First Congregational Church
August 22, 2021
13th Sunday after Pentecost
“Drawing Lines - Or Not”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
You know how they throw the ball into the crowd after they win the game? That’s not allowed in bowling. I know that now. You know the way it smells after the rain? That’s call petrichor. You know the plastic or metallic coating at the end of your shoelaces? That’s called an aglet. The rumbling of stomach? Called a wamble. You know how much your pastor cares for you? She thinks of ways that will engage and start your brain for the coming magnificence called a sermon.
Actually, had this pastor been more on the ball, she’d have looked ahead to notice that the gospel lectionary passages for today and the past four weeks were all from the chapter of John 6. She might have been able to have created a sermon series, but no one would want such a perfect pastor, because that’s not reality. And she would have realized that one week had a passage that was a snippet from the previous week - kind of like the meat in a sandwich. But that might be too cheesy. Thus we get to this last section from John 6, and fair warning, yes, some of the verses - three actually - were heard last Sunday. But they are needed to make sense of the rest of today’s verses.
56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Many Disciples Desert Jesus
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[a] and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Thank you, Sharon. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood.” The junior high part of my brain wants to ask if Jesus was asking us to be vampires. Thank goodness, I’m a grown-up now.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m sidling up the the disciples. This IS a hard teaching - in part because it’s gross. As 21st century mature Christians, we know they are symbolic words. But back then, it would have been interesting to see how the disciples flinched or rolled their eyes or had that “Dude, what are you talking about” look.
Again, I don’t know about any of you, but the first part of this passage isn’t what caught my brain and heart. It was the last part; about the “time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” I didn’t know Facebook was that old - no longer followed him….
On a serious note, knowing the emotion in their voices would have made the last exchange of words so much less open ended, if that makes sense.
Even though it says that Jesus knew who would betray him from the beginning, does that mean only Judas, or “the many” who actually turned away at that moment, too? Or even all those who have turned away from Christ since then? Just one of those ‘hmmm’ questions.
To the point, the passage sounds like Jesus is saying that his followers either believe what he is saying about bread and blood or go home. You’re in or your out. Line in sand. Pick. Live with your decisions and consequences. I don’t think that’s what Jesus - or the writer of John - was meaning.
At the beginning of this 6th chapter, the people were needing something to eat, and Jesus gave it to them - however the miracle actually panned out. They had one miracle, and as is so human, they wanted another. So Jesus did a little walking on water and stilling a storm, which is not the same as distilling a storm, and holy tomalley, if Jesus can do that, what else does the magician have up his sleeve?
But Jesus doesn’t give them more miracles. Charlotte, NC United Methodist pastor James Howell points out that “from thousands, there is now only a handful left.” Decorated Canadian Catholic philosopher and theologian, Jean Vanier, “sees chapter 6 (which he says is “as difficult as a storm”) as a long journey “from the weakness of the newborn child we once were to the weakness of the old person we will become – growth from ignorance to wisdom, selfishness to self-giving, fear to trust, guilt feelings to inner liberation, lack of self-esteem to self-acceptance… The feeding itself reveals a caring God… Jesus calls his disciples to move from a faith based on a very visible miracle that fulfilled their needs to a faith that is total trust in him and in his words, which can appear foolish, absurd, impossible.”
Moving ahead just a bit, Presbyterian pastor, author and college professor, C. Thomas Hilton made the point that Jesus was speaking in the synagogue, to people who were familiar with Jewish faith. Mr. Hilton’s point was that Jesus wasn’t trying to destroy their faith, “but to fill it more full of divine truth.”
Associate Pastor of Rock Spring Congregational Church in Arlington, VA, Laura Martin. wrote something, the gist of what has been floating around in the internets these days.
“To be human is to live in overlapping worlds. It is possible to be without illusion, but with hope. It is possible to miss what was, and also feel relief that it is gone. It is possible to want for more than this moment and to be full with what is now. Know that you can both Live with fidelity and question what faithfulness is. So let yourself point to a place where you may never arrive, And stand in the place Where contradictions meet, And both things are true.” Presbyterian pastor emeritis, Rev. Dr. Ned Edwards added, “It is possible to believe that God is Love, and not feel very loved.”
The beauty of these words is that there is no line in the sand to cross over or not. They are ways of seeing the world - not as in good or bad - but full. How many times have we seen or read about Jesus doing one thing - which seems so obvious - only to realize that it is so much more?
Even though my buy, Stephan Garnaas-Holmes is retired, he’s still putting out good, perspectively thoughtful stuff. “Our struggle is not against violent people but against violence. Our struggle is not against people at all, even the most evil ones, but against the evil itself, that old ruler, which clenches our hearts as well as theirs. Our struggle is against systems and structures, the powers that dehumanize people and diminish life, the spiritual forces we've ingested, the authorities we've knelt to. We are rebelling against our own masters. To vanquish the conquerors we must vanquish our desire to conquer. Before we are victorious we must become free.”
I have to say, it was interesting to read these words with the filter of Afghanistan over them, but they are still true. And it’s hard to recall them through the emotional and cognitive connections we have with friends or family going through a divorce or suffering from any sort of malady or debility. But the words are still true.
One final quote from James Howell, “maturity is realizing that the gift God gives is... God's own self, Emmanuel, God with us.” From that amazing pastor at Frankfort Congregational comes the reminder that there is nowhere we can go that God is not already there. And then there’s that astoundingly profound sermon title, “Drawing Lines - Or Not.” So shall we pray.
Great, Extraordinary, Exceedingly Consummate God, thank you for your patience with us as we live and grow and stretch and transform more into the model that Christ set for us. Thank you for all the do-overs and second-chances that never diminish your concern or hope for your children. Sometimes we realize, sometimes we don’t, just how powerful and able and possible we are. When we don’t realize those times, forgive us. When we realize those times, enable us to embrace them for all we’re worth, that our efforts and understandings may be continually greater. Whether it is our own selves, with our family or friends, even this whole, big world, instill in each of us the desire to be all that you have ever seen us to be. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.