Monthly Archives: August 2012

Believing and Disbelieving: It’s the Norm (11 Pent B)

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.

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Posted by on August 12, 2012 in Sermon


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When Questions Aren’t Answered (10 Pent B)

10th Sunday After Pentecost B

Exo 16:2-4,9-15; Eph 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

How many here know someone directly affected by the gun tragedy in Aurora? One of the fires? A difficult medical diagnosis? Breakup of a marriage or partnership? An untimely death? Unfairness related to work? That’s pretty much all of us.

And how often in these situations have we said, “How could God let this happen? This person didn’t deserve this.”

Has anyone ever had a good, satisfactory answer to that question? . . . Too bad, I was hoping someone who knew  the answer to that could preach today.

I don’t have a good answer either, and certainly not a satisfactory one. But perhaps this text in John 6 can open some insights for us nonetheless. It’s a series of questions and answers between the crowd and Jesus. Though the crowds questions aren’t brought on necessary by a tragedy, they do have something in common with our questions. They are asking about very legitimate issues and not getting satisfactory answers. Take a look at their questions:

  • Since they didn’t see Jesus walking on the water which happened immediately prior to this text, they ask how he got to Capernaum. It’s a legitimate question. But instead of simply telling the how he did it, he accuses the crowds of only wanting more food for their stomachs instead of for eternal life. Right before walking on the water he fed 5000 people with a few loaves and fish.
  • They ask how they can do God’s work. Isn’t that a good question? Jesus answers that God is working on them—so they can trust in Jesus.
  • They ask for a sign to prove it. God gave manna through Moses in the desert; give us a sign like that (now that’s not their best question—he just fed 5000 people). Jesus answers that God gives the true bread of life to them.
  • They request—demand—this bread. Jesus tells them they’re looking at it. I’m already here, he says.

Can you share their frustration? Legitimate questions with indirect answers. But we have more in common with this crowd than their frustration over less-than-satisfactory answers to questions. The basic nature of their questions—and ours—is the expectation that Jesus owes us a satisfactory explanation. They—and we—believe Jesus owes us answers that make sense to us and that somehow must have our approval. As if it was up to God to adjust to our agenda. If we don’t understand, God owes us an answer.

  • How’d you get here Jesus? After we hoofed it all the way to Capernaum, you owe us an answer.
  • How do we do God’s work? That’s a question you ought to be answering, Jesus.
  • Give us a sign—because we think we deserve one. And feeding 5000 people doesn’t count.
  • Give us this bread of life—because, well, because we want it.
  • Fix the difficulties in my relationship, cure this sickness, save my home, find me a job—because at some level I believe I deserve it.

If we look at Jesus’ answers to the crowd, maybe we’ll get an idea of his answer to us too. Here’s what he tells them.

  • There’s an imperishable food that’s actually more important for you.
  • God’s work is providing you with that food.
  • God is giving that food for you whether you see it or not.
  • In Christ, that food in here, now, for you.

The important thing isn’t receiving answers that we consider satisfactory, but receiving God’s gift of life, which is made real in Christ.

Keep asking the questions. Keep seeking answers. But if the answers don’t always come clearly and satisfactorily, make sure to hear the answer God does give: God is giving us life, here and now. God’s work is to provide it for us; and it’s here. It is bigger than our questions. It is more present than elusive answers. It is touching us in ways we don’t necessarily see, understand, or even believe. But God’s gift of life is here. That’s the whole point of Jesus, after all; God comes to us in the very midst of our questions and is giving us life. And in Christ we see how God is doing it.

So we look to Jesus; not for sensible answers that we find satisfactory. But we look to Jesus in order to recognize God’s presence, God’s work, God’s gifts, God’s life.

The bread of life—a gift from God—is here. Come, let us eat and live a new life.

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Posted by on August 5, 2012 in Sermon


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