Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost -- Proper 16B (8/23/2009)


Lessons:    Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18     Psalm 34:15-22     Ephesians 6:10-20     St. John 6:56-69     Semicontinuous Series:        1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11] 22-30, 41-43         Psalm 84

Prayer of the Day:     Holy God, your word feeds your people with life that is eternal. Direct our choices and preserve us in your truth, that, renouncing what is false and evil, we may live in you, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

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

St. John 6:56-69 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

I have this vision of a faithful, Lutheran congregation. They gather for worship on Sunday morning. They confess their sins, and sing a song of gratitude to God. They gather their hearts with the Kyrie, and trusting in God's grace they offer up a hymn of praise. After a few words with the children, and a couple of lessons from the Bible (maybe even a psalm that was intoned by Ancient Israel), the gathered assembly is ready to hear a passage read from one of the four Gospel accounts at the beginning of the New Testament. So they stand, and together they sing:

Lord God, Jesus Christ, we are gathered to hear your word. It is a confusing word; a frightening word; a difficult word. Many have come before us, have contemplated your word, and have given up. They have turned away from you and have gone elsewhere, because it is just too hard.

But we are going to do our best to open our hearts and minds for the next few minutes. We are going to trust that somehow, your Spirit will help us understand. Because we know that, as hard as the Christian message is, there is no other way.

You are the way, the truth, the life... Only through you, can we find eternal life. So open our ears, Lord; overcome our resistance, Lord; Enliven our dull senses, Lord; abate our confusion, Lord; Help us to hear what you would have us know, in the reading of this Gospel lesson.

This imagined Gospel Canticle might sound a bit far-fetched, but it is, in fact, what many Lutheran congregations do every Sunday morning (or at least, used to do every Sunday morning). It is a tradition for us to sing, as we prepare for the hearing of the Gospel Lesson, "Alleluia. Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia." These words, of course, come from this week's Gospel lesson. St. John sets the stage for us. Jesus had been teaching in a way that was almost incomprehensible. Many of his disciples described it as difficult, and nearly impossible to believe. Many of his followers shrugged their shoulders and gave up on him, no doubt returning to a much easier way of life - a much easier way to believe.

So many left, that Jesus turned to his closest twelve disciples and asked them: "What about you? Do you also wish you could leave?" At that, Peter offered the response that has introduced the Gospel in liturgical Christian gatherings for years. "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." Out of context, it seems like a trite affirmation of the Gospel truth. In the context of this sixth chapter of John, it comes to us as an invitation into the challenging, confusing and troubling, yet life-giving, word of Jesus Christ.

Contrary to what many modern commentators would have us believe, this Christian life is not easy. We are called to a new way of believing; a new way of understanding; a new way of living. We are called to priorities that the rest of society may well not share. We are called to a life of radical grace, a rejection of hatred and violence, an embrace of God's transforming power for us and for the world. We are called to a discipleship that most of our neighbors would reject as "too much work." We are called to a life in which our personal sacrifice becomes a sign of God's redemptive love.

This is not an easy life, friends. Many have given up before us, and many will give up after us. But it is worth the effort to understand it. It is worth the effort to experience it. It is worth the effort to embrace it. Because in this Christian life, we receive eternal life. In this Christian life, we receive the promise of God that even death cannot destroy. In this Christian life, we receive the very presence of God. With us. And for us. Forever.

May God grant us the persistence to stay with it, and the grace to receive it, that we might be transformed by the presence of Christ in these sacred words.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Gospel:

  1. What was it that so deeply offended Jesus' original listeners?
  2. How might his first century listeners interpreted "eating flesh" and "drinking blood?"
  3. What had Peter seen, that convinced him there was life in Jesus' words?

Connecting with This Week's Gospel:

  1. When have I found it hard to understand some aspect of the Christian faith?
  2. When has my faith called me to a discipleship that seemed too much for me?
  3. How has God strengthened me, and helped me to stay faithful, despite the cost?