>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, August 23, 2009. The text for this week’s message is John 6:56-69.

We are jumping back into the gospel of John today. We are heading back to the conversation that Jesus has with the people about the bread of life. With the end of Chapter 6, we see an important turn in those who are following after Jesus, as they are faced with a difficult decision. Ultimately the decision that they had to make is a decision that we have to make as well. What Jesus says is difficult and the question is not “is it true,” but “will we allow ourselves to be affected by the truth?”
Some would say that today’s passage is a type of Last Supper scene for John’s gospel. As we read through the gospel, we don’t actually see the details of the Last Supper laid out like we do in the other gospels. John is the gospel where we read about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, but he doesn’t say anything about the meal itself. Why is that? I don’t know for sure, but all I can say for certain is that it does make some sense for this portion of the gospel to be John’s way of alluding to the Last Supper. John’s was the last of the four gospels to be written, so it is very likely that his audience knew the story of the Last Supper, which is why he didn’t include it in the narrative.
Remember the context of this passage. The day before this conversation, Jesus feeds 5,000 men with five loaves of bread and two fish. He goes off to the mountain to be alone for a while, and the Twelve go out to the sea. It gets stormy out, and Jesus is walking on the water. He gets in the boat with the disciples and they go across to Capernaum. The people follow after them and meet up with them on the other side of the sea. Jesus tells them that they need to believe in the one that is sent from God, and they want a sign to show that he is from God. I can only imagine what Jesus was thinking when they said that – “What do you want me to do? Feed 5,000 people with this kid’s lunch? Oh wait, I just did that.”
Thankfully, Jesus has a less sarcastic response for the people than I would. He tells them that he is the living bread that has come down from heaven, and that they must partake in this bread in order to have eternal life. To say the least, their initial reaction to this saying of Jesus is not favorable. They seem to be taking his words very literally here, which is clearly a mistake.
The initial reaction that Jesus gets from the people here is, “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” Verse 60 says that some of the disciples were saying this, and I think it’s important to point out here that it was not necessarily the Twelve who were saying it, but the people in the crowd who were following after Jesus. It seems like Jesus couldn’t go anywhere without there being a huge crowd surrounding him. We read all throughout the gospels about the crowds that were always following him. But on this occasion, it seems as though the crowd got a little thinner. Again, what did they say? “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” When I read their response to Jesus’ teaching, it got me thinking about some other hard sayings in Scripture. Using today’s passage as a launching pad, I want to look at just a few of the difficult sayings of Scripture and ask the question, “How will we be affected by the truth?” For example:
Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The question is not whether or not it is true, but whether or not we will choose to be affected by it. If God is the one who created the heavens and the earth, what are the implications for us, as created beings? One implication is that we are not the masters of our own domain. We like to think that we are. We like to think that we own the things that we have in our lives. But is that the truth? What do we have that God hasn’t given to us? If God is the creator of all things, then we are the creator and owner of nothing. If we are truly honest with ourselves, that is a difficult pill to swallow, isn’t it?
We want to believe that we are in control of the world around us. We want to believe that we have certain rights and privileges, and that we are entitled to certain things in our lives. And maybe that is what we have been taught to believe by our society, but that’s not what Scripture tells us. All the earth and everything in it belong to God, not us. We are entrusted to take care of the earth, but we are not owners of it. Everything we have belongs to God; everything we’ve been given comes from God. We aren’t owners; we are stewards. It’s not a matter of whether or not it is true; it’s a matter of whether or not we are going to be affected by that reality.
What are some of the implications? How can we be affected by this truth? Well, first off, we have to realize that we are entrusted with the things that we have in this life. We are charged with taking care of the world around us, being ecologically responsible. There is a big movement these days to “go green.” As Christians, who believe that God is the creator of all things and who recognize that we are just stewards of what we’ve been given, we should be leading the way in this movement to take care of the world around us.
When it comes to our possessions, and yes, I’m going to say it, our money, are we being responsible? It’s about stewardship – taking care of the things we’ve been given. I’m not saying this as a way to pad the bank account for the church. I’m saying it as a matter of spiritual growth. When we give, we are recognizing the source of our gifts. We are recognizing that everything we have has been given to us in the first place. That’s true if we give of our time, our possessions and our money. If God is the creator and sustainer of life, then we owe Him everything. How are we going to be affected by that reality?
Or, how about Deuteronomy 6:4? “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Israel was the only nation in the ancient world that proclaimed one God, instead of many gods. In the ancient world, the gods were not figures to be loved, but figures who were to be feared. It was the gods that controlled everything that happened in the world. They could be bribed; they could be coaxed into doing certain things, but they were certainly not figures with which one could have a relationship, especially not a loving relationship.
