Today's Reading: Mark 6:24-35
As I look back now, there were many milestones I reached in my development as a pianist. One of those milestones occurred in the year 1971 when I sat down beside my sister on the piano bench for the first time and picked out a few notes. Another came in the fall of 1978 when I started piano lessons. And yet another came in the winter of 1980 – when I started sharing my music by playing at church. Each of these markers was important in my overall development.
There was one stage in my development, however, that I can point to and say, “It was here that I evolved from someone who played the piano into a pianist.” That stage came in the fall of 1985.
You see prior to 1985, my development as a piano player was overseen by one person: Miriam Patterson. Miriam was a wonderful pianist who had moved to our small town from Montana. Her skills were unlike any other who lived in our community – so as soon as it was possible, my parents signed me up to take piano lessons from Miriam.
From 1978 through 1985 Miriam oversaw every stage of my development. She assigned the scales and arpeggios I needed to practice in order to develop dexterity. She chose the theory workbooks that I completed in order to learn the basics of music theory. And she picked every piece of music that I learned. During that period of time I did everything I was told; and my development as a piano player soared.
In the spring of 1985, however, I graduated from high school. That fall I moved across state and began studying with a new piano teacher: a man by the name of Calvin Knapp. For the first time in my life, I was exposed to a pianist who saw things differently. The music I explored was different. Whereas Miriam loved classical and baroque music, Calvin loved music from the romantic and impressionist eras. Whereas Miriam focused on solo performance, Calvin nurtured my ability as an accompanist. And whereas Miriam picked out music for me, Calvin expected me to choose my own music.
In the span of that one school year, a profound shift happened as I broadened my experience of music. I went from being a piano player to being a bona fide pianist. In a few moments I’ll say a little more about the difference between the two.
I was reminded of that period of my life this week as I read our sacred reading from the Gospel of John – for in today’s Gospel reading we see Jesus encouraging his followers to make a similar shift. Only this time, the shift had nothing to do with music – and everything to do with spirituality.
You see much like me, the followers of Jesus were use to sitting back and having others oversee their experience of God. For instance, they grew up hearing stories of how heroic leaders like Moses had worked with God on their behalf in order to secure provisions for them.
And later – when Jesus burst on the scene – they took those expectations and put them on Jesus. When they were sick, who was supposed to take care of them? Jesus. And when they were hungry, guess who was supposed to provide for them? That’s right. Jesus.
In other words, much like me prior to that transformative fall of 1985, they were stunted in their development.
So what needs to happen to move a person to the next level – the level of which Jesus spoke?
Well, I can’t speak for Jesus’ followers in the First Century, but I can speak for myself. I learned an important lesson about life through my music. A person who simply pushes down the keys on a piano isn’t a pianist. That’s a piano player. In order to become a pianist, you have to transcend the keys on the keyboard and the notes on a page. You have to enter into a relationship with the music and experience it. That’s when you become a pianist.
Same thing goes with our spiritual lives. A person needs to go from one who simply reads words on a page – even if those words are in the Bible - to being someone who actually embodies those words. A person needs to evolve from worrying about performing right actions, to actually living in right relationship.
In other words, to use the words from this morning’s passage, a person needs to align oneself with the God revealed through Jesus. Once we do that, the rest will fall into place.
And the good news is that this alignment we seek isn’t like other forms of alignment in our lives. It’s not like our cars, for instance, that we have to get re-aligned every so often. This alignment takes. For as Jesus said in today’s passage: “And once that person is with me, I hold on and don’t let go.”
So friends, let us come to the Communion Table today fully informed by the words Jesus gave us. Come to the Table, not simply because you’ve been told to. Come, not in an attempt to satisfy your fleeting hunger or put a temporary band-aid on an owie that life has inflicted on you. Come expecting more. Come expecting to experience for yourself the words of Jesus – words that have carried across two millennia: “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, EVER.”