Lord, to Whom Shall We Go?

Sunday, August 26, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 6:56-69

Today marks the last of the five Sundays of the Bread of Life discourse from the gospel of John. Jesus has told us over and over that he is “the Bread of Life that has come down from heaven.” He has said how he is the bread that will nourish forever unlike the normal bread that we eat. He is giving his flesh and blood for the life of the world, and he gives eternal life. Jesus wants us to abide and remain in a close relationship with him always. As I said last week Jesus has said these things over and over again because it is a matter of life and death that we get it. Like the physical food we eat, we need more than just one meal. We need several meals in a day. To eat all our food all at once would leave us ill. In the same way we need to hear Jesus’ words multiple times so that we can better understand and digest it.

Today, though, we hear that the first disciples found it really hard to accept this information from Jesus. They said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Jesus knew this offended them. Scripture tells us that most of the “disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” In plain language, they left Jesus. They were not a fan of what he was saying.

In the book by Pastor Kyle Idleman called Not a Fan, the author explains the difference between a fan and a follower of Jesus. He says fans are people who know about someone. They know information, but they don’t really know the person. For example, fans of a particular celebrity may know a lot about that famous person’s interests or lifestyles, yet they’ve never really met that person or had a deep conversation with them. They may have pictures of them and wish they were like them, but it’s only superficial. There are sport fans of a particular team or even individual – they know all about the sport and all about how good that person is at playing that sport, but they still don’t really know that person. They are “enthusiastic admirers.” And Idelman argues that we – modern day disciples – are no different than the first century disciples. Many of us are fans who admire Jesus, who quote Jesus, who believe in Jesus, but do we really follow Jesus? That’s a bold statement to make, but one that rings true, even for myself. That is the question Jesus is asking us to examine today. Are we a fan or are we a follower?

Yes, these disciples who followed Jesus to hear him preach, who witnessed miracles including the feeding of the 5000, all left Jesus. They left because what he was telling them was too difficult to accept. What he was asking of them was too much. He wanted all of them – body and soul, flesh and blood, and they were not ready to give up everything for Jesus even though he was about to give up everything for them. The disciples wanted to be fans of Jesus not followers. They wanted what Jesus could give, what Jesus could do for them. And though they wanted to follow Jesus, they didn’t want to follow him so far that they might possibly lose their own lives. If we’re honest most of us don’t either.

The first disciples were right. Jesus’ teachings are difficult. They are hard to accept. Because they require a lot from us. To be a follower of Jesus means to be in a very deep relationship with Jesus – not an admiring fan relationship – but a relationship that is willing to lay our lives down just like Jesus did. A follower of Jesus means that our lives are no longer lived for ourselves, but Jesus becomes first before everyone and everything. That’s not something that we want to hear or do. Idleman reminds us that “when Jesus had a large crowd, he would most often preach a message that was likely to cause them to leave.” That’s hard to hear. It’s hard to hear that preaching the Gospel may upset people. But as Lutherans we believe that Jesus’ message not only convicts us, but frees us. Most people just want the words that evoke happiness and joy, not the words of law that convict us to face the truth that we are all sinners in need of a Savior. And we are in need of a Savior. That’s why Jesus didn’t beat around the bush, or drop hints. Jesus told it like it was because we can’t be all that God created us to be if we hide from the reality of our own sinfulness. We can’t reflect the light of Christ, if we don’t empty ourselves completely to let that light in. In order to put on the spiritual armor of God, we need to take off the sinfulness that’s weighing us down.  Being a follower of Jesus costs a great deal and Jesus asks us if we are really ready to do that. Jesus asks, “Does this offend you?” The answer is yes.

We- like the early disciples – want to be a follower of Jesus and yet do things our way. We want to believe, yet not make a serious commitment. We want the free food so to speak like the crowds of over 5000 that Jesus fed, yet we don’t want to have to do anything ourselves. This is difficult to accept, because Jesus is asking us to give everything over to him. He is asking us to surrender our very lives to him and let Jesus be in charge. He is asking us to let go of the fear, the hatred, the prejudice, and the grudges we hold, and focus on Jesus as our top priority. That’s hard.

