Pentecost 12, Year B

Gospel

John 6:51-58

Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 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.”

 

Ephesians 5:15-20

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

Sermon

 

Each of the 4 Gospels tell Jesus’ story in a slightly different way. [i]

Matthew, Mark, and Luke tend to follow a general pattern:

Birth, life, miracles,  death, and resurrection.

But John’s Gospel is unique.[ii]

It kind of bounces from one thing to another,

 

The other Gospels are kind of like biographies, but

John’s is a Gospel about important events.

One thing after another. Boom. Boom. Boom.

In just a few lines, as John wrote his Gospel,

Jesus feeds more than 5,000 men, women and children.

Then he takes off to avoid being made King, and

is left behind by his followers,

when they row across the lake.

But he walks on water to catch up with them.

 

And when the crowd finds him, the next day,

You’d think that Jesus would be exhausted,

But, instead, he’s sharp as a tack.

 

Jesus starts talking about Bread,  but he’s playing with words.[iii]

 

First thing he says to the crowd is,  I’ve just “just filled your bellies.”

So, he’s talking about bread as regular food.

 

And, a moment later he says, “You shall not live by bread alone.”   

Although he still says the word “bread”,

he’s not just talking about food, anymore.[iv]

What’s the deal?

 

In talking about Bread, Jesus was reminding his followers,

as he still reminds us, today, that

God created us as beings of both spirit and flesh.

 

I am the Bread of Life”, Jesus said. “I am food for your soul.”

“You need to feed your bodies”, he said,

“But you also need to feed your souls”.

 

As important as this point is, Jesus didn’t linger on it too long.

Then Jesus bounced from talking about the Bread of Life,

To talking about Heaven.  Why’d he do that?

 

In Jesus’ day folks had scarcely a clue about the physical universe.

Jesus “ascended” to heaven because, for his people,

the sky was heaven, and heaven was in the sky.

 

Back then, other folks thought that the sky was a tall round ceiling,

touching the earth at the very edges.

 

Other’s thought there might be many levels of heaven, and that

Jesus’ reigned with his Father in the 7th heaven.

The Most High God in the Most High Heaven. 

 

While some Jewish teachers thought there was no afterlife, at all,

Others may have lined up with the Roman’s,

Who saw a shadowy nether world,

neither  fully alive nor quite dead.

 

And we remember a dove descending upon Jesus, from Heaven,

when he was baptized in the river Jordan.

And Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father Who art in Heaven”.

 

Those of us of a certain age, my know that when Yuri Gagarin,

the Soviet Astronaut, went into space

he  announced that there was no God.

He thought he’d been to heaven and that God was not there.[v]

 

We don’t really have a lot of specifics about heaven.

But it’s there. For sure.

We all want to go to heaven.  Some of us expect to.

I hope to myself. But I don’t want to go there today.[vi]

Why’d Jesus bounce from talking about the Bread of Life,

        to talking about Heaven?

 

On his cross, Jesus said to a man hanging beside him,

“Today you will be with me in paradise.”

 

When Jesus said the word “paradise”,

he meant what we call  “heaven”.

It’s all kind of tied together.

 

In Jesus’ day,

“Heaven” was a Jewish idea influenced by the Greeks,

Who’d been influenced by the Persian’s idea of “paradise”.

 

The Persian’s saw “paradise” as a great lush park,

with cool flowing water, a cool breeze, and a soft warm sun.      Green, and safe, with plenty of anything a person might want.

Sounds like the “Garden of Eden”, doesn’t it? [vii]

Or San Diego, in 1956.

 

“Heaven” and “Paradise” and the “Bread of Life”, all tie together.

Jesus’s message was simple:

We’ll find fullness in life, not in the bread we own and eat,

but in living with Jesus, our Daily Bread.

 

Our work as Christians is to live fully here, on Planet Earth,

with Jesus, as members of His kingdom, in the real world.

 

We are called to work in God’s Kingdom.

To feed others and to be fed,

“through Him, with Him and in Him”, [viii]

Right here. Right now.

 

Bread for the Body. Bread for the soul.

The Father sent Jesus. Jesus sends us.

We live, because he lives.

 

Christ feeds and nourishes us,

And if we’re lucky we can feed and nourish others.

As we work, Jesus’ work continues, and

His Kingdom comes a little closer.

 

Amen  

 

[1]  If a person looks closely at Matthew, Mark and Luke,  although they seem to see Jesus with one eye (i.e., “synoptic”), , their general similarities are offset by some dissimilarities. They weren’t  written as we might write a biography today; they didn’t try to confirm the sequence of events timing, through reliance on extrinsic sources, as we might today.

Certain specific discrepancies bother Modern folks, e.g., Matthew places the healing of the centurion’s servant before both the disciples’ plucking grain on the Sabbath, whereas Luke, places the healing after the grain plucking event. For those who view the Gospel as inerrant and correct in every fact, these discrepancies pose a real problem. In my view, it is an error to project contemporary standards of news reporting to documents created 2000 years ago, for purposes other then reporting news, and of which we have no originals, but rather only copies of copies.

As one author notes, to assume that all the Gospels were arranged chronologically, requires the posting of absurd explanations such as  Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter twice, or was twice crowned with thorns, or denied by Peter at least six times.

There are many unanswered and unanswerable questions. The Gospels vary in detail, as well as style and quality of writing.  Which Gospel was written first?  Did the authors of the synoptic Gospels rely on a theoretical additional, probably oral, account of called “Q”?  These concerns comprise the so-called “synoptic problem”.

Most likely  the  synoptic Gospels follow Jesus’ life along thematic lines, accurately reporting the events not as they occurred in time sequence, but rather as Jesus’ teaching themes, as those themes were understood by the Gospel authors.

[1] Matthew, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, was rather unique amongst the Gospel writers, as an eyewitness to most or all of the events he wrote about.

Luke relied entirely on written sources and eyewitnesses. Mark probably knew Jesus and probably followed him around; but he seems to have mostly learned about Jesus, from Peter.

The author of  John’s Gospel may have been the disciple “whom Jesus loved”; he was certainly very familiar with 1st century Jewish culture and its central scriptures. Was he an eyewitness? The style of Greek seems to indicate that he wasn’t a Jewish follower, but his Gospel records many extrinsic details, of which he claims to be an eyewitness, e.g., “He who saw it has borne witness”.  (See, John 19:35). So, we don’t and probably cannot know for sure.

[1] He seemed to love doing that, as did the Hebrews of his time.

[1] But what else? Bread and Cheese? Maybe a little wine?

[1] As a mixed blessing of science we know that “There is no there, there”.

[1] Everyone wants go to heaven. But no one wants to go there today.

[1] There are 3 references to the Persian, paradeisos, in the NT, but well over 100 to the Greek, ouranos, i.e., heaven.   The Greeks were very influential in early church thought.  According to the early church Fathers, heaven is the paradise in which our first parents dwelt before the fall. Paradise exists, but neither on the earth nor in the physical heavens; instead it is somewhere out there, beyond the physical realm. [παράδεισος, ‘paradeisos’ Strong’s  3857. οὐρανός, ‘ouranos’ Strong’s  3772]

[1] “Through Him, with Him and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever.”