Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
August 19, 2018
“The Word of Eternal Life”
Rev. Richard Langness
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours this day from our triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I was given a gift this past week. It is a Small Catechism and it appears to have been printed in 1903. The man who gave it to me, we will just call him John like the Gospel, didn’t know how or why he had it. It is also in Swedish; but even if he knew the language it really didn’t matter to him. You see, he is into ancient mysticism so the foundational truths that we have so clearly in the catechism do not have any value to him. This is sad, but it is also what we see taking place in the Gospel reading this morning.
It has been said that if you repeat a lie long enough it will be accepted as truth. Note that it does not become truth but it is merely accepted as truth. Thus, anyone who builds upon this perceived truth is actually building upon a lie. And this is what we see with the followers of Jesus. He is rejected. He is not just rejected by the Jews. This time He is also rejected by the very ones who experienced His miracles. These are the ones who had been fed with the five loaves and the two fish, the followers of Jesus who had witnessed His healing power and heard and saw the miracles He did. These now turn away because He spoke of the need for them to eat His flesh and drink His blood. So we are left with two questions. What was so hard about His teaching? And why was it so difficult to simply take Jesus at his word?
My friend John, like all of us, has a history. His is a history of overindulgence in all the things of the world. Thus, he sees emptiness in the world. Like Solomon of old he understands “vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2b) Now there is truth to what Solomon says and what John sees as well. And yet, that does not mean that those simple words are the embodiment of the whole truth. Thus, there are those perceived truths that distort the actual truth and make it difficult to believe the very Word of God. If we are to find the answer to what was so hard about Jesus teaching, then we must first pose the question of what are some of the fundamental lies that we ourselves have accepted as actual truth.
Now I know that it is not easy to wrestle with ourselves and what it is that we truly believe. It is even more difficult when our histories are long and our memories are short. So you can relax a little bit and know that I am not going to dig specifically into your lives. However I do hope that our time together may open some doors for you to consider what it is in your own life that would make Jesus’ teaching hard to accept and embrace.
[Jesus said:] “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51) Now in case you didn’t get the memo, this is the fifth week on the topic of bread. It began with the feeding of the five thousand and it finds it conclusion in our text for today. With the feeding of the five thousand we find a teaching that is easy to hear and accept. Jesus takes five loaves of common bread and a couple fish and increases them to the degree that He not only feeds the five thousand but there is more left over than there was in the beginning. We cannot explain how He does it but we can accept the idea of the miracle. Miracles are things that we can accept when they are associated with God. In a sense, God by definition does miracles. But at what point do we stop believing in miracles? At what point do we see God bound by the physical and unable to do the extraordinary?
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:52) Do you see how the Jews here struggle with a God who does uncommon things, extraordinary things? The Jews had a history, maybe the greatest history of all. It was God, Himself, who gave the promise to Abraham and brought forth this people through Isaac and Jacob. God did extraordinary things as He delivered them out of the bondage of Egypt with a mighty hand and brought them into the Promised Land. He was there to do battle for them and made the sun to stop until the battle was done. He literally stopped the earth from rotating! Oh wait, did He actually do that? Did He actually stop the world from spinning?
Joshua 10:12-14 says this, At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.” And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, until the nation took vengeance on their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel. Here, then, is the issue. Can you believe this to be true or have you accepted the lie that says only that which we can reason is true? Can you accept this as simply the true Word of God or do you have to wrestle with how can it be reasonably explained?
The whole of the Bible is about Jesus; it is about the bread and wine from heaven. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 it is all about one thing, Jesus and the salvation He gives. Thus, once we dismiss a specific passage or text as not being true or relevant, we accept a lie in its place and the end result is that the teaching of Jesus is hard. The teaching of Jesus doesn’t fit with our accepted perception of Him. It challenges us to see Him in a different light. Thus, like the Jews, we can find ourselves even as good Lutherans asking the question, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 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. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58) What Jesus says here is true but it is not comprehended through human reasoning. It is only grasped through the power of the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit it makes sense. But without it one might as well read it or hear it in Swedish.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:60-65) My conversation with John is just beginning. I do not know where it will go next. But I have this one thing that I do know; I can pray for the Holy Spirit to do His work in opening John’s eyes and ears to understand. I know that my prayers will not guarantee that John will not reject the words of Jesus. But I do know that without the working of the Holy Spirit the only thing that will be understood is the lies that he has already embraced.
We have been given the task to make disciples of all nations. As the Church, we are called to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen again for the forgiveness of sin. As we proclaim Jesus we cannot avoid this truth about the eating of His flesh and the drinking of His blood. It may be a hard teaching. We may want to ask why we need to teach it at all. We may even find it easier to just turn back and no longer walk with Jesus. But the truth remains that Jesus is the bread that came down from heaven and His flesh is true food and His blood is true drink.
So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69) The question is now put before you. “Do you want to go away as well?” Peter recognized that Jesus’ teaching was the words of eternal life. In time, however, he came to see that Jesus was in fact the Word of eternal life. Thus, the Word is here for you. Eternal life is here, physically present, for you. Here set before you is the very Word of life, the very flesh of Jesus to eat and the very blood of Jesus to drink and it is true food and true drink. Do not turn away but come, come and eat and drink the very Word of eternal life given and shed for you. Amen.