The people who heard Jesus say such radical things wanted a different answer than what he gave them. And we learn in our Scripture reading today that many quit following him.
Maybe people wanted an answer like: To attain eternal life you need to do 50 good deeds, donate to charity, go to worship every Sunday, and stop swearing, for God’s sake.
13th Sunday after Pentecost – Sunday,
August 26, 2012
Joshua 24.1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34.15-22; Ephesians
6.10-20; John 6.56-69
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One who has the
Words of eternal life, Jesus Christ our Lord.
A friend of mine, named Paul, who I went to
seminary with just moved to Bismarck to serve as the associate pastor at
Trinity Lutheran Church. While he was on
his way here from Dubuque, IA, with his wife and 3 month old baby, he realized
that his car was slightly off the car carrier he was pulling behind the moving
truck. He called a service station and
shortly after a pretty tough looking tow truck guy and his girlfriend showed up
to help them out. When the guy saw my
friend’s car situation, he said “bleepity, bleep bleep bleep, this is a
bleeping mess.” (You can fill in the
‘bleeps’ with your own words this morning).
Then he said, “Ah, we’ll fix it, don’t worry.”
The man and Paul started working away to get the
car rightly on its carrier when the guy asked, “So, where are you headed.”
Paul said, “We’re moving to Bismarck.”
“Oh yeah, what are you moving there for?”
“Well, I got a job there.”
“What do you do?”
Paul hesitated a bit because when you tell someone
you’re a pastor there are generally one of two reactions people give: One is that they get terribly awkward and try
and get out of your presence as fast as they can. The other is that they unload their life
story on you. So, bravely, Paul says,
“I’m actually a pastor.”
The guy then did a surprising and intriguing
thing. Instead of running or unloading his
life story on Paul, he asks: “So what’s the answer anyway?”
So what’s the answer? I ask this man’s question about to our Gospel
reading today because this question gets to the heart of life and
existence. It wonders why things are the
way they are and asks beyond what is seen with the eyes. It hungers for something more, something
deeper. So, what’s the answer anyway?
It is the sixth Sunday in a row that our Gospel
reading has been about bread and the second one that has talked about Jesus’
flesh and blood. At some point we need
to admit that Jesus is trying to get across something important to his
disciples and to us. He is trying to get
across a clear message that many can simply not accept.
“Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” What?!
What on earth can you mean?
“Whoever eats me will live because of me.” Okaaaaaay.
“The one who eats this bread will live
forever.” Well, I’d like that, but
what’s the catch. What’s the answer
The people who heard Jesus say such radical things
wanted a different answer than what he gave them. And we learn in our Scripture reading today
that many quit following him.
Maybe people wanted an answer like: To attain
eternal life you need to do 50 good deeds, donate to charity, go to worship
every Sunday, and stop swearing, for God’s sake.
But Jesus says, “Believe. Have faith that I have come into the world to
save it and to save you. Trust that I
have a future with hope planned for you. Love God and love one another. Live in me by hearing my words and
participate in my life and death by consuming me in bread and wine.” This is what Jesus says leads to eternal life
and life with God here and now.
Jesus is about relationships. It is so hard to wrap our minds around the
idea that the Creator of all things would come to earth in human form, as a
person. Why would God want to enter into
all the junk of this world? Why would
God die a horrendous death on the cross in Jesus Christ? What’s the answer anyway?
It’s called the incarnation. Say it with me: incarnation. God is a God of flesh and blood and wants to
meet us in the world in the flesh. Flesh
and blood are the stuff of life. It is
what living beings are made of. You
can’t get realer than this, and this is precisely where God
desires to meet you and become a part of you.
William Willimon puts it well when he says: “Ah,
wouldn’t the Christian faith be easier if it were a matter of mere belief or
intellectual assent! No, today’s rather
scandalously carnal, incarnational gospel reminds us that Jesus intends to have
all of us, body and soul. His truth
wants to burrow deep within us, to consume us as we consume him, to flow
through our veins, to be digested, to nourish every nook and cranny of our
being (Feasting on the Word, p. 361).
I am a person who loves science. (I don’t think I’m very good at it, but I
like it). What we know about the science
of digestion is that whatever we take into our body as food or whatever else
becomes a part of us. It enters into our
cells and runs through our veins in our blood.
So when Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and
drink my blood abide in me, and I in them (John 6.56),” his desire is to become
a part of you and me in this scientific way.
When Jesus says abide, he means: “Be at home in me. Live in me and I in you. Feel my love for you running through your
veins. Embrace deep inside your chest
the forgiveness I offer.”
When we hear the words of Jesus and eat the bread
and drink the grape juice in Holy Communion, Jesus becomes a part of us in
every nook and cranny of our being in our cells in our bodies.
I admit that I used to be very uncomfortable with
all Jesus’ talk of flesh and blood, but now I have come to understand what he
is saying in new ways. What he offers to
us is his very self without reservation.
It is not meant to be disgusting, but the greatest gift anyone can
The really amazing thing about all of this is that
it is not only on an individual level that Jesus becomes a part of us; it is
also communal. 1 Cor. 10.16-17: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not
a sharing in the blood of Christ? The
bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many
are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Jesus is alive and moving within each of us,
drawing us together into community and into relationship with one another.
We know the signs when we are physically
hungry. Our stomach growls, our mouth
starts watering, and we can’t stop thinking about food. But what are the signs when we are
We feel empty inside, we long for something
more. Perhaps it’s when we ask: “So
what’s the answer anyway?”
My friend Paul said he had a lengthy and wonderful
conversation with the tow-truck man about life, God, and religion. He said they didn’t come up with any clear
answers, but he loved the wondering, the searching, and the yearning for
When we are spiritually hungry, Jesus encourages us
to hear his words and to take him in through bread and wine. When what we hear is difficult or when we
might not understand what Jesus is saying, there is a response of faith.
After so many people left Jesus, he turned to the
twelve remaining people with him and asked them, “Do you also wish to go away?”
And Peter answers Jesus, “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.” In other words, “Where else can we turn when
the road gets rough?”
Here we are this morning in worship, with our hands
open to receive: “Lord, to whom can we go?
You have the words of eternal life.”
May the Spirit of God keep your hearts and minds in
Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.