Monday, August 20, 2012

Sermon for 12th Sunday after Pentecost: "Chomping for Jesus"

+ 12 Sunday after Pentecost – August 19th, 2012 +
Series B, Proper 15, Proverbs 9:1-10; Ephesians 5:6-21; John 6:51-69
 In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

             There He goes again. As if this Bread of Life sermon wasn’t long enough, now he says that?! Sure, he’s said some harsh things before; said some things that offended a few people here and there. But never like this. Scandalous. Offensive. Jesus, you’ve gone too far this time. Look! Your mega-church crowds of 5000+ have dwindled to only 12. What exactly did Jesus say that got people so riled up?
            “I AM the Living Bread of heaven. If anyone eats this bread he will live forever. For the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh.” That’s quite the claim. But Jesus doesn’t stop there; there’s more. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you.” And still more: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.”
            There was no problem with teaching Jesus, with demon-casting Jesus, with walking on water Jesus, with miracle working Jesus, with multiplying loaves and fishes Jesus. But a Jesus that talks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood to have eternal life and be raised up on the Last Day? No, thank you. They’d heard enough

            What about you? Want something better, more palatable, more satisfying to your spiritual taste buds? Do you want to leave when the teachings of Jesus get difficult, uncomfortable, make you uneasy or embarrassed or even squeamish? Do you get embarrassed to bring your friends to church or talk about your Christian faith with your neighbors for fear of something difficult Jesus says?
            Our sinful, self-oriented nature wants to check out so badly, to run away from these troubling words and back to safer ground. Could we maybe roll it back a little Jesus and pick up with the feeding of the 5000? We really liked that miracle. But a Jesus who speaks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood? Jesus’ words often make us uncomfortable…what if he actually means what he says?
            It would have been a lot easier if Jesus hadn’t said this. His sermon would’ve been more marketable, more sellable, more popular. Come to think of it, the whole NT would be easier if there weren’t so many hard sayings. Just scrub out a few miracles here, some hard sayings on sin and sexuality there, remove a few crosses and scandals and you’ve got yourself an easy Gospel. Wouldn’t that make the Christian life so much better?! People would flock to that kind of church. That kind of Gospel would be a sell-out hit.
            Repent. For a Christianity sterilized of Jesus’ hard sayings cuts away the heart of Christianity - the cross. Repent. For the life and comfort you seek in yourself and in your own words is a lifeless, empty, false hope. Not so with Jesus’ words, outrageous and scandalous though they are. “For the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life,” Jesus says.

            It’s true, Jesus’ words are hard, and his teachings aren’t always easy to understand. But there are two ways to respond. And those two responses are seen in the form of two questions to Jesus’ outrageous sermon.
            First there are the many disciples. “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it? Who can bear to hear this word? Who can follow this guy? This message? This claim? It’s too offensive.” Their reaction says it all.
            What really left a sour taste in their mouth was that little word feeds. Chews. Chomps. The action of this verb happens inside the mouth. There’s no scandal or offense in a symbolic or a spiritual meaning. And Jesus doesn’t recant his statements. Makes no attempt to soften the blow. “No, sorry, that was all just a big misunderstanding.” No, his Word stands. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.”
            And after this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.

            Then there’s Peter and the 12. Gotta love Peter. The first to speak boldly, whether right or wrong. “Do you want to go away as well,” Jesus asks?
            “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
            That’s what faith in Christ sounds like. Clings to Jesus’ Words. Not because every word is easy to swallow or because we understand every word perfectly – but because Jesus’ Words are true. And Jesus’ Word is true because he died and rose again just as He promised. That’s good news for us who struggle with Jesus’ teaching; it’s truthfulness and doesn’t depend on us, but on him; His words are Spirit and Life.   For the boldness and certainty in Peter’s confession and our confession of faith is not found in ourselves, but in Christ.
            Peter didn’t know how Jesus would do what he said, how he would make good on his promise, how he would feed him with food that would make him live forever; but he trusted Jesus’ Words all the same. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life.”

            And that same Word – that spirit-filled, life-giving Word – is the same Word that creates faith and trust in your hearts. So that when you hear: “Your sins are forgiven in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” –you respond: “Amen.”
            When Jesus says, “Take eat this is my body; take drink, this is my blood,” – you respond. Amen. Give us this bread always! Faith is always chomping for the chalice. Yearning for more of Jesus’ gifts.

            How you answer those two questions is a matter of life and death. Jesus’ sermon. Jesus’ teaching. Jesus’ gifts. Jesus’ sacraments – all a matter of life and death. Some turned away from Jesus. Some followed him to Jerusalem to the Upper Room, to the cross. To life eternal. For death can reach no further than Calvary.
            And there Jesus finally answers the questions: Peter’s, the crowds, ours. The world’s greatest offense – Christ Crucified – is also our greatest comfort. And his outrageous words are our greatest hope, just as they were for those disciples. Now finally, in that Upper Room and on the cross Jesus reveals how he will make good on his promises
            On that Thursday night Jesus finally answered the crowds’ question: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat? By dying and rising. By fixing his word of promise to visible, earthly, humble means. By pouring out his life-giving sacrifice into this life-giving meal.
            That same flesh that Jesus called bread in John 6 was raised up on the cross for the life of the world. His flesh is crucified, buried, dead, risen, ascended and present for you here at His Table. From the Upper Room to the cross to this altar, He gives his flesh for the life of the world.

            The Lord’s Supper pushes Christ’s incarnation all the way home. God doesn’t merely want to dwell with us in a spiritual sense – you know, hanging around with us and all that. But physically, tangibly, truly present among us. So He lays out bread and wine. True food and true drink. (the EC called it) The medicine of immortality. The only food and drink that brings the forgiveness of our sins, life, and salvation. Here Jesus abides in us and we in Him. We abide in Jesus by faith, and He abides in us by our eating and drinking His Body and Blood.
            Did the 12 fully comprehend what Jesus was saying that night? Do we? I’m sure you have your doubts. We all do. Doubt goes with believing things unseen, things that cannot be measured, examined, only believed. When your eyes and your ears don’t agree and you’re called to believe with your ears. So come and join Peter and bring all of your doubts, misgivings, uncertainties, questions, as well as your sin, your brokenness, your lostness, your death – bring all of that to the Lord’s Table. Bring all of you. Your whole life, your death, your fears, your anxieties. Bring them and let the Lord feed you with His words, with His Body and Blood, with the bread of life and the wine of heaven.     I know it sounds outrageous. I know it’s a scandal. But what a blessed one it is. So take Jesus at his word: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.”                                           

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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