Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 26, 2018
Year B, Proper 16: 1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
I don’t know about all of you, but I often have this very same reaction. Whether it was about the math I had to do for the appraisal classes and my degree in Finance or whether it was about an abstract theological concept in a seminary class, this was a certainty. I can’t do this. I can’t accept it. It’s too difficult.
Today’s Gospel concludes our series of readings from the sixth chapter of the gospel according to John. It marks the point where most of the people who come out to see him turn away from him, the point where even most of those who have followed him from the beginning, those who had considered themselves his disciples, abandon him.
After telling the people that all he has done, think of all the amazing signs that Jesus has given to the people – after telling them this is but a sign from God that they should believe in him – after telling them that the bread and fish that he gave them to eat will only satisfy them for a day, but that his flesh and blood will satisfy them forever, that he is the bread of heaven, they leave him.
The gospel is a challenge, not a joyride. When we say Jesus is the Bread of Life, that doesn’t imply the cake and cookies and sumptuous meals and everything we think we want. The Bread of Life is the fundamental nourishment of our spirit, the food to get us through the difficult journey, but it does not promise power, it just gives us Jesus, and those people who had been hanging around realized that Jesus was on the way to the cross, and he wasn’t going to make their lives any easier, or make them more powerful, or even get rid of the Romans for them.
So why follow Christ?
Because God loves us – God is committed to us – and in that commitment, in that love, God doesn’t give up on us, not even when we give up on God, not even when we go our own way.
God has never abandoned us. I’m always a bit wary of feel good platitudes, but “Footprints in the Sand” has always spoken to me. I believe that in my darkest times I haven’t known that God was there because God was carrying me. Lightly so as to not even know that God is there. When all hope is lost, God is still with us.
Many early followers left because they could not believe that God would send spiritual food through a person as plain as Jesus – through someone they knew and had grown up with.
Others left Jesus because they understood exactly what he was saying and they did not want God to get that close to them. They wanted to run their own lives – rather than let God live and work through them. Like so many today – they did not want to give control of their lives over to God because they God might ask them to do something they don’t way to do.
Think of how discouraging it was for Peter. The situation forced Peter to consider why he was there and what he was doing. All the organizational and institutional reasons had disappeared. The idea of a movement that would somehow restore Israel—perhaps as a purer, more loving religion with people helping one another more, or perhaps as a political movement that would get rid of the occupying Romans and restore justice—was apparently gone.
One way in which our lives are blessed are the example of the disciples who stayed. The disciples who wanted to accept the truth offered by Christ. Even in their brokenness, their questioning, their difficulty in accepting Christ’s teaching, the disciples saw that it was God to whom they could go.
Peter’s words, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the word of eternal life, we have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” represent a bold statement, one that resonates across time.
Many people today wonder if Christianity has anything of value to say to their life situation or the human condition in general.
Think about Jonathan Daniels whom I spoke about last week. His life turned over to God. He could have gone back to seminary and led a very bland existence. Yet he stayed in Alabama and he died in Alabama. Or Jimmy Carter. No matter what people feel about him as President, there’s been no truer person to Gospel living since he left the presidency than Jimmy Carter.
And then there’s John McCain who died yesterday. A true American hero. A true patriot who allowed himself to be beaten and tortured because he refused to go home earlier than other POWs.
Jonathan Daniels, Jimmy Carter. John McCain. To whom did they turn? God.
We have what feeds, nourishes and sustains us. We have Jesus – and we know the world around us needs Jesus’ message.
Sometimes, we have a flash of commitment, but there is an ongoing process of coming to understand how we are to abide in Christ.
Remember that we will regularly feel inadequate in the role of disciple. But also remember that there is not anything that this world can throw at us that is beyond the Holy One of God.
Take the living bread, drink in the words of life and go with God into the world. We are not alone; we live in God’s world. Share God’s blessings. Trust in God.
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