Scripture: Ephesians 6:10-20 John 6:56-69
LET US PRAY: Holy God who speaks to us in so many ways: open our ears to hear Your Word today; open our hearts and minds to a willingness to live fully Your Message every day. Amen.
RARE TREAT over past several weeks … we had a chance to focus on 1 full chapter of John’s Gospel … and Jesus’ wonderful yet rather disturbing statements:
What will YOU feed them? (to disciples, confronted with 5,000 hungry people)
Make them sit down (forming community)
It is I! Do not be afraid! (to disciples on rocky sea)
YOU want more bread that will never satisfy (to crowds demanding more)
I am the bread of life … whoever comes to me will never be hungry; whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
I am the bread of life … whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread I give is my flesh.
Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of His blood, you have no life.
My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.
AND, then Jesus asks His disciples: DOES THIS OFFEND YOU??!!!
Well: answering as Jesus’ disciples in today’s world: You bet it does! In 69 verses, we go from the image of a wonderful picnic on a hillside, feasting on enough bread and fish to satisfy the biggest appetite … to the rather ghoulish image of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood! EEOWWW!!!
WHAT WAS JESUS THINKING? He had such a great following before He spoke. He’d just fed 5,000 people … they were ready to sign up to become disciples. NOWis when He should have used His best preaching materials … tossing in a few Beatitudes and telling stories about farmers and sheep. Jesus could have had the biggest church in town!!!
INSTEAD: he launched into a ridiculously long, convoluted speech about eating his flesh and drinking his blood which ~ let’s face it ~ sounds creepy. And, when he was confronted by raised eyebrows and expressions of bewilderment and a barrage of questions … Jesus didn’t let up but just kept repeating His bizarre statements.
NO WONDER His followers started grumbling: “This teaching makes no sense ~ we cannot accept it!” Many turned away and went home, never to be seen again. AND, Jesus just let them go!!! He didn’t try to stop them OR make His teachings a bit more palatable OR present a Jesus for Dummies version of things.
RATHER: he left the people with their questions unanswered … He let them wander away to wrestle with their questions rather than give them easy answers or a user-friendly faith.
Our own PERSONAL and FAITH lives are also filled with questions … about WHY our world is so messed up … about WHY God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want Him to … about WHY more cars sport bumper stickers claiming “Born to Shop” instead of “My boss is a Jewish carpenter”? And, while I would love to give you all the answers … sometimes there are NO easy answers … and sometimes, for every question answered, 2 more questions pop up in their place.
Honestly, it’s a wonder that Jesus had any followers left. In one simple chapter, Jesus went from 5,000 satisfied folks to a mere dozen men … who may not have been so sure about WHY they were still staying!
As others left … Jesus asked the 12: Do YOU want to go away too? Peter answered immediately: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the word of eternal life.” Quite a simple YET profound declaration of faith … rather like Joshua in OT, who confidently proclaimed: “But for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!”
Now, perhaps Peter was just being honestly human. Shrugging his shoulders, looking at the crowds deserting Jesus; throwing up his arms in exasperation, and declaring: “Look! We don’t understand you either, Jesus. We don’t get you any better than any of the others did. But what other choice do we have? Where else can we go?”
Where else can we go? With his answer, Peter is ~ in essence ~ also stating: Where else is home … except in YOUR presence! Where else are we filled and, at the same time, challenged … except right by YOUR side! Where else can we wrestle with what You tell us we should be doing … except side-by-side with fellow questioners in this Community of Christ! Words that we, today, might also echo!!
SO: What brings US here today? And, WHAT keeps drawing us back? Perhaps it’s because, we hear something that rings true in Jesus’ words ~ even though they may be rather mysterious. Maybe it’s because whenever we are in His presence ~ mysteriously, we feel more alive than we do anywhere else. Something about Jesus keeps bringing us back.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Jesus tells His disciples. ABIDE IN ME. Jesus is inviting the disciples to be at home in Him, just as Jesus is at home in God. HOME is an important place for us, isn’t it? Our world is often filled with people and places and situations that fill us with fear.
Every day, in our personal lives, we are caught up in the struggle to survive. Our time is divided between business prospects, family commitments, and the search for social status. There is always another dollar to be earned, another purchase to be made, another relationship to explore, another position to pursue, another enemy to withstand, another grief to mourn.
At the same time, our church homes today are not immune from facing similar questions and struggles. We deal with: dwindling attendance which can lead to difficulty in meeting our budget; our buildings need repair; we need more leaders to work with our youth and staff our ministry teams; what will entice our younger families to participate; how can our church survive into an uncertain future?
It’s no wonder that home becomes a haven: the promise of safety, of security; a place where fear does not have the upper hand. And, abiding in Jesus is the best home that we can have or want.
That promise of home and security can be found in the opening words of John’s Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning … In Him was life … The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus ~ the Word made flesh ~ invites each of us to abide, fully and forever, WITH and IN Him. Which is a very good thing. You see: IN the long run … It’s not about US. It’s never been about US. It’s all about GOD … the God who is the subject and object of every word that we hear in our gospels.
It’s not so much about whether we live in the biggest home or drive the newest car or wear the latest fashions … but it’s about how deeply we can trust in our God who gifts us with the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not yet seen.
It’s not so much about filling every space in our pews or making sure the “letter of our documents” are met … but it is about how well we faithfully and liberally share God’s spirit and love throughout the community and thereby draw others to Christ.
“To whom will we go?” Peter opts for Jesus, in whom he finds words of eternal life. But let us also remember that the willful choices we make concerning faith and following Jesus are not a one-time-and-for-all-time type of matter.
Peter chooses at that moment to say to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life”. And Peter later chooses to say to Jesus, “I will lay down my life for you.” But then, in a courtyard outside the interrogation place of Jesus, Peter chooses to deny that he knows Jesus. Three time, Peter chooses denial.
In the courtyard, Peter discovered “to whom can we go” does have other options. Safer ones. Easier ones. But are those the reasons that we follow?
Following Jesus is a choice of the will ~ one that we make again and again. The good news and grace of it all, however, is that even when our choices and wills betray us, God’s grace does not. Grace does not excuse our failings. Grace simply, yet profoundly, receives with open arms all those who answer “To whom can we go?” with the choice and the will to follow Jesus …
Not because it is the traditional thing to do, for that may or may not be true. Not because it is the acceptable thing to do, for that may or may not be true. Not because we will be part of a growing and vibrant community, for that may or not be true. We choose to follow Jesus because, in Jesus, we find the words of life … and in those words we find the grace for living.
My friends … To whom will you go?