Part 2: No Secrets are Hid [Proper 13B]

The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson
John 6: 24-35

Part 2: No Secrets are Hid

The people are in hot pursuit: 1st century paparazzi after the hottest thing this side of Capernaum.  Rumor has it: this guy could be the next king.  That's what people are saying.  And it is hard to believe, I know, but he is a one-man bread and fishes factory. And so they are after him.

The day before seemed surreal too good, too weird, to be true.  Five thousand people ate, no, feasted on, two fish and five small loaves of barley bread.  Obviously it was impossible but also it happened.  The guy who made it happen, who fed them, was just a guy from Galilee but also very clearly more than just a guy.  He was special; he was the one.  They were going to force him to be their king.  Sure, he was playing hard to get for now, but they could change his mind.  They could be persistent.  If anyone was worth their adulation and efforts, he was.

But first they will have to find him.  It seems he slipped the scene.  Like Cinderella after the ball, Jesus, and his disciples, seemingly disappeared into the night.  They form a search party.  And, you know, come to think of it, they are starting to get a little hungry.  And they know this guy who makes the best artisanal barley bread.   

The crowds find Jesus on the other side of the lake.  And they have questions, like: When did you get here?  Do you come here often?  Huh, isn't it funny that we keep running into each other?  Because they can't lead with the real question; it is too embarrassing: do you have any more of that bread?  They clearly are chasing Jesus with an agenda.  It's always about the bread.  They want to make him king because of the bread.  They hop in boats and chase him down because the bread.  That is their secret: they are not really looking for Jesus; they want his bread.

Jesus knows it before they even say it.  And yet, they grip that secret tightly, even though it continues to slip out in ways not so subtle.  They just want that bread.  They say to Jesus, What sign are you going to give us? Our ancestors, when they were in the wilderness, were given bread.  More bread, please.  When Jesus mentions the true bread from heaven, referring of course to himself, though the crowds do not understand that, they reply: Give us this bread always.  More bread, please.

They are not really looking for Jesus; they want his bread.  And Jesus knows it the moment he sees them pull up in their boats.  Our secret motives: we carry them around thinking Jesus will be fooled.  But of course he is not. 

We all have our secrets.  And, as people with secrets, we pray, each Sunday, at the beginning of the liturgy, one of the scariest prayers possible.  We pray, you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid...  If we are paying attention, we should pray that prayer with fear and trembling.  There is some questionable stuff in our hearts; we desire some less than holy things; we have secrets that we do not wish anyone to know especially Jesus.  And yet we keep praying it every week kinda hoping it's not really true.

Us with our secrets; Jesus with his probing gaze.  It reminds me of a poem by Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann.  In it he writes:
The priest says, "Almighty God . . . from whom no secrets are hid."
We rush to the next phrase but now linger there.
We are rich conundrums of secrets

we engage in subterfuge about our truth.

We carry old secrets too painful to utter,
too shameful to acknowledge,
too burdensome to bear,
of failures we cannot undo,
of alienations we regret but cannot fix,
of grandiose exhibits we cannot curb.
And you know them.
You know them all.
And so we take a deep sigh in your presence,
no longer needing to pretend and cover up and deny.

We mostly do not have big sins to confess,
only modest shames that do not
fit our hoped-for selves.

And then we find that your knowing is more
powerful than our secrets.
You know and do not turn away,
and our secrets that seemed too powerful
are emptied of strength,
secrets that seemed too burdensome
are now less severe.

We marvel that when you find us out
you stay with us,
taking us seriously,
taking our secrets soberly,
but not ultimately,
overpowering our little failure
with your massive love
and your abiding patience.

We long to be fully, honestly
exposed to your gaze of gentleness.
In the moment of your knowing
we are eased and lightened,
and we feel the surge of joy move in our bodies,
because we are not ours in cringing
but yours in communion.

We are yours and find the truth before you
makes us free for wonder, love, and praise
and new life. [1]

From you no secrets are hid. The crowd came with a secret: they were not really looking for Jesus; they were looking for bread.  And Jesus knew that.  He knew their secret.  Of course he did; from him no secrets are hid.  He knows them all. 

He even knows our secrets. Like the crowds, we come with our doubts; we expect too little; we pray too small; we're not really sure if we believe that Jesus can make much of a difference in this world.  We'll trust him with the little things like daily bread but the big things seem too big.  There are things for which we dare not pray, things we do not even bother bringing up.  Doubts that, we're told, Christians are not supposed to have.  And so we carry them like shameful secrets. 

Lutheran Bishop Craig Saterlee wonders, Why dont we expect more from God? Why do we settle...? Could it be that we work for the food that perishes, rather than the food that endures for eternal life, which [Jesus] gives us, because we are unwilling or unable to name what we truly hunger for and seek? Why do you suppose this is? Fear of being disappointed, a need to somehow protect God, and clarity that we are not deserving all come to mind.[2]

The crowds find Jesus.  And they come to him with their secrets.  Secrets that Jesus exposes immediately because from him no secrets are hid. 

And with open arms, Jesus receives them.  And he holds their secrets.  And he stays, with them.  Jesus does not scold them for their lack of understanding, or their lack of faith, or their lack of hope, or for the smallness of their vision, or for their inability to dream.  He does not send them back across the lake. 

Instead, Jesus loves them enough to offer them something better.  Jesus dares them to believe bigger, to hope for more than just a loaf of bread.  To trust him, not just for those things that perish, but for those things eternal. 

It is hard to believe.  It is hard to trust Jesus with our deepest prayers.  That is the secret we carry in our hearts.  That is the secret we hope Jesus doesn't find out.  We don't pray audacious prayers because we're not really sure Jesus can handle our deepest hopes.  They seem too impossible: that we might no longer live with fear and anxiety in our hearts; prayers for peace in this world; prayers for an end to war, for an end to poverty, for an end to hatred, for an end to racism, for an end to violence; prayer for Jesus to finally return; prayers for the kingdom of God to finally come. Some things are hard to believe.

And that is why the people came looking for bread.  Bread was as much as they could hope for.  They came to the God who created the universe, who rescued the people from slavery in Egypt, who took on human flesh, and they asked for another loaf of bread. 

It is OK to pray big.  God does big things.  And it's OK to have your secret doubts.  Jesus can handle those doubts.  They don't hurt his feelings.  They won't scare him away. 

We pray with fear and trembling, you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid...  That prayer can and should set us free.  Jesus knows your stuff; he knows your heart, your desires, your secrets.  And he loves you anyway.  So you might as well trust Jesus with your secrets; you can't hide them.  And also, dare to trust Jesus with your most impossible prayers; he has a history of doing some pretty impossible stuff.  Don't settle for a loaf of bread; pray big.

[1]   Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People, 7-8.