Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sermon; 13 Pentecost/Proper 16B; John 6:56-69

Work for the food that endures for eternal life.  Believe in him whom God has sent.  I am the bread of life.  Eat my body.  Drink my blood.

These are some of the things Jesus says to the crowd in the second third of Chapter 6.  The first third of this chapter is John's version of the feeding of the 5000.  The rest of the chapter is Jesus discussing this whole bread of life thing.  It is in this discourse where Jesus says these things that are hard.

The Lectionary has good and bad points to it.  One of the good points is that we are given a good chunk of Scripture to pull from over the course of three (or six) years.  It keeps preachers from constantly pulling from their favorite verses, and I am constantly surprised at how often the randomness of the Lectionary matches with exactly what is needed that day.  But the Lectionary also has it's problems, and one of its biggest problems is that we only hear snippets of the whole story on any given Sunday.  We need to be careful not to think that the Lectionary is a complete recitation of Scripture, and we need to understand that what might appear to be a stand-alone story is really only but one small piece of a larger story.  Today's gospel is a perfect example of this latter problem.

Today's gospel opens with, “Eat my flesh, drink my blood; the one who eats this bread will live forever.”  Almost immediately after that we hear his disciples say, “This teaching is hard, who can accept it?”

We might get the impression that what they think is hard is the idea of eating Jesus' flesh and drinking his blood.  And, yes, that is the sort of thing that might tend to freak people out.  The comic Eddie Izzard does a very funny, and very irreverent, skit on the particular topic.  We need to remember that eating Jesus' body and drinking his blood, although hard to grasp, is not the only reason the disciples complain.

Remember, Jesus fed 5000 people and then crossed over the sea to the other side.  It was after this crossing that Jesus begins the bread of life discourse.  It was after this crossing that Jesus begins talking about the food of eternal life, him being the bread of heaven and of life, him coming from God, believing in him, and eating his body and drinking his blood.  Verse 59 states, “He said these things while teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.”

It is verse 60 that lets us know that when the disciples heard this teaching that they declared it difficult.  It wasn't just the body and blood part, it was the whole thing.  It was working for eternal food that was difficult.  It was seeing Jesus as equal to God that was difficult.  It was seeing Jesus as the way to eternal life that was difficult.  It was eating his body and drinking his blood that was difficult.  All of this was difficult to grasp, understand and believe for many of his disciples.

So they left.

When they heard things that made them uncomfortable, they left.  When they heard things that challenged them, they left.  When the mystery couldn't be explained, they left.  When they didn't get the answers they were looking for, they left.  When Jesus wouldn't play by their rules, or couldn't be boxed in, they left.

And what about you, do you also wish to go away?

We have the same choice today as those disciples had 2000 years ago.  That choice is to stay or go.  Jesus doesn't force anyone to stay.  He doesn't hold people hostage for God.  But neither does he forcibly remove people from his presence.  We make the choice to turn back because we are hearing things that we think are too hard.

Jesus asked Peter, “Do you also wish to go away?”

I find Peter's answer – To whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God – to be as inspired and profound as the words Thomas will speak to Jesus after touching his hands and side.

Peter asks a good question:  To whom can we go?

Personally, I’ve been doing this too long to go anywhere else.  Leaving now would create a void in my life too big to fill.  But that can't be the only reason to stay – a fear of creating a void.  There has to be something more compelling than fear.

For me, the answer lies in Peter's statement, “You have the words of eternal life.”  The words of Jesus challenge us to break down systems of inequality and injustice.  The words of Jesus challenge us to include those whom society or religious leaders would exclude.  The words of Jesus give us hope and comfort.  The words of Jesus draw us ever deeper into the unexplainable mystery that is God.

Over the past five Sundays we have been engaged in the bread of life series.  We have heard the story of the feeding of the 5000 and the following discourse from Jesus on where/how we obtain eternal life.  We have heard the objections and the promises.

And now, as with those disciples of Jesus, we need to make a choice.  Are we willing to be challenged and shaken out of our comfort zone by the words of Jesus?  Will we believe the promises Jesus has made?  Will we believe Jesus has the words of eternal life and that he is the Holy One of God?  Or will we find these teachings to be too hard and choose to leave?

We have come to the end of the bread of life series and Jesus' question is there for us to consider:  Do you also wish to go away?

Where you go from here is up to you.



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