St. Matthew’s Sermon 08-26-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 08-26-2018

The Truth is Hard to Swallow

1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43, Psalm 84, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

I mentioned in last week’s sermon how I like following the lectionary and how a part of my decision to do so is that I like to be challenged; to be pushed beyond preaching on readings that attend to my personal focus of the moment into the broader messages of the Bible, and to address the more difficult to understand passages.

At the same time, I was not preaching on the assigned Gospel readings but following, for the past few weeks, the thread of the Old Testament readings as they led us through the life of David and his successor Solomon.

As I did this, the observant may have thought I was resisting the challenge of addressing, what I will profess to be, the most difficult of all Gospel readings, the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John that our lectionary has also been leading us through.

Not so! I wasn’t avoiding it, but I will confess that I was (and still am) struggling with it; reading it over and over in an attempt to take in the meaning of all this talk about eating God’s gift of manna and to accept the language of eating Christ’s flesh (shudder) and drinking his blood (shudder again).

I know that, in this room, I am not alone in the struggle to understand. Even among scholars, throughout history and in this day, there is struggle; heated debate and conflict over what we are to take from this passage. Some believe it is Christ’s institution of the Eucharist placed here, by John, instead of in the last supper before his crucifixion where the other 3 Gospel writers place it. Others argue the opposite; stating that presuming this to be all about the Eucharist diverges from John’s non-ritualistic vision of what it means to believe in Jesus Christ.

We shouldn’t be surprised by these disagreements, and we shouldn’t be too quick to take sides on the argument when, right in the story itself, we read that “many of [Christ’s] Disciples” were saying “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

What I will say at this moment is that this reading is another example of the thing I spoke of last week when talking about how we sometimes skip past or smooth over the not-so–pleasant parts of a story. In fact, this is the best example, of how we need to sit with things that make us uncomfortable; immerseourselves in the challenge to understand especially when we think we might notwant to understand; when we’re afraid of what the truth might be because we fear that the truth might be too hard to swallow.

 

Just as I said about the story of David and Solomon, one of the first things we have to consider when figuring out Bible stories is the entirety of the story. So, in the case of Jesus and his speak of eating his flesh we’ll do well to remember the beginning of the Gospel where we are told that the Word was with God and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and lived among us… (John 1). This we know; this we can understand by envisioning Jesus as the person, the flesh, that embodies the Word of God; the Spirit of God.

But the Jews and the Disciples in this part of the Gospel don’t have that information that John gave us in the introduction to his Gospel.

Likewise, as Jesus asks his Disciples “…what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” our minds go immediately to the resurrection and ascension. Rightly so, but the hearers in the moment don’t have that part of the story yet either.

So there’s no surprise, then, in the fact that those in dialog with Jesus at the time are having trouble understanding it all. But what about us; why is it still so hard for us, who already have all that information, to take it in?

 

Hmm… As I was struggling with this sermon, and as I wrote that last line, “why is it still so hard for us, who already have all the information, to take it in?” (ending with a question mark) I realized that there are a lot of question marks in this reading.

Going back a few verses before today’s reading the Jews were asking , “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (vs. 42)

Shortly after that, the Jews again, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

In today’s reading: from the mouths of the Disciples “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

Then Jesus asks “Does this offend you?” and “what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”

Jesus to the 12 “Do you also wish to go away?”

And, finally, Peter “Lord, to whom can we go?”

 

Questions are pleas for answers, for understanding. And so perhaps we can gain some understanding by paying as much attention to the questions as we do to the pronouncements of Christ. And maybe, just maybe, we need to ask those questions of ourselves to gain understanding!

So ask yourselves now, if you will, “Is this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother [I] know?” or is this the one who “came down from heaven?” OR… is this both; is this the Spirit of God dwelling with meas one like me?

How can this man give me his flesh to eat?” Consider your answer to the previous question.

“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Even though it is difficult, can I accept it?

“Does this offend [me]?” even though Ihave seen “the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?”

“Do [I] also wish to go away?” Is being a believer too hard for me?

And the big question, the important question; “to whom [else] can [I] go?”

 

Okay, so maybe I haven’t been able to smooth over the part about eating Christ’s flesh and drinking his blood. At this point I have not found a way to make it any more palatable; no easier to chew-up and swallow or to drink in. But I can tell you that it is what Christ offers us; every bit of himself; his flesh, his blood, and his spirit.  The question is are you ready and willing to receive it; to take it in; to swallow it and make it a part of yourself?

Amen

 

1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43
8:1 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the city of David, which is Zion.
8:6 Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim.
8:10 And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD,
8:11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.
8:22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven.
8:23 He said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart,
8:24 the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand.
8:25 Therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’
8:26 Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.
8:27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!
8:28 Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O LORD my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today;
8:29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place.
8:30 Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.
8:41 “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name
8:42 –for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm–when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house,
8:43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.

Psalm 84
84:1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!
84:2 My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
84:3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.
84:4 Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Selah
84:5 Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
84:6 As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.
84:7 They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.
84:8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
84:9 Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed.
84:10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.
84:11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the LORD withhold from those who walk uprightly.
84:12 O LORD of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.

 

Ephesians 6:10-20
6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.
6:11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
6:12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
6:13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
6:14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.
6:15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.
6:16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
6:17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
6:18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
6:19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,
6:20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

 

John 6:56-69
6:56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
6:57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
6:58 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.”
6:59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
6:60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”
6:61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you?
6:62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?
6:63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
6:64 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.
6:65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
6:66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.
6:67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”
6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.
6:69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”