If we are a follower and not just a fan of Jesus, then we can no longer live the way we lived before we encountered Jesus. It means following him wherever he wants us to go even if we don’t even know where that is at the time. Following Jesus is not just a matter of belief; it’s a matter of trust. It’s putting our whole lives in Jesus’ care and trusting that he will not let us down. It’s doing what he asks even if it seems really hard or impossible knowing that God will provide the way.

There are many example in our Scriptures. Look at Noah – portrayed in modern times in the movie Evan Almighty. God asked him to build an ark because a flood was coming, but everyone made fun of him. They couldn’t see any storm coming. They didn’t hear any voice from God. People thought Noah was crazy and I have to wonder if we wouldn’t think that ourselves if it happened right here today. But Noah listened to God. Noah believed that God’s promises are true, even if they may seem crazy and hard to understand. Was it hard to accept what God was asking him to do? Absolutely, but Noah was not a fan. Noah was a follower of God.

In our first reading, Joshua gathers the leaders together and asks them to make a decision. There are many gods in the region that people are worshipping. But Joshua asks them to make a choice. He asks them to choose between the gods of their ancestors or the one true God, the God who brought them out from the land of slavery and protected them throughout their journeys. Joshua could have gone with the crowd, the popular choice and chosen to follow false idols, but he didn’t. He chose to follow the one true God. Joshua was not a fan. He was a follower of God.

Being a follower and not just a fan means that we follow him so closely that people can’t tell us apart. When they look at us they actually see Jesus reflected in the lives we live – lives that reflect the love, compassion, and mercy of Jesus. It means getting involved when people are treated unjustly. It means speaking the truth in love even if that may not make us well-liked. It means feasting on God until we are so full that we are overflowing with God’s grace.

“Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” He’s directing that question to us too. “Do you also wish to go away?” He wants to know if we are a fan or a follower. Simon Peter answers with the voice of the Holy Spirit, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Abiding in this faith doesn’t mean we always get things right, but it does keep us focused on where to go to find direction, comfort, strength, forgiveness, courage, and grace for the journey. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” May we feast daily on this blessed assurance. Amen.

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Abiding in the Bread of Life

Sunday, August 19, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 6:51-58

How many times is he or she going to repeat the same thing over and over again? Have you ever thought or even said that? Maybe it was a teacher at school that just kept going over the same thing until you were ready to scream. Or maybe it was your grandmother or grandfather who kept telling you the same stories over and over again every time you saw them. Maybe you liked the stories, but after a while you just couldn’t bear to hear them one more time. You might have become exasperated beyond belief, or maybe so bored that you just tuned it out. And what about the flight attendants and their emergency safety monologues? How many times do you have to hear that your seat is going to turn into a flotation device? “Come on” you say to yourself, “let’s move on and talk about something else.”

This Sunday is the fourth of five Sundays that we are focusing on the 6th chapter of John’s gospel known as the Bread of Life discourse. For the past four weeks we have heard Jesus say “I am the bread of Life that has come down from heaven.” He has said over and over again how he is the bread that will nourish us forever unlike the normal bread that we eat. He is giving his flesh and blood for the life of the world. Some of you may wonder why on earth Jesus had to say the same thing over and over again. Isn’t once enough? Was he saying it because he just thought the first disciples didn’t get it? That last question might be hitting on something, because Jesus felt this was important enough to say it over and over again. He wanted to make sure the early disciples and us today get it.

Like the flight attendants giving the emergency safety talk, Jesus felt this information was a matter of life and death. And it was. And it is. Jesus gave everything – his whole self– flesh and blood so that we would not ever be separated from God. It was a matter of life and death for Jesus, and it’s a matter of life and death for us today. Jesus showed us how to live. He showed us how to love our enemies. He showed us how to love so much that you’d sacrifice everything – even your life – to set someone free.

That’s why he went over and over this discussion about the Bread of Life. Just like the flight attendants important safety message, Jesus is giving all of us the most important safety message we will ever hear. Because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we have eternal life if we abide in him. Jesus said, those of us who feast on Jesus have eternal life. Christians often misunderstand the phrase eternal life to mean “going to heaven,” and that is a part of it. But in John’s gospel Jesus describes eternal life in the present tense. In verse 47 Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.” And again in verse 54 he said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.” This is an important choice of words. He didn’t say will have eternal life; he said have – present tense. Eternal life therefore is not just something that we have to look forward to when we die it is something that we who abide in Jesus have now. Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.”

