St. John's, Centreville
August 26, 2018
Proper 16 B
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are in our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a differences in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
For those of you who have been here the past few weeks, you may be saying to yourselves, "haven't we already heard this gospel - Jesus talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood"? And you would be right. The sixth chapter of the gospel of John begins with the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. The crowds follow Jesus to Capernaum and he teaches them. The rest of the chapter is the "bread of life" discourse that we have been reading for the past 4 weeks.
In today's gospel, Jesus is continuing to teach the crowds. He talks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, pretty graphic stuff for those listening to him. To the people of that day, blood was holy. Blood was what gave life to people and animals. In the Old Testament Book of Leviticus, which has many of the laws for the Jewish people to follow, the blood of the sacrificed animals was poured on the altar because it was holy.
But some people listening to Jesus that day could not understand what he was saying about eating flesh and drinking blood. They were taking it literally, not metaphorically. His teaching was too difficult for them and they make a choice to no longer follow him.
Then Jesus asks the twelve disciples if they, too, wish to go away. Peter, as the group's spokesperson, answers, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to know and believe that you are the Holy One of God." Now that is a statement of faith! Peter has made a choice, probably the most important decision of his life. He has understood who Jesus is and is willing to give everything he has to follow him. Peter puts all his faith and trust in Jesus and boldly chooses to follow him.
If we were in Peter's shoes, what would be our answer? If Jesus asked us if his teachings were too hard to follow and did we want to leave him, what would we say? We think that we would probably say, "Of course I'll stay and follow Jesus." Those words may be easy to say, but those words must be followed by actions. Are we really ready to stand behind that decision, that commitment, even when it becomes uncomfortable or costly? What does it mean to follow Jesus? What kind of commitment are we making?
Choosing to follow Christ is not a one time decision for any of us. It is a decision that we must make consciously every day, sometimes every hour, over and over again, as new situations and choices arise. Our decision to follow Christ starts with our baptism and is renewed when we are confirmed. Each time we seek to do what God wants us to do in our day to day lives, it strengthens our commitment to be followers of Christ.
The important thing to remember is that Christ has already chosen us, each and every one of us as his own. He made the ultimate sacrifice, death on the cross, for us. He has chosen us. Every day, we have countless opportunities to choose him.
How do we do that? How do we choose God? We choose God when we reply to a rude or obnoxious person with a kind word. We choose God when we stand up for someone who is being bullied. We choose God when we choose not to send the hurtful email to a co-worker or friend. We choose God when we send money to worthy charities that help the poor and oppressed. We choose God when we see the face of Christ in another and respect the dignity of every human being.
Being followers of Jesus Christ is often not easy. It is hard. On September 15, 1962, President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech about the goal of sending astronauts to land on the moon. He said, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills."
Jesus challenges us to do hard things as we live out the gospel in our time. It is not easy now, with our country divided and hateful rhetoric being thrown around on social media every day, to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ. We are tempted to jump into the fray and send revengeful rhetoric back to those we disagree with. But is that what Jesus would want from us? I don't think so. Jesus calls us to rise above the hatred, above the evil, above the discord.
I came across this quote from Stanley Hauerwas, a popular author and theologian, earlier this week, and I have been thinking about it ever since. He says, "The task of the church is to cultivate a people who can risk being peaceful in a violent world, risk being kind in a competitive society, risk being faithful in an age of cynicism, risk being gentle among those who admire the tough, risk love when it may not be returned, because we have confidence that in Christ we have been reborn into a new reality." This quote is also in your bulletin and in last Wednesday's E Notes.
"We have confidence that in Christ we have been reborn into a new reality." God has chosen us as followers of Jesus Christ. God will give us the strength and courage we need to live the Christian life. It can be a hard life, with hard decisions to make every day - go along with the crowd, or stand up for what is good and right in each situation, and needing the wisdom to know the difference. Not every situation is black and white. Sometimes it is hard to see how to act and respond in a positive and helpful manner. What is helpful to one may hurt another. As Hauerwas says, it's a life of taking risks to be who God wants us to be. We need to have confidence in God to make good decisions.
Jesus calls us to follow him, whatever the cost, whatever the commitment. Peter exclaims that he will follow Jesus, the Holy One of God. What will our answer be? May God give us the wisdom, strength and courage to be who God wants us to be in a world where we are reborn into a new reality. Amen.