Sermon – August 16, 2015 – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Pentecost 12
August 16, 2015
Pastor Bob Rasmus
Flesh and Blood

I’ve always had something of a low-grade fear that on the Sunday that we read this particular part of the sixth chapter of John, someone who is never darkened the door of the church before in her life is going to sit down wondering what this Christianity is all about

And as she sits there in expectation and anticipation she hears our Lord demand that unless we eat of his flesh and drink of his blood we have no life in us.  We have heard those words so many times in the context of the Eucharist that they don’t bear the same impact or the same offense as they did in Jesus time. Eating flesh and drinking blood for heaven sake, is a violation of the purity laws and people, or at least some of them, just got up and walked away. They didn’t get what Jesus was talking about.  But, rather than lapse into metaphorical language or pretend that he was only talking about symbols, Jesus insists that he means eat his flesh and drink his blood, and we know this by his use of verbs which in this case means not only to chew, but to do so loudly like an animal, like a dog to the bone.

We don’t hear that these days, because this language is quite familiar to us. If you are that woman who just walked in church having never heard the gospel before, please be patient. Because there’s a whole bunch going on in this conversation.

First of all let’s remember that this conversation is part of John’s narrative about bread. Jesus having fed the 5000 people and kindled in them a yearning for more, needs to orient them to the bread of life, which is so much more than a few loaves and some fish.  The bread of life– this Jesus of Nazareth – is that which God provides for the satisfaction of all human yearning. This bread of life – this Jesus of Nazareth – is God’s answer to our cries for hope and freedom and mercy.  He offers us his flesh and blood.

Flesh and blood, according to some scholars, is a Hebrew idiom which refers to the whole person… Everything… Heart and mind, spirit and feeling, hopes, dreams, body, past present and future. For Jesus to offer himself, flesh and blood is to offer us the whole of himself, even to death on the cross where his real life and real blood were sacrificed. The whole of God is offered to us so that we may be whole.

Not just fishes and loaves. What the people needed to understand, now that he has gotten their attention with the shocking language is that they are to receive all of him. Not just a miracle worker on the mountain. Not just a healer. Not just the wise man. Not just that Challenger of the status quo. Not just the barrier breaker. All of him. All of him. Because without all of we don’t have him.

These days it is not uncommon to hear people respectfully refer to Jesus as one whose life and teaching and wisdom, instructed and led many people to an ethical path. Some may even come to church satisfied that that understanding of Jesus is sufficient. It is true. Others in the same respectful tone regard Jesus is a courageous martyr who was willing to die for his beliefs and his followers. A hero, I suppose. That, too, is true. Still others see him as a grand historical figure who helped to shape history and to lift up those who history has so often pressed down.  And that is also true,  But to restrict Jesus to any one of these without an understanding of God’s complete self giving for our sake cannot bring us to an understanding of who Christ is as the bread of life. God has given all of God’s self even unto death so that for our sake death would be overcome and true life with possible.

You see, it is in the full appropriation, the full integration of Christ and humanity were these promised gifts are made real. Jesus word, “you will abide in me and I in you”  means that our relationship with God is so intimate, so completely fused, that we could no more be separated from him today as we could be separated from our lunch last Thursday.  To eat and drink the blood of Christ is to be fully integrated into his being and by his initiative.   To be fully integrated into Christ means to experience life in a different way. John talks about it as abundant life. Jesus talks about it here as eternal life. The operative word is life;  it is transformed, given meaning, given hope, infused with mercy, realized as God would have us realize it.

So, why does this matter to me today? Well, first and foremost, it matters because it orients the source of life outside of ourselves.  Let’s remember how John starts this whole gospel, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . .  in him was life, and the life was the light of all people . . . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . “ If we believe that all things are under our control, subject to our intentions we live under an illusion. Locating life, the source of life, meaningful life, outside of ourselves gives us an opportunity for praise and thanksgiving. Now that might sound a little odd, but for the wonders of life, for children, and mountains, and love, and peace in a storm, we need the opportunity to give thanks and praise. Secondly it matters because, if not all things are under our control, subject to our own purposes, then we will experience grief or fear or betrayal. And we may even be the cause of these things. It matters because these will not be the last word. The life that Christ promises is a life of meaning because restoration, reconciliation, rekindled hope is possible. It matters because that thing you did because so much pain to yourself or to others. That thing you knowingly dead in defiance of what you know is right can be forgiven. It matters because in this intimate, fused relationship with Jesus Christ, we know then that God cares about the whole of us, our lives, our hopes, our children, our marriages, our relationships, our failures, our sins.   In this we are not alone. . . we become sheep to his shepherd and branch to his vine . ..

So,  if you are first timer or a 500th timer, the message is the same.  Christ has declared his stake in you, showed how far he will go to save you, what you are really worth to him.  He is all in.  He has given everything, flesh, blood, life itself, so that your life would be made new.  We remember that now, as we step up to this table to hear again the promise, the body of Christ, the blood of Christ given for you and for all people. . . .

Sometimes it takes a little shock, a little tree-rattling to get our attention, but there it is.  That’s what we are in for.  That’s what we are promised for our hunger and for our thirst.

Read food, real drink, real hope, real life, real Jesus.

Thanks be to God.