November 4, 2018: " Does this offend you?"
November 4, 2018 Rev. Rhonda Blevins
Does This Offend You?
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 Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “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, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 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.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. 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? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 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. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
What if I said this:
After church today, if you want to keep coming to the Chapel, we’re going to . . . well . . . I’m going to die and you’re going to have to eat my flesh. Some of you may get an arm, others a calf, some of you might get Rump o’ Rhonda. But you’ve got to eat my flesh and drink my blood if you want to keep coming to the Chapel.
Would you stick around for that? Or would you think, “You know, there are other churches. This is a little too weird and disgusting for me.”
That’s basically what Jesus did in the text we read a moment ago. Then he added a question: “Does this offend you?” Well, yes, Jesus. Frankly, it does.
So Jesus lost followers that day. Not just followers . . . disciples. I guess Jesus missed the church growth class at seminary. His marketing committee must have been terribly disappointed with him.
Over the centuries we’ve sanitized this passage—we quickly shift to metaphor and think about bread and wine instead of flesh and blood. But to Jesus’ hearers, this was brand new. And it was gross. So many left. Some stayed. To those who stayed, including the twelve disciples, Jesus asked a second question, “Are you going to leave me too?” You can almost hear the sadness inherent in this question. You can imagine tears welling up in his eyes. Et tu, Brutè?
Peter, so often the first to respond, asked a question in return, “Who else can we go to? You’re it.” As if to say, “We may not like it, but we’re stuck with you, Jesus.”
Has Jesus ever made you uncomfortable? If not, I’ll suggest that perhaps you haven’t spent a lot of time with him. No judgment, but let’s face it—the more we get to know someone, the more we understand things we like about that person, and the things we could live without. For example, when my husband and I were first getting to know each other, he loved hearing me sing. It would put a big smile on his face. But just this week, he informed me that my singing was getting on his last nerve. Apparently he doesn’t like me waking him up every morning singing, “Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory!” Go figure.
The more you get to know Jesus, the more you have to wrestle with the red letters in the Gospels . . . you know, the words attributed to Jesus:
We can handle words like:
· “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
But not so much:
· “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34)
· “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
Not so much:
· “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)
· “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” (Luke 4:18)
Not so much:
· “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53)
Why did Jesus use such provocative language? He had to know he would lose followers. But to Jesus, integrity was more important than celebrity. Jesus’ message that day could have been:
· “7 Steps to Happiness!”
· “Be Awesome Now!”
· “Get Rich and Famous by Starting Your Own Religion!”
Instead they got the hard truth that no one wanted to hear: Jesus would be a human sacrifice. His wasn’t a movement that came with wealth or power or military conquest. He would die the humiliating death of a criminal, hanging naked on a cross. In this passage, Jesus is making it clear that following him isn’t the glamorous path. It is a difficult, even gory path. And I think he used this provocative language to separate the wheat from the chaff—those who were truly committed from the bandwagon followers—the ones tagging along because of misguided hopes or simply because Jesus was interesting and they were bored. “Does this offend you?” he asked, knowing the answer already. Well, yes, Jesus. Frankly, it does.
So many left that day. And Jesus was OK with that. Why? Integrity was more important than celebrity. How was he able to resist the urge to beg them to stay? How was his value system so strong as to resist the pull of popularity?
I think the answer to this question can be found in the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Remember when Satan tempted him three times? 1) Turn the stones into bread. 2) Throw yourself off the pinnacle and rely on angels to catch you. 3) Worship Satan and control all the kingdoms of the world. The first temptation, the way I interpret it, was more about celebrity than hunger. If Jesus could magically turn stones into bread, in a time and place with rampant food insecurity, think about the celebrity that would engender! What a following he could create! Think of all the good he could do with a following like that! But as you know, Jesus resisted that temptation. Because to Jesus, integrity was more important than celebrity.
Is that true for you? Is integrity more important than celebrity? Are you willing to lose friends in pursuit of what is right, or good, or true? Preachers often struggle with this. You’ll notice that some of the most famous preachers in the land limit their repertoire to a happy, cotton-candy gospel. They tickle the ears with titles like, “3 Steps to Create a Better You” or “God Wants You to be Rich.” But if integrity is more important than celebrity, sermons shouldn’t all be cotton-candy. Faithfulness to the gospel means that sometimes sermons will go down more like Brussels sprouts. Sometimes, the prophet/preacher must offer a lament. At other times, s/he must take an unpopular stand for the sake of the gospel. Sometimes, let’s face it, the gospel is offensive. “Does this offend you?” Jesus asked. Sure enough, it did. And it still does today.
But when Jesus’ words sting, when we find the gospel offensive, there is a remedy. It’s this table. Where we come together as one to partake the body and the blood of Jesus, just like he said we would. Whatever offenses we may have suffered, whatever divisions we experience—this table call us to come together as one.
Speaking of divisions, this Tuesday, there’s a thing happening in our country. Election day. On Tuesday night or maybe Wednesday, each of us will know whether our candidate won or lost (unless . . . hanging chads). We’ll know if our party controls the house, senate, the governor’s mansion—or if that other party won the day. Some of us will celebrate. Others of us will mourn. But by next Sunday, my hope and my prayer is that we can put our celebration or our mourning aside, remembering that Jesus is beholden to no candidate. Jesus is beholden to no party. In the words of Jim Wallis, “God is not a republican . . . or a democrat.” At this table, where in community we consume Jesus’ flesh and blood, there are no elephants, and there are no donkeys. There are only humans from one family—the family of God. The table reminds us of our shared humanity—that we’re all in need—we all need food.
Candidates come and go; political parties ebb and flow. Thank God for this table that makes us one, through Jesus Christ, the Lord.