From Pastor Kenny's Desk
August 26, 2018
Jesus spoke these words while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Many of his disciples remarked, “We can’t put up with this kind of talk! How can anyone take it seriously?”
Jesus was fully aware that the disciples were murmuring in protest at what he had said. “Is this a stumbling block for you?” he asked them. “What, then, if you were to see the Chosen One ascend to where the Chosen One came from? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh in itself is useless. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. Yet among you there are some who don’t believe.”
Jesus knew from the start, of course, those who would refuse to believe and the one who would betray him. He went on to say: “This is why I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted Abba God.”
From this time on, many of the disciples broke away and wouldn’t remain in the company of Jesus. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Are you going to leave me, too?”
Simon Peter answered, “Rabbi, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe; we’re convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
~ John 6:59-69
Aren’t there moments … maybe many! … when you want to say just what “many of his disciples” said: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
Once again, it is as easier for me to identify with the crowds who misunderstand and question Jesus than with Jesus himself. Because what Jesus has been saying, and what we have heard these past three weeks, is indeed hard to listen to and hard to understand. That Jesus is the bread of life? That he provides the only food which truly nourishes? That he gives us his own self, even his own flesh and blood, to sustain us on our journey?
These are hard words, hard to hear, hard to comprehend, hard to believe.
No wonder then, that many of those following Jesus now desert him. But at this point we should be careful, as it’s too easy to write off those who give up on Jesus as people too lazy or unfaithful to believe. But note that John’s story calls these folks not simply the crowds, as in earlier passages, but rather disciples. The people in this sacred text who now leave Jesus … those who had, in fact, believed in Jesus … those who had followed him and had given up much to do so. But now, finally, after all their waiting and watching … wondering and worrying … they have grown tired, and they can no longer see clearly what it was about Jesus that attracted them to him in the first place … so they leave.
And who can blame them? More to the point … are we really all that different? Be honest … who has not at one time or another wondered whether you have believed in vain? During the dark of the night, perhaps, watching and praying by the beside of a close friend or loved one in the hospital … wondering why he or she is so sick. Or in the early part of the morning, maybe, waking up alone and wondering why your spouse has left you or perhaps wondering if you’ll ever have a spouse. Or maybe in the latter part of the afternoon while cooking dinner and thinking about your family … so full of ill-will toward each other or thinking about the secrets you are keeping from them as you fear their rejection or criticism … and wondering why things have not turned out the way you hoped and whether they ever will.
At these times … again, if we’re honest we must admit that there are so many of them in this life that we lead … at these times we often are looking for God, for some sense that there is a God, and can have such a hard time seeing God that we also are tempted to conclude that the promises we trusted were empty and the faith we once held was misplaced? Or perhaps we don’t reject or desert God openly, we just don’t make the extra effort to get to church regularly, or we reduce what we’ve been giving, or become more reluctant to help others, or simply stop praying until we end up just like the disciples in this sacred text.
And so I’d wager that the picture John draws for us in this sacred text may not a pretty one, but it is a rather realistic one. It is, in other words, a fairly accurate portrait of disbelief, with Jesus surrounded by folks who wanted to believe, who used to believe, who have been trying to believe, but have gone through the motions too long and have finally given up.
On the other hand, John’s picture is also one of belief … of courage … and of faith. For as he writes, after many disciples drew back and no longer followed him, “Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Are you going to leave me, too?’ [And] Simon Peter answered him, ‘Rabbi, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”
I have often wondered … where do Peter and the other twelve get their faith? Or to put it another way, what makes them different from all those who gave up on Jesus and went away?
In asking this question it is important that we are careful. Because as easy as it was to write off those other disciples as foolish or faithless unbelievers, it is even easier to imagine Peter and the rest as flawless faith giants. Truth be told, this was simply not the case. They were also plagued by doubt and fear, they suffered at times from an over abundance of pride and a lack of courage, and they, too, eventually deserted Jesus, and at the very time he needed them the most. So, if they aren’t smarter, or more faithful, or more courageous, or any better than the rest of Jesus disciples … then or now … then what it is that sets them apart … what is it that makes them different from the others?
One thing. In response to Jesus question Peter answers: “Rabbi, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe; we’re convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Peter … knew where to look ... that’s what makes him and the others different … it’s not their brains or the ability or their status or even their faith: they simply know where to look.
And once again, we find ourselves all of a sudden right back in the middle of the our discussion about the sacraments and the significance they hold for our life together. For Jesus real presence in our world, the sacraments are the place we may look and know for sure that we will find God and in Jesus, God is there for us.
I want to be clear … this is not to say that God is not at work in other places in the world. In our faith as Christians we confess that this world simply pulses with the presence and activity of its creator: in nature, of course, but also in government, and family, in the work you do and the benefits you receive from the work of others, in our gathering together as families and as a family of faith. In all these places … and more … God continues to be both present and active … creating and sustaining the whole of God’s creation.
And yet at times each of us knows how difficult it can be to see God in these places. When nature turns violent or government goes corrupt, when the family is a place of discord, pain and frustration and the church one of division, when all the things we usually count on come up empty and we no longer know where to turn, then we may hear the sacraments calling us back to see God clearly at work for us through water, bread, and juice (wine), combined with God’s gifts of hope, love, compassion, forgiveness, acceptance, and life. It can be hard to remember that God is present everywhere, in all things … in every situation of life loving us and giving us what we need to work through even the most painful realities of life.
In baptism and the Holy Meal we are reminded that God is present not in a general way, but that God is present particularly and personally for us! It is so important we realize and recognize that week in and week out, in the midst of all the craziness and haziness of life in our world, it’s incredibly helpful to come to church and count on having the bread and juice lifted into the air that we might see and taste God’s promises of freedom, acceptance, forgiveness, hope, love for us … reminding us God’s presence with God ALWAYS … no matter what … and that God always works in and through us ... just the way we are! Its brilliant how God uses simple, common, ordinary elements of water, bread and juice … the very stuff of everyday life … so what we who are simple, common, ordinary, yet complicated everyday people may receive God with confidence over and over and over again!
So once again I invite you to come to the altar to receive this precious gift. Come to eat and drink this promise. Come prepared to meet the God who meets us exactly where we are. Come to receive the real food of Jesus that we might have support in living in this very real and difficult world. Come, finally, to meet the God who offers us, not just meaning, but life itself, life in and through Jesus both now and forever. And then … as we receive … then go out and share this precious gift from God with others! Amen!