That’s what our journey of faith is; it’s an abundant adventure filled with joys and sorrows, but nourished and sustained by God who is with us always. Our journey of faith therefore is not toward eternal life, but deeper into it. The closer we abide in Jesus, the closer we get in our relationship with him, the further we travel into eternal life. And when our earthly life is over we will go deeper into eternal life with God face to face. Eternal life therefore, isn’t something we work towards it’s something we live into by abiding in Jesus.

And Jesus offers this invitation to abide in him, to grow closer to him every day in so many ways. Through the waters of baptism we are refreshed and reborn, through Jesus’ real presence in the bread and the wine of the Eucharist we are fed and nourished, and through the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit we are sustained and drawn ever closer to abide ever deeper with God. We often abide in so many other things that lead to death and not life. Fear, worry, anger, or resentment are common places we often abide in. And when we abide in those places too long it’s difficult to get out of them. They fill is up and when we try and let them go we feel empty. We don’t know how to fill up that space. Jesus tells us to feast on him, and he will fill us up in a way that is life-nourishing.

Jesus is inviting us to abide in him always. When we abide in Jesus – no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in – we can abide in gratitude, and hope, and love. We can abide in the assurance that Jesus’ promise to abide, to remain with us always, is true. We can take vacations, see the most beautiful things on earth, experience the most wonderful events, but those things all have a finite time frame. They come to an end and we are left with a sense of longing for them to remain. We are left with memories and pictures. But what Jesus offers never ends.

Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life.” This important message that he emphasizes over and over again is more important that any flight attendant emergency safety information. His promises are true. We don’t have to wonder if his love will keep us afloat. We don’t have to worry if there will be enough grace to keep us breathing. What Jesus offers will never fail. It’s love. It’s hope. It’s joy. It’s grace. It’s life-saving. It’s eternal, and it’s now. Abide in that. Abide in Jesus ….always. Amen!

 

Grace Coming Down

Sunday, August 5, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 6:24-35

 

The gospel readings for the next five weeks are from the sixth chapter of John, known as the Bread of Life discourse. This is a change from the gospel of Mark assigned for year B in the Church calendar. Why this sudden turn or shift in direction? It’s a question we encounter in our everyday lives. The twists and turns in our journey of life can be filled both with joyful surprises and unwelcome heartbreaks. And it’s those unwelcome heartbreaks that can leave us feeling empty and lost.

In our gospel reading today the crowds that have been following Jesus, followed him all the way into the desert where they found themselves feeling empty. Jesus was aware of this, and he turned to Philip and asked him, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip started to panic. He knew that not only could they never afford to feed that large of a crowd – over 5000 – (not counting women and children because they weren’t counted) but there were no markets anywhere nearby. Fear started to set in pretty quickly. The disciples believed that they didn’t have enough. All they could see was five loaves and two fish. This story echoed the story we read from 2 Kings where it looked like there was only a handful of food available to feed a large crowd of people.

Yet, Jesus, like the prophet Elisha before him was able to see beyond what was there. Jesus and Elisha knew that God is a God of abundance. God is a God who provides. God is a God who wants to feed the world. And God is able to do just that. The problem is that we humans so often see things out of a lens of scarcity instead of the eyes of faith. We see what is in front of us – the lack, the problem, challenges to face – and they are there – lots of them. But that’s not all there is. There is more. God is more. And God meets us in the midst of the storms. There is abundance just waiting to be tapped into.

In our readings today, God provided food – more than enough food – for everyone to eat, plus some. There were 12 baskets full of leftovers. God fed the people with what was already there. When they saw lack, Jesus saw more. It’s there; we just have to see with the eyes of faith, with the eyes of abundance and possibility instead of lack and scarcity.

God provides for all our needs. God is able to feed the world, and we are the instruments through which God will accomplish that. The children’s story, “Bagels From Benny” by Aubrey Davis illustrates how God feeds the world through ordinary people like you and me. Miracles like the loaves, and fish still happen, sometimes even through bagels. Look around there is an abundance of God’s grace in the ordinary right in front of you. Give thanks and see the abundance. Amen.