On Sunday, August 26, 2018, I had the honor of offering the Sunday Morning Worship Service for reenactors and others at the Red Apple Farm in Philipston, Massachusetts. This is the text of my sermon from that service.
John begins this passage with a somewhat shocking image of eating flesh and blood. I know it is surprising to us gathered here this morning but imagine how shocking it must have been to those listening to these words, Jews did not eat like that this is what the pagans did. However, we must get past the imagery and settle on the phrase that comes after that image, “Abide in me.”
What Jesus is inviting his disciples, and us, to do is to be at home in him and be comfortable with him. Many of us sit here today in the role of soldiers who find themselves very far away from the comforts of home and all they know and love. Perhaps this is strange territory for you, you might be from the big city and find yourself in the middle of the countryside but whatever or wherever you are you are far from home and long to be there once again. We miss the familiar sounds and smells of home and long for lazy days hanging on the porch in the sun that is uninterrupted by gunfire and the call to arms. We are always on guard, not unlike our real lives out in the real world for this world of ours is a place where fear often reigns. A home provides the promise of safety and security and a place where fear does not have the upper hand.
Jesus then goes on to make a comparison between the bread he is offering and the bread, the manna, which was provided in the desert for their ancestors. They ate that bread and, as all living things do, they died, not from eating the bread mind you but from life in general. He uses this analogy to show that their ancestors died but if they eat the bread he is offering they will not die. Now they are confused, will we become immortal if we eat this bread? No, Jesus is speaking in the spiritual sense here for he is providing the spiritual nourishment, not the physical food that was presented to their ancestors.
They were being offered a great gift here in the teaching of Jesus, as are we, but they did not all understand nor do they accept this teaching, and they walk away because “this teaching is difficult.” Jesus reminds them that the spiritual is not going to be comfortable it is going to be very difficult because it is calling them, and us, to look at the world and other people in a very different way.
Our culture tells us that we are in control of our lives. Soldiers on the battlefield learn quickly that it is their sergeants and their officers that control their lives, but we 21st-century folks like to think that we are in control. We are taught that if we work hard, we will be rewarded with material things. We feel good about ourselves when we are successful when we have a good job, children who make us happy, we attend the right church, we live in the right neighborhood in the big house. However, in all of this, we busy ourselves in such a way that we miss the good things in life, like watching a sunset or watching our kids play, and we have no time to reach out to those in need.
Many of the disciples that listened to Jesus were offended by his words, and many of us are offended by the words of Jesus. We feel good about serving in the soup kitchen, but we refuse to offer forgiveness to those who have wronged us. We feel righteous when we teach Sunday School or attend worship, but we get annoyed by the little distractions like babies or children making noises during the service or maybe if someone sits in “our” seat. We make religion about the rules because we can control the rules. We can change the books of order and worship, we can use Scripture to oppress others, and we can punish the rule breakers, and we can say who is and who is not a member of the club because all of this is much easier than compassion and love and forgiveness.
However, if we decide to take and eat the bread that is being offered to us by Jesus, if we chose to abide in him and allow him to abide in us, then we are adopting a different way of life. We have to give up the idea that we are in control, sure we remain in control of somethings but others we have to cede to Jesus.
We realize that fear no longer has the upper hand. We recognize that we are no better than anyone else because of our skin color, our gender, or the nation we call home. We turn over to God that which we fear the most, trusting that we are truly loved and that we are forgiven. When we realize that God loves us no matter what and that God’s grace is sufficient, then we become so filled with that love and that grace that it spills from us to others. We can offer forgiveness. We start to look at others differently. Moreover, we realize that we are called to love everyone regardless of who they are, what they look like, or where they come from.
When we abide in Jesus, when we eat his flesh and become one with him our worldview changes our whole life changes, it has too.