Sadly no video this week.
Sermon: Going or Staying?
There has always been something about Jesus that has annoyed, disturbed, and angered people. Very few people seem to be neutral about Jesus. John, in his Book of Revelations tells those in the church of Laodicea, who have not made up their minds about following Christ fully, to make a choice to follow or not follow. (Revelation 3:15-16)
For the past four Sundays, we have listened to Jesus speak about himself as “the bread of life” and “the bread from heaven.” We have reflected upon how miracles don’t in and of themselves bring people to faith. We have reflected how Jesus’ use of creative language of himself create both a barrier and a stepping stone to faith in him. And we have wrestled with implications of Jesus declaration that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
Today we heard the results of his Jesus feeding of the 5,000 and the conversations that followed it.
Some of those listening to him there in the Capernaum synagogue, strongly disagree with Jesus over what he meant by needing to eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6:52). In their anger, they turn away from Jesus and reject him.
Jesus is also aware that some of the larger group of disciples who followed him are equally disturbed, complaining “This teaching is difficult.” (John 6:60). They are gut wrenchingly annoyed and angered by what Jesus said and they no longer want to listen to or follow him.
Then you have twelve closest disciples. Their response is different from the other groups. Jesus asks them if they too want to leave him. Speaking for the group, Peter answers, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have to believe and we know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)
And lastly, John reveals that Jesus knows that one of the twelve has already lost faith in Jesus and is going to betray him.
All groups heard the same teaching. All knew the same Jesus. But there are opposite reactions. Some reject what Jesus says and then desert him. Others welcome his words, confess their faith, and draw closer to him. The same man, the same sign of feeding the 5,000, the same message, but opposite reactions.
Where does the difference lie?
The disciples who leave, see Jesus and what he says as a threat, a threat to their way of life, to their accepted notions and assumptions about Jesus, their understanding of that true and false, fulfilling and empty. And they reject and dismiss Jesus for not saying what they want to hear.
Jesus tells these groups with a bit of irony in his voice, if you were to see me ascend back to heaven where I came from, would that help you to believe in me? (John 6:62) The irony comes in to play in the fact they witnessed bread come down from heaven in the feeding of the 5,000. If that won’t convince them then nothing will, even Jesus coming back to life after his crucifixion.
Jesus also declares to those who walking away, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” John 6:63)
Those who attempt to figure out Jesus with their own limited knowledge and experience without the help of God are engaged in a useless endeavour. Like the Preacher from Ecclesiastes’ metaphor of “trying catch the wind.” It cannot be done. If you close your minds, hearts and spirits to the Spirit of God reaching out to you, then you are naturally going to be blinded from the abundance feast of life that Jesus holds out to you.
This is why Jesus declares 6 times in this chapter that we don’t come to faith in Him by own devises, but we only come because God is pulling us toward himself at all times. We either hinder and resist God’s pull toward Him OR we embrace it and choose to be pulled toward God. (John 6: 37, 40, 44, 45, 57, 65)
Now on the other hand, there are those who hear the same words and same explanations, and instead of being threatened or challenged by them, they are intrigued by what Jesus says and who Jesus is. They are interested in him and what he says, even though they are uncomfortable with his strange language and ideas, they keep listening and following him.
When the looky-loos, the questioners, the complainers, the offended, and the fence sitters have gone home to their comfort of their walled off happy places, 12 disciples remain.
Jesus asks them “Do you also wish to go away?” (John 6:67) Peter responds on behalf of the other 11 disciples, “Lord, 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.” (John 6:69).
I have always heard Peter’s declaration as a guy who has been intently listening, always reflecting, always trying to understand Jesus. He is one who is often confused and bewildered, sometimes angered by what Jesus says. I hear in Peter’s declaration, a person who doesn’t take lightly anything Jesus says or does.
Peter is continually adding more pieces to his Jesus puzzle . When Peter makes his confession about Jesus on behalf of the other 11, he says something to the effect, “You’re not exactly what we pictured as the Messiah, but that’s all right, because we know there is more we need to learn to see the full picture.”
