Gospel: John 6:56-69
The “hard saying” that offends Jesus’ disciples is his claim that his followers must eat his flesh and drink his blood. The followers who return to their old lives know something about how odd this sounds. Simon Peter, on the other hand, knows something about the scarcity of living, gracious words. He asks the most important question: “To whom shall we go?”
[Jesus said,] 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. 64 But 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.”
Grace and peace to you, people of God, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Imagine, if you will, your favorite summer activity, especially as a child. Maybe it was going swimming at the pool or local pond. Maybe it was summer vacations. Or maybe it was just sleeping in and hanging out with friends. I’m sure none of you are asking, but I’ll tell you what mine was – camping with my friends. About twice a year, some friends and I would gather near a creek on a friend’s land, spend our day fishing, swimming, laughing, and eating whatever foods we were smart enough to remember bringing. After a day of fun, we’d make a small fire (okay, it was as big a fire as we could manage) and we’d roast marshmallows (we always managed to remember the fixings for s’mores) and pass around a flashlight. When the flashlight came around, conversation ceased. Now, it was time for stories. Of course, being adolescent boys, we often tried to scare the pants off each other with ghost stories, or bring each other to tears of laughter with the best jokes we’d ever heard, or sometimes really heartfelt happenings in our lives.
Although everybody took turns holding the flashlight, I never really wanted to talk – I enjoyed listening more. I remember feeling like I was a part of something ancient when we would share these stories (many of which were repeated throughout the summer, getting more and more grand with each telling). It wasn’t the fire or the fishing or even the sleeping in tents. It was the listening. Even when we’d be rained out, we’d go inside, lay our sleeping bags on the living room floor, and pull out the flashlight.
We, as people, have all developed from aural societies, which means that we, as human beings, were once all part of storytelling cultures. These cultures used spoken words and vivid imaginations to make sense of the world and live in ways that were extremely rich and vibrant. Hearing the words “once upon a time” still evokes that for us. We have been talking and hearing much more than we have been writing and reading. Even though the books of the Bible were written, the letters, histories, gospels, poetry, and stories were meant to be read out loud. Most people couldn’t read and it was expected that the ones who could would do so for everybody.
We have been reading this sermon from Jesus about bread for 5 weeks now. We have the benefit of the written language to help us remember. The people he spoke to, though, could only listen. They could only hear what Jesus was saying and they knew that what he was saying was very important, so they listened and they listened carefully. They didn’t want to miss a single word. We have many chances to read and notice things, but they did not.
And they heard things that confused and annoyed them. They heard things that amazed and astounded them. They were encouraged and they were deeply challenged. After hearing it, many disciples said, “This teaching is too hard,” and went away. What they heard made them uncomfortable. Others, though, heard the words of eternal life. Ultimately, though, the word of God does both – it makes us uncomfortable with ourselves and world around us while also comforting us with words of grace and mercy. It points out our own hypocrisy and sin while pointing to Jesus, by whose death and resurrection we have salvation. It challenges and encourages.
Everybody in that crowd heard the same words. Why they each heard something different is hard to explain. Much like voice tone and body language, it seems that it was a matter of perspective. And, when it comes to hearing, it so often does come down to perspective and experience. If it didn’t, then we’d all like the same music, we’d always try to speak the same way, and we’d all have the same inflection. Can you imagine how boring the world would be? Hearing and, most importantly, listening, are so incredibly important, both for our physical life as people, but also in our spiritual life as children of God.
We have each been uniquely made and fashioned, tuned to different frequencies of the spectrum of God. We hear God in different ways at different times. And, together, we can experiences the vastness and fullness of God. I hope that brings you so much encouragement and support, to know that we are all in this together. When God seems to be silent in your life, I hope you know that God is still speaking – listen to others and be encouraged. When you are in a season of faith where God is always in your ear, I hope you realize how special that is – share what you’re hearing with others.
Sometimes, we hear God in the twittering of songbirds or the rumble of thunder or the rushing wind. Sometimes, we hear the voice of God in laughter, in sighing, and even in sobbing. Sometimes, we hear God through the familiar words of forgiveness, often heard in worship in our confession and absolution – “In the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven.” Sometimes, we even hear God through polka music (or, at least, we can try to)!
This is so important to know, even if we don’t always understand it. The same God who entered into our world, to live, teach, heal, die, and be raised from the dead speaks to you in a way that is unique to you. The same Jesus who spoke the words, “It is finished,” continues to speak in ways that we cannot even imagine. In the poetry of God’s story, we will each hear it and read it differently, and that is part of the beauty of this story.
Thinking back to my time camping with my friends and thinking about gathering in worship, like we’re doing today, I’m not convinced that the two things are much different. We get together, hearing words of encouragement and challenge, taking part in each other’s stories, and listening for what God is telling us in the world. Much like passing along the flashlight, we all have a story to tell, a unique perspective on God’s work in the world, and a personal way of showing God’s love. We each notice things differently. Holding the flashlight, hearing, touch, tasting, and feeling are not simply for those of us called to be silly enough to follow a call and think we can explain in a 10, 15, or even 45 minute sermon all that God has to say to us. As a child of God, you have a deeply personal way of connecting and reminding others about God. Through your life, we all can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell glimpses of God’s love, mercy, and compassion in a brand new way. Through awareness and remembrance, I pray that your life of faith flourishes. Amen.