John 6:35, 41-51 * August 12, 2018
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Savior and Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
I was blessed to spend this past week in Darien, Illinois outside of Chicago at the Carmelite Spiritual Center with some of the most amazing pastors in our church. I’m always thankful for these opportunities of continuing education that you give to your pastors and staff. And I’m even more thankful for your support of our shared ministry with other congregations in the ELCA that allows for opportunities like this to happen within our church in the first place.
Anyway – I was completing a 3-part continuing education series for Senior Pastors in their first 5 years of call sponsored by the Lily Foundation and United Lutheran Seminary out of Pennsylvania.
The focus of this past week was stewardship and mission.
Which places us directly into the 6th chapter of the gospel of Saint John.
“Jesus comes to us whether we like it or not, whether we’re hungry or not, whether we see it or not. According to John, Jesus has always been here.” That’s the truth Pastor Bob reminded us of in the sermon last week. It was toward the end if you want to watch the video on our YouTube page if you missed it. Regardless of where you were that day, from an AirBnB in Wrigleyville, Illinois last week, I shouted “Yes! Thanks be to God!” as I watched that sermon.
And here’s why…if there is anything that the 6th chapter of John might be saying to the community John is speaking to or the community I’m speaking to right now it’s this…Jesus is here. Jesus has always been here. Jesus will always be here.
And regardless of how good you’ve been in the past, how good you are today, or how good you will be tomorrow…Jesus is here. And regardless of whether you believed that truth last week when you heard Pastor Bob’s sermon, believe that truth today as you sit in worship with the worries, anxiety, and pain that you are carrying, or will ever believe that truth because of what may happen to you or someone you love, Jesus is here.
That’s stewardship. That’s the mission to which we are called.
Theologian Jean Vanier in a reflection called Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus Through the Gospel of John puts it this way, “Jesus is offering to us a personal, intimate relationship with him that will lead us into the very life of God and nourish this life. It will bring us to dwell in Jesus and to have Jesus dwell in us.”
When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” That’s what he’s talking about. When he says, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” That’s what he’s talking about. That he is with us and will always be with us.
As I’ve read and re-read and read again the 6th chapter of John during these many summer weeks in which we are spending time in this chapter, I’ve asked myself, ‘I wonder what the people who first heard these words from Jesus some 2,000 years ago must have been thinking.’
To this point in time, all they really know about Jesus is that he’s a pretty good teacher. And he’s kind of becoming a bit of a celebrity.
And now you just heard him tell you that he’s the bread that has come down from heaven and that you should eat his flesh. If you were among the first to hear Jesus speak these words, you might have turned to someone and asked if they heard the same thing. Because you thought you just heard someone say something that would certainly sound like they have lost their mind. Say something that might end up on the front page of the daily newspaper or be a breaking news story on CNN or FOX.
C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity – which if you’ve never read, I highly recommend you take the time to read– makes the following statement about Jesus: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice.” Lewis goes on to say, “Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”
For the people who first heard Jesus say “I am the bread of life come down from heaven.”, Jesus is no longer just a great human teacher. He is the messiah. The one sent to save. And as we see throughout the four gospels of Holy Scripture, this was hard for people to believe in Jesus’ day.
I think it’s often hard for us to believe today too. Especially as we live in a time and a place when Christian community and relationship with God through Jesus is becoming less and less important in the lives of God’s children.
My time in Chicago this past week was spent with about 50 of the ELCA’s best and brightest leaders. I was reminded again and again during the week that Jesus is still here. And that God still wants to be in relationship with us through Jesus. And that as hard that may be to believe from time to time, it remains true. It always will remain true.
One of the coaches that I was blessed to work with this week shared a poem with us that is often attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero – although many have argued whether it is actually Romero’s words or just words written in the spirit of Romero.
Romero was bishop in El Salvador during their darkest days of civil war. He was assassinated while presiding over Holy Communion in 1990 for speaking the truth of Jesus’ presence for all of God’s children. Since El Salvador is an important part of Good Shepherd’s mission and ministry in this world, I want to share this poem with you as well.
In many ways, it helped me believe again that Jesus is here as I am fed each day by this Jesus, “the bread of life.” Who feeds every hunger I will ever have and quenches anything that may cause thirst. In the spirit of Romero…
It helps, now and then, to step back
And take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
It is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
The magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
Which is another way of saying
That the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future profits.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything
And there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something
And do it really well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way
An opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
But that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
Ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus is here. As you hear Jesus say to you again today “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”, my hope and prayer is that you are fed. Fed so you can gather with fellow brothers and sisters in worship, prayer, conversation, and community as followers of this Jesus, who is the Christ, the savior of the world. Fed…to be prophets of a future not our own. Amen.