In the series, “Everlasting life: Now and Forever
By Rev. Becky Schofield Motter
When I was in seminary at Duke, there was one day that the building was all a buzz about an article published in the school newspaper. The headline read something to the effect that Christians are Cannibals and the article quoted part of the scripture that we heard this morning. We as students talked at length at the misunderstanding of the writer or their desire for sensationalism in writing such an article. It accomplished the goal; people were all talking about what it said. This is not the first time something like this has been published. Plenty of reporters have written something similar over the years. Taking things out of context or misrepresenting the Bible was not new that day at Duke and it is not new today either.
The last few weeks we have been on a journey through John chapter 6. We have looked at different sections of it to consider each one and to better understanding what Christ is saying to us in each section. This morning as we consider the last section of this chapter, We are also going to help us see how it all fits together.
Leading up to this chapter in the gospel of John we have read about the disciples being called, Jesus encounter authorities, wedding, Samaritan woman, healings, encounter with Nicodemus, and news is spreading about Jesus
This is how the feeding of the 5,000 comes to be, his popularity is growing, people are hearing about healing, preaching, teaching, challenging authority and his reputation precedes him.
As the people encounter him, they get even more than they bargain for, they get a free meal. And so naturally, they are interested in receiving more of that good bread and fish.
As a mom, I can say I certainly appreciate a meal I don’t have to prepare or clean up after.
The crowd goes looking for Jesus to see if there is more where they already received. Jesus knows their motives, their desires, their hopes and dreams. He also knows there is so much more that he is offering than a free meal. As he tries to help them understand, it is as though they are talking from different perspectives. The crowd and some of the disciples are asking about physical needs and Jesus is talking about spiritual needs.
The conversation goes back and forth and the more they talk the less the crowd and disciples seem to understand. Where we pick up this morning is probably the hardest for them to comprehend. And I want to set the stage, because we know the whole story, we know more of what is to come, but they hear this without the knowledge of the future. We can anticipate the last supper when we read this, so this language of eating his flesh and drinking his blood makes sense. We know the spiritual implication he is talking about, the remembrance we have of those actions. Those who heard it on that day know nothing about what will come in the last supper.
Listen to some of these verses imagining what you might think not knowing about the last supper and the future implications of these words.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Some who heard this had a hard time connecting with the metaphors and then translating that into meaning for their lives. Jesus continues to speak in ways that are difficult to hear for some who followed him. In fact, the scripture says that some of the disciples turned back because of what he was saying, and they chose not to follow Jesus anymore.
Sometimes we have this allusion that as Christians everything is always going to make sense and we will always feel connected to the presence of God. But many of us have found ourselves occasionally in a place where we have confusion and maybe even doubt because the teachings of Christ are difficult to hear. That confusion and doubt can cause us to question and wonder why we are following. We hear in this mornings scripture that some of the disciples of Jesus struggled to comprehend his teaching and decided not to follow Christ any more. Their questioning reveals that they were focused on themselves and were unable to focus on what Christ was doing and the ministry he was trying to bring. I wonder if they came back, if they grew in their understanding, or had someone walk beside them as they worked through their difficulty and were able to come back to following Christ.
We all have those moments where we doubt or struggle and do not feel close to God. It is good to know that those who followed and heard the teaching of Christ hit the same difficulties in understanding as well.
Today some are walking away from the church for this reason. The teachings of Christ are hard if we really understand what he is asking of our lives. And the depth of that commitment and what is asked of us is a challenge. And some of us want to simply follow the easy parts of what Jesus says and that is hard for others who want to follow Christ in the way he says but find resistance in the church.
And if Christ is repeatedly saying that God loves us, then how do we explain natural disasters and why does God not intervene?
Those who followed and learned from Jesus had trouble with some of the “Why” questions as well and because of that and other reasons we hear in the scripture they walked away. They decided not to follow anymore. It is hard for me to imagine how those who were physically with Jesus could have turned away. I guess I imagine that the Spirit of God in him would have made following him irresistible despite the challenges. I have this romantic idea that being with, learning from and following Jesus would have been so much easier if we were with him. I imagine it would have been so hard to doubt, but like today, sacrifice is hard.
