Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Aug 19, 2018
To Him Shall We Go
Today is a climactic week. Our Gospel readings have been building upon each other each week for the past four weeks as we began with Jesus feeding the 5000, then crossing the sea by walking across it, and then two weeks of discourse as Jesus explains that He is the true bread that has come down from heaven. Today, that discourse becomes very pointed and calls for a decision to be made similar to Joshua and all Israel in our Old testament reading this morning. Will the people listening to Jesus accept what they hear and serve Jesus as the Lord revealed in human flesh or will they serve gods of their own choosing?
Some things are difficult to understand and are difficult to accept because the true meaning escapes the hearer. What Jesus was explaining has an aspect of difficulty in understanding. But sometimes something is understood well and is difficult to accept because it is beyond what the hearer wants to accept. The Gospel appointed for today along with its preceding verses of the past two weeks comprise one of the more contested chapters in all of Scripture for its understanding. But even with such confusion over meaning, its content is still rejected by many because what Jesus has to say is hard to accept.
I think that those disciples that turned back and no longer walked with Jesus understood very well what Jesus was saying. It was just that they could not accept such hard speech. They were OK with being believers in a god that created all things and that favored them over other peoples. They were fine with a god that would give them what they needed and from time to time what they wanted also. But they were not interested in a God that would humble Himself to take on human flesh. They were fine with following Jesus as long as they could remain agnostic but as soon as Jesus expected them to confess that God was present in human flesh and that He would give this flesh into death for them and that it would be true food for them that would grant eternal life, well that was asking too much.
They were agnostic in that they wanted a god that was far away but available when they wanted him. They were agnostic in that they wanted a god that was not too intrusive into their way of thinking. They were agnostic in that they did not want a god that was seemingly diminished by the material things of this world, especially as Jesus presented Himself in humility. They were agnostic in that they believed in a god but not in the doctrine that delineated that god in a way that they rejected as being godlike. They were agnostic in that they were not willing to change how they lived to accord with that doctrine.
“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” There is no room in the words of Jesus for any kind of agnosticism. There is no such thing as a generic kind of god and thus no such thing as a generic kind of Christian. They had to accept that this Man who had grown up in their midst was true God and true man and that by His death and resurrection, He would bring life to a world that was otherwise dead.
Neither can we be agnostic, generally believing in a god that just loves us the way we are and wants for us what we want for us, no matter how powerful and gracious he may seem. We are not called to be agnostic but to confess and believe in the God of our baptism and the work that He has done on behalf of all mankind, in particular, the death of Jesus, who is both God and man united as the true food that is His flesh.
It is one of the reasons why we confess one of the creeds each Sunday and why our Small Catechism encourages us to recite the Apostles’ Creed daily. Because, as we do, we agree with Jesus that He is our God given into death for our sins and raised that He might be our true food. In speaking those words and believing them, we reject all agnosticism by confessing the particular God born of a Virgin as our Lord. In reciting such as the Nicene Creed, we leave no room for faith in a generic god, either near or far, because we cling to the God of eternity that has lived and walked among men in time.
I have already mentioned that this chapter of the Gospel according to St. John is a chapter that is contested among Christians as to whether or not Jesus is speaking of the Eucharistic meal as He declares His flesh to be true food and His blood true drink. Some cling to a spiritual meaning alone in that Jesus is speaking metaphorically and simply wants us to feed upon His words in our hearts and thus believe and is not speaking in any literal sense. But given that this Gospel was written for the Christian community that was already gathering around the table of the Lord in worship, I do not see how it could be understood as not speaking about the Lord’s Supper.
We cannot be agnostic, believing general things about Jesus, when we participate in the Eucharistic feast. We cannot celebrate the Lord’s Supper in a generic way, thinking that Jesus is somehow warming our hearts in a spiritual manner and yet is not feeding us with His true flesh and blood. It is a point in the Divine Service when the God we worship is present in particular as His body and blood pass our lips and this divine man is taken into us. It is a hard saying. One that cannot be totally comprehended but must be believed. The facts can be explained and the evidence clear but faith is required to trust that it is so, otherwise we would all turn back and no longer follow.
One of my seminary teachers puts it well in his commentary on this Gospel: “[T[herein lies the scandal of faith and the scandal of that life which is to be lived in faith. Faith unites itself to Christ where he is and where he works. Were faith to seek Christ outside his work, faith would not find him and so prove to be a delusion. But there is no work of Christ where there is no flesh given and no blood shed. The realism of [this] passage is required to give foundation to the realism of human salvation: ‘unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have Life in yourselves” (Weinrich, p732).
Our faith is scandalous because we reject every idea of a generic god and cling to the God that is particular and known in Jesus. In Him is life and apart from Him there is no life. It is this eternal life that was forfeit upon the cross, raised on the third day, and now given to you as true food and true drink that you may have life eternal. This is where we are directed to see Jesus and receive Jesus, particularly in His ongoing work in the Divine Service.
Peter asks a rhetorical question, “To whom shall we go?” as he says that there is no other place to find eternal life. Your participation today is the answer to that question for here you say, “To Him shall we go.” To Jesus in His flesh and blood given with bread and wine for forgiveness, life and salvation. To Him shall we go, for He is the eternal Word of God, come in the flesh for the life of the world. To Him shall we go for He is the Holy One of God who is Life and imparts life to all who believe and receive.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.