Sermons
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August 23, 2015, 12:00 AM

Proper 16 Year B


Proper 16

Year B

Christ the King, Quincy

 

    Great things, Thou hast done, O Lord, my God. I would name them and proclaim them, but they are more than I can tell. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen. 

 

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

    This is the poetic introduction to John’s Gospel, the gospel from which we heard this morning. We actually have been listening to it for the the past five weeks, as our lectionary has traced our way through one single chapter of John’s Gospel—John 6. Beginning with the miraculous feeding of the 5000, the chapter is followed by Jesus contrasting the miraculous bread that sustained the Israelites physical needs with the spiritual bread which would enable eternal life: his own body. 

    This has not been an easy lesson. For starters, those crowds who tracked Jesus down after he left that hillside had to be redirected. Jesus knew that they were following him merely for sustenance, not for guidance. As Jesus himself says, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

    But this food which endures for eternal life is no easy lesson, either. Jesus tells the crowds “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” There is no better surefire way to alienate devout Jews than the invitation to eat his flesh and drink his blood. To the followers of Mosaic law, this was more than scandalous, this was downright heresy. 

    And so now, this morning, we see the final reaction of the crowds, and it is hardly encouraging. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”

    I want to pause for a moment to appreciate the seriousness of this scene. The gospels are filled with accounts of people rejecting Jesus and his message from the outset. Typically they are the arbiters of Jewsish law, the Pharisees, Sauducees, and Scribes. From the first time they hear Jesus’ teachings, they immediately reject his teachings as blasphemous. The Gospels are also filled with people who are tempted to follow Jesus, but ultimately decide that the cost is simply too much. Think of the rich man whom Jesus invites to follow him, all he has to do is sell his possessions. Instead, the young man remains, beholden to his material wealth and the blessing he believes it represents. 

    But here in John something far more dangerous is taking shape. Here we have disciples of Jesus abandoning ship. Looking at the textual clues, Jesus has been teaching and preaching for over a year at this point in John’s gospel. But it is this invitation to eat his flesh and drink his blood which causes them to turn back. 

    And for me, understanding why—why don’t people turn to Jesus and accept the promise of eternal life, both in John’s Gospel and in our own day—understanding why people turn away from Jesus is of critical importance. 

    Looking at John’s gospel this morning, I see two principal reasons why some of those disciples turned away and stopped following Jesus. The first reason is simple enough, as Jesus has already said three previous times in this chapter, and is repeated again this morning, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 

    This, essentially, is Grace. 

    Peter, speaking for the Twelve is not smarter or more religious than those who turn away, nor are they necessarily the achievers, they, like us are merely “granted by the Father.” When we look frustratedly at the apathy towards organized religion in our community, perhaps it is important to remember that we must wait patiently for God’s Grace. This doesn’t free us from our obligation to evangelize, but perhaps it can remind us what Scripture teaches us, “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

    Now, in case some of you are worried that I have become a Calvinist over the course of the last month, let me alleviate that fear right now. John’s gospel does not link election with determinism. Jesus turns to the Tweleve, those whom the Father gave principally to Jesus, if they too will go away. The disciples are free either to follow Jesus or to abandon him. 

    And why do people turn away from Jesus, if they even followed him at all? Well, quite simply, because being a Christian is hard, and the Christian message tends to offend sensible people. 

    We can look at John’s gospel and say “well, maybe they didn’t understand what Jesus was saying. Maybe they misconstrued Jesus words as a literal invitation to consume his body and blood.” Maybe. But giving the crowds a bit more credit, maybe they perfectly understood Jesus symbolism—they just didn’t accept Jesus demand to participate in his death as a means to eternal life. 

    Here in the 21st Century, we can rely on our sophisticated understanding to understand Jesus’ imagery, but we can not separate the act of eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood from the destiny of Jesus. To participate in that sacrament, to truly enjoy the food and drink which brings eternal life, is to commune, to be together with, the one who dies. Whether you frame it like the synoptic Gospels “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me,” or whether you describe it as “the foolish preaching of the Crucified Christ” as Paul does, or finally, whether you, like John invite someone to eat and drink Christ’s body and blood—all of these are tough demands, not polite invitations. 

    Being a Christian is difficult. There is no way to sugar-coat that. 

    Want to feel self-righteous about someone harming you? The gospels tell you to instead pray for your enemy. 

    Believe that God favors you because of your material blessings? Jesus says it is easier for a Camel to literally pass through the eye of a tiny needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 

    Boast in your achievements, in all that you have accomplished!? It is the meek who will inherit the world. 

    Finally, do you seek eternal life? To reach it, you must first suffer death and be buried. 

    

    Christianity seeks nothing less than the total upheaval of this world, and fundamental reversal of our expectations of power and glory. That is a big ask. It is a question that not all of us can answer positively. 

    But, mercifully, Jesus understands the stakes at hand. Unbelief has a place in John’s gospel. The Jesus of John’s gospel is first and foremost a visionary. Jesus can sense and perceive everything in John’s Gospel. And that is important, because it is an understanding Jesus who, despite knowing exactly the costs, continues to follow the plans ordained by his Father. Jesus does not go to the cross as the victim of misguided hope, dying disillusioned upon the cross because good failed to triumph over evil. From the beginning, Jesus proceeds with eyes fully open to the presence of doubt, unbelief, and destruction.

    Our gospel lesson this morning ends where it begins, on a place of divine grace. Like Peter and the Twelve, “we have come to believe and know that Christ is the Holy One of God.” 

    As the lectionary this morning suggests, there is little for us to boast of on this account. Perhaps our presence here this morning is nothing more than divine Grace. Maybe we, like the early followers of Jesus would have abandoned were it not for a preponderance of grace outweighing our own logic. Perhaps we can not claim any agency in our faith. What then, can we do for those who have yet to be drawn to the Father? We can not abandon the difficult requirements of the gospel in order to make Christianity more palatable. Instead, we must rely on God, from whom all blessings flow. And trust that his Mercy and Grace will always precede us and the gospel we carry. 

    As Paul himself said, For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not, will not overcome it.

Amen.


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