Sermon, “Are You Full Yet?

*Gospel Reading:
John 6: 56-69 (CEB)

56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. It isn’t like the bread your ancestors ate, and then they died. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60 Many of his disciples who heard this said, “This message is harsh. Who can hear it?”
61 Jesus knew that the disciples were grumbling about this and he said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What if you were to see the Human One[a] going up where he was before? 63 The Spirit is the one who gives life and the flesh doesn’t help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 Yet some of you don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning who wouldn’t believe and the one who would betray him. 65 He said, “For this reason I said to you that none can come to me unless the Father enables them to do so.” 66 At this, many of his disciples turned away and no longer accompanied him.
67 Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
68 Simon Peter answered, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are God’s holy one.”

This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Praise to you Lord Christ.

Sermon, “Are You Full Yet?                                                                    Aug 22nd, 2021

            Have you had enough of the bread talk? It’s been five weeks of dwelling in John 6 where Jesus talks a lot about bread. There’s a part of me that feels like I have been snacking on that delicious, warm, soft inside, crunchy outside bread that you get before a meal at a fancy restaurant. I’m starting to get full, but I’m waiting for the main course to come. What if we realized that this was the main course? I feel like we keep wanting to get somewhere with this whole bread talk with Jesus, but here we are in week 5, still in John 6, and Jesus says yet again, “Whoever eats me lives because of me.” Do we get it yet? Are we full?

            We have considered the role of bread in the ancient world. It was a staple of life providing sustenance for all, so when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life,” we know that Jesus is teaching us that God always provides. There’s always enough of God, grace, forgiveness, and love for everyone. God never runs out of this bread, Jesus. We have considered how we should hunger for the best bread, not just manna and for those things that will fill us physically, but for those things that will nourish us spiritually. Yet here we are, wrapping up this series and Jesus tells his listeners, actually gets real with the crowd and tells them straight up, “Whoever eats me lives because of me.” He’s not referring to bread that the ancestors ate. Instead, “whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

            Now we finally have some honesty here. Everyone is confused. All of them, even his closest followers. Can you picture the scene in the synagogue in Capernaum? The pews empty out. People walk out on Jesus’ sermon as he closes. The same people who watched this teacher feed thousands, walk on the water, and heal, are not just confused, but they find themselves deflated. They put their hopes and dreams on this guy, but “this message is harsh. Who can hear it?” It’s too much Jesus. With this teaching, you have crossed the line.

            They could accept that Jesus could provide bread like the manna from before, but to align himself with this bread, to say that he is the bread, to identify himself with this divine bread that gives life, that’s just too much that they can’t accept it. So what is it that finally took people to get up out of the pew and walk out? What did they find about this message that was too harsh?

            We often hear these words and try to insert our practice of the sacrament of Holy Communion or Eucharist into this reading, but remember Jesus’ followers at the time would have had no experience of the Last Supper. Again though, we can read into this the shocked faces of those hearing his words thinking that literally they were supposed to eat his flesh. What kind of rabbi does this guy think he is? Not to mention in general, who says that?

            There could be something deeper to this though. If we look back to the story of the Hebrew Bible in Exodus, the people celebrate God’s victory, then immediately does what? They start to “grumble” or “complain” against Moses and God as they wander in the wilderness. Their trust and hope in God starts to fade and it’s all too harsh. In John 6, after Jesus provides food for all of them, they begin to “grumble” or “complain” about his teachings. They are too harsh. It’s all too much. 

            The parallels between Exodus 15 and John 6 are throughout this narrative. Jesus knew that the disciples were grumbling and asked them straight up, “Does this offend you?” Jesus tries to lay it out as he points to his ascension in verse 62 referring to him going up. He speaks to the Spirit giving life a reference possibly to Pentecost and the coming of the Spirit. He tries to be real with them. He spoke words of life. “Yet some of you don’t believe.”

