The 13th Sunday after Pentecost — Proper 16B (August 26, 2012)

Lessons:Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 Psalm 34:15-22 Ephesians 6:10-20 St. John 6:56-69 Semicontinuous Series: 1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11] 22-30, 41-43 Psalm 84

Prayer of the Day: Holy God, your word feeds your people with life that is eternal. Direct our choices and preserve us in your truth, that, renouncing what is false and evil, we may live in you, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

6:56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.  60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”  66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”  

St. John 6:56-69 New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

You Have the Words...

This weekend we are concluding the continuous reading from St. John that began five weeks ago. It all started with the feeding of the five thousand in the wilderness. Following that, Jesus taught the people: there was talk about the bread of life, the presence of God and the divinity of Christ. It was hard for the people to understand and believe. After all, this was one of their own, a young rabbi from the small town of Nazareth, who was making some pretty spectacular claims about himself. If someone wandered into our congregation today claiming to be one with God, and talking about his power to work miracles and wonders, we’d probably arrange for him to see a therapist. I sometimes wonder how many of us might have said, “This teaching is difficult. Who can accept it?”

That’s exactly what happens with Jesus. As long as he is encouraging and healing and blessing the people, they are quite glad to follow him. But as soon as Jesus begins to be clear about who he is — as his words become more and more challenging — no small number of them give up and leave. Finally, he turns to his twelve closest supporters and asks them: “Do you also wish to go away?”

Peter, of course, is the one who answers, and while we often see him with his foot firmly planted in his mouth, in this instance his response is especially insightful. Jesus has just pointed out that becoming one of his followers will be no easy task. It will include, among other things, wrestling with some difficult messages. Peter doesn’t deny this. He doesn’t argue with Jesus, because he senses that it isn’t going to be easy. But he does believe the effort is worth it. Peter answers Jesus, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

No matter how hard it is to follow Jesus — and Peter will find it quite hard on a number of occasions (on Good Friday, for one example) — no matter; he continues to believe that this is the way to eternal life, and it is well worth whatever price Peter will have to pay.

The truth of Peter’s response is one the church needs to hear today. We are living in a time when many church leaders are working hard to make the message of Jesus Christ appealing to the masses. Become a Christian, they say, and your life will be much better. Your relationships will be stronger. Your children will be healthier. Your spouse will be happier. You’ll live with more purpose and meaning. It’s a heck of a deal, so hop on. Isn’t it interesting that while it seems quite easy — even quite beneficial — to be a Christian today, Christ’s original audience found it to be quite difficult?

The task is not to make Christian discipleship palatable, but to recognize it for what it is. God calls us to a new kind of living. To be a Christian means to be grounded in grace, and surrounded by God’s love. It also means to be willing to give of ourselves for the world around us. It means refusing to focus on what’s best for me and my own, but instead on how I might live sacrificially, so that others might come to know God’s love. It means not asking what I have to gain from this faith, but asking instead what I am able to give. It means wrestling with challenging beliefs and concepts – often times being called to stand in direct opposition to the world that surrounds us.

It isn’t easy to follow Jesus, but in following him, one begins to glimpse and experience a life that lasts forever. This is the life Jesus calls us to embrace: one that may be very difficult, even challenging, but one that fills us with a sense of God’s presence and God’s peace.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why does the teaching of Jesus cause so many followers to leave him?
  2. Why does Peter choose to stay with Jesus, even as others are leaving?
  3. Is Peter speaking for himself here? Or for the rest of the disciples as well?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When has it been hard for me to understand some aspect of Christian faith?
  2. When has it been hard for me to follow where Jesus is leading me?
  3. How might I explain to a friend why I continue to think of myself as a follower of Jesus?