By The Rev. Sherry Deets
13 Pentecost – August 26, 2012
Today marks the end of John’s long discourse on the bread of life. Jesus’ difficult teaching on eating his flesh and blood. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them”.
Faith is a central concept for John, but the noun itself never occurs. The verb “believe”, however, occurs more than 80 times, more often than in all the letters of Paul taken together. John stresses that faith is not something you have, but something you do.
In today’s passage from John, Jesus claims it is the spirit in which something is done that’s important. The life-giving power of the spirit is of supreme importance.
In the remainder of the passage are sad words. One gets the feeling of the approaching end. Judas will betray. Already disciples are defecting and when Jesus asked for some assurance of continued loyalty from the twelve, Peter (as usual) utters that statement – “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” It must have been discouraging to Jesus, because many who had crowded to him were slipping away. It is John’s version of Peter’s great confession found in Mark 8:27, Matthew 16:13, and Luke 9:18. Barclay’s summary comment on this passage is moving: “In the last analysis Christianity is not a philosophy which we accept; it is not a theory to which we give allegiance; it is not something which is thought out; it is not something which is intellectually arrived at. It is a personal response to Jesus Christ. It is an allegiance and a love which a man (person) gives because his heart will not allow him to do anything else.”
A personal response to Jesus Christ – an action – a verb. In John’s gospel, believing in Jesus means accepting the gospel of the incarnation: in him the Word became flesh and lived among us, and through the death of this Lamb of God, the sin of the world is taken away. What does it mean to have a personal response to Jesus Christ, to believe that the spirit gives life, to be in relationship with Jesus Christ?
I think this relationship, this verb, this action is deepened by prayer. Think of prayer as a form of ongoing communication. There are some things in life you can say once and have done with them … like giving a lost driver some travel directions, for example. You say it once, and it’s over with.
Yet if your husband, or wife, or special friend, says, “I’d like for you to know me better,” you can’t gain that knowledge instantly by responding, “Okay, then, tell me who you are.” No, that kind of communication … the deep sharing that’s bedrock in any marriage or parent-child relationship or meaningful friendship … can only be ongoing.
Our relationship with God is meant to be like that. We can’t have a quality relationship with God if the only time we ever make contact is when we need something. Prayer isn’t a straightforward exchange of information. It isn’t the spiritual counterpart of handing in an order to be filled by a warehouse.
Do you remember the famous scene from the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, in which Tevye turns to his wife, Golda … the woman he married years before, in a marriage arranged by their parents … and asks her in song, “Golda, do you love me?”
“Do I what!?” Golda sings back. “For 25 years I’ve washed your clothes, cooked your meals, shared your bed, raised your children, and now you ask, ‘Do I love you?’”
Well, of course Tevye and Golda love each other. At their marriage, they were two frightened teenagers, thrown together. Over the years, they’ve kept knocking at the door of each other’s heart … and, over the years, they’ve received an answer.
We can’t practice prayer in a few brief moments of half–hearted requests. We have to be like that poor, desperate widow, knocking on the crooked judge’s door. We can continue to knock on Christ’s door. William Jennings Bryan once called people to pause and contemplate the mystery of a watermelon seed–one of those little black things that we spit out without a second thought. Bryan said:
“I have observed the power of the watermelon seed. It has the power of drawing from the ground and through itself 200,000 times its weight. (Meaning that the mature watermelon weighs 200,000 times as much as the seed)
When you can tell me how it takes this material and out of it colors an outside surface beyond the imitation of art, and then forms inside of it a white rind and within that again a red heart, thickly inlaid with black seeds, each one of which in turn is capable of drawing through itself 200,000 times its weight.
When you can explain to me the mystery of a watermelon, you can ask me to explain the mystery of God.” We are surrounded by mysteries–and our lives are more interesting because of them–so we have come to accept the mystery involved in Jesus words.
Christ calls us to BE–to be people who have a center of strength within ourselves. He gives us the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit guiding and empowering, we never know when our faithful word or deed might make a great difference in someone else’s life.
Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the ages.” “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them”. Like Peter, we say, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ ‘We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’ Amen.
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