First Congregational Church August 23, 2015 13th Sunday after Pentecost John 6:56-69 “Hearing What We Don’t Want to Hear” Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Grandpa Nybakken loved life -- especially when he could play a trick on somebody. At those times, his large Norwegian frame shook with laughter while he feigned innocent surprise, exclaiming, "Oh, forevermore" But on a cold Saturday in downtown Chicago, Grandpa felt that God played a trick on him, and Grandpa wasn't laughing.
Mother's father worked as a carpenter. On this particular day, he was building some crates for the clothes his church was sending to an orphanage in China. On his way home, he reached into his shirt pocket to find his glasses, but they were gone. He remembered putting them there that morning, so he drove back to the church. His search proved fruitless.
When he mentally replayed his earlier actions, he realized what happened. The glasses had slipped out of his pocket unnoticed and fallen into one of the crates, which he had nailed shut. His brand new glasses were heading for China. (Why Grandpa didn’t go back and up the crates, I can’t tell you.)
The Great Depression was at its height, and Grandpa had six children. He had spent twenty dollars for those glasses that very morning.
"It's not fair," he told God as he drove home in frustration. "I've been very faithful in giving of my time and money to your work, and now this."
Several months later, the director of the orphanage was on furlough in the United States. He wanted to visit all the churches that supported him in China, so he came to speak one Sunday night at my grandfather's small church in Chicago. Grandpa and his family sat in their customary seats among the sparse congregation.
The missionary began by thanking the people for their faithfulness in supporting the orphanage.
"But most of all," he said, "I must thank you for the glasses you sent last year. You see, the Communists had just swept through the orphanage, destroying everything, including my glasses. I was desperate.
"Even if I had the money, there was simply no way of replacing those glasses. Along with not being able to see well, I experienced headaches every day, so my coworkers and I were much in prayer about this. Then your crates arrived. When my staff removed the covers, they found a pair of glasses lying on top.”
The missionary paused long enough to let his words sink in. Then, still gripped with the wonder of it all, he continued: "Folks, when I tried on the glasses, it was as though they had been custom-made just for me. I want to thank you for being a part of that.”
The people listened, happy for the miraculous glasses. But the missionary surely must have confused their church with another, they thought. There were no glasses on their list of items to be sent overseas.
But sitting quietly in the back, with tears streaming down his face, an ordinary carpenter realized the Master Carpenter had used him in an extraordinary way.
The book of John is the one book that doesn’t look so much like the other three Gospels. It doesn’t start with the list of names that trace Jesus’ lineage. It starts with the conundrum “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It continues with some verbal support from Jesus’ cousin John, and then launches right into the highlights of Jesus’ preaching and teaching career.
So he changed water into wine at a wedding, cleared the temple courts, and spoke with the Samaritan woman, which set the scene for many other Samaritans to believe Jesus. Then during very ordinary days, Jesus fed way over 5,000 people with bread and fish, went for a walk on - rather than around - the lake, and finally he made the comparison between himself and the manna in the desert that keep the Israelites alive for forty years.
John 6:56-69 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. 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 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, Carolyn. There is a day I remember, clear as a bell, somewhere in the fall of 1979. I was a bold 18 years old, standing in my voice teacher’s office, and she asked me what I wanted to do in life. All of my high school years, when people asked me what I was going to do, I said, “music,” and most people shook their heads in agreement. No one asked me what I would do specifically, until Mabeth Gyllstrom threw it out there. The point is that I didn’t really have a ready answer, and so I said I thought I’d sing opera. Point blank she said, “Oh, no. You’re not good enough for that.”
But she didn’t stop there. She said, “Dr. Schrader and I (Mabeth’s best friend and colleague) think that you might make a pretty good teacher, tho.” I don’t know if there was weeping and gnashing of teeth, but part of me still stands in amazement at that encounter. There was Mabeth’s boldness dashing a dream, small as it was, in making the truth simple and yet in her rejection, giving me an alternative. And there is the fact that she was right. Knowing myself as I was then, I’d have probably crumbled up into a depressed blob after getting a few rejection letters after opera auditions. I am still grateful that she told me what I didn’t want to hear, but offered other words that brought hope and direction. I think our scripture passage has some of that offering of words we don’t want to hear, yet they bring hope and direction.
When some of the disciples said, “This is a hard teaching,” they weren’t just whistling “Dixie.” For those early followers, the idea of eating Christ’s flesh and blood was tantamount to cannibalism. How we understand the practice of communion was lost on them because they didn’t do it much at all in the earliest days.
They understood better when Jesus likened himself to the manna that the Israelites had to eat for those forty years wandering around the desert. But it didn’t completely satisfy some of those following Jesus, because the word “grumbling” in verse 61 is akin to the word “grumbling” that the Hebrew people did back in desert years of Exodus. What’s ironic about that is that “the disciples reject the idea that Jesus is manna, but in doing so they display that Jesus is manna by responding to him just as the Israelites responded to manna.”
As the temperature continues to climb in here, I’m guessing some of you are waiting for that “so what” part. So here it is: “As in the Exodus story, the issue is not simply the grumbling of the people but the lack of trust in God that it represents.” In verse 64, when Jesus says, “there are some of you who do not believe,” it’s not about believing in Jesus as much as it is trusting or relying on God. “Like the Israelites, (the disciples) have experienced God’s miraculous provision, (as in the feeding of the 5,000 plus,) but they do not trust that God will continue to provide for them in their spiritual and physical wildernesses.”
Even though Jesus knew there would be some followers who would wouldn’t believe, I wonder how his heart felt when those individuals walked away from him that day? Perhaps it isn’t unlike a person walking out of our lives, or someone leaving the church. You know they need to do it, for whatever reasons, but it doesn’t necessarily sit well on the heart. Even then, knowing that someone would betray him, we don’t hear of Jesus getting all up into anyone’s face. He kept the faith, walking the walk, teaching and healing like he’d been doing. Jesus had to keep on believing in, relying on God, just as the disciples had to keep believing in and relying on Jesus.
We know we should rely on God when a dear soul has the second or third pronouncement of cancer. We know that we should really mean the words we pray so often, “Thy will be done.” And we know that no one gets through this life without a physical death.
But in this passage, with all it’s complexities and “hard teachings,” the writer of John gives us direction from Simon Peter. I almost laugh when I read the line, because it’s sort of like, “either you laugh or you cry.” Except it’s deeper than that. In laughing or crying, there is not much future implication. Simon’s words, ‘Jesus, what else can we do or where can we go.? “You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
No matter what happens, there is the hope of those words of eternal life continuing on into the future. No matter what happens, Jesus will never not be the “Holy One of God” - for all of eternity. That is the hope and direction we aim for. And even though I’ve just ended a sentence with a preposition, let us pray.
God of all time, all direction and all hope, we thank you for this passage that reminds us of your love, care and support, no matter what. Bolster us when we are forgetful of that truth. Prompt us when we are tending to lean toward apathy or indifference. Thank you for those moments when we hear truth that we don’t want to hear, even if we aren’t always really, truly thankful at the moment. Help us find the direction and hope in those times when what we hear tempts us to do anything else but find direction and hope. For answering all our prayers, even the half-hearted ones, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.