One of my favorite parables that Jesus told was the parable of the prodigal son. We hear a story of a father who has two sons. The younger demands his inheritance, thus giving up any right to return. The younger son goes and squanders his inheritance and finds himself doing the worst of all work and in desperate need. When he comes to his senses and returns to beg to be a hired hand for his father, he does not make it home before his father runs to embrace him and returns to him the status as son, no questions asked, no apology necessary. It is a great image of the way that God loves us and embraces us when we return after we have had difficulty and doubt. God is there with open arms to embrace us and welcome us home.
In our text this morning, we find Peter in one of his better moments. There are many other places in scripture where Peter seems to speak without thinking and he says things that upset Christ and are off base from what he has been teaching. But in this moment, Peter is spot on, he responds as one who gets it, he is so very right with his statement. ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ In this instant, Peter is not thinking about himself, he is totally focused on Christ and what Christ is calling them to and that is why he has it right. He is not thinking about his doubt, he is not thinking about how things don’t make sense, he is not focused on himself and what he is able to do, he is only thinking about Christ and that is why it comes out correct.
As we have worked through this chapter, we have a group of people following and hearing Jesus who were fed and wanted to experience more of that miracle and all the while Jesus is trying to get them to think about their spiritual needs.
But what we hear in the crowd’s response throughout the whole chapter is that Jesus is speaking in ways that these hearers do not always understand. Part of the lack of understanding is they are only looking at things from their perspective, they are not considering things from Christ’s point of view. Jesus is trying to help them see that he is the center of all that is important. The grace and love that he has brought is what they are to focus on, not themselves. But it is hard for this group to make that transition.
I was single for the first half of my years in ministry and during that time was used to doing what worked for me and the direction I felt from God. When Jeff and I started dating seriously, I suddenly began to understand the response of my friends who were married or in serious relationships. We would be talking about working on a project or getting together and often they would say, well I have to check in with my other half. I understood, and yet at times I would get a bit impatient because of excitement around the work we were doing.
Family certainly changes our perspective. Our love and care for them causes us to want to include them in decisions that will affect their life as well. Part of loving them is respecting their time and any plans you are making that may affect them. And offering them respect by checking in before you make other plans. Our commitment to them means allowing their needs to be our needs.
Love does that to you, it causes you to think about your family or friends more than yourself; it causes you to want more for them than yourself; it means offering respect and admiration and a say in what happens in your lives together. And it means giving them the benefit of the doubt when making plans.
This is the way we are called to be in relationship with Christ. The love of Christ calls us to live our lives differently and summons.l. us to journey in a way that we did not know was possible, a way that does not consider our needs above the needs of God. When we embrace the love of God, exemplified in the life of Christ, we begin to think and do things differently. We consider Christ’s needs above our own. We have such respect for what God is doing and even if we do not always understand it, we give God the benefit of the doubt and follow because we know and believe what Christ did and how it transformed our life. That is what we see in Peter’s confession. He may not have understood the whole of what Christ was saying, but he was saying I believe. You have what we have been looking for and we want to stick with you.
When we are in ministry with Christ, our focus changes, it is not about us. It is about God, in Christ, meeting us where we are as he is, not in the way we would like him to be. And when Christ comes asking us to serve, it is in the way that he needs, not in the way we would like it to be. Some of the disciples turned back, but some of them began to see so clear what it is that Christ was about. They began to understand his identity and his mission and were ready to join him in that mission. They were focusing totally on Christ, rather than themselves, which allowed them to trust and therefore accomplish what they were called to do by God. This is where Christ has been leading us in this chapter. When we are focused on what God is doing, we will find eternal life because we too can believe and know that he is the Holy One of God. May it be so in each of our lives. Amen.