Peter’s confession in John 6:68-69 is the equivalent of Peter’s declaration in the other three Gospels when Jesus asks the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter declares, “You are the Messiah!” (Mark 8:29)
I love Peter’s response to Jesus in this John 6. In moments when I have questioned . . .
the breadth of God’s mercy to all and have questioned God’s goodness and sovereignty over his creation,
or when I questioned why am I following Jesus in light of my experience with the church that does not live up to it calling?
Or when I have struggled to understand why awful stuff is happening in the world, to those I love.
This has been the passage that the Holy Spirit has brought to my heart, mind, and spirit to chew on, reflect upon and pray over.
“Lord, to whom can I go? You have the words of eternal life.”
When I have stacked other religions and philosophies side by side Jesus, including walking away, there is nothing that compares or that can replace Jesus. Nothing or no one else grabs my attention like Jesus does even though he drives me crazy at times.
And yet I totally get why people don’t follow Christ. I understand why many have left the Jesus and church choosing instead what they believe are better paths to happiness and self-fulfillment.
There are an abundance of other religions and philosophies, both ancient and modern to choose from. The Self-created and chosen buffet type religions and philosophies of our day are the far easier to follow than what Jesus declares of himself and demands of his followers.
Loving and seeing God in the face of our neighbors who are different from us or who don’t think like us or seeing God in face of our enemies is hard to embrace and follow. And Jesus says we are called to do it.
But why do we keep coming back to Jesus? It is simply that we know Jesus to some degree and we like the familiar and don’t to explore something new? Maybe. Or is it something more to it?
Down through the ages, attempts have been made to tame the words of Jesus, but these attempts never enjoy lasting success. We do a disservice to ourselves and to our witness when tame Jesus or take the edge off his teachings that challenge our thinking and living. Taming Jesus demonstrates how we as humans try to be more spiritual than God.
The fact remains that what Jesus says about eating his flesh and drinking his blood is among his boldest, bluntest, and most shocking statements. No wonder some of his disciples are scandalized by it!
Consider what he says about eating his flesh. Here most English translations become fainthearted. The original word refers to “munching” or even “gnawing.” It describes what a famished man does with a turkey drumstick. And Jesus says we are to do this with his body.
Jesus links this strange, repulsive munching with the gift of eternal life. In effect, he asks: “You want to live forever? You want to enjoy life that is life indeed? You won’t find it by eating junk food. You won’t find it by eating health food. You won’t find it by eating at the best restaurants. To live that eternal life, starting now, you must munch on me, gnaw on me!”
To accept what Jesus says here, to act on it, to live by it, means that something in us has to die. What dies is different for each of us. It could mean dying to our childhood ideas of a Jesus, who caters to our needs and who asks nothing much of us.
It could mean letting go that Jesus never promises a life without pain or suffering, but only one that redeems and makes meaningful all we experience. Jesus never promises a life without change, but only one where change brings about transformation of our hearts, minds, loyalties, and goals.
Every follower and disciple of Jesus must die to something to room available for new life, life nourished by Christ’s body and blood. Something has to die.
Is it any wonder then if the larger group of disciples are scared stiff, and if many pull back and no longer wanting to have anything to do with Jesus?
Of course, Jesus never asks of his disciples–he never asks of us–what he has not already done himself. Jesus who came to earth, gladly limited himself in becoming human for us so he could reveal God up and personal. And ultimately Jesus would give his life in exchange for us on the cross.
Jesus commits himself to us fully without regret, without hesitation. He commits to us out of pure love for us.
Jesus’ unbreakable commitment to us has its echo in our commitment to him.
We are spiritually empty, we hunger for new life, we hear or accept God’s call, we sense the Spirit’s push toward Christ, and we find ourselves committing ourselves to Him and following him We commit to Him even when we are not always sure of where he is leading us. But we trust that wherever he leads us will be where we need to go because we know he loves us.
When we listen and seek to understand Jesus in a deep and full way, there will always be something Jesus says and does
* that disturbs as well as comforts us.
* that challenges us as well as assures us,
* that pulls us closer to him as well as making us want to run away from him.
This comes with following and loving Jesus .
Regardless of how we feel about Christ at any given moment, we are given the promise that staying close to Him and following him, results in a life that is beyond what anyone or anything can offer us in this life and in one that follows it.
May our confession always be that as voiced by Peter (John 6:68-69)
“Lord, 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.”