To Hard to Follow

August 26, 2018 (21st Sunday in Ordinary Time/Proper 16)

Service for the Lord’s Day

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43

Psalm 84

John 6:56-69

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

 

6:56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:56-69, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Gracious God, although we once were strangers, you receive us as friends and deliver us from darkness to light. Set your living bread before us that, feasting around your table, we may be strengthened to continue the work to which your Son commissioned us. Amen.

 

This is the culmination of the five weeks of Jesus as the bread of life. It is finished, can I get an alleluia?  Preaching on the Gospel of John is not much fun nor is it easy.  Today is no exception as Jesus asks his followers two of the most difficult questions the entire bible: Does this offend you? And: Do you also wish to go away?

 

Jesus has been teaching in the synagogue, saying: I am the bread of life.  Eat and live.  I am the bread come down from heaven and this bread is my flesh.  Believe, eat and receive the gift of eternal life.  The Jews dispute Jesus’ claim and the disciples grumble about it.[1]

 

Because of this, John says, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” It is striking that John uses the word “disciples” for those who turn back; these are apparently not just casual listeners, these are the ones who have been with Jesus all along the way.

 

So, Jesus calls the twelve (disciples) together and asks them: Do you also wish to go away?

 

I wonder what tone and emotion came through as Jesus asked the twelve these questions.  I wonder if there was an edge to his voice, was he issuing them a challenge?  Did Jesus ask these questions with great sadness?  Maybe he asked it with a sigh, his shoulders sagging a little.  Maybe it was hard to see people who he had counted on for so long, turn away and leave.[2]

 

There is a lot going on this story.  For one, Jesus is talking about himself in some highfalutin language.  Imagine if you came to Jesus because something about his life and ministry attracted you.  He was a prophetic teacher, a healer, a gifted preacher and a charismatic person to be around.  But then he started saying that he is the “Son of Man” and the “Holy One of God.”  It would seem kinda strange and off-putting.

 

I imagine that if you were someone who started following Jesus simply because you were attracted to what he could do, the idea that his movement might be about more than making you feel better might shock and offend you.  And that leads to the second thing going on here: all this talk of flesh and blood must mean something to Jesus’ original hearers that it doesn’t quite mean to us.  For us to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink Jesus’ blood is not only about taking communion.  For us to drink his blood must have something to do with what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “the cost of discipleship.”[3]

 

Following Jesus requires some risk!  It is not easy, and it is not for everyone. For example, feeding 5000 people on a hillside is nice, and who could be against that but dropping everything and changing your life to follow an itinerate rabbi who can do that? Leave, family, friends, job, and home and follow?  So, if I am true with myself I must admit that I am not sure I would stay with Jesus when he asked if I wish to go away?

 

Jesus teaches turning the other cheek, walking the extra mile, visiting the sick, the outcast, the imprisoned, and loving our enemy.  That is asking way too much more than I am willing to give on most days.  When I think about a savior, sure, I want my sins forgiven!  I want everlasting life, of course, but I don’t want it for everybody.  Just me and my family, my friends, my tribe, sure but not them!  Please God not them!  That is not what Jesus is about though!  Selective love and salvation, nope he is all in on everyone.  And that is hard to take. There are lots of times it is not for me.

 

When I am honest with myself I want Jesus to turn over more tables in the temple. I want him to fight back.  I want him to turn the tables of injustice and give those who exploit the poor, the vulnerable and lived by greed and abused their positions and their power to get what is coming to them.  Instead we get bread. I don’t want the distribution of this bread of life, this life-giving bread, I want some retribution, some vengeance.  I know I am not supposed to want that, but sometimes, I confess, I do.[4]   But when I hear of priests molesting children and school children gunned down by one of their own classmates, suicide bombers and terrorists and human trafficking and violence, war, and collusion with the Russians it is hard for me to accept that all Jesus offers is this bread, his body and his blood. It is hard for me to reconcile.   Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it.  It is hard to accept.  And if I am brutally honest it is offensive, that Jesus would give his life for them, those people, who do those things….

 

There are days, far too many days, when I want more than living bread and a different kind of messiah than that of Jesus Christ.  I do not want to pray for my enemies.  I do not want to sit at the same table with betrayers.  I do not want to go to the cross.  I do not want to seek reconciliation.  I do not want to extend forgiveness. All of this is too difficult.  Grace is hard!  Forgiveness is offensive.  Revenge far more satisfying.  I want to see some retribution and vengeance served.

 

But Jesus says: I am the bread of life, come down from heaven, for the sake of the world. Not everyone will believe, many will be offended, but for those who eat and drink, they will live, differently, fully, abundantly and for the sake of the world, too.

 

Do you also wish to turn away?

 

 

Yes, some days I do.  I want to turn away and not care.  But I can’t!  I can’t because I too need saving. So, do you.

 

We have been the lost sheep Jesus has sought and found.  We have been the sinful woman and the rejected leper.  We are the ones who, like Peter, both confess Jesus as Lord and yet deny we know him.   And yet… Jesus still accepts us, forgives us, loves us.  So, we’re in, this is what we have got, this Jesus, this bread of life. Jesus offers us himself to eat. He promises us that he will deal with our lives by using mercy and resurrection.  He actually dies to do that

 

We are in covenant relationship with the living God who is committed to stick with us.  It also means that it is not up to us to do it alone.  Because it is too hard to do alone.  We need the strength of community, we need each other.  It is so fitting that we are all gathered here today, Rally Day to kick off the new church year as a community of support, faith and love.  Together we can help each other to remember that we are not simply our own, but that we belong body and soul, in life and in death, to our faithful savior, Jesus Christ – the Son of God, who is the living bread come down from heaven.

 

[1] Reverend Jill Duffield, Presbyterian Outlook, Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69 – August 26, 2018, 14th Sunday after Pentecost

[2] Reverend Dr. John Ortberg, Roll Call CHRISTIAN CENTURY August 9, 2003 Sunday, August 24 Ephesians 6:10-20 and John 6:56-69

[3] The Right Reverend Dr. Gary R. Hall, Dean of Washington National Cathedral John 6:56-69

[4] Reverend Jill Duffield, Presbyterian Outlook, Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69 – August 26, 2018, 14th Sunday after Pentecost