Sermons from Rev Canon Dr Ian Davies

2015

Sunday 16th August

John 6: 51-58 (with the addition of vv 60,61)

...(and) when many of his disciples heard it, they said “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”. But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it said to them, “Does this offend you?”...

I wonder have you ever thought ‘Why am I doing this’? Why am I in church when I could be having a lie-in. I was catching up on the tennis before turning in last night and the TV announcer said “make sure you said stay up for Andy Murray’’s semi-final against Nishikori at 1.00 o’clock from Canada – it’s only Sunday tomorrow after all, so you can sleep late!, There must have been many times in Jesus’ Ministry when his disciples must have asked themselves the same kind of thing: "Are we following the right leader?" At first it was easier - those were the days when everyone flocked to hear him – and when miracle followed miracle. Their hearts must have swelled with pride and joy as they saw their master’s success.

But as we read on in the gospel accounts, the public acclaim didn’t last for long (it never does). Jesus knew that among all the ‘fringe’ disciples were many who were only there for what they could get out of him. He knew that there were also plenty who revelled in displays of power and glory, just as a crowd ’oohs’ and ‘aahs’ at a big fireworks display, but then just as quickly turns away and forgets what it’s seen.

Jesus knew that he hadn’t come to offer a quick glamorous fizz, that was here today and gone tomorrow – like so many of our modern celebrities. Rather he’d come to show them what it was like to live in the power of the Spirit as God always intended – so that people got a sense of the very nature of God indwelling their lives and changing them into his likeness. What John records him saying really put the cat amongst the pigeons and had them arguing fiercely. "The bread that I give to you is my FLESH. unless you eat the FLESH of the Son of Man and DRINK HIS BLOOD, you shall not have life within you."

What they didn’t quite understand was that Jesus was offering full and complete humanity – and showing what this was supposed to look like. When we eat his flesh we fill ourselves with Him - fill ourselves with his love, with his power, with his way of self-giving and acrifice. We become new creatures, truly human - born from above, by the Spirit – which is how Jesus described it to Nicodemus, the Jewish leader – who, if you remember, just couldn’t get his head around the idea. Julie read on a little because many of his disciples couldn’t take the message – and we need to try and understand why.

Jews were a fiercely ‘monotheistic’ people  – believing in a single God – in sharp contrast to many of the cultures around them with a god for every occasion. Perhaps they saw what Jesus was claiming - that he was actually God-in-the-flesh. Perhaps they saw that no-one can follow him without accepting him into their lives fully: obeying him, and taking his Word as truth - which might explain their saying: "This teaching is difficult. Who is able to accept it". And perhaps this is why John goes on to say in his account, "After this many of his disciples turned back and wouldn’t follow Him any more". What Jesus was asking was way too much. Was it though?

It’s never been easy to follow Jesus. When we begin to do so seriously he seems to make so many demands. He demands our time, He demands our talents, He demands our money - He demands our total obedience and loyalty. All sounds a bit much, surely?! Today, as then, many people find it hard to face the all-inclusiveness, and look for less demanding paths to take.
Perhaps that’s the reason why so few really follow Him – knuckle down and become his apprentices – his disciples - why so many adopt a ‘pick & mix religion’ – which contains all the things they like – and which makes them feel good – making sure they avoid having to taste the stringy runner beans – or whatever it was that used to make you gag as a child.

We live in a society which wants things to come easy - we’ve been brought up to believe that the State would and should care for us ‘from cradle to grave’. We don’t want life to make too many demands - we don’t look for total commitments – they’re too dangerous; too extreme;– so isn’t it more sensible to hedge our bets?

But this is what Christian discipleship is in fact all about: Jesus wants our total commitment, to himself and to his reign and rule – his Kingdom.  He wants to be on the throne of our lives as our King - and it’s never been easy to say ’Yes’ to this when such a commitment will have implications for the way we live our lives.

....& Jesus knew this then, as he knows it now. I wonder, as he saw them flocking away from him, if he was tempted to water down the message, in order to keep them hanging around, (I wonder is his Church being tempted to do the same today in its attempt to be all things to all people?).

I don’t think Jesus could have come to us with any more provocative invitation than the one he brings here – this offer of eternal life...(John 6:51) "I am the living bread that came down from heaven," Jesus says. "Whoever eats of this bread will live forever".

