Todays readings for 14th Sunday after Pentecost. 1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43 Psalm 84 Ephesians 6:10-20 John 6:56-69
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton.
This is the end of this amazing section of text that we have been working through for the last four weeks. Well, actually the Gospel reading didn’t take in the last two verses of the chapter and the discourse, so let me read them to you, Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ 68 Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’70 Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.’ 71 He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him. It seems to me to be unreasonable in this discourse which centres around the word made flesh, giving himself to the world for them to feed on and engaging them in relationship so that they might abide in him, to steal away the last little bit. It certainly makes the chapter end on a high note, and I am going to come back to that in a minute, but the reality is that in the relations between human and God it is seldom that simple. Indeed this section of the discourse picks up on a whole lot of different reactions to the teaching and to the person of Jesus of Nazareth, or the Holy One of God, as John has Peter refer to him in this pericope. It seems to me that in this discourse one of the really important things is the concept of the word made flesh, that is the incarnation, which gives us the ability to abide, or rest or remain in God. The relationship is able to be established because the word has been made flesh. The incarnation is the vehicle for the relationship and this highlights this really important aspect of the way that John tells us the story. There is nothing transactional here. It isn’t a deal we make with God, like: I will believe in you if you will die for me, and thereby save me from my sins. No, here in John: God has become flesh so that you might believe, that is have faith and trust in and belove, and it is through that ongoing resting that you become God’s people. It is a very relational gospel. The other really important aspect of this discourse, particularly to the original auditors, is the whole connection back to the formation of God’s people in the wilderness. They were formed first by participating in a definitive meal, that is the Passover, and then they were fed in the wilderness by God, with manna. Jesus says, as part of that ongoing narrative, that he is the true bread. He is not ephemeral manna that had to be renewed each day, he is eternal bread that will continue to feed. So there is a dual kind of feeding here, the feeding which we have come to call the Eucharist, or thanksgiving, that is a meal shared that gives us both our identity and the wherewithal to travel through the wilderness of our lives, and there is simultaneously the bread that is the Word of God, that we have to gnaw on, and he uses that word again here, to nourish us for our whole lives. And just like us, those characters in the narrated text have a whole lot of different reactions to this set of images. The first things that we have here is the idea that it is difficult, and I think that we would all agree with that. There is nothing easy to understand nor easy to cope with in this discourse. So the disciples, and here it means all his wider group of followers not just the twelve, are complaining about it. And we still are complaining about it, aren’t we? That is an echo of the behaviour of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, the recipients of the manna, who were constantly complaining to God. Jesus asks them if this teaching scandalises them. He understands that speaking about them consuming his flesh and blood, and gnawing on him is going to scandalise them. And again, it still scandalises us. I have had a number of comments from people who have said that they really find this hard to cope with- and you know, I don’t blame you, I feel scandalised that I have to teach such difficult stuff, but it is important to our understanding of how we relate to God. Jesus then says a very strange thing, “Does this scandalise you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” He seems to me to be suggesting that in his ascension, which in a sense is the corollary of his incarnation, we should be able to accept this more easily. They will see his ascension, but not until the sacrifice of the scapegoat has been made, he has died and he has risen. Will this help them to understand? And then he goes on to make a very strange statement, not helped by our translation, “It is the Spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless,” is what our version says. The idea that the body, which he has been talking about is useless, seems a contradiction. I think it is better translated, “The spirit is the life-giver, the flesh is not profiting nothing; the words which I have spoken to you is spirit and is life.” It is more that it is the Spirit that enlivens the body and without it the body does not profit anything. Jesus’ words are spirit and life. And here we return to that concept that the word is what gives life. John does go round and round cycling back to his big concepts. It is after he says this that we get the next reaction. Jesus says, ‘But among you are some that do not believe.’ This is the difficult and confronting truth, that there are always people who do not believe. People who find this all too difficult, who either don’t want to or can’t be bothered to enter the relationship that enables them to belove Jesus, and indeed, as he says in the next breath, who will betray him. Nobody can come unless drawn by the Father, we need to be given the ability to hear the words and to believe. And because of this lack many of them turned away. That is the reality for us as well, both that others, and sometimes they are people that we love, will turn away, and that they will not hear, and not believe, not enter into relationship. But you know, it is also true of us- we all have moments of turning away, of thinking that it is all too hard, that we can’t be bothered anymore or whatever our particular affliction is. And Jesus gives even the inner circle the opportunity to go away, and Peter makes that declaration which has spoken to me in my deepest place. “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life?’ That for me is always the point I come back to. There is nowhere else and nothing else that gives me life and so I remain, abide, sojourn with God, because there is nowhere else to go. In Jesus is light and there is no darkness at all, because he is the word made flesh, the bread of life, and the light of the world. Jesus has the words of eternal life, what ever that means. I have come to believe and know that Jesus is the holy one of God. Is that your experience, is that why you hang in there? Has Peter articulated the truth for you, that at your most central place is the knowledge of God seen through the lens of Jesus Christ? And that is where our text finishes, on that affirming and wonderful note, but sadly the discourse continues and Jesus speaks again of betrayal. And while he might be speaking particularly of Judas, he is speaking to all of the disciples, because they all run away. That is our story too, we run away, or perhaps we walk away from Christ. Of course, it might be that we walk away from Christ in others and it is in that sense that we abandon him, even if we do not run from him as we think we know him. And it is easy to abandon the relationship at times and perhaps only momentarily. The thing that has been the greatest revelation for me reading and thinking about all of this again, is its eternal and intrinsic nature. We are inextricably linked with God through Jesus and his incarnation and we feed on him and live in him and worship him in spirit and in truth. The words of life come from the bread of life, and week by week, we are fed by him, in order to live in God and for God. So dear friends, let me ask you, “Where else have we to go? For in Jesus we have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know Jesus, who is the Holy One of God, living bread.”