August 26, 2018/Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost/Richard E. Holmer
First Lesson: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18/Second Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20/Gospel: John 6:56-69
Give Me Jesus
The twelve disciples had plenty of reasons to pack it in and join the crowd that was turning away from Jesus. They had started out, full of optimistic ambition, hoping that this man from Nazareth was the one who could change things for the better. Was he the long-expected Messiah? They had witnessed encouraging things: signs and wonders, miracles of healing, and just now the miraculous feeding of an enormous crowd. And yet there was a growing number of challenges to their devotion to Jesus. His teachings were difficult: hard to understand and challenging to practice. This talk of eating his flesh and drinking his blood was strange – and even creepy – hard for them to comprehend. And that was hardly the only hard teaching. They were challenged by what Jesus said about loving their enemies, forgiving those who sinned against them – as often as 70 times 7 times, denying themselves and taking up a cross, blessing those who persecuted them. They had heard Jesus tell a rich young man to sell everything he owned and give the money to the poor. And then there were all those parables that Jesus told – stories whose meaning and purpose often eluded them. Jesus was very explicit about the demands of discipleship, calling for sacrifice, commitment and service to others. He actually told them: “the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Mt 7:14) The disciples must have been wondering if they would be among the few who would find that way through the gate, or if, ultimately, they would fall short and be left behind. Many of those who turned away had been as devoted to Jesus as the twelve – but they became frustrated and disillusioned – and so they went back to the life they were living before Jesus came along. Jesus turned to the twelve and asked: “Do you also wish to go away?”
Twenty centuries later the question still stands. Why are we still here? In a time when many are falling away from church, worship attendance is declining, 20% of people are selecting “NONE” as their religious affiliation – why do we keep showing up to follow Christ? When asked why they belong to a church, people give a variety of reasons.
I feel comfortable there, it’s a warm and welcoming environment.
We want our kids to get a solid moral foundation with Christian values.
I appreciate the opportunity to get involved in meaningful service to others.
I enjoy the wonderful music.
It’s our tradition.
Nevertheless, questions remain. Why stick with a Christian Church that is continually plagued with scandals and controversies and unworthy leaders? The revelations about widespread child abuse in the Catholic Church are disturbing – and not only for Catholics. Pastors like Bill Hybels at Willow Creek have proved to be less than trustworthy. So why keep trying to love those who don’t love you back? Why forgive people who don’t deserve it? Why try to be good – in a time when cheats and rule benders seem to prosper? Why give time and money that you could use to benefit yourself and family? In other words, why keep trying to be faithful when this world is such a mess, with no signs of improving?
There really is only one reason. It’s the same reason Peter gives in today’s gospel. The short answer is: Jesus is Lord. While Peter can see many people walking away – and his own heart is troubled by doubts and uncertainty – he says to Jesus: “Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the holy one of God.” These are the words we sing each week as we stand to hear the reading of the gospel. (Our liturgy reminds us of our history as God’s people.) The one solid reason we have for hanging in and sticking with it is Jesus himself. Perhaps this is an obvious answer – but let’s consider what we know and believe about Jesus that causes us to stay rather then turn away. Jesus is our Rock in a world of sinking sand. We have come to trust in Jesus as our Savior and Lord. He saves us from sin and death. He is the one who helps us make sense of our lives in a world that often doesn’t make sense. He gives us hope – in spite of the many reasons there are to despair. Jesus helps us to keep loving by faithfully loving and forgiving us.
Staying faithful is not always an obvious or easy choice – yet it always comes down to who Jesus is. Why do we stay with Jesus? Paul writes in Second Corinthians, “The Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, was not ‘Yes and No,’ but in him it is always ‘Yes.’ For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’” (2Cor 1:19-20) In Hebrews we are reminded, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Heb 13:8) And in Colossians, “Christ himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col 1:17) And from John’s gospel, “In him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” One way to grasp how essential Jesus is to us is to read the opening verses of First Corinthians 13, substituting his name for the word “love.”
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have Jesus, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have Jesus, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have Jesus, I gain nothing.
Jesus is patient; Jesus is kind; Jesus is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Jesus does not insist on his own way; Jesus is not irritable or resentful; Jesus does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Jesus never ends.
More than Lutherans, you and I are Christians – Christ-ians – followers of the Son of Mary, and Son of God. We are claimed by his love at baptism. We are redeemed and renewed by his grace each time we partake of his body and blood. We are formed by his loving Spirit. We are motivated by his Word – so we keep coming together to listen. We are inspired by his truth – because it is unchanging. We are encouraged by his faithfulness. We are sustained by his promises. Where else could we possibly go for all we have, all we are in Jesus Christ? NOWHERE!
So here we are today. And we will keep on following. We have come to know and to believe that Christ is with us, Christ is for us, Christ is the Holy One of God.
Thanks be to God!
(You can have all the rest, give me Jesus.)