“Many Turned Back”

John 6:56-69

August 15, 2021

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

John 6:56-69

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 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.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

| Centering Prayer |

Sickening.

Disbelief.

Disappointment.

Betrayal.

Each are characteristics of living a life abiding in Christ

And inviting Jesus Christ to abide in us.

Ironic, isn’t it?

That the Gospel is called Good News?

There is a mistaken perception that the Christian life

Is free from worry, pain, sin, and evil;

That, once one accepts by faith

That Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior

Life becomes filled with love, peace, abundance,

And dancing unicorns.

The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John

Is like a bucket of ice water thrown into our face.

It just doesn’t work that way.

Many will make the claim that

God blesses the faithful with abundance wealth.

Therefore, if you aren’t wealthy, you must not be faithful.

You’re just not doing it right.

Many will claim that

God spares Christians from famine, disease, poverty, and suffering.

Therefore, if you suffer, it must be due to your own sinfulness.

And, we all know

Sinners are destined to hell.

This is delusional,

And just plain wrong.

Beware of those who preach a gospel of prosperity, excess, greed, or fear;

For their gospel is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is not the Good News

God has given to his faithful.

The pessimist might observe that

It is almost as if the Gospel removes all incentives

For following Jesus,

Pulling the rug right out from under our feet.

The faithful share a different reality,

as conveyed so eloquently in the Gospel of John:

God loves the world.

God sent us his Son, Jesus.

Everyone who believes in Jesus is saved. (3:16)

I like the label theologians have applied:

John lays out for all the world to see

“The Scandal of Grace.”

It is scandalous to the powerful principalities of this world

That God loves everyone, without exclusion or exception.

Prior history doesn’t matter.

Current circumstances aren’t relevant.

Future potential isn’t of any concern.

Belief is the only metric upon which

Scripture teaches us God passes judgment,

Not for the purpose of condemnation, but for the purpose of salvation.

Each of us struggle with belief;

Some more, some less.

John Wesley taught his deployed pastors just as he had been taught as a young pastor,

“Preach faith until you have it.

Once you have it, you’ll preach faith.”

In the ninth chapter of Mark,

A  frightened father went straight to Jesus when disciples failed to cast a demon out from his son.

Faith took him to Jesus.

Yet, he recognized his own inadequacy.

He pleaded

“I believe, Lord.

Help my unbelief.”

(Mark 9:19)

It is scandalous to the economies of this world

That salvation is God’s gift to all.

Eternal life is the grand equalizer of the caste system.

Free.

Unmerited.

Unearned.

Grace is God’s gift of salvation.

The Lazarus’ of this world are raised by angels

(See Luke 16:19-31).

The mountains of social status, pride, pedigree, and wealth are made low.

The valleys of the last, least, and lost

Are lifted,

To make plain and straight

A highway for our God.

Grace is amazing when we apply it to ourselves,

But scandalous when applied to others.

… as if grace is limited

or must be rationed.

Please pray for me

That I can get over myself

And overcome my propensity for judgment,

For my tendency to marginalize and complain about others,

And I’ll pray for you, too.

….

In this sixth installment from the sixth chapter of John

Many of the followers of Jesus

Don’t believe.

Many who followed Jesus

Walked away.

Many of his disciples

“turned back and no longer went about with him.” (6:66)

Apparently, they were having a hard time stomaching

The scandal of God’s grace, too.

“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” many disciples complained. (6:60)

“Does this offend you?” Jesus replies. (6:61)

These Jewish born and raised

Bandwagon fans of Jesus,

… Multitudes miraculously fed with

Five loaves and two fish just days earlier …

Have made their way with Jesus

Back to the synagogue at Capernaum

Where they listened to him teach.

At this time

Christ’s followers had no experience of Eucharist.

They understood his words literally.

When they hear Jesus speaking about

Eating his flesh and drinking his blood, it is easy to see where their imagination takes them.

Sickening.

Their superficial assumption

Was that Jesus was teaching in violation of Jewish law.

They also assumed

That Jesus was demeaning and dismissive of Moses

Whose miracle of manna from heaven

Provided sustenance for the day,

But, was a mile short of providing for eternal life.

Like their (and our) ancestors

Newly freed from Egyptian captivity

And wondering in the wilderness,

Many grumbled.

Sadly, the disappointed and unbelieving Jews

In the audience at the synagogue in Capernaum

Didn’t have the benefit of hindsight like

The early Christian communities had

In the developing years following Christ’s ascension.

