John 6:59-71 • August 26, 2018
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ. Amen.
If you’ve been paying attention in worship over the last 5 weeks, you know that we have been firmly planted in the 6th chapter of the gospel of John. It is the largest, most concentrated time in one chapter of one gospel that we have together as the church. I wonder why that is. I don’t know maybe, just maybe, this chapter still has something important for us to hear as children of God who claim to be followers of Jesus.
BUT – every time I read the 6th chapter of John, I join the disciples who first heard these words from Jesus and shout out – with a bit of a whiney and complaining tone to my voice – “This teaching is difficult.” Anybody else relate? As we’ve received these gospel readings over the last month?
This teaching is difficult. Actually, if we study the Greek for the word translated in our pew bibles as “teaching,” we will discover that teaching may not be the best translation. A better and more accurate translation is “This Word is difficult.” Capital “W” on the word, Word. Which then brings us back to the opening of John’s gospel, doesn’t it? – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word is Jesus. This Word is difficult.
John 6 is the midway point of Jesus ministry in the world. A point in time when Jesus is revealing that he is the one sent by God in flesh and blood. This is difficult for us to wrap our heads and hearts around. And for those of us today who already know the rest of the story, we know full well that it doesn’t get any less difficult from here. After all, there is a cross in Jesus’ future. And even more difficult to understand and believe than that, there’s a resurrection of a dead man coming soon too.
This teaching – this Word is difficult.
The Jesus we follow is not the latest and greatest self-help tool or fad diet. The Jesus we follow is the savior of the world. That was difficult for those who first heard him speak and followed him as he walked with them in this world. And it is difficult for you and me to grasp even as we sit in worship today.
Pastor, author, teacher Eugene Peterson reminds us that “This is still the way Jesus is God among us. And this is what is still so hard to believe. It is hard to believe that this marvelous work of salvation is presently taking place in our neighborhoods, in our families, in our governments, in our schools and businesses, in our hospitals, on the roads we drive and down the corridors we walk, among people whose names we know. The ordinariness of Jesus was a huge roadblock to belief in his identity and work in the ‘days of the flesh.’ It is still a roadblock.” Peterson believes. I tend to agree with his insight. [Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene H. Peterson, pg. 34-35]
In the sixth chapter of John we witness some of Jesus greatest miracles – Jesus feeding 5,000 people in the middle of nowhere with a couple fish and a few loaves of bread. Followed by Jesus walking on water. And the response to these miracles after all have eaten more than their fill and storms have been calmed … was to complain. To complain that this teaching is too difficult. To complain that you wanted chicken instead of fish. To complain that Jesus isn’t the all-powerful king that will overturn the oppressive rulers of the day. But you and I know better, right? We never complain, do we?
The truth of the matter is that we often do far more than complain, don’t we. More often than we care to admit, when we don’t get what we think we should be getting from this Jesus, we complain a little and then simply turn our back and no longer go with Jesus. Just like so many of his first followers did.
Instead of following Jesus, God’s gift of grace, we follow our own glory thinking that our greatness is because of us, not God working through us.
Instead of following Jesus, God’s abundant and unending joy, we work ourselves to death in order to buy one more toy for our garage that we believe will finally make us happy.
Instead of following Jesus, God’s unconditional love poured out for us in the flesh and blood of the savior of the world, we turn away and follow the next great thing that flashes on our smartphone or across our television or computer screens promising to love us more.
You see, Judas might be the one in the gospels who gets a bad wrap for walking away, for betraying Jesus. But as we heard again in today’s gospel, he isn’t the only one to walk away. Many other disciples did too. That’s still true today.
Eugene Peterson illustrates this by saying, “When it comes to dealing with God, most of us spend considerable time trying our own hands at either being or making gods. Jesus blocks the way. Jesus is not a god of our own making and he is certainly not a god designed to win popularity contests.” [Ibid. pg. 36]
What Jesus is inviting us into is different. It’s not life-based upon wealth or popularity or success or fame or power over others.
It’s life much different from any of those things that lure us away from a relationship with God through Jesus.
As a pastor colleague reminded me this week, “God calls us to a new kind of living.” He said. “To be a Christian means to be grounded in grace, and surrounded by God’s love. It also means to be willing to give of ourselves for the world around us. It means refusing to focus on what’s best for me and my own, but instead on how I might live sacrificially, so that others might come to know God’s love. It means not asking what I have to gain from this faith, but asking instead what I am able to give. It means wrestling with challenging beliefs and concepts – often times being called to stand in direct opposition to the world that surrounds us.” [Pastor David J. Risendal, http://www.onlelittleword.org]
Of the 100’s of volumes and 100’s of thousands of words written and spoken by the 16th century reformer Martin Luther, few ring as true to me and have had as much impact on my faith journey as Luther’s explanation for the third article of the Apostle’s Creed. We’ll share the creed together in a few minutes, but just to make sure we’re all in the same place at this point in the sermon, the third article of the Apostle’s Creed is… “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
If you’ve been paying attention over the last month, hopefully you notice that those words echo a lot of what Jesus is talking about in John six.
And Luther’s explanation, points to that even more as he wrote this explanation of the third article of the creed for the Small Catechism. A document that still serves to guide us in our faith journey today. “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins – mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.” [Luther’s Small Catechism]
In today’s gospel reading, Peter confesses Jesus as the Holy One of God. Way too often, our confession is “Jesus, this teaching is difficult” rather than “Jesus, you are the Holy One of God.” In every one of those times. Times that may cause us to want to turn away from God, you and I need to hear Jesus say to us again, “Did I not choose you?” Because, that is most certainly true.
Following Jesus is not always easy.
And it’s often different from what we think it is.
Let’s face it, as we walk this journey of faith we are going to frequently complain or may even turn away from what Jesus might be calling us into or inviting us to become.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, if we can learn anything from the sixth chapter of John, maybe it’s a little something like this –John, chapter 6, reminds us of the depth and length and breadth that God will go to be in relationship with us. After all, the bread of life…the Word…the Savior of the world…has come down from heaven, for you, for me, for all of God’s children. God is doing all of this, for us, so we can have life. Have life abundantly here and now. Have life eternally as God’s kingdom continues to come. Amen.