Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 16)

Text: John 6:66
Many of Jesus' followers turned back and would not go with him any more.

It’s not easy following Jesus

In this day and age it’s hard to be a Christian.  It seems that the Christian is the odd one out in the crowd;
the Christian is the one whose values are different to everyone else’s;
the Christian is the weirdo who still believes all that stuff about Jesus and wastes so much time and energy on the church when they could be doing so many other things for themselves. 
In a world where everything is about me and everything revolves around having my needs and my desire for happiness and fulfilment met there is no room for a religion that is focused on a guy called Jesus and serving other people.  That is so unreal and irrelevant for the modern world.

Being a follower of Jesus has been hard right from the beginning.  At the beginning of John 6 Jesus has something like 10,000 enthusiastic followers whom he feeds with a boy’s lunch.  By the end of the chapter he is left with just the twelve disciples, and even one of them “is a devil … and was going to betray him”.  Everyone else had found Jesus teaching too hard to swallow.

And what was it that they found too hard?  Jesus told them to focus their faith and trust and life on him and on him alone.  He said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me, and I in them.  The living Father sent me … whoever eats me will live because of me”.

There is a double difficulty here for Jesus’ listeners.  They know this man Jesus – he comes from Nazareth – and yet he claims to have been sent by God the Father and that he is the giver of the true bread, that means he is one with God. 

If that wasn’t hard enough, Jesus is now also saying that if anyone wants to have life, life that is real and never ending, everyone needs to turn their focus on him.  “I am the Bread of Life”, he says.  “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them to life on the last day” (John 6:56).

For the folk who were listening to Jesus that was too much.  They had been used to a religion that focussed on what they did –
how well they observed the rules,
how often they went to the synagogue,
how well they avoided doing the wrong thing. 
Their religion had become so much about what they did that this sudden switch to religion being about something besides them and being about faith in Jesus of Nazareth, that is more than they could handle. 

In addition many followed Jesus for the wrong reasons - selfish reasons.  After seeing him feed so many people they saw him as a way to get easy food.  They didn't care that much about Jesus only what they could get.

For 5 weeks now we have been reading from John chapter 6 starting with the miracle of feeding of the large crowd of people down to the disciples’ confession about Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life.  And now we believe and know that you are the Holy One who has come from God”. There is no getting away from the gospel writer's determination to tell us that Jesus is the centre and focus of everything in the life of the believer. 

John’s Gospel is so 'Jesus' focused especially with the way he describes Jesus’ miracles as ‘signs’ and the ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus that one can’t help but come back to the theme that I’ve repeated several times over these past week’s and that is – it’s all about Jesus.  When Jesus the Bread of Life lives in you, is in the centre and core of your being you will have life.  And it’s precisely this that Jesus’ listeners found so offensive. 

Today it’s no easier to follow Jesus.

It’s not easy to stick up for Jesus in a time when anyone associated with Jesus is considered a bit strange.
It’s not easy to say that you went to church on Sunday when others are talking about their great camping and fishing weekend.
It’s not easy to respect others when there is so much abuse, bullying and harassment around us.
It’s not easy to refrain from joining in sordid jokes when everyone else considers it normal.
It’s not easy to be generous and giving when everyone is screaming to look after yourself first.
It’s not easy to be content when advertisers, magazines, our TVs, our shopping centres are all geared to drive us to want more.

It’s hard to be a Christian, and follow Jesus' ways when the larger part of our community doesn't understand where the Christian is coming from and hold a view of life which confronts us, and challenges our values at every turn.  It’s hard to let Jesus be centre and focus of our lives when the world.  On the other hand, it's not too hard to make our Christianity very selfish and self-centred.  It’s just about what we can get for ourselves by believing in Jesus or attending church or being involved in this or that program of the church. 

On occasions I have asked people why they belong to the church or are changing from one church to another.  Inevitably the answer is something like, “Because I want to get something out of going there”.  My question then is, “Isn’t that a bit selfish and self-centred?  Is being in the church just about what you can get out of it?  Where does Jesus fit into this?  And what is more, isn’t being in the church more about what you can give rather than what you can get?”  (Thinking of Jesus’ words about how it’s better to serve than to be served). 

It’s easy to fall into this trap and reduce everything down to one simple question, “What’s in it for me?”

Martin Luther defined sin as “the heart curved in on itself”.  Curved in on ourselves – focusing on our needs, what excites and thrills us, what turns us on and what leaves us cold, what meets our needs and wants – we are left separated and alienated from Christ.  This is the sin that afflicts us today – our hearts are curved in on themselves.

It’s hard to be a Christian because we live in a world that is curved in on itself, that places serving oneself as the top priority over and above anyone or anything else and sees the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ as irrelevant.  The self-centred ways of the world are in direct conflict with the self-giving ways of Jesus.  It gets hard when our vision gets blurry and we can no longer distinguish what are God's ways and what are the world’s ways and we aren’t even aware of how blurry things have become.

A part of being what God intends us to be is to forget ourselves.

When you're in love part of the joy of being in love is that you find yourself “consumed” by the person you're in love with.  We find ourselves thinking all the time about that person.  Every waking moment, and sometimes much of our sleeping moments as well are preoccupied with that one person we love.  Eventually if the relationship continues to develop, we find ourselves no longer thinking in term of “I” and “you” but rather in terms of “us” and “we”.  

Something like that happens to the believer and Jesus.  By God's grace working in our lives and the Holy Spirit making real in us our connection with Christ and his death and resurrection, we find ourselves being drawn out of ourselves and into Christ.  With Christ in the centre of our lives we are less focused on ourselves.  We find that we are thinking less of ourselves and more about others.  We become more like Christ.  Our needs seem to grow smaller as we are given more responsibility for the needs of others. 

The love of Jesus beckons us on the most important journey we will ever undertake; the long counter-cultural journey outside of ourselves toward the true centre of our being who is Jesus Christ our saviour and Creator. 
I say it is counter cultural because this self-forgetting attitude flies in the face of what the world tells us to do. 
It is a journey outside of ourselves – outside of our sinful selfish natures that only wants to be the focus of attention. 
It is a lifelong journey of making Jesus Christ the heart and centre of our lives.

To continue my love analogy.  When we love someone we would never say, “I’m in love with someone because I get great things out of this relationship.  Whatever I ask, she will do for me.  I can use her to get anything I want”.  That’s not love!  Love that loves someone in order to get something out of that person isn’t love by anyone’s standards.

And yet, sad to say that’s how we think of our relationship with Jesus or with the church.  We become very self-focussed and concerned only with what I can get out of it and don’t care too much about anything else, or anyone else, not even the relationship itself.

Yes, it is hard being a Christian when the world around us and even our own human nature screams at us to look out only for ourselves and if you don’t like something or someone you have every right to given them the flick and say, “I don’t care”. 
It is hard being the person God saved us to be and letting the love of Christ rule over everything we say and do and influence our choices and attitudes.
It is hard to fight off the attacks of Satan who will make our selfishness seem just the right and only thing to do at any given moment.
It is hard preserving the unity of the body of Christ when self-centredness breaks that bond as if it were nothing.

It’s good to come here in the presence of Jesus and know that his grace and love and forgiveness are real and true.  We may not get all the answers we are looking for every time we come here.  We may go away with as many frustrations and anxieties as we had before. We may not even like the hymns, the way the music was played, the style of music, but that’s not the point.  We have come here in the presence of Jesus, heard him speak, tasted his sacrament and again realised with the disciples, “Lord, you really do have the words that give life.”


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
26th August 2012

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