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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service; click on the video camera icon.
August 15, 2021
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
John 6:35, 41-51
Grace and peace to you from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I invite you to think about a time you were offended. I don’t mean the way you felt after someone cut you off in traffic and then slammed on the brakes. That’s different. I mean in your gut – tensing up as the offense washed over you, and you couldn’t decide if you wanted to stay there and confront it or just walk away.
Do you have it?
That’s how a lot of the people felt when they heard what Jesus said in today’s gospel reading. This is a continuation of the conversation after the feeding of the multitude. People had followed Jesus and were asking him questions about who he was and demanding signs as proof.
As he answered them, Jesus talked about bread, and how he is the bread of life and the living bread that came down from heaven. But he isn’t talking about actual bread anymore.
When he says, “Those who eat my body and drink my blood…” it isn’t some metaphorical concept. He’s talking about chewing on his actual flesh and blood. Sounds gross, right?
In biblical times, eating human flesh wasn’t just taboo, it was forbidden – and to even suggest that anyone should eat it was blasphemous, and a violation of their core belief about God and their relationship with God. So, even by today’s standards, Jesus’ words here are pretty offensive.
If we go all the way back to the beginning of John’s gospel, we find that the first words Jesus speaks are in the question, “What are you looking for?” (1:38) And he invites people to “come and see” what the answer is to that question. And they did. They followed him and saw the great things that he did as the Son of God.
By the time we get to the conversation we read today, Jesus has already turned water into wine and healed the sick and fed at least 5000 people. But Jesus isn’t a magician. And believing that he’s the Son of God and following him goes way beyond being amazed by the things he did. And the rubber hits the road in his words here.
What he’s telling the people is, “If you’re going to follow me – it’s all in or all out.” And he got their attention.
And it was offensive enough that some people said, “That’s it – we’re done with this guy” and turned around and walked away and stopped believing in him. But a lot of people stayed; and what they received was life – right then and there.
They discovered that to live like Jesus means to love like Jesus, and that it leads to a relationship with him that’s just as close as his is with God. It’s life experienced in and with God in that moment not just individually but as a community.
As a people, we have a tendency to gloss over the incarnation – God coming to us as Jesus. And by doing that we end up focusing more on the cross and Jesus’ death than on what it means that God lived and walked on the earth among us.
When Jesus came into the world as the Word made flesh, he showed us what love looks like. And in Christ’s death, we see the lengths to which God was willing to go for us. But we also see it in his life.
Author and social worker Brené Brown tells us “we know [that in his life] Jesus did the hard stuff and made the hard choices – he loved the people who were considered unlovable and he didn’t tolerate shame or attacks. That kind of love isn’t easy – we try to make it easy, but it isn’t.”
When we consider the things Jesus did, the people he spent time with, the things he taught – we start to understand that that kind of love is offensive. It threatens the status quo and it’s the love Jesus expects us to live and have for one another.
Last week, the United Nations released its latest report on climate change – specifically naming the impact that industrial nations like ours is having on the planet. And it isn’t good. What we’ve allowed to happen is offensive.
You can read the statistics for yourself, but what it comes down to is that we have to act now. We’ve caused enough damage to the oceans that it will take centuries for those systems to balance out again.
We feel the effects of our lifestyle here with the heat dome earlier this summer and this weekend’s heat wave; and with what is now being called “wildfire season.’ And those events are happening the world over. For many of us here, it’s an inconvenience. For many other people – not to mention the plants and animals, it’s life-altering.
And it’s overwhelming for all of us. There are so many changes we need to make in order to even begin to reverse the damage we’ve caused, that it seems like it’s pointless. But doing nothing and letting it continue is more offensive than the fact that it has happened in the first place.
So we start with ourselves, with what we can change in our own lives and move out from there. Because it isn’t just about us.
Following Jesus goes way beyond being amazed by the things he did. The rubber hits the road in this text. As an industrial nation, it’s hitting for us in what we’re doing to the planet. For me, personally, in my life with Jesus, the rubber hits the road in my interactions with certain members of my family. Where does it hit in your life?
When we live like Jesus by loving like Jesus, we end up in a relationship with him that’s just as close as his is with God. We experience life in and with God right now – and we recognize that that life, that relationship, is about the well-being of community.
But that life isn’t often an easy one. While he is gentle and caring and loving, more often than not Jesus is pushing us out of our comfort zone and making us question what we think we know. He’s pushing us to take a good, hard look at things that aren’t right – and then act to change them. He loves us that much!
Life in Jesus is what allows us to do the hard stuff and make the hard choices, even when it makes you unpopular with your family or friends. Loving as Jesus did is what allows us to stand by those decisions and stay in that life, that relationship, for the long haul.
We are deeply loved and cherished by God, and saved by the grace of Christ. Nothing will ever change that.
But when Jesus came into the world as the Word made flesh, he showed us what love looks like throughout his life. More often than not, that love was offensive. It’s the love he expects us to have for each other. It’s the love that gives us life. Thanks be to God! Amen.