August 26, 2018 – Pentecost 14 B
[Jesus said,] 56“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This 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.” 59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But 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. 65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
“This teaching is difficult.” Jesus has just giving one of his in-depth sermons after performing one of his most astounding and miraculous signs of power. He’s used complex metaphor and language which is, at the same time, simple and deep. He’s told his listeners that he is the bread of heaven, that he was sent by God, and that, through faith, eternal life is theirs. And their response is, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
As a preacher and pastor, I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks this is difficult. As a father, husband, and person in general, I’m glad I’m not alone. Perhaps you’re thinking the same thing. This is not as easy as we’d like it to be. But I’ve come to realize, time and time again, that if you’re looking for easy answers, a fool-proof self-help system, or guru filled with simple explanations of how the world works, you probably shouldn’t be asking Jesus. We can fool ourselves, sometimes, into thinking that the Bible tells us to do what comes naturally and easily to us. But then we read things like “eat my flesh and drink my blood” and we say, “This teaching is difficult.” Or we read to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, and we say, “This teaching is difficult.” Or we hear Jesus tell us to turn the other cheek, that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, that the religious leaders and social elite will be sharing the kingdom of God with the outcasts and unclean, and that we should sell all we have and give it to the poor and we say, “This teaching is difficult.”
Our gospel tells us that many disciples turned back and left Jesus after this teaching. Perhaps they were looking for an easy answer, another fresh meal, and a good story to tell their families when they returned home. Maybe they were looking for 5 easy tips to a worry-free life. Or perhaps they were just following a crowd who happened to be trying to find this miraculous Jesus. But they left because the teaching wasn’t easy to understand or easy to practice. The same can certainly be said of our culture today, where we can easily choose to listen to voices which tell us what we want to hear. Some of those voices even claim to be Christian or family friendly, quoting the Bible with ease and urgency. But, when we do this, we can easily begin to swap what we want God to tell us with what God is actually telling us and soon the voice of Jesus begins to take a back seat to our own internal voice, the voices of celebrity, or even the voice of a preacher.
But not everyone leaves. Jesus watches many retreat from him, but also some that stay. Jesus asks Simon Peter why he is sticking around and he says, “…to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Eternal life. That’s the key. That’s why they stick around. Eternal life. Not an easy life. Not a successful life; but eternal life. Not just an escape to a blissful afterlife, but eternal life, which is a blanket over all of time itself; past, present, and future. This redeemed eternal life not only covers your future, but your past and your present as well. It changes who you are, it changes what you will do or become, and it even reframes what has already happened. There is nothing in this life that is left untouched when eternal life takes hold.
The only thing easy about eternal life is that it’s already been accomplished and that it’s already yours. Through the free gift of grace, you are already part of this eternal life, this communion of saints, and this body of Christ. You didn’t do anything to earn it, and there’s no way to pay it back, but a life lived in the light of God’s grace will do everything it can to show that grace to others. You show the love and grace you have received through the life that you now live. You show that you’re a disciple of Christ through loving with Christ-like love, against all odds and evils of this world. Belief in God’s Son, working for the food that endures, is a life-long process of Christlike sacrifice, devotion, and love. It means following the example of Jesus, who was willing to sacrifice himself, his security, his status, and his power in order to share eternal life with you. Through his death, you have died to sin. Through his resurrection, you have been given victory over sin and death itself.
This does not make the teaching any less difficult, but it does make it more bearable. We realize that, in the body and blood of Christ, we find that the love of God for you and for all of humanity and all of creation is brought together. As we gather to receive the bread and wine of communion, you are united with saints of all times, languages, nations, and beliefs. As we take in the bread of Christ’s body, we become a way in which Christ’s love can be shown to the world. As we take in the bread of eternal life, we find that eternal life can be experienced here and now and, indeed, it is our work as Christians to help make it so. You receive the bread, the body of Christ, the free gift of God’s love and grace, and then you do go to make it known wherever you go.
And, as you go, you become the bread that is served to the world which shows love, feeds the hungry, cares for the sick, loves the enemy, and stands up for justice. Fed by the body of Christ, you become the hands of Christ. This teaching is difficult, yes, but this teaching is just and loving and life-giving. In a word, this teaching is good.
Mahatma Gandhi is credited with one of my favorite quotes: “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” I believe that’s true. I also believe that there are some people in the world so scared, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of a patient companion. There are some so hopeless, that God cannot appear to them but in the form of a powerless friend. I believe that there are people around us, people whom you know, who feel so broken, lost, and unloved that God cannot appear to them except in the form of you. This teaching is difficult, the practice and understanding of it is hard, but it is the way of eternal life. Eternity is breaking through, the bread of life is feeding people, the body of Christ is waking up and moving and serving the world in each and every moment. As forgiven, loved, saved, and fed people, let us go and join in this work. The body of Christ is given for you, the blood of Christ is shed for you, now let us go and share it with the world. Amen.