The Pas Proper 16 – Ordinary/Lectionary 21 – Pentecost + 13
23 August 2015
Psalm 34: 15-22 pg 745
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Gracious God, although we once were strangers, you receive us as friends and draw us home to you. Set your living bread before us, so that we may be strengthened to continue the work your Son has commissioned us to do. Amen.
“68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 6:68-9)
For the past several weeks we’ve seen Jesus followed throughout the country side by many, many people; those, who in the search for a full stomach are willing to listen to Jesus message and to try to absorb God’s wisdom, God’s love.
But today, Jesus puts the rubber to the road, so to speak. Today he says openly that no one comes to him except through God. Jesus has said that God is actively involved in the lives of the people, and even today, we still acknowledge that.
In the meantime, Jesus message has been increasingly unusual, even to our ears. He tells us: “56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”
And looking at this on the surface, as just words, without knowledge of Jesus as the Messiah, as the Son of God, then we, too, can so easily misunderstand Jesus’ words, his message that can so easily be lost. In fact, in history, when the message of Christianity was first brought to the cannibalistic Caribe Indians of the Caribbean, they actually ate the Spanish priests who were trying to convert them to Christianity because they heard the word that resonated with their lifestyle, their understanding.
This is not an easy message to hear – that life comes to us through consuming Jesus body and blood, that Jesus words have life. Especially in Jesus’ day when the practice was animal sacrifice to God, not the sacrifice of humans on God’s altar; when to actually have the Messiah, God incarnate walk amongst them was so unusual that one expected a world shattering dramatic life altering experience, not bread in the desert, and a message of love for all humanity.
“60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’”
Marion pointed out in her sermon last week, that we are once more hearing a message of bread. But she also pointed out that this message isn’t about a full belly, rather it’s about eternal life.
Since God began God’s relationship with Adam and Eve, God has been interested in our lives, in our being in an active relationship with God, as well as with creation. Remember, Adam and Eve were set the task of looking after the Garden of Eden, and even when they were expelled from the Garden, they grew their own crops to look after themselves, and God walked amongst them. They were the first stewards of the land.
When God called Abram and Sarai from a life of luxury and comfort to Palestine and promised them the land that we know of as Israel, to be a land for their descendants, God was involved with them, and in every aspect of their lives.
When Moses with the help and guidance of God rescued the Israelite people from a life of slavery to the Egyptians and the Egyptian gods, God wanted to walk amongst the people, but the people were afraid that they wouldn’t survive the encounter. So, God gave laws, and a sacrificial worship structure, and a way to live in God’s grace.
But while the people went on and lived their lives, wandering in and out of God’s grace through sacrificial offerings and devotions, God wanted more. More direct involvement in our lives, more direct contact with us, but we weren’t ready to explore that idea of ‘more’, yet.
And today we have Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. We have God incarnate striving to teach us, poor mortals, who have been kept at arm’s length from God at our own request, yet at the same time, we yearn for a better life, a life with God at the heart. Jesus strives to teach us of God’s love, of the way to eternal life, in language we can understand, but concepts that are difficult to grasp.
In our hearts, we want God to be an active participant in our lives, not just standing on the sidelines waiting for us to make animal sacrifices, to ask for blessings, to ask for forgiveness. We want God to be a mover and a shaker in our lives, and yet when God comes close, we push God away.
But Jesus is here, now, today. He is amongst us, teaching us about bread and eternal life. Jesus is here, healing us, upholding us, loving us, and encouraging us to a life of faith, a life that has the ability to change the lives around us when we live in the love and hope that can only come from God.
Jesus said “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”
When faced with something that is contrary to what it is that we are thinking, to change our minds, to accept that contrary message is an act of God.
Those who left Jesus, today, left because they could not hear the words that the disciples, the twelve heard. They left because they had shells around their heart, or were thinking only of their stomachs. They didn’t hear “the words of eternal life.”
Jesus said, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” He has spoken of consuming the bread that is his body in order to live forever. He speaks of the Eucharistic mystery that we celebrate in our lives, in our worship together. He speaks of being part of the body of Christ, part of the people of God.
He speaks to our hearts. The hearts that beat within each of us and urge us to believe, to live in God’s love, to let our faith be our guide, not the mosaic system of sacrificial laws.
When dating, one concept says the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach but at the same time, these followers couldn’t see past their stomachs, their hearts were never involved. Their heads overruled their hearts, and so when they couldn’t stomach Jesus’ message any longer, so they left, they went away, they went back to their homes, to their lives, to their customary system of animal sacrifice in order to beseech God to bless their lives, and forgive their indiscretions and sins.
So, they left and of the thousands who had followed Jesus so far, only the twelve remained. The twelve we know of as the disciples have remained. Something holds them where they are, instead of following the masses back to where they started from, back to their homes, their trades, their families, their responsibilities.
“67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Jesus asks, Simon Peter responds. He speaks from the heart, he says the words that have brought each one of us to our lives of faith “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
In the Lutheran church, these words, or a variation of these words, are sung every week before the gospel is proclaimed in place of the Gradual Hymns that are sung by the Anglican Church. The gospel acclamation I grew up singing was “Alleluia, Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia, alleluia,” as the congregation rose to its feet
But it comes back to the words, today, that are proclaimed in response to Jesus query of whether or not we will leave. Where will we go? Who will teach us God’s truth, except for the one who comes from God, Jesus himself?
Who else will teach us to love God, to allow God into our hearts and lives, and how to let our faith, with the movement of the Holy Spirit guide us each day?
And that brings us to today, doesn’t it? We are two millennia removed from Jesus’ initial, face-to-face teachings on the love of God. We are generations removed in time and geography from that day, and although there is that distance of time and space, we are still there, with the disciples, in the synagogue at Capernaum, and we, with the disciples, remain.
We remain because we know that Jesus has the words of eternal life. We remain because we know that Jesus is the messiah who has come from God in order to open the way for God to be a part of our lives, today, as he did two millennia ago.
Still, we have our moments when we have the ability to doubt, when our heads strive to overcome our hearts, and to inform our faith with logic, and with notions of common sense. After all Jesus has more perplexing news than the fact that he, in the end is the sacrifice to remove all sin, and that it is his flesh, his blood that is way to eternal life.
Jesus asks us “what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
Once more, from our perspective of hindsight, he is describing the ascension; he is describing his return to heaven, ascending bodily to God’s heavenly realm, from which the Holy Spirit is then able to come to be our guide, still today.
In Israelite history there is only one who has been taken bodily into heaven – the prophet Elijah, so how could Jesus ascend? Yes, he stood in the place of a prophet, but, in the end, he is so much more, and gives us so much more than a prophet ever could.
Where a prophet gives us the message of God urging us to lives that live according to God’s laws, according to the ways God gave to the Israelites through Moses and Aaron during the 40 years in the desert, Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of Man gives us himself.
He gives us eternal life found in the body and blood, in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. He gives us his teachings of how to live in God’s love; how faith is as strong as the forgiveness of sins, and how love has the ability to change the world, when the world hears and experiences the word of God through Jesus teachings.
We, too have made our choice, and we can see this in the fact that we continue to gather here. We gather to continue to learn from Jesus, from the Son of Man and we hear the words of eternal life, the teachings of Jesus, the Holy One of God; and we acknowledge that there is life from no other source on earth.