And when Jesus talks about living forever, you can be sure that he’s not talking about merely existing forever. In chapter 10 of John’s Gospel he says:
"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly – in all its fullness"

Abundant life is made up of those moments when you want to take a deep breath and hold on to whatever is happening; when you want time to stand still for just a little while. All those moments when you think to yourself, "It doesn’t get any better than this." That’s real living, and we would do almost anything to make it last forever.

The good news is that God’s done it all – everything needed to bring this world back into relationship with himself – so all the talk of the demands this places – and then serving him with reluctant, heavy, hearts clearly misses the point

A famous New Testament commentator R.V.G Tasker says this:

“It wasn’t possible for Jesus to make this heavenly food, which in fact was himself, universally available, until he had offered himself in sacrifice. The bread had to be broken before it could become the food of all who would receive it; and his blood had to be shed before the ransomed could receive its life-giving properties.

The Jews were naturally sceptical when they murmured   to each other, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" (John 6:52, NRSV).

Have you ever thought how repulsive an image this is at first glance? But Jesus pushes through with it: "Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life"

When I was a postgrad student in Cardiff back in the 80s. I took a friend from university to St. Marks Church and she was struck by what she called the cannibalism of the Prayer of Humble Access – “We do not presume to come to this thy table merciful Lord…” – which talks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. And it’s not just the English translation - In the Greek it seems even more repulsive: the word for "eat" is the word "trogon", which is usually translated, "to chew." "Chew my flesh," Jesus says. "That’s the way to eternal life."

No wonder the Jews walked away. "This is a hard saying; difficult teaching," they murmured. "Who can stand it?" (John 6:60, KJV) - but only because the Jews insisted on sticking with a literal interpretation of the words of Jesus

It’s difficult to believe that they couldn’t see through it to some deeper meaning – and their objection appears to ridicule Jesus. But then perhaps it’s not so surprising that they couldn’t penetrate the spiritual significance of Jesus’ words, because understanding them was only possible through the eyes of faith – which – with all their religious activity - they just didn’t possess.

So they were right after all, weren’t they?. This is difficult stuff for people to understand. But it isn’t impossible. If you have the ears to hear, listen to Jesus saying something like this: "I am the true and only Source of Life, but in the same way that you won’t get full by having bread in your house, you won’t gain eternal life by being merely acquainted with me. It takes more than that. It takes a kind of daily ’feeding’ on me, I must become the air you breath, the water you drink. You must learn to hunger for me in the same way you hunger for meat and potatoes." (or its vegetarian equivalent)

So what about our hunger for real Life? (Life with a capital ‘L’)

To be honest, I haven’t met many people who were that hungry for Christ - maybe not any, myself included. But don’t you get the sense from this passage that if we could ever develop such a hunger, it would be wonderfully satisfied, and that in that fullness we might discover what it is we have been searching for all our lives (what’s got us up and here this morning – because it’s not just habit, surely): and it’s not eternal youth, or fame and recognition – it’s eternal life – a quality of life in intimate relationship to God as he always intended – that begins right now. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey prayed “help me to ‘want to want’ more of you in my life

 

And that’s what this Communion Table is for: this table of life: not merely to satisfy our hunger but to whet our appetites, because it calls us into ever deeper communion with the Lord Jesus - so that every day of our lives we might wake up longing to feast on Jesus, the Bread of Life.

This is difficult teaching, I know. But if our society would do seemingly anything for eternal youth, or the perfect complexion or physical body (whatever that looks like), perhaps it’s not asking too much of us that when we eat the bread and drink the wine together this morning that this will be the beginning of something deeper and fuller; that this sacrament – this symbolic act will be a significant step in a lifetime of "feeding" on Christ? Because if we can do that, we’ll find that the next time we gather together at this table we’ll be discovering what most people just going through the motions probably don’t – we’ll begin to have some insight into just what Jesus was talking about when he said, "This is the bread that came down from heaven, and those who eat this bread will live forever."

May God grant that we don’t do this unthinkingly or ’mechanically’, but growing in our realization of just what we’re receiving - this salvation, this new life that the giving of his flesh on the cross has won for us and indeed all the world. Amen