Sermon by The Rev. Brett P. Backus
Sunday, August 12, 2018
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The Gospel: John 6:35, 41-51
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
John 6:35, 41-51
So an image came to mind for me this week that I surely never thought that I would be sharing in a sermon. It’s a scene from a movie that I probably saw way too often in rerun after rerun on Saturday morning TNT in the 80’s. Destined to one day be recognized as the movie masterpiece it actually is, yes, of course I am talking about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade……..classic! At this point in the movie, Indy has already successfully navigated through several obstacles and booby traps in an effort to finally locate the Holy Grail, but more importantly to save his father, and he comes to one final challenge. It is a deep and dark chasm, impossible to jump over, and it is separating Indy and his wounded father, from salvation. So, our hero takes a moment to reflect, and after realizing that this final challenge is literally a leap of faith, he slowly lifts his leg straight out over the chasm, amid weak whispers from his father, Sean Connery, and he leans into the abyss, and is abruptly stopped by an unseen footpath across the chasm. Leap of Faith. Cheesy, right? Cliche’ maybe? We will come back to that.
I have to confess that this week’s Gospel was a struggle. I mean I am currently on a pretty strict low carb diet, and if you’re keeping track it’s like the third week in a row now that we’ve talking about the bread of heaven and the bread of life, and all of these wonderful things. Hahah! Instead of proclaiming the Holy Gospel according to St. John, it kind of feels like we’re proclaiming the Holy Gospel according to St. Carbohydrate! Haha! I do actually struggle with this Gospel for other reasons though. I guess the easiest way to say it is just that when I initially hear Jesus in this morning’s encounter, I kind of feel like His words or His counter argument to the murmuring challengers in His midst, well I feel like it’s a cop out. I feel like it’s cheesy, or perhaps a bit cliche’.
I mean here we have Jesus, who has just made the outlandish claim to have come down from heaven, and when those around Him, who actually saw Him grow up, understandably question how this blasphemous statement can be true, they essentially get an answer sort of like this: Well, if you don’t believe, I guess you just weren’t supposed to. If you don’t believe that I am of God then I guess God has not called you to believe. You’re obviously just not meant to be in this club. A cop out right? Cheesy? Cliche’? Initially, Jesus’ reaction here frustrates me. It sends me down a rabbit hole and reminds me of so many other similar things we Christians tend to say in times when there really just are no words or when we are stuck in a challenge of faith and don’t know how to navigate it. You’ve just got to give it to God. Let Go and Let God. Just believe. You just have to have Faith. Everything happens for a reason.
These words, these sayings, though well meaning, they do not suffice. They just don’t cut it. However, what I realized after struggling with Jesus this week and with my own reaction to this scripture, is that, whether I like it or not, whether we like it or not, no matter how much we might resist it and want to murmur and complain and try to understand or wrap our heads around this whole God thing, in the end, this all really is a leap of faith, and holding that unknowing as our starting point is crucial, and that is actually what I now realize Jesus is doing in our Scripture this morning. He is giving us a hard lesson about faith. I know, I know that sounds so obvious. I know that we speak about faith a whole lot in our church culture and we feel like we know what faith is, but I kinda think that we probably need a pretty strong reminder about this every once in awhile, especially in this western, materialist mindset that is so prevalent and so much a part of who we are. The desire to understand. To know. To dominate. To control. It does not, it cannot enter here, in matters of faith.
We forget, so often, that faith, belief, is NOT about knowing, it is not knowledge based. For if we know something for a fact, then there is no belief or faith required. I am pretty sure though that if you really examine the way most people, the way most of us, use those words, faith and belief, you will find that the implied meaning is knowing, because that is just so much more comfortable. Knowing gives us an illusion of control, while unknowing, faith, wrestling with God like Jacob in the wilderness, forces us to constantly be stretched, to be challenged, to learn, to grow, to walk in the darkness and feel and scramble for the light, to take that step into the chasm, and all of that is very uncomfortable. Yet, that is precisely our call. Afterall, belief and faith require a certain level of humility which we humans aren’t really all that good at, but that humility is what opens up and creates within us a space for God. It requires a certain level of understanding that we really just don’t know for sure, but we believe. It is that UNknowing, that belief or faith in the true sense of the word that is absolutely required for spiritual growth and connectedness to God. So why then, like the murmuring crowd with Jesus, why do we continue to try and think our way to God, to understand the unfathomable, to control the unattainable?
The author of the anonymous mid 14th century work, The Cloud of Unknowing, says it like this: “Love is the only way to reach God. Knowledge does not assist us.” Richard Rohr comes at it this way, “keep one foot in both camps—the historical text and the present moment—and in your fullest moments you will find yourself also saying “it is like. . . .” Words are fingers pointing to the moon, but words are never the moon itself. Notknowing this has kept much religion infantile, arrogant, and even dangerous. In the end, Jesus gave those who murmured against Him an answer to their protest. His answer was to trace His origin back to God. However, the true lesson was that the evidence for His claim could obviously only be accepted in faith. And so it is with us, friends. That’s how it works with this whole faith thing. When we ask for guidance from God, for a sign, the answers we receive can only be accepted and understood in faith. The only assurance we are given, the only promise that is made to us is that if we are open to God, not if we can just understand God, but if we open our heart to God, then we will be taught by God. So, too then, the only assurance we have is rooted in faith. It is indeed a huge challenge, letting go, but it is actually, maybe, our only true call. To believe.
Believe. That is our message and our reminder today. That is and has been the message and desire of God from the very beginning and all along. From the story of Creation to the Patriarchs and all the way up through Jesus and even into our own lives now. God has never been calling us, beckoning us to understand, to know. Rather, God has and is calling us to follow, into the desert, through the waters, into the unknown, into the abyss, even just down the street, follow. Ours is not a call to seek to know, but to seek to Love, even picking up our own cross and laying down our own life. We are not called to take the Body of Christ and to think about it, to argue about it, to contemplate the validity or essence of it, but to take and eat, to taste and see. So my friends, today let Jesus’ words be a reminder to you about the the kind of journey we’re on together, a reminder about the sort of call we each have received from God. Today and always, let us Take and Eat. Let us Taste and See. Let us Follow, Love, Believe. Amen.