            As Pastor Emily noted last week, the word “abide” is found throughout the Gospel of John. The same Greek word, meno, appears in this reading from John, but here it is translated as “remain.”: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood remain in me and I in them.” They abide, remain, stay committed to me and I in them. That’s the other word to use here: commitment. It’s hard to stick with Jesus at times or at least to follow his teachings. “At this,” Jesus’ sermon or teaching, “many of his disciples turned away and no longer accompanied him.” Like their Israelite ancestors, the disciples received God’s substance in physical bread, yet many turn away when Jesus challenges them to receive him fully, completely, wholly, to chew on him, his life, his love, and it’s too much.

            May I gently ask you something too? Do you want to leave also? Is this teaching too harsh? In today’s world, it’s really easy to move from place to place or person to person seeking everything that lines up with my beliefs and behaviors. If we’re really honest, we want teachings that line up with what we already believe. We want a Jesus that is really easy to receive, a Jesus that compliments who we already think we are, when in the Gospels what we find is a Jesus who challenges us to our very core. And this same Jesus is an equal opportunity challenger. Jesus challenges what I claim to believe and think. Jesus challenges me on how I spend my money. Jesus challenges me on how I think politically. Jesus challenges me when I think I’m loving my neighbor, but I’m really not. Jesus challenges me when my commitment starts to diminish. Jesus challenges me when I want to give up.

And it’s really easy to walk away like those other disciples, but this faith we have is meant to be wrestled with, questioned when life experience hits us deep in the soul, challenged when we think we have it all figured out, and chewed upon and digested fully as we mature as disciples of Jesus. That’s a really hard teaching.

Perhaps that’s why we read in the pastoral letter of Ephesians really encouraging words to be strength by the Lord and God’s powerful strength and to put on God’s armor. When we put on this armor we are able to “abide with” or “remain” in Christ; even when it’s really difficult. While we’re not sure who wrote this pastoral letter, it may have been one of Paul’s followers, it still speaks to the spirit of commitment. As this reading ends with these words, which are actually very close to the end of the letter: “Pray so that the Lord will give me the confidence to say what I have to say.” Pray that the Lord gives us the confidence and commitment to abide and remain in the bread of life, Jesus.

            At the very end of this reading and after Jesus asks the disciples if they want to leave too, only one had the guts to respond. Simon Peter answered on the disciples’ behalf, as he often does, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Where else would we go, but Jesus? Wherever else we would search or go, it would leave us wanting, but Jesus? Jesus has the words of eternal and abundant life.

            I love the way Rev. Linnea Clark put it in her commentary for this week: “We don’t understand any of this, Jesus, but we’ll keep walking with you. You satisfy our hunger, even if you feed us with discomfort.” Even if you challenge us, even if you make us uncomfortable, even if we don’t fully understand, we are committed to following you. “Jesus invites us into discomfort. He asks us to join him in the weirder, deep waters of our faith. Our feet don’t touch the bottom out here, but beneath the discomfort is trust. The confusion is holy as it draws us in, revealing more of who God is and who God has created us to be.”

            Jesus, who is the Bread of Life, invites us to be challenged and have our comfort disrupted, to be uncomfortable at times for the sake of growth as his follower. And that growth is not about a destination, it’s about a journey. Or put another way, it’s not about a main course, it’s about the bread you get along the way. In the wrestling, in the chewing, in the commitment to Jesus, we find life. No matter how difficult it gets, when we abide, remain, and follow Jesus, there is abundant life. Maybe it’s not meant to be easy, but it is life giving.

            We can trust that when Jesus says he has the words of life, we are given not just words to live by, but bread that feeds us to our core. It’s an opportunity for us to continue to go deeper recognizing that our faith is ultimately a mystery, not a mystery to be solved, but a mysterious journey to be embraced. That’s really difficult for us to understand, but when we begin the journey, we’ll find that Jesus will continue to feed us with himself, the Bread of Life, and will ask us time and again, “Are you full yet?”

            May we always hunger for more and more of Jesus our Christ, the one who is the journey, the life, and the bread for us. Amen.

One thought on “Sermon, “Are You Full Yet?

  1. Thank you, Matt. Beautiful thoughts to spend time on!  Peace and all good always! Shalom! Sister Geraldine Hartke O.S.F. 1515 Dragoon Trail Mishawaka, IN. 46546 574-259-5427 ext 403


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