11th Sunday After Pentecost (B)
1 Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:25—5:2; John 6:35,41-51
I’m going to be completely honest here—I think I’m with the crowd on this one. At least I am today. It changes. But today, I really wish John had recorded Jesus phrasing this a little bit differently. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. . . . and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.
Not only is it graphic and kinda gross, but it’s hard to believe. I remember going through First Communion instruction in Mrs. Shaw’s 2nd grade class at St. Joseph’s Grade School. “Don’t chew the wafer,” she taught us. “If you do, you’re gnawing on the bones of Jesus.” Really?
I know Jesus is likely talking about his crucifixion, and giving up his life for the world. And I know it’s an easy jump—and probably appropriate—to use this text to talk about the real presence of Christ in Holy Communion (Jesus, bread, eating). But faced with mystical and rather disgusting doctrine like Jesus is sharing here, I find myself standing with the Jewish crowd. Uhmmm, no thanks, Jesus. Bread of life from heaven? Eat you and live? Your flesh is bread for us? I’m not sure I’m all the way there.
I think I want to take this nauseating speech and make it more comfortable. I think I want to make it acceptable. I think I want to scale it back to a point where I can believe it.
Which is just like the crowd who heard Jesus say it. “Don’t be messing with us, Jesus. We know who you really are: Mary and Joseph’s kid from Nazareth. That’s what we can believe. That’s as far as we’re going to go with this.”
Yes, I’m with the crowd on this one. Jesus sometimes goes too far. Farther than I’m comfortable with. Farther than I’m able to believe.
What about you? Does Jesus ever go too far for you? Does he ever say anything that you just can’t fully buy into?
- Love your enemies. All of them. Even the guy outside of Milwaukee who went into a house of worship and started shooting. Even the young man who opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora. Even Republicans. And Democrats. Sorry, Jesus, that’s just beyond what I can believe.
- Forgive everyone who as often as they ask for it.Everyone? The one who destroyed my marriage? The one who took advantage of my good nature? Perhaps I should, but honestly, Jesus, I don’t really believe I have to.
- Sell everything you have and give the money to the poor. Do you know anyone who actually believes that one?
Those are more extreme examples that many of us have a hard time believing. But who knows what part of Jesus is just beyond someone’s ability to believe?
Some people find themselves unable to believe Jesus is actually God. Others that he truly rose from the dead. Some that he has anything to offer other than pretty good philosophy. In one way or another, in some aspect of Jesus, we all stand with the crowd not really buying what he’s selling. It’s different for each of us, but we all have some difficulty with Jesus. Where we get into trouble is, like the crowd, when we insist that what we believe about Jesus is the only correct thing to believe. If you don’t believe about Jesus what I believe about him, your faith is inferior. Or, if you don’t disbelieve about Jesus what I disbelieve about him, your faith is superficial.
So if we’re going to be completely honest—it’s really a matter of degree as to what any of us believe and what any of us don’t. And it can change day by day. Whether Christian or not. We all believe something about Jesus, and we all find ourselves unable to believe some things about him. We all stand with the crowd at some point.
But here’s where the church becomes so important. As this text shows us, we aren’t the first ones to struggle with something Jesus said. We aren’t the first ones who are simply unable to believe some things about him.
What we have in the church is the experience of thousands upon thousands of people through history who have been touched by Jesus, who’ve struggled with the same things we have, and who have been somehow changed by the reality of Jesus. Some of it believable and some of it not. But changed by him nonetheless. Their collective witness tells us that there’s something to the reality of who Jesus is, believe it or not. They tell us that believing aside, the reality of Jesus is worth trusting.
And what we have in this congregation is a community of people who stand with us in our beliefs and who stand with us in our unbeliefs.
And here’s where our Lutheran tradition really makes a difference. What we have as Lutherans is a particular way of being Christian that boldly names the reality of our experience: at the same time belief/disbelief; saint/sinner; bread/body; human/divine.
And in the midst of all this is Jesus. Whatever we can believe and whatever we can’t believe about him, we still can place our trust in him. We proclaim him the crucified and risen Lord of all creation. We proclaim him the way, the truth, and the life. We proclaim him the fullest revelation of who God is. We proclaim him the One who comes among us and loves us in our belief and in our unbelief. And sometimes we might even believe it. But whether we believe everything about him or not, he still promises to be present with us in love, forgiveness, and grace. We can place our trust in that. And that’ good enough for today.