Sermon: Is It Too Easy?

August 26, 2018
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
John 6:56-69

This section of John’s Gospel deserves more attention than it receives. It’s the first recorded moment in the history of the Christian Church – before it even had the names of “Christian” or “Church” – when a theological controversy caused it to fracture. To split.

It’s the only mention in the gospels that I can think of which describes Jesus’ own followers coming to reject him. None of the twelve did – at least, not until Judas’ betrayal, which is a far more fundamental rejection – but some number of Jesus’ other disciples decided that they could no longer follow him when they encountered this teaching about the bread of life.

“This teaching is difficult,” John quotes them as saying. “Who can accept it?”

It’s made me wonder if our teaching is too easy. Do we, in this tradition of the Christian Church, challenge you enough to say, “This teaching is difficult”?

It wasn’t the last time that difficult teaching persuaded some of Jesus’ followers to take another road. In the succeeding centuries, those roads all bore the name of Christian. The Oriental Orthodox Christian churches broke off from what we know as the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches in the late fifth century. The Great Schism separated Catholicism and Orthodoxy in 1054. In 1517 Martin Luther’s ninety-five theses kicked off the Protestant Reformation and a new Christian movement independent of the Roman Catholic Church.

With “Protest” as a significant portion of the word “Protestant,” it is no wonder that we’ve been fracturing ever since: Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Baptist, Congregationalist, Advent Christian, Evangelical, Methodist, Pentecostal, Holiness, New Hope.

We are very good at saying, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

And here I am asking if it’s too easy.

For most of my life, it has been easy. It’s been easy to call myself a Christian. Most of the people who lived in the town I grew up in were Christians, at least, they called themselves that, even if we were all just a little suspicious of those who didn’t attend our own churches. The church I attended Sunday School in stood on the town green, rising in granite glory across the street from the house of the mill owners, whose money had built it.

Schools excused us for all our Christian holidays – if you were Protestant. Catholics had some additional days of religious observance that didn’t get that consideration, and Jews, well. If we wouldn’t do that for Catholics, who were probably the largest religious demographic in town, we weren’t going to do that for just a few, right?

It was easy to be a Christian.

It wasn’t so easy to act like one.

Jesus confronted his followers with a deeply disturbing metaphor when he told them, “I am the bread of life… Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” They had no notion of the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist. The Last Supper hadn’t happened yet. So they weren’t at all prepared for a symbol that resembled cannibalism.

And they weren’t prepared for the deeper meaning that they so clearly saw. Jesus as good as told them, “It’s about me. It’s not just my teachings. It’s not just the work God does through me. It’s me. It’s about me. I am going to be your bread. I am going to be your meat. I am going to be your water. I want you to trust me more deeply than you’ve ever trusted another human being. I want you to trust me more than you’ve ever actually trusted God.”

That’s not easy.

It is easy to be a Christian when Christians are in charge. Being in charge, however, also makes it really hard to act like a Christian. The church I grew up in still paints its trim the same shade of pale blue. Why? Because the mill owners who paid for it insisted on that color. I guess they felt they’d bought the right. And the church leadership agreed: they’d bought the right.

Being in charge, however, is not the challenge Jesus put to his disciples. He told them, “Trust me more than anyone you’ve every trusted.”

Trust Jesus. Not your skills. Not your education. Not your energy. Not your work ethic. Not your savings. Not your integrity. Trust… Jesus.

That’s not easy.