Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God. Joshua said to all the people, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the River and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt. Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I afflicted the Egyptians by what I did there, and I brought you out. When I brought your fathers out of Egypt, you came to the sea, and the Egyptians pursued them with chariots and horsemen as far as the Red Sea. But they cried to the LORD for help, and he put darkness between you and the Egyptians; he brought the sea over them and covered them. You saw with your own eyes what I did to the Egyptians. Then you lived in the desert for a long time. I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I gave them into your hands. I destroyed them from before you, and you took possession of their land. When Balak son of Zippor, the king of Moab, prepared to fight against Israel, he sent for Balaam son of Beor to put a curse on you. But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand. Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you-- also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’
"Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever."
He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?"
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe."
For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve.
Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
In the Old Testament book of Proverbs, in chapter 30, there is a wonderful verse.The writer says in verse 18, "There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a woman.”
Those are indeed amazing things.I watch the Discovery Channel.
I know all about how the snake is able to slither across a solid rock. But I’ve got to tell you. I don’t REALLY understand it. I know something about aerodynamics, and thermals and wingspans, but when I see an eagle or hawk soaring in the sky, I’m amazed. I don’t REALLY understand it.
I don’t understand women.
Which is not a sexist statement, because I don’t understand men.And I don’t understand children.
I don’t understand the IRS.
Our New Testament Lesson today says the people listen to Christ but they don’t understand Christ. They say, “this is a hard saying. Who can accept it?”
I like that phrase, “this is a hard saying.”
When I read the newspaper, I often want to say, “This is a hard saying.”
When I look at the IRS tax instruction book, I want to say, “this is a bunch of hard sayings.”
And when people listen to Jesus, sometimes he is hard to understand.
He’s on one level, but we’re down here on another level.
This is especially true of John’s Gospel.
The woman at the well encounters Jesus and the Lord says, “I come to give living water.”
The woman doesn’t understand. “Oh really, where’s your bucket? Where’s this water?”
She’s on one level, Jesus is on another. She doesn’t understand.
Or Nicodemus. Jesus tells him, “You must be born again.”
“Oh really. And just how am I going to get back into my mother’s womb and do that?”
He’s on one level, Jesus is on another. He doesn’t understand.
And now we come to this morning’s text.
Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” He talks about the importance of the Sacrament. “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
Jesus talks about eternal life.
He talks about the resurrection of the dead.
He talks about how he and God the Father are one.
And the people understand!
I think it might be for the first time this happens in the Gospel of John.Jesus is on one level. The people are on the same level.
They might not be able to understand the IRS Tax Code, or Osama bin Ladin, or teenagers – but they understand the theology Jesus is presenting here.
Jesus and God the Father are one.Jesus comes to offer eternal life.
The problem is not that they don’t understand. They do understand.
And they come to an important decision.
They decide not to follow Jesus.
It is an amazing thing, but Jesus is not for everyone.
In fact, thousands of people desert him. At the beginning of John chapter 6, Jesus has a congregation of over 5,000. At the end of this chapter, all but a handful have deserted him. If I served a church of over 5,000 people, and later the week, all I had left were 12 – the presbytery and the session of elders would have a few words to say to me.In fact, I think they would be words that I would be able call – “hard sayings.”
And Jesus is hurt. You can almost hear the pain in his voice when everyone leaves him and he turns to Peter and asks, “Will you leave me too?”
But Jesus remains steadfast.
He doesn’t adjust his teaching in order to gain his followers back.
He doesn’t beg them to come back to him.
He doesn’t say, “well, you don’t have to accept the notion that God the Father and I are one – just accept some of my teachings, like the teachings about love your neighbor.”No – Jesus wants people to decide.
Follow me or not.
No half way.
This is a difficulty with Christianity. It demands an act of surrender to Christ. It demands an acceptance of Him as the final authority. It demands a moral standard of the highest level. The disciples were well aware that Jesus had claimed to be the very life and mind of God come to earth. But you have to decide to accept this.You have to accept that Jesus is God.And that is a hard saying to accept.
It’s easy to say, “Well, you know, I believe Jesus was a good man. I believe he was a good teacher.” And it’s easy to stop there.But you know, Mr. Derrick was a good man. He was a good teacher. No one here knows who Mr. Derrick was, because while he was a good man and a good teacher, he was NOT God. He was my 8th grade history teacher.We all know people who are good. They may be good teachers. They may have wisdom. They may be able to do great things.
Jesus was all that – but he was also the Son of God. And that is a hard thing to accept.But you have to decide.In the Old Testament lesson, Joshua stands before the people and tells them all of the great things God has done for them. Then he looks at them and says, “time to decide.” You may find following God undesirable.
