Fourteenth Sunday of Pentecost – August 26, 2018
Psalm 84 and John 6:56-71
Our gospel passages for the past four Sundays have been from John chapter 6. It has been about Jesus describing Himself as the Bread of Life. Each time it was connected with the sacraments, both of Holy Communion as well as Baptism. Today is the fifth and last Sunday from John chapter 6. Here the gospel-writer turns towards ourresponses to Jesus calling us to be disciples, followers or even students, of his. There are many ways to describe our journey with Jesus.
John Purdy, who works for the Presbyterian Church in U.S.A., wrote a challenging book entitled “Returning God’s Call: The Challenge of Christian Living.” In it, Purdy suggests that we need a new metaphor for the Christian life. He points out how inadequate the previous images of Christian life have become. There are ones such as “a soldier in God’s army,” “a scholar in the school of Christ,” “a traveller along the Christian way,” “a citizen of the commonwealth” and “a member of Christ’s body.” Each of these metaphors has served us well in the past, Purdy says, but they are not as useful for today. In a very inspired way John Purdy recommends a different one, namely, “Hearers of the Call.” His reasoning is that this would be the image of one who has heard, and keeps hearing, a persistent summons to belief and action. “Hearers of the Call!”, whether we agree with Purdy or not, that reality is the key to our faithfulness as disciples.
The same author goes on to describe how, as a child, he would be outside playing hide and seek with his friends. Inevitably, his front door would open and his mother’s voice would call, “John, time to come in!”
But Purdy said, “I would go on with hide and seek as though nothing had happened. And to anybody passing by, I looked no different from my playmates.” “But”, as Purdy continues, “I was different. I had been called – in; everything was changed.”
I kind of like that. “Hearers of the Call.” The disciples had heard and responded to Jesus’ call. That’s who we are as followers of Jesus, as disciples—“hearers of the call.”
The answer to that call does not mean a once and for all confidence. I can certainly attest to that, and I’m sure most of us can. We all have a variety of responses throughout our lives. I remember times of being very close to Christ, only to drift away for months, even years. That is pointed out in the question Jesus asked his disciples in our Scripture reading for today: “Do you wish to go away?” This is the discipleship question that is ever as relevant as throughout the centuries.
Our Scripture reading today included thesewords, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’”
It really is hard. What does it mean when Jesus says He is the Bread of Life? We’ve seen that He nourishes us as disciples in ways that we would never have imagined. It is so profound that our relationship with Jesus becomes the one thing that sustains a person entirely. Can that reallybe?
The dilemma we encounter is one of stumbling against this very claim that Jesus makes. How can Jesus say that if we eat his flesh and drink his blood, that we are closely knit with Him in a relationship that causes us to “abide in Him and He in us, as He and the Father abide in each other? This seems a bit preposterous.
Little wonder that the disciples respond to what Jesus says, by saying, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” This brings Jesus to observe and reply, “Does this offend you?” The original word here for offend, has to do with “scandal” or “scandalise”, which basically boils down to being a stumbling block in a person’s way. Offend, scandalise, stumbling block, are all one and the same notion.
Indeed do we see Jesus being such. Friends can stay friends as long as we don’t start talking about Jesus. Brothers can continue to be brothers, but just don’t start pushing this Jesus-thing in between us.
It really is interesting to see John narrating a wide range of responses to Jesus’ offer of Himself as the Life-giving Bread.
Complain. We hear the disciples complaining in verse 61. Is this uncommon, we too find ourselves wrestling and complaining that what Jesus is saying, just doesn’t sit well with us?
Disbelief. We hear about those who do not believe, according to verse 64. This too, isn’t all that strange, and there’s no need to get annoyed with someone who responds in this way. It is often part of the journey towards believing later on.
Rejection. Verse 66 depicts disciples turning back, and even turning their backs towards Jesus. When there are those among us who turn their backs on Jesus, this is nothing new.
We also see a confession of faith. Simon Peter did not wish to go away, he says to Jesus, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” This is a response we all wish to have, but it can elude us.
Then there is betrayal. Judas is described as the one who would betray Jesus. We hear the first inklings of that in John chapter 6:64 and again in verse 71. Jesus knew this ahead of time. Betrayal is not handing Jesus into the possession of Jesus’ enemies, but rather simply turning one’s back on a relationship. Breaking up the relationship. Judas would eventually turn his back on his relationship with Jesus. Unfortunately we know that Judas tragically took his own life.
We don’t want to see this happening. Our hope is for the church to be a place of life, a place of growing towards Jesus. We strive for renewal of the church. On September 29 there will be a Saturday workshop on this very aspect, something to give serious consideration. The Lord of the Church wants life for the church, continuous renewal.
Copyright 2018 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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