Sunday, August 26, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
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.