Weeks of Bread, #5
Aug 22, 2021
13th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: John 6:56-69
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
I think we need a Soul Sensor DX-12.
I got this idea when a group from FLC went to see the musical Altar Boyz at the Porthouse Theater. The Altar Boyz, a religious "boy band," had one they used at their concerts. It measured the state of audience members' souls; in other words, if people were "right with God" or in "positive spiritual condition" at that moment, it tallied those who were not. Through their music and personal testimonies, the band's goal was to get everyone on the right track with the Divine. So, they kept close watch as they performed to make sure that the number on the Soul Sensor, which started out at 200+, was dropping.
What do you think? Is that a good idea? We could hang in right there. Also, broadcasting the number to those watching on live stream and adjusting the sermon's tone and the style of music to get people's attention if the count was not on a downward trajectory. In that way, we might avoid the situation described in today's Gospel reading.
This is week #5, the final one, of the Weeks of Bread. At this point, people's relationship with Jesus is not good; they definitely would be counted by the Soul Sensor DX-12. It's primarily because they do not like or understand what Jesus has been saying.
After the miraculous feeding of the crowd with just a little bit of food, with which this series began, many of those who experienced that meal expected an unending supply of free food if they followed Jesus. But their expectations were crushed when they realized that Jesus was offering spiritual food to meet their spiritual needs, no free breakfast, lunch, and supper.
Then, Jesus began to confuse them by speaking of himself as bread, which had come down from heaven, saying that God draws potential believers to him. What is that about, they wonder, given the fact that they know his parents, his family, and he has been among them? He as come down from heaven; God draws people to him? And so, the muttering begins in earnest.
The next thing you know, the confusion turns to being offended, as Jesus speaks of the necessity of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Since drinking any animal's blood is forbidden, what could Jesus possibly mean? It is appalling!
Let's pause for a moment and note that the scene of this conversation is the synagogue in Capernaum. The listeners include: some who experienced the feeding miracle, others who were a part of the "outer circle" of followers who have been with Jesus, the religious leaders of the Jews, and Jesus' closest followers, among whom are the 12 disciples. It probably was some who were seeking an unending supply of food as well as members of that "outer circle" who expressed their doubts, saying, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" (That's no way to get off the Soul Sensor count!)
So, Jesus, probably disappointed and perhaps a bit sarcastic, notes that if his followers are scandalized (offended) by what he has said, how might they respond to the reality that he not only came from heaven, but will also return there is a very visible way – by ascension? His sincere summary is this: he is offering them spirit and life, which is far more valuable than anything material (like unending meals). Still, there are unbelievers and at least one betrayer among them. That lack of trust (another way to translate the Greek word usually rendered as "belief") is why God must draw people to him.
It was all too much for them; many of his disciples turned back, and longer went about with him because of what he had said, which was recorded in the sixth chapter of John. It's not exactly a success story, is it? I guess those who walked away will continue to be counted on the Soul Sensor.
Then, can you imagine this moment? Jesus turns to his closest followers, the ones he chose, and asks, what about you? Are you leaving too? Peter's answer is so beautiful: "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe that you are the Holy One of God." This may seem like a small detail, but in the Greek the words "come to believe and to know" are in the perfect tense, which is used for action taken once, but continues to have impact.
Listen to what commentator Chelsey Harmon has to say about that: "It underscores what Jesus has been saying all along: take and believe what God is giving and you will be nourished for eternal life. Believing begins in a moment (sometimes imperceptible) but continues to play out and grow from the kernel over a lifetime. Accepting a piece of information and coming to really know it means living it as reality." (1)
That's what Peter was promising to do. No doubt his number on the Soul Sensor had disappeared.
Like those who left in today's reading, many people today cannot accept the scandal of the Gospel. Pastor JoAnne Taylor makes this observation: "For some, eating bread that can go stale is the only thing they've ever known, and they can't imagine eating real, living bread. Some simply cannot trust God to love them. Some will not commit to a life that is all consuming, even though it is continually fed by the Holy Spirit." (2)
Peter knew; he did not understand the whole story, but he knew that Jesus was the source of spirit and life and stayed with him … not perfectly … but intentionally. That is all we can do too. We may not fully understand, and we may fall short at times. Still, we have been given the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit, we have come to believe and to know, and so we continue to live it one day at a time.
Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6:35) If, like Peter, we proclaim, "Lord, to whom can we go?", knowing that there is no other place that promises spirit and life, then we will not have to worry about our number being on the Soul Sensor. AMEN
(1) "Proper 16B: John 6:56-69" by Chelsey Harmon, August 16, 2021, Center for Excellence in Preaching
(2) "To Whom Can We Go?" by JoAnne Taylor, Sermon on John 6:56-69, www.pastorsings.com