The early Church knew the narrative of the Upper Room

And faithfully practiced the Sacrament of Holy Communion

Whenever they gathered

In remembrance of Jesus.

First Century disciples of Jesus

Could understand more deeply the distinction between

Life in the Spirit verses Death in the Flesh.

Grumbling appears to be a common thread

In human DNA and

The Church is no more immune

Than the factory floor, the office place, or a Town Board meeting.

When it comes to churches

I have yet to serve one that doesn’t have

Some level of conflict amongst members and friends;

Some more, some less.

What we believe,

How things are run,

Where the money goes,

Who is in, and who is out,

There is usually much to complain about.

Grumbling is as common as two farmers talking about the weather.

Complaining members of a parish are to a pastor

Like dulling an axe by using it to cut rocks.

Grumbling members of the clergy are to a bishop

Like one hanging a rug over a close line and beating it clean of dirt.

Grumbling demonstrates

A lack of trust that God provides for today, and

The assurance God will provide for tomorrow.

Grumbling turns a community of faith inward

At the expense of loving neighbors.

Complaining disciples of Jesus

Are scandalized by God’s grace

And are quick to tell anyone and everyone with a sympathetic ear.

If left to fester too long,

Like a cancerous tumor,

Complaining becomes the new normal,

Faith begins to wane,

Belief withers,

And many disciples turn back

And no longer go about with him. (6:66)

Why would anyone chose Death by Flesh

Over Life,

Eternal Life, in the Spirit?

It is easy to condemn Judas, son of Simon Iscariot,

For his betrayal of Jesus.

His betrayal cost Jesus his life.

Then, he had the audacity to take his own life.

What a “Feckless Pud”!

(As one of my Twitter followers is prone to say)

Why would Judas choose Flesh and Death over Eternal Life?

It is also easy to look down our noses

At the followers of Jesus who jumped on his bandwagon

Only for a free lunch.

When the prospect of future charity fizzled,

They bailed faster than a sailor on a sinking ship.

By turning their backs on Jesus and walking away,

They no less betrayed Jesus than did Judas.

Yet, the Gospel presents us with a warning about

Our own moral condescension.

Consider two dangers.

First, think about the temptation for a community of faith to bail on Jesus.

When a Christian community fails to place Christ in the center of all things,

When it simply becomes a service organization,

Or worse yet,

When a church becomes an inward focused relic

Gasping for its own survival,

Is it any more of a betrayal of Jesus

Than the betrayal of Judas,

Or of the followers who lost their belief,

Who turned and walked away?

Let us keep our eyes upon Jesus!

Secondly, think about the temptation to personally walk away from Jesus.

There is a difference between faith and certainty.

None of us can claim certainty when it comes to knowledge of God.

To do so would be idolatrous,

Placing ourselves as God’s equal.

But all of us have faith,

Some grand and expansive and deep.

Others have faith that is small like a mustard seed,

Preemptively given to us by God

Before we were aware we needed it.

When it comes to faith,

Size doesn’t matter.

“To whom can we go?” Simon Peter speaking to Jesus correctly observes.

“You have the words of eternal life.” (6:68)

Indeed, we can run,

Where can we go?

There is no place to escape from the love and grace of God.

Once claimed,

Forever claimed.

There is no other place to go

Than into the loving arms of our Lord.

Let us encourage each other.

Keep your eyes upon Jesus,

And I’ll try to do the same.

….

The one who eats this bread will live forever.

That’s a promise.

We call that grace.

The fact that the table is open to all,

Without reservation, precondition, or barrier

Is, indeed, scandalous.

I constantly have to remind myself

That the bread from heaven,

The Eucharist,

Isn’t about Todd,

Or whoever is serving as the Celebrant.

The bread from heaven is about Jesus;

The Body of Christ.

The scandal is that there is a place at the table for me.

The scandal is that there is a place at the table for you.

Dearly beloved,

Keep your complaints to yourself.

Ask God for the guidance and strength to resolve disputes,

Then follow through with words and deeds.

Grumbling distracts.

Conflict destroys.

Chronic complaints tempt us to walk away,

To take our eyes off Jesus.

Just don’t.

Instead, our Gospel encourages us,

Collectively and individually,

To abide in Christ,

Keep your eyes on Christ,

And to allow Christ to abide in us.

Chose life;

Eternal life.

Eat this bread and live.

Amen.  

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