Sifting Our Lives
Anne Gregory serves with the Church of Christ in Thailand.
Read: John 6:56-69
John A. T. Robinson, a 20th-century theologian well-known for his studies of the Gospel of John, when he found out he had terminal cancer, talked about “sifting” his life. He said that it became clear in a way that it had been less so before, what mattered and what did not. He changed his schedule; he canceled certain appointments. He realized that “eternal life” begins now. What counted for him was no longer staying alive, but living fully, and being drawn closer to his Savior.
I remember learning the Thai folk dance, “Nai Nam Mee Pla” (There is fish in the water), when I was a child. We dancers started out sitting in rows, and each of us had a round, flat, rice-sifting tray (or would one call it a basket?). The dance included lifting the tray as if we were shaking the chaff off the outside of the rice kernels and keeping the good part in the tray, just as women had done for centuries in Thailand.
If that is a picture of the Christian life, then what are we to expect? I would say we ought to expect that the life of following Jesus will throw us up and down, letting parts of us be shaken loose, and letting those parts fly away in the wind, or fall out onto the ground. Those are the parts we do not need in our lives: our sins, our failures, the parts of us that make life difficult for others, the sharp edges, the things that blind our eyes to what is best and what good we can do.
I am imagining my life in Christ to be like that: a process of peeling away, or shaking away, what needs to go away.
Yet, someone might say, “How can we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land?” In other words, like the writer of Psalm 138, in exile in Babylon, how can we be strong when everything around us has changed? How can we keep going through the “life-shifting” of the COVID-19 pandemic? How can we be strong when there is danger everywhere? How can we be strong when Afghanistan has fallen; when Myanmar is in turmoil when a volcano is erupting in Indonesia when there are wildfires in Greece and in the U.S. when hundreds have died in an earthquake in Haiti and a hurricane is on its way? Where is God in all this?
There is a story of “sifting” in today’s Gospel passage from John. Jesus talks of “eating his flesh” and “drinking his blood,” and people are turning away from him. “So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” (Jn. 6:67-68) This sixth chapter of John focuses on Jesus’ sermon about himself as the Bread of Life. Those who have been in the church for a long time may be used to those words, not realizing what a scandal they were, and how difficult to accept.
I believe Jesus does not promote cannibalism, but he does ask us to take in his life—somewhat like Ezekiel ate the scroll of God’s true teaching (Ezek. 3:1-4)—Jesus’ real life, to imitate him by being servants, by letting only what is truly important be in our lives. Jesus calls us to eat the true spiritual food that comes from God, to eat the bread that is everything about Jesus. Jesus also calls us to share the true spiritual food with others, and even to be the true spiritual food for a world in pain. No single person can save a hurting world alone. No single congregation of Christians can do it alone. But everything about Jesus is our true spiritual food.
A couple of months ago, I was listening to the online Alpha Conference on Evangelism in Thailand During COVID. One speaker talked about how God does amazing and great things in times of great crisis or trouble. Our job, our challenge, is to look for what God is doing, and commit ourselves to that.
Can we do that, in these painful and dangerous times? Can we, in the middle of being tossed up and down like rice, give thanks to God, because things are being pulled away, and cleared away, in our lives, to bring us down to the pure goodness and food that is the true life God made for us?
Christians here are very alert to any news from the U.S.A., just as people in almost every nation. We pray for you constantly.
Anne Gregory serves with the Church of Christ in Thailand. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.