But Israel was God’s chosen people. He didn’t demand that they love Him because He needed more attention. This call to love the Lord comes out of a recognition that the Israelites were God’s chosen people. They were the ones who were taken care of by God. They were chosen not for their own sake, but for the sake of the world. They needed to love and be faithful to God because God loved and was faithful to them. It was about a relationship with the creator of the heavens and the earth – something that was unheard of in the ancient world.
What would our lives look like if we really loved God? What would they look like if we were genuinely concerned with our relationship with God and it took the priority in our lives? We worship a God that is totally unlike the gods of the ancient world. We worship a God who has chosen us and has shown His love for us. We read all throughout Scripture about the love that God has for us. Again, it’s a matter of whether or not we are going to be affected by it. How will our lives be different – not if it is true, but because it is?
How is your life different because of your relationship with God? How is your day affected because you believe in a God who loves you? Has it changed from what it was like two years ago, or are you still the same person? If someone who didn’t know you went to church saw your everyday life, would they see something different about you compared with other people? Can somebody look at your life and see the fruits of the spirit? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. How has your life been affected?
How about this: Numbers 22 – Balaam, a pagan prophet who is sent to curse the Israelites, has his donkey talk to him. Okay, I know that I have not been around animals as much as some that are here this morning, but I have never once had an animal speak to me – at least not in a way that I could understand exactly what it was saying. But that is exactly what happens here. Balaam’s donkey isn’t all that crazy about walking up to an angel of the Lord. Twice it tries to turn around, and Balaam hits it. Finally, it just sits down and says, “Why are you hitting me? Have I ever given you a reason to hit me?” What I love most about this story is that when the donkey starts talking, Balaam just joins right in on the conversation. It doesn’t seem to strike him a weird in the least bit that his donkey just talked to him.
But, anyway, what I find to be important about this story is the fact that God can speak to us through a variety of means. God is not limited when it comes to communication. Can God use contemporary, or even secular, music to speak to us? Yes. Can God speak to us through movies and television? Yes, absolutely. Can God speak to us through familiar hymns, sermons, the call to worship, the prayer time? Yes, of course, God is not limited in communicating. We may be limited in our hearing, but God is not limited in how He talks with us. Again, it’s not a question of whether or not it is true, but how will we let ourselves be affected by it. Will you be open to hearing God’s voice in unexpected ways?
Finally, we have Jesus – conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary. The Son of God born in a stable. His teaching – the Sermon on the Mount; his emphasis on caring for the poor and downtrodden and his habit of ignoring the religious elite. I remember reading somewhere along the way that some people would argue that the Sermon on the Mount isn’t supposed to be taken literally because it is “too hard.” Are you kidding me? Shouldn’t we be raising the bar instead of lowering it? I honestly believe that people would rather rise to challenges than lower themselves to just get by. Yes, Jesus’ teachings are difficult, but that does mean we shouldn’t take them seriously? No, absolutely not, and that brings us back to John 6. When the people hear Jesus’ teaching on this topic, they can’t take it. It’s too hard for them. Jesus’ teaching is too difficult, and they turn away.
So, here’s a question. Will we allow ourselves to be changed by the Word? The truth is that the Word can change us. Scripture can affect us, if we let it. It can alter us, if we allow it to enter into our lives. If we come to the Word week after week and we are not challenged and changed by it, then we are missing something. If reading Scripture hasn’t instilled in us a desire to draw closer to God, then something isn’t right. The Word goes against our human nature. It is counter-cultural; it goes against what society tells us is right. And the bottom line is, if we come to Scripture and are not changed by it, then we’re either sticking to the “safe” parts, or we don’t understand what we’re reading. We cannot come to God and not be moved. God will challenge us and change us if we let Him.
The people that left Jesus on that day didn’t want to be changed. They didn’t want to be challenged. So, they left. Not all of them did. When Jesus asked the Twelve if they wanted to leave, Peter replied, “Where are we going to go?” The Twelve walked with Jesus daily, and even though this particular teaching may have been really difficult, they knew that they had to stick with Jesus. They may not have understood everything that Jesus was teaching, but they knew that they had to stay with him. Peter says that they believed and have come to know that he was the Holy One of God. When you know Jesus in this way, you realize that maybe, just maybe, the boxes that you’ve put God in aren’t big enough.
When it is all said and done, we have a choice. We can stick with Jesus, or we can turn tail and run. Where are you today? Are you going to look at Jesus’ difficult teaching and decide that it’s too much? Are you ready to walk out on Jesus because you don’t want your life to be affected? Or are you like Peter? Are you ready to keep following Jesus, even though you may not know exactly what he is saying to you in your life? Are you willing to be challenged and changed by the grace of God? The simple truth is that following Jesus is not always easy, but we always have a choice. Jesus has the words of eternal life, but we have to be willing to listen. It’s not a matter of is it true or not. It’s a matter of whether or not we will be affected.