Posts Tagged ‘John 6:56-69’

What Are You Known For 8-23-15

In this sermon, based on John 6:56-69, I explore the “hard teaching” of Jesus that causes many of his disciples to turn away. What is this teaching, and why is it so offensive, even at times, to those of us who follow Christ?

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/what-are-you-known-for-8-23-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

We all have something that we’re known for…something that people always associate with us…typically, its something from our past…some memorable event or activity that we will be forever tied to…and for those who are familiar with this situation, its never ending.

Granted, I’ve got a lot of these in my history…different situations that define me within different groups and circles….here in town, its probably the fact that I’m a pastor…when I was in seminary, I became known as the guy in the orange hat…my senior year at Iowa State, the entire Horticulture department called me Red because of a certain episode with some hair dye…my group of close friends dating all the way back to Jr High have a multitude of inside jokes that they can pull out at my expense to make me cringe…but in all likelihood, the one that goes back the farthest…the story that has defined me the longest, well it exists in the context of my extended family on my dad’s side.

April of 1988…exactly one week after my 9th birthday…the wedding day of my dad’s youngest sister…and a time when personal video cameras were pretty new…and were unbelievably intriguing to 9 year olds. (pause) After the ceremony was over, the camera operator set up the tripod to record the recession line, as the multitude of guest filed out the sanctuary to greet the wedding party…as is the custom…and low and behold…this little 9 year old spaz case…kept popping up in frame…looking at the camera…turning around to look at the people filing by…turning back around to look at the camera…over and over again. Throughout the course of the entire video…I kept popping into frame…not realizing just how weird it was…nor the lasting effect it would have on my reputation within my extended family.

To this day…people still mock me on that one…anytime there is any sort of event…and there’s a camera present…someone is going to recreate that moment…and everyone laughs…it is…what I am known for. (pause) It is…a vital part of my history.

But isn’t that always the case? And as time marches on…these little aspects of a person’s history really become the defining factor for them…and we have the tendency to gloss over everything else…sometimes in a good way, and sometimes in a bad way.

Think about George Washington…the first president of the United States…remembered fondly…while we forget that he was also a slave-owner and general that nearly starved his own troops to death…Or Henry Ford…father of the American automobile, credited (incorrectly mind you) with pioneering the assembly line…but we forget that he was also a published anti-semite.

This same tendency has carried into how we tend to remember Biblical figures as well…and this has sparked quite a bit of conversation within our current study of The Story as we’ve discussed various Old Testament figures…for instance Abraham…the shining example of faith…was a trickster who tried to pawn off his beloved wife as his sister not just once but twice…and Moses…the great deliverer of the Old Testament…who was also a liar and a murderer who tried his best to weasel out of God’s calling at every turn…or the great king David, an adulterer who was involved with conspiracy to murder.

We find the same thing in the new testament as well, for who can forget Thomas…defined for all time by his doubt…or Peter…ever the one who would deny Christ…or Nathanael who questions anyone that comes out of Nazareth.

But perhaps the one most strongly identified with a single defining moment would have to be…Judas Iscariot…forever known as the one who would betray Jesus…so much so, that within today’s gospel lesson, we find the first introduction to Judas found in John’s Gospel…and we see that he is not even initially called by name…but that he is identified as the one who would betray Jesus…something that he hadn’t even done yet…something that is ultimately motivated by the presence of evil with him…and yet…as we see…it serves as the single defining characteristic that Judas, for all time…will be saddled with…and I find myself wondering…is that fair? (pause)

Is it fair to Judas that history always associates him with betrayal…with the apparent backstabbing that he hands off Jesus’ direction in the closing chapters of the gospel…should that be his one defining moment? Or would it be better for us to lump him in with a different group out of today’s story…that unknown batch of disciples who have been following Jesus…but having sat and listened to this hard teaching…they decide that it’s time to tuck tail and run. (pause)

Because…as we hear…Jesus knew from the start those who would not believe…just as HE knew from the start…that Judas would ultimately be the one to lead the authorities out to the garden…and yet…at the beginning of John chapter 6…in the initial miracle that began this long debate that has raged on throughout the entire chapter…not to mention the past 5 weeks of gospel lessons…when Jesus fed the 5000…guess who was sitting in that crowd…those disciples who turned away…and Judas was sitting there too. (pause)

Now we have the tendency to forget that when John talks about the disciples…its not just the 12 that he’s talking about…in fact…prior to this specific passage…this one point after all those other people turn their backs and walk away…we never even hear about the 12 disciples…they are never set apart…until now…when everyone else has decided that Jesus is asking just a little bit too much of them…that this new teaching is just too much to swallow…its true…up until now…those 12 guys that we tend to put a whole bunch of stock into…they were just a few of a much larger crowd…all of whom…were fed by Jesus…all of whom were in relationship with Jesus…all of whom…at least until now…have liked what Jesus had to say and willingly followed him…willingly found themselves in relationship with him…until now. (pause)
So just what is it about THIS teaching that is SO hard for them? What is it that in the end offends them…makes them lose faith in this man that they’ve been following? (pause)
Is it all the talk of body and blood as food and drink? Maybe…but I kinda don’t think so. In the end, what it seems to be is the truth that is slowly being revealed about the identity of Jesus…that maybe, just maybe this guy really is who he says he is…but if that’s true…and Jesus really is the Son of God…and not just that but that Jesus really is God…well then what does that have to say about the God that they have always known…the God that they were taught about. (pause)

Because what Jesus has to say is going WAY past anything that they can begin to wrap their heads around…way beyond anything that they can justify as being “From God.” First of all…this guy who claims to be God seems to be telling them…not just suggesting it, but flat out instructing them to break their dietary laws…God wouldn’t do that.

And this is the same guy who told them that they needed to treat their neighbors as themselves…even going so far as to naming Samaritans as their neighbors…which might not seem that crazy to us…but it’s the equivalent of telling us that the very people we need to treat as our neighbors includes Muslims….individuals who claim to follow God, but in a radically different way than we do…so different in fact that countless wars have continuously raged through the ages as to who’s right.

This is the guy, who seems to break every single rule that they have held dear throughout the entirety of their lives with the simple goal of being in relationship with the very individuals that those rules state are unacceptable. (pause) Yes Lord…this is a hard teaching…no wonder they walked away.

But remember this…even knowing what we know now…knowing that these individuals would eventually tuck tail and run…even knowing that Judas would eventually betray him…Jesus not only accepts them…but we hear in the verse immediately following today’s passage, Jesus assuring them “Did I not choose you?” (pause)

Jesus willingly choses to be in relationship with those who he knows aren’t going to go the distance…He choses to feed those who will not reciprocate…and in the end…He will even go so far as to wash the feet of this one that will ultimately betray him. (pause)

And while we ponder on that…its also important to remember that even the ones that seemingly got it…even Peter…the very one to make this marvelous statement “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Even these men who have come to believe and know that Jesus is the holy one of God…will eventually abandon him. Peter himself, who makes this faith filled statement, will eventually deny the relationship with Christ…Peter…is also the one to cry out “I DON’T KNOW HIM.” (pause)
What is it about Jesus that causes so many of us…all of us in fact…at one time or another…what is it that causes us to stumble…what is it that offends us so much? Is it, perhaps the notion that salvation is in fact…offered to the entire world…even to those who we deem in the back of our minds as unworthy…as unfaithful…could it be the fact that Jesus invited each and every one of us into relationship with him despite knowing the eventual outcome of that relationship…even knowing that like the disciples we each have those times when we turn and walk away? (pause)

This is a hard teaching…that the relationship between God and us as individuals…ultimately…isn’t up to us…that in the end, its not about what we think of God…but its what God thinks of us…and in our moments of piety…when we forget that its not what God thinks of those that we think are out…and yet God calls them in. (pause)

I can see how the individuals there that day would have been offended by this teaching…that all of the rules don’t matter…that all the checks and balances don’t matter…that all of our accomplishments mean absolutely nothing…and that we are just as dependent upon the invitation as everyone else.

Do you suppose that hearing Jesus make these bold statements was enough to make them question whether or not this is really God talking? Because in the end, that’s what sin is here in John’s gospel…not believing that Jesus is in fact, who he says he is…whether that meets us with our expectations or not.

This is why Jesus asks them if they are offended…if it makes them stumble…or as the actual translation stated “Does this cause you to stop believing?” (pause)

The gospel is hard…not because we have to do anything to accomplish it…but precisely because the gospel is without prejudice…and no matter what rules we try to apply to who’s got it and who doesn’t God ultimately doesn’t really care about our rules…and God will NOT be hindered by them. God will invite whoever God choses to be in relationship…and the only thing that we can do about it is recognize it…and then we need to be grateful…because to truly hear the gospel is to recognize our own need for it…

To recognize that yes…I am sinful…to recognize that no, there is nothing that I can do about it…and even though humanity might define me by the horrible things in my life…the sin that resides right here…the sinful things that I have done…and then finally to realize that the arms of Jesus are opened to me anyway…and that he accepts me, not as I would like to be or hope to be…not as someone else thinks I need to be…but simply that Jesus accepts me as I am, right here, right now…and there is no power on Earth that can change that.

My past doesn’t define me…not the mistakes I’ve made…not the triumphs I’ve accomplished…not the red hair in college, or the orange hat in seminary…not the old video of me bouncing up and down at my aunt’s wedding. I am defined by how God see’s me…as his beloved child.

And the beauty of the gospel…is that this is true for all of us…YOU…are a beloved child of God…and for all eternity, THAT is what you are known for. Amen.