When I was a youngster, and I know this is hard to believe, but there were times when my behavior was perhaps, just a little less than stellar. I am certain I am not the only one in this sanctuary who had times like that. Sometimes, my behavior would need to be corrected, to get me back on the right path and going in the right direction again. Those chats with my parents, usually my dad, were not overly enjoyable. As I grew older, my friends would share they had similar discussions with their parents and somewhere along the way, these discussions came to be called “come to Jesus meetings”. Fortunately I did not have many of them, but I have heard the term used throughout my adult life.
Through our reading from the Gospel of John this morning, which is our last reading from John chapter 6, we witnessed what could be termed a “come to Jesus meeting”, only, unlike the ones I was invited to, this one was with Jesus. Some of his disciples were complaining that Jesus’ teachings were difficult and were wondering whether or not they believed him. Jesus, knowing they were complaining asked “does this offend you”? And perhaps this is a place where this teaching gets difficult for us.
The text doesn’t specify what is offending the disciples. It does tell us Jesus was teaching in a synagogue in Capernaum. We could easily surmise that Jesus telling them to eat his flesh and drink his blood is what offended them, because drinking blood was strictly against Jewish law. And if this was the case, they missed the most important part of Jesus’ message. Maybe they heard Jesus tell them to break Jewish law and they stopped listening or got hung up and that part of what he said and didn’t hear what Jesus was really telling them. They seemed to have missed the main point, Jesus telling them to abide in him.
We live in a world that is often described as broken. There is much evil in our world. No one seems to have a monopoly on evil. It comes from individuals, groups, governments, corporations, and even well-meaning Christians. We are constantly told of wars, shootings, robberies, beheadings, and how other groups of people are threatening our way of life or our very lives. There is unrest in Ferguson, North Korea is regularly threatening war with us or South Korea, Iran is a threat to Israel, and Russia and the Ukraine are still in conflict. In many ways we are fortunate that most of these tragic events are happening somewhere else but they still affect us because they affect God’s children, our brothers and sisters. But it is not just the evil we have to be cautious of. We also need to beware of ourselves and our tendency to make ourselves busy. It seems many people, myself included, take on too much and don’t leave enough time in the day to just relax. We have our to do list which seems to grow longer each day. There is always another errand we need to run, another project that needs our help, more housework to do, or a closet that needs to be cleaned out and organized.
We also need to beware that we don’t put material gain and financial success in front of God. Having things is nice, but they don’t give us what our relation with Jesus does.
I wonder if our need to be busy, to complete our to do list, is not at least partly an effort to have some control. We cannot control the world, we cannot control what other people do, we cannot control if there are wars or unrest. But we can control whether or not our home is clean and our lawn is neatly manicured. Perhaps, part of the reason we do so much is to have some control in our lives. We need some control to overcome our fear, our fear of being harmed, our fear of a changing world, our fear of losing what we have, our fear of what the future holds for us.
Many people are afraid. Soldiers in foreign lands fear for their lives and wish they were home, sitting on their front porch sipping lemonade while they talk to a neighbor. Many people in nursing homes long to be home in a familiar environment with their own furniture, with their memories. College students fear exams, living on their own for the first time in their lives, and often long to be home with the security of their families. People in Churches fear their faith is being diluted, their membership is dwindling, and fear what the future of their congregation will be.
Sometimes, people use rules to control their lives. They make the rules the absolute authority, something unchanging, unbendable, and unbreakable. Something they can depend on. Perhaps this is why the Jewish people in that Synagogue found Jesus teaching so difficult. Taken literally, it meant to break their rules, their unchangeable, unbendable, unbreakable rules, and took away their security, their control.
But it is this control that Jesus invited the disciples to relinquish, but perhaps they were too focused on the letter of the law to understand what Jesus was offering them. Jesus offered them peace, not a peace meaning end of conflict with others, but a peace that means the end of conflicts inside them. Jesus offered them eternal life, not eternal life as in immortality, but eternal life depriving fear from controlling them.
This is what Jesus offers us as well. When we eat the bread and drink the cup that Jesus offers, we abide in Jesus just as Jesus abides in God, and just as Jesus abides in us. We can experience the peace, the internal peace that Jesus offers. We can experience the eternal life that Jesus offers, now, in the present, as fear no longer has a hold on us. We can face change and uncertainty with confidence that no matter what happens, we will abide in Jesus and Jesus will abide in us.
It is the Spirit that gives life and Jesus’ Words are Spirit. Jesus’ Words are life. We are called to live life, not be a slave to fear, or our possessions, or our to do lists. We are all here this morning, we have all chosen to follow Jesus, we are part of the ones who believe.
Sometimes Jesus’ teachings are difficult, they challenge beliefs we have held for decades, they often go against accepted social norms, they take us out of our comfort zone and thrust us into the unknown. Many disciples turn back, they allow their fear to overpower their faith in Jesus, perhaps they didn’t believe as much as they thought they did. But the twelve, they stayed. When Jesus asked them if they wanted to go away, they responded: “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.”
Jesus invites us to stay. Jesus invites us let go of our fears and controls and have faith in him. Jesus invites us to experience inner peace. Jesus invites us to experience eternal life. Jesus invites us to abide in him and he will abide in us. Do we also wish to go away? To whom can we go? To whom can we go? Jesus has the words of eternal life. Jesus is the Holy one of God.
Let us pray:
Almighty and ever-living God,
we give you thanks for your Son Jesus, whom
you sent into the world to be the bread of life.
It is through Jesus that we can find peace in our inner selves.
It is through Jesus that fear loses its power to control us.
It is through Jesus that we are in relation with you.
Lord, empower us to follow Jesus.
Help us to discern his teachings that are difficult for us
and to let go of our fears and have faith in him.
Make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love.
Where there is injury, let us sow healing.
Where there is doubt, let us sow faith.
Where there is despair, let us sow hope.
Where there is darkness, let us sow light.
Where there is sadness, let us sow joy.
Gracious God, grant that we may not seek so much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
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