Proper 16: August 22, 2021
The Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Year B: 1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22 -30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20; 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 aptly called “bread of life” discourse that takes us away from the Gospel of Mark for five weeks.
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 part of the conversation 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 years. 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 its problems, and one of its biggest problems is that we only hear snippets of the whole story on any given Sunday, and sometimes intervening verses are left out. Our first reading from Kings today is proof of that. Of the sixteen verse we hear from Chapter 8 of First Kings, 27 intervening verses are left out. So, we need to be careful not to think that what we hear on Sundays or even during the week 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.
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 if often very hard to comprehend. But, it’s important 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.
What about us? What does the bread of life mean to us today? How do we respond to Jesus’ invitation to the bread of life?
We were away from Holy Eucharist for more than a year. It was a difficult fast for us, and most of us were delighted when we had the opportunity to partake of the body and blood of Jesus once again.
But what does it mean to us in our life? Is the Eucharist merely a symbol as so many believe? Or do the body and blood of Jesus point us into deeper relationship with God? Is it our hope for the future in a world that so desperately needs hope?
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 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.
Jesus asked the disciples, “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.
As we 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?
I certainly don’t. It took a long time for me to accept Christ as a part of my life. For me, the bread of life is a way of life. The words of Jesus challenge me to move forward every day trying to live into the love of Jesus Christ.
The words of Jesus, I hope give us comfort. Because the words of Jesus draw us ever deeper into the unexplainable mystery that is God.
We have a challenge before us? Do we do the work that God wants us to do. Do we believe in the one whom God has sent, listen to him, follow him, deepen our relationship with him? Will we allow ourselves to become more like Jesus and we will be filled with the food that gives us everlasting life. “Whoever comes to me shall never be hungry. Whoever believes in me shall never be thirsty.” Not just for ordinary food or drink, but for that deep food of everlasting life — food of the spirit that Jesus can give to us, that will revolutionize each of us and will change our world.
Jesus’ sharing of himself as the bread of life illustrates the greatest potential of human life. The Son of God entered our history not to wow us with miracles, but to show us how we can live as Paul suggests: as new selves, people truly renewed in spirit. We who love the stories of Jesus can and must take responsibility for them by making them come true in our own day.
Where we go from here is up to us. I pray, I hope we all pray, that we can hear God’s word and take it into ourselves and follow it.
 John 6:56, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)
 John 6:58, NRSV
 John 6:60, NRSV
 John 6:67, NRSV
 John 6:68-69, NRSV
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.