August 26, 2012

August 26, 2012

August 26, 2012 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato

Text: John 6:56-71
Title: “Offensive Jesus, Meek and Mild”

Today we come in for our final landing in the BREAD OF LIFE PENTATHLON. We’ve been building to this point of the story (John 6) for 4 weeks and here we are.

And in the end, there’s only 12 men standing. . . in a staredown with the “offensive Jesus.”

I “morphed” today’s title from an old Charles Wesley hymn (1742, music 1915) called “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild.”

“Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, LOOK upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity, Suffer me to come to Thee.”

I don’t think Charles was reflecting on John 6 when he wrote this hymn. . . hmm?

If he had, it might have gone like so:
“Offensive Jesus, sleek and wild, 12 disciples fairly riled,
Feeling pushed right o’er the top, will this madman ever stop?!”

Last week I talked about this chapter as perhaps the fastest-shrinking, most “unspectacular” religious movement in Capernaum. . . over the course of 2-3 days, Jesus had whittled this crowd from 5000 – 12. . . 11 really, because as we see in the last verses of John 6, Jesus knows that Judas is already going to betray him and leave him in the dust as well.

So, today, as we enter the story of the gospel text, there’s still a crowd of, say, 120, who are still hanging on. . . they were a part of the feeding frenzy raucous of vv.1-15, and they’ve been trying to make sense of Jesus getting more and more intense about his first “I AM” statement [I am the Bread of Life]. . . and they’ve done their best to keep their cool as they wrestled with the reality of what it might mean to “trogon” (gnaw) on the flesh of Jesus and drink of his blood so that they might show they are a people who truly BELIEVE.

And then in V. 60, some voices in the bigger crowd of disciples cannot hold it in any longer. And perhaps their words gives words to a lament that perhaps you’ve thought of in your life of following Jesus:

Someone finally blurts out: “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” And a chorus of other disillusioned, frustrated, disgruntled disciples join in on the lament.
Crazy man, crazy talk! Barbaric!

In internet talk, it might have “tweeted” like this: Worst. Speech. Ever.

And we read in v. 61 that Jesus becomes aware of their grumbling.

“Does this offend you?” Jesus asks.

“It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (v. 63)

And in the midst of these cryptic and seemingly offensive phrases, this larger crowd of 120 experiences the final culling.

We read of the “cull” in v. 66 “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”

We’re not privy to how long this “disciple-exodus” took. Was it within minutes? Or was it a long, awkward, silent, leaving? Jesus simply sitting on a bench in the synagogue and waiting. . . maybe 20, 30 or 40 minutes while men and women disciples whispered silently, and then sheepishly (or boldly) walking away.

Shall we stop and sit with the awkwardness of these moments? Let’s take 1 minute of silence to sit with the conversation here. I’ve inserted it in your bulletin today (just the conversation parts of vv. 60-66):

MANY: This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

JESUS: “Does this offend you?
Then what if you see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
But among you there are some who do not believe. For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

[Wait for 1 minute]

Q: What image stays with you as you reflect on these words of Jesus?

Well. . . no one left the building! Hmmmm.

Before we leave these words of Jesus, there are 2 “ponder points” that I want us to engage. . .
i) [v.65] “No one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” In John 6, Jesus keeps on assuring and re-assuring (see v. 37, 44, 65) the crowds that it’s not in their own strength that they can come to Jesus, it’s not up to them to “try harder” and understand what it means for Jesus to be the bread of Life. And I hope we get that point too – – that’s it’s not up to us to conjure up in our own strength the will power and “believing” power to believe in this incredulous idea. Yes, we are beckoned by the Living Jesus to BELIEVE (that’s a major theme of John) but it is not a believing of “try harder” and “work harder” to prove yourself as being a worthy follower of Jesus. Instead it’s a belief that comes from TRUST & FAITH. Trusting by Faith that Jesus is who he said he was & is. . . Trusting by Faith that God has come to earth in the person and presence of Jesus. We believe in and live under this LIVING story, that God is on the move. . . that God’s will IS being done here on earth as it is in heaven and we join God in this slow movement where God is making all things new in the midst of this battered and broken world.

I hope you can hear the good news of Jesus here saying: “Relax!” It is God who will do the drawing. . . and if God draws us, God will also sustain us & empower us to be who God destines us to be. Relax.

So, even in this intense interchange between Jesus and the remaining disciples, can we take a couple of deep breaths and relax? Spirit and life are a’comin’ in today’s text! !

ii) A second “ponder-point” is this. [v.63]“It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Now I don’t want us to think that Jesus is creating a dualistic spirituality here. . . he is not saying (like some heretics [ie. the gnostics] in the early church would have said) that the spirit is good and the body is bad. As best as I am understanding this, with the wisdom of other commentators, – – Jesus is reiterating what I have just said in the first “ponder point.” Jesus is saying that trying to follow him or his radical way/truth/life is NOT to be done by pushing our flesh to just try harder or follow the rules harder. . . I appreciate Fred Dale Bruner’s translation of this verse (v. 63) “The Spirit is the Life-giving reality; the flesh (unaided human nature) is absolutely useless.”
TRYING HARDER, FLESHING HARDER, putting glory and authority in “unaided human nature” – – that’s the stuff that the scribes and Pharisees are famous for! They love God’s reputation so much that they’ll do whatever they can to maintain control of it. . . by making rules about following the rules so that they follow the rules better! But Jesus blows their minds by saying: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

What is our experience of “spirit words”?
What is our experience of “life words”?

Jesus says: “The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and are Life.”

I hope that this place. . . this place that for the summer we have been calling FPC (First Pentecostal Church) . . . where the spirit of the living God lives and moves. . . is a place where you hear/encounter “spirit words” and “life words”.

And if this is a place of spirit and life, then we will find “food for the journey” here as we follow Peter in his response to Jesus’ riveting question of v. 67.

Jesus asks: “Do you also wish to go away?”

And as FPC’ers, who are a part of this present community of faith, we can join in the fervent (yet eventually fickle!) response of Peter:

“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.”

When I was a Youth Minister at FBC Lethbridge, working on my doctorate of Ministry degree, these verses of affirmation/declaration became a foundational piece of what I was trying to reflect on as I worked with youth and young adults and challenged them to follow Jesus for life (life’ers!).
I had been a Youth Minister for about 8 years and had probably organized 250 youth events and taught 400 bible lessons and I was trying to come to grips with what all this eventing/teaching was about. Was I just a spiritualized youthworker who was trying to shelter parent’s children from the big bad world out there and teach them to parrot christianese sayings that would make them feel like they were good little Christian boys and girls? (We love Jesus, yes we do, WE love Jesus how ‘bout you!?!)

Or was their something else about this life of following Jesus that we all ought to be putting our energies into?

And it was this passage that started re-shaping my philosophy of ministry. . . what might I do, say, teach, prepare for our students that might aid them in the lifelong journey of faith where they would reach a point that echoed the words of Peter in v. 68? WHERE ELSE COULD WE GO?

In my doctoral project, I put it like so:
“At the heart of this project was a desire to nurture (in practical ways) believers who are on the path of following Jesus for the long haul.” I entitled my doctoral project: “Disciplines for going the Distance” and focused on the ways that spiritual practices and the themes of “spiritual formation” contributed to students being life-long apprentices to Jesus.

And I’ve carried that passion and goal into the way we learn and live the life of faith here at FBC! This isn’t just youth ministry stuff! This is for all of us. . .

How our are life stories echoing the words of Peter where we declare “Where else would we go?”

Because isn’t it true that there ARE a lot of other places to go? Is not the world full of options of where people go to find LIFE / BELIEF / KNOWLEDGE?

And yet these places too often become places of desolation and despair . .

Which brings us to the “it’s complicated” ending of John 6 , verses 70-71. Yes, we have just heard these profound words of TRUST , FAITH, BELIEF from the lips of Peter. Words which we pray would echo in the stories of our lives. . . “We have come to BELIEVE and KNOW that you are the Holy One of God.”

And in v. 70 reminds the disciples of their chosenness: “Did I not choose you, the twelve?”

BUT then in the same breath, he speaks of the broken world that we live in, a world that is not yet freed from the schemes AND wiles of the enemy. That even in the midst of fervent faith & trust, there are also forces of darkness/betrayal.

Jesus says (loudly, with an exclamation mark) “Yet one of you is a devil!”

As we pay attention to our present reality, perhaps we recognize that as the famous hymn goes “this world, with devils filled, – – threaten(s) to undo us” – – yet we as the people of God, still humbly and boldly cry out that a “mighty fortress is our God.”

As we wrestle with the present fervency & future failure of this story, I want us to be assured of the reality that as we dwell in the world of the gospel, our life story, too becomes a swirling together of fervency and failure. But the good news of today’s gospel text is that there is a living Lord who speaks “spirit words” and “life words” to us. Will we stop and receive these as bread for the journey today?

As you listen for these words today, Allan Effa is going to close our time today by sharing how the words of John 6 became “spirit words” and “life words” for him.

Perhaps his words of testimony will remind you of those past moments or present moments where you have declared “Where else could I go?!” – – how your life has been changed/is being changed because of these living words of Jesus. . .

I’m going to invite Allan to share that story, and then he will lead us in a moment of silence/prayer.