Back to the Basics John 6: 56-69
There have been a few times when I have had a chance to get back to the basics. What I mean by that is when someone drops in my office and wants to become a Christian, or is inquiring about Christianity, with no prior knowledge or experience of who Jesus is or what the bible is. The big question is where do you start?
I give out a bible & suggest that they not read it from cover to cover like a novel, because they won’t get past Genesis, ch. 2. Rather, I suggest they read the gospel of John and 1 or 2 Psalms a day.
The gospel of John was written for all those who haven’t seen Jesus but have only been told about him and hopefully believe in him and what he has done for us. The Psalms are like prayers for every occasion in life. When asked where to find the Psalms I suggest they hold the bible and open it as close to the middle and they will find them!
Then come the questions! (examples: Jesus’ birth; Jesus as both God & human; why so many denominations; faith vs. works). We need not apologize for sharing a gospel of hard sayings that calls us to paths we tread reluctantly. But people can’t hear us if the message is made hard; that is, not by the offense of the gospel, but by the assumption that everyone understands the language of religion. They need to hear it with as much empathy – and as little holy jargon – as we can offer. Everyone needs to hear it that way. The problem is that for some it becomes too hard to hear & so they leave.
Our son-in-law’s father was a Paulist novitiate, intending to become a Paulist Priest. The Paulist Fathers is the only order originally founded in North America. While a novitiate at seminary, Jim was asking many, many questions covering aspects of faith & doctrine. His superiors felt that he was asking too many questions. As a result, he was told to leave the Paulists, which he did. He also left the Church, and has never gone back.
It was that way with Jesus’ hearers and followers. Everything from Jesus’ heavenly origins to his being food & drink to those who believe in him, from accepting his intimate relationship to God, to consuming his flesh & blood as genuine food & drink; this all was difficult to take, especially when the word for “eat”, used 4 times in our reading literally means “munch, gnaw, chew or crunch.”
It was hard because all this pointed to something beyond that which was most obvious: on the mountainside with 5000, seeing beyond the limited resources to God’s abundance; in the feeding itself, seeing beyond the food that perishes to the food that lasts, beyond the work of human hands to the work of god. Looking beyond the Holy Communion” jargon of body & blood’s obvious scandal leads to the full scandal of belief.
All attempts to hold onto life, to create life, to possess life, are doomed to disaster, even as the bodily life of Jesus is doomed to death. The scandal, the difficult saying is that we are unable to secure the feeding we need solely by our own devices. It is a difficult saying to have to receive life as gift & not be able to secure it for oneself. It will take much more to feed us than our own efforts.
That’s what some of these inquirers realized. That’s what our friend, Peter, realized. The alternatives to belief in Jesus as Lord & Holy One of God are simply worse: “Lord, to whom shall we go?!?” One could say that believers are driven, thrown into the arms of faith. It’s the basics that seekers hunger for. It’s what we all hunger for, isn’t it?
Not Christian principles, Christian values, ethics. However lofty & challenging they appear to be they are not nourishing. They turn out to be “empty calories.” My hunger is for Jesus Christ; not for “the teachings of Jesus” alone, however valuable those certainly are; not for Jesus the Rabbi alone, however much I value him in that role. My hunger is for the whole Jesus Christ – the Teacher, the Rabbi, the Exorcist, the Healer, the one crucified, buried & raised & who rules in glory.
Some don’t want that kind of Jesus, & walk away, as is recorded in our bible reading. Today, some still don’t want that kind of Jesus & walk away. People walk away because the Church is attempting to speak too much to the political & social concerns, or it is not speaking enough on these issues. People leave because the bible isn’t being taught as it should, in their opinion, as a “guide book” for our lives, filled with moralisms, how to’s & what to do’s.
Somehow, we’ve forgotten the basics, forgotten that, as Luther said, the bible cradles Jesus Christ, pushes Jesus Christ, proclaims God’s love affair with mortals through Jesus Christ, tells about a God who loves us so much and risks all by moving closer to us in the infant Jesus, the man Jesus, the crucified Jesus, & who is near, under our skin, around, before, behind, alongside, above.
People like those seeking/inquiring folk bring me back to the basics, throw me into the arms of faith that cries, “Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life,” which the sense of these words mean that Jesus “continues” to have the words to eternal life, and “faith, belief”.
“Trusting” is better understood as a verb, an action word, rather than a noun like “belief”; it is better understood as a process rather than as a possession. It is better understood as on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. We cry out, like the apostle Paul, “Lord, clothe me with God’s armor, God’s weapons, the gifts of God’s graciousness!”
Those gifts were showered upon you in your baptism. I got my basics back in Brooklyn at its baptismal font nearly 77 years ago. For that I thank God for that place, Trinity Lutheran, and the ministry Christ entrusted to that congregation. I got everything necessary for this life and the life to come in that holy bath. There was nothing stingy about God when I was clothed, lavished with those gracious gifts, the basic stuff of a life of faith as a child of God.
What is expected of me, then, is this: on the one hand, some things I believe & they make no difference; on the other hand, some things I believe & they change who I am &, I act in harmony with those beliefs & it becomes essential as to how I live each day.
Our son, David, in his teens was an Ollie North fan; he even had an Ollie North haircut! We figured he’s going through a phase, or he’s trying to push my buttons, or both! Geez, we’d get into all sorts of heated conversations – the Iran Contra affair, Reagan, you name it. In one of those conversations he shouted at me, “You’re just saying that because you’re a Pastor!” Whereupon I said, “No, David, I’m saying that because I’m a Christian; my being a Pastor has nothing to do with this!”
Because of that, how beliefs inform our actions, especially in our call process quest and co-location discussions, “We are poised on a threshold ready and eager to creatively try new and innovative ways for mission and ministry in the University District. We do not know where this will lead us, but we trust with all our being that God is already there and is drawing us to join in the parade. We do it with excitement and joy because we choose love.” We should almost know these words by heart, don’t you think?!?
And that is what the basics of faith is all about. Given that, you may be thinking: but what about the specific call to serve & care for the needy, the lonely, the forgotten, which we are already doing? Well, that’s another message for another Sunday. For today, it’s the basics. But the basics provide grist for the mill to tell & live the story of God’s love affair with us. So, for today, it’s the basics.
One of the world’s leading theologians teaching at Union Seminary in Manhattan was being interviewed by a host of reporters. For the last question he was asked to summarize his theology. He thought a while & said to the reporter: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the bible tells me so…” Amen.
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 8-19-18” name of the sermon.