Proper 16: Standing Firm

From Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Utrecht

22/8/21
Proper 16/Trinity 13

Psalm 84
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69


We have finally reached the end of John 6 as today is Sunday five of five! I have mentioned the various threads and themes that run through this rather dense chapter over the last few weeks. At each turn, Jesus is ratcheting up what is at stake for both that early crowd and for us now.

One golden thread running through this chapter are the words very truly and believe. They are used a lot! Jesus is telling us very truly to believe in Him. I spoke last week about how the way we trust in things and people can influence how we trust God.

We all have our own ways of coming to trust things and people. Maybe some of us trust the wrong things or don’t consider the things we trust until they prove themselves to be untrustworthy. Maybe some of us set the bar so high that we trust almost nothing and no one. Jesus wants us to trust him; for anything and everything, all the time and forever. He died for us; his death and resurrection is a very clear indicator of his willingness!

Those first listeners did not yet fully appreciate what Jesus meant about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. The response from many was, ‘this teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ Jesus has challenged his listeners on everything from their extensive rules on food preparation and eating to what happens (or doesn’t happen) when they die. Jesus has thrown down the proverbial gauntlet. It is time to make a decision and make it now!

Jesus was giving them and still gives us a choice. He asks, ‘do you also wish to go away?’ To follow Jesus or not is a choice; the ultimate one. Christianity is based on making that choice; being a Christian is not an automatic event, it does not just happen.

At some point in this life we all have to make a choice to follow Jesus or not. The people Jesus puts this question to in John’s Gospel are not newbie followers.
These are people who have heard the teaching, seen the miracles, followed him around, maybe some were healed, they were certainly all loved by Jesus.

I have had some interesting conversations recently about the saving work of God and ‘what about those people who never hear about Jesus’ or people of other faiths. I do not worry about them as much as I do about those people who hear the teaching, have been to church, know something about God and choose not to believe.

I think of some of my cousins, my friends, people I have worked with in the past. The only people who cannot or will not be saved are the ones who put themselves beyond the reach of God. God does not put people beyond his reach – people put themselves there.

It is sometimes an hourly, daily, moment by moment decision to choose God and live fully as the people we were made to be. It is hard work. You might notice that Jesus does not make it easier! He doesn’t make excuses or argue back when his followers take offense and claim it is too hard. He is not offering a lighter version.

Debie Thomas, ‘What does it mean to choose God? According to Jesus, it means eating his very essence, taking the incarnation so deeply into our own bodies and souls that we exude the favour of Christ to the world. It means doing what Jesus did and living as Jesus lived. It means turning the other cheek. It means loving our enemies. It means walking the extra mile. It means losing our lives in order to gain them. It means trusting that the first will be last and the last first. It means seeking God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. It means denying ourselves. It means the cross.’

I think that what is amazing is that Jesus had any followers left! Maybe the real miracle of the bread and fish story is not that the multitudes were fed but a handful of those stuck around when he finished teaching. By asking them, ‘do you also wish to go away?’, those who are left are free to walk away.

It is an uncomfortable question. I imagine Jesus asking it with sadness and compassion. He knows that some will walk away. He knows what is asking them. He wants them to know that his love is a freeing love. I find this an uncomfortable question because sometimes I want to say yes.

Yes I do want to go away. I want to quit, I want to be more comfortable, pick an easier, less demanding, less costly version of the Gospel. However, I know that there is no lighter version. It just does not exist.

In the final verses of Ephesians 6, Paul is telling his readers to get ready for the battle. War was a frequent reality then so this language would not have been strange or off-putting. Paul is putting the struggles of small Christian communities as a cosmic battle against supernatural evil. The people are to stand firm and not run away. They have been given the equipment they need.

We too need to stand firm, ready and rooted, if we are to choose Jesus, choose Christianity. Not only stand firm, but use the equipment we have been given properly.

It is sort of like PPE, great to have but only gives protection if used correctly. It means understanding the truth of the Gospel, being ready to proclaim it, being faithful when the arrows come, and knowing the word of God.

We also need to know, like Peter, that Jesus has the words of eternal life. Who else is there to go to? Nothing and no one will ever satisfy us like Jesus does.
We are called to make that choice over and over again. When we come together to celebrate Communion, this is what we are doing. Coming back, choosing again the one with the words of eternal life. Feeding on Jesus is our only hope. Amen.

Proper 14: I Am the Living Bread

More of John 6 as Jesus ramps up what he means about being the bread of life.

8/8/21
Proper 14/Trinity 11

1 Kings 19:4-8
John 6:35, 41-51

Every three years the lectionary takes us on a winding journey through John 6. If you are looking for some summer reading on these rainy days, I highly recommend a read through it!

John 6 begins with the feeding of the 5000 on a mountainside in Galilee. This crowd had been witness to the miracles Jesus had been performing. They began to follow him and the disciples around with curiosity and the hope of another free lunch after Jesus met the physical hunger of the crowd in the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.

Next, Jesus walks on the water in the middle of the night to stop the storm on the lake to the amazement of the disciples. The next day, the hungry crowd is back for more fish sarnies but none are on the menu.

Jesus tells them not to work that food that will perish but the food that endures for eternal life. The heart-breaking and beautiful proclamation of ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whosoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ follows. This is where we start this morning.

At each turn throughout John 6, Jesus is ratcheting up what is at stake. He is making it clear he is not just a miracle sandwich-maker or a really knowledgeable history teacher as he corrects the beliefs of Jewish people listening to and arguing with him. Jesus is reminding them that what was given to their ancestors came from God; Moses was the means of delivery.

This would have been difficult for the Jews to hear. Their beliefs were firmly held, rules were rules and needed to be followed. Jesus is trying, I think, to expand their thinking and believing about God. Some of the crowd are willfully determined not to understand; using Jesus’ family (son of a poor carpenter) and who does he think he is?!

Jane Williams writes, ‘Patiently, Jesus tries to explain, as he does so often in John’s Gospel, that he is not making claims for himself, but simply building on what they already should know about God. God has been working, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, from our creation, to make our hearts warm to the Son incarnate, just as God has been working from our creation, to bring us to share in his life. What Jesus is offering is something that we should instinctively recognize, which is the source of our true life.’

Like all offers from God, we are free to turn it down or not recognize it at all. We can choose dust and ashes over the bread of life. Jesus knows this. We choose death rather than the life we were made for. Jesus chooses death too. He chooses to be in our death. He chooses to be the bread of life who dies so that we may live.

Elijah, the ‘he’ who went on a journey in the 1 Kings reading, is at the point of choosing death. He has had enough! All of his fellow prophets have been brutally killed, he has been followed and death is looming large for him. He is tired, hungry and death is the only option as far as he can see. I am sure many of us can relate to the effects of hungry and tiredness on our moods and attitudes. The official term is ‘hangry’. It means to become bad-tempered or irritable because of hunger. Elijah is hangry.

During his nap under the broom tree, he is tended to by the angels and provided with cake and water on two occasions. He was provided with enough bread from heaven to keep him going for forty days and forty nights.
We all need to be fed. Physically of course. But also spiritually. This is what we are doing in Communion. In the breaking of the bread we are receiving our bread for the next stage in the journey. We are choosing the bread of life over the dust and ashes. Jesus is the bread of life. May we choose this bread always.