Proper 16 Year B 2018; August 26th
Kevin Gore – St Andrew’s Mountain Home
Those of you who have been here at any point in the last four weeks will know by now that Jesus is the bread of life. Figuratively and literally. Amen.
Just kidding! There is actually quite a bit to say today to finish up this last of the readings from the Gospel of John. We indeed have come to the end of the Bread of Life discourse, and over the last four weeks we have heard in our Gospel lessons a story about Jesus performing miracles and teaching. The miracles were easy to swallow (pardon the pun) but the teachings have been less so. Last week we dove into some of the history and theology around what it means for Jesus to be the bread of life, the bread and the wine to be the body and the blood. It was important to acknowledge that we make room in this tradition for a wide array of beliefs and while we all come to the table with a different understanding of the Eucharist, we all know that somehow, someway, that is where we encounter the incarnate Christ.
A couple of weeks ago I was lamenting to fellow clergy that Lectionary Year B, the Season after Pentecost, is not the time to be newly ordained and working as the only preacher in a parish. The Bread of Life discourse can at times seem very repetitive, and one begins to feel as if there is nothing left to say but continually repeat ‘I am the bread of life’. But, I’ve also noticed a very subtle yet important story in this five week Gospel layout. The Gospel of John is never very good at making things linear, so in this discourse it’s quite possible the whole conversation around Jesus being the bread of life is spread out through multiple events, not just immediately after the feeding of the five thousand or in the synagogue in Capernaum. What this does lead to though is today’s pitch. This is the highest, or perhaps lowest point in this narrative. This is the revelation that comes from Jesus laying down the Truth about who he is, what he is, and what’s going to happen.
Today many of the disciples turned back. This is where some of the group said, “This is just too much. I’m out.” and walk away. The twelve stay, though I’m sure they have their doubts. Doubts are not synonymous with lacking faith. Doubts are not the same as not having any belief at all in who Jesus is or what he has come to do. Let’s be clear about something. Following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ is not easy, and it’s not meant to be. Even Jesus, in the garden at Gethsemane, prays for ‘this cup’ to pass him by if it be the Father’s will. Even Jesus, who knows what is to come, knows how it must be done, reaches a point on that path that he hesitates at. The truth of the matter is if you stay on the path of following Jesus, if you take to heart his commandments and live as best you can in the truth of the Gospel, people are going to shake their heads and turn away sometimes because for them it’s just too far. When we put the values of the kingdom of God ahead of anything else in this world, we are accused of being too much, of perhaps undercutting the values of a particular country or culture. Programs by churches to feed or house the homeless are attacked for bringing the wrong sort of people into affluent neighborhoods. There are countless stories in this country alone where those who would remain firmly in the teachings of Jesus Christ have been taken to court or ridiculed for not bowing down to the other gods so many people would worship.
These lectionary readings this week, all taken together really paint a picture that is timeless. They offer up reflections of the human condition at any age. Joshua is dividing up the people, is telling them it’s time to make a decision. Are you following the other gods or are you going to follow the one, true God? Those gods that the people’s ancestors served might just as easily be translated today into the gods of popular cultural adoration. Of extravagant wealth, or nationalism run amok, of war, of violence, of addictions. They are the gods that our ancestors have always been seduced by, and I suspect that our descendents will also be tempted by. That is the way of our broken condition, of our imperfect attempt at living out the Gospel.
Paul knows very well how difficult that is and will be until that last day. In his letter to the Church in Ephesus, he gives them an image to hold on to in their spiritual battle for the Kingdom of God. This image, which they are going to be very familiar with, is that of a soldier, not unlike the roman soldiers who they are constantly hiding from or at an uneasy peace with during the times of the persecutions. But Paul is also very clear that this is in no way referring to physical armament. Paul writes, “for our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness.” These enemies to which we must gird ourselves with spiritual armor are the structures of power that lift up those who profit off human lives lost due to famine, war, pestilence, and plague. To Paul this is the Roman government especially, to Joshua it is the doubt and struggles of the people who have wandered in a wilderness for forty years. For Jesus it is rewriting the very core values of our most basic human nature that constantly struggle against the way which we, as Christians, are called to.
Let me say it again. When we live out the way that Jesus calls us to, when we preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to its absolute truest, when we show by word and deed what we believe God expects of us, there are those that will say, “this is just too much” and turn away. Sometimes because it seems incredulous. Sometimes because it seems too hard or not rewarding enough of a path. But Simon Peter says it best, “Lord, 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.” We have been shown the path, how can we turn away when we know in our hearts where God is calling us?
Today’s Gospel reading ends with verse sixty nine, but the sixth chapter of John has seventy one verses. This chapter ends, “Jesus answered them (meaning Simon Peter and the twelve), “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray Jesus.” Jesus chose all of them, even Judas. Jesus calls us all to follow, knowing very well that we aren’t always going to be so good at the task. Judas isn’t even the only disciple Jesus calls a devil in the gospels. When Peter tries to talk Jesus out of going through with what he has already said must come to pass, that he must die, he says to Peter that very famous line, ‘Get behind me Satan!’
So here it is. Jesus has called you. Jesus calls you to a way lived in the values of the Kingdom of God. Calls you to a life trying your best to follow in the footsteps of the God who became flesh, and for his actions against the powers and principalities of the world was beaten, mocked, and crucified. God knows this is scary, is incredulous, is at times too much; but if we can take on that spiritual armor against the world, we might be able find it just a little easier sometimes taking another step when we fumble. And in the end, we should also remember that the disciples that walked away from Jesus were still saved. Our salvation is not based on our works. Our works instead is acting on the call to living the Kingdom values that Jesus continues to offer us every single day we are here on this earth.
Take time in your day to think about the values of the Kingdom of God and where Christ calls you to re-imagine life. If it seems like it’s too much, if it seems like it flies in the face of ‘conventional wisdom’, if you are tempted to turn away, you might just be on to something.