Follow him or not. “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”In the New Testament lesson, there comes a moment of decision. Time to decide.And the people in John’s Gospel make different decisions.
For some, deciding means defection.
They outright reject what Jesus is teaching and who he is. They turn back and go home. They never follow him again. Jesus was challenging long held beliefs – but the people didn’t want to examine their old faith. Jesus was headed for trouble, and the people wanted an easier life. You’ve heard of fair-weather friends? People who will stick by your side no matter what – or at least until life gets stormy. Then you look around and they are gone.Jesus had fair weather followers -- half hearted followers. And you can’t decide to follow Jesus half way.You can’t come to church and get filled with warm fuzzies, and then go to work and not live out the Gospel.You can’t accept that Jesus calls us to love one another, and then not accept that Jesus calls us to help the poor.
You have to decide.
Follow Jesus – or not.
For others in our New Testament lesson, deciding means distraction.
Not a focused decision, but a vague, half-hearted, semi-commitment.Our New Testament lesson ends with a foreshadowing of what is to come. Judas. Jesus looks around at the few disciples he has left and says, “one of you is a devil.”
John tells us in his Gospel, “He meant Judas, who was going to betray him.”
Judas could have been a hero, but instead he became a villain.Judas could have been a saint.
Imagine – a world where there are places named, “St Judas Hospital.” Or “St Judas Presbyterian Church.”
Could have been a saint – but he became a shame.
The multitude in this text follow Jesus for a while, but then when they understand what Jesus is all about, they make a decision – the decision is to defect. To leave. To go away from Jesus.Judas follows Jesus and when he comes to a decision point about whether to accept the full teachings of Christ, his decision is also to reject the teachings of Jesus – but unlike the multitude, he doesn’t defect.
He doesn’t believe in his heart.
But he still hangs around the church. He still stays with Christ and the other disciples.We have people who are like that in this and in every church.These are people who come to church, they wear their crosses around their necks, they may drop the lowest denomination of currency they have into the offering plate. But ask them to go grocery shopping for a shut-in and they will say no.Ask them to volunteer with the youth, and they will say no.Ask them to share Christ with someone at work, and they will say no.But ask them if they are followers of Christ, and they will say, “of course I am.”
But – In the New Testament book of James (2:26), we are told, “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”And in Matthew’s Gospel (7:20-21), Jesus talked about such people who say they are followers but are not, and he said, “by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
Jesus says decide!
Follow me or not!
He says.But decide!
There are others for whom decision means determination!
In our New Testament lesson, we see a multitude of people who have been fed and nurtured by Jesus turn and desert him. Jesus in sadness asks Peter, “will also leave.”
And Peter says “No. Only you have the words of eternal life.”
Peter makes a decision, and it is a decision of determination. Peter makes a decision.
I will follow you.
I understand you and the Father are one.
I understand you claim to give eternal life.
I will follow.
I am determined.
Peter followed Christ with determined devotion.
There were times, later on in the Gospel, when he failed Christ. After Jesus was arrested, Peter was asked, “aren’t you one of his disciples?”“No. Not me.” Three times he is asked, and three times he denies even knowing Christ.It is a tragic failure, but it is not the end of Peter’s commitment. That failure simply becomes something to overcome.
There are times when Peter was confused by Jesus. He didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to say. Jesus is on one level. Peter is on another.
In Matthew chapter 15, there is a great passage where Jesus is trying to teach his disciples, using a parable. Peter listens very patiently, and then says, "Explain the parable to us."And Jesus responds, "Are you still so dull?" But the inability to understand EVERYTHING Jesus taught did not mean an end to his commitment. Peter remained determined to stand by his decision to follow Christ.
And what about you?
What decision have you made?
Are you like the multitude who decide to desert, because you can’t accept everything that Jesus claims?
Are you like Judas? Your decision is distracted – unfocused. You linger in the church, even though there is no commitment in your heart.
Or are you like Peter?
William Barclay, in his devotional guide to John’s Gospel, says, “Peter’s loyalty was based on a personal relationship to Jesus Christ. There were many things he did not understand. He was often puzzled as anyone else. But there was something about Jesus for which he would eventually be willing to die. In the last analysis, Christianity is not a philosophy which we accept, nor a theory to which we give allegiance. It is a personal response to Jesus Christ.” (William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Volume 1, The Daily Study Bible Series. page 230.)
Joshua, in our Old Testament lesson, said it simply. “Choose this day whom you will serve.”
You’ve got to make a decision.Are you following Christ – or not?
Copyright 2009, Maynard Pittendreigh. All Rights Reserved