“Many Turned Back”
August 26, 2018
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist churches
John 6:56-72 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=401940671)
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.
Guarantees of prosperity or fear of damnation 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 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 places judgment.
This, my friends, is a pretty low bar
For laying claim to God’s gift of grace.
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.
The Lazarus’ of this world are lifted up 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
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.
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.
What really caught my attention
In this sixth installment from the sixth chapter of John
Is the fact that
So many followers of Jesus
So many who follow Jesus
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,
So they understood his words literally.
When they hear Jesus speaking about
Eating his flesh and drinking his blood
They are thinking cannibalism.
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,
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.
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.
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 members of Christ’s Church demonstrate
A lack of trust that God provides for today,
And will provide for tomorrow.
Grumbling turns a community of faith inward
At the expense of loving our neighbors.
Complaining disciples of Jesus
Are scandalized by God’s grace
And are the first to tell anyone and everyone about it.
If left to fester too long,
Like a cancerous tumor,
Complaining becomes the new normal,
Faith begins to wane,
And many disciples turn back
And no longer go about with him. (6:66)
Why would anyone chose Death by Flesh
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 chose 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,
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.
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,
But we have no place to escape from the love and grace of God.
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 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,
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.
Keep your complaints to yourself.
Ask God for the guidance and strength to resolve disputes,
Then follow through with words and deeds.
Complaints tempt us to walk away,
To take our eyes off Jesus.
So, just don’t do it.
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.
Eat this bread and live.