God's good graces. And I can pretty well guarantee you it's not anyone you would guess. Someone feels like she or he is late to the party and worries if God has saved enough for them. I'm guessing there's more than one of us who feels that way, or has. And while I might worry for you, I'm not worried about God's supply. There's always more at the last.


May the company of God's limitless mystery surround you, and fill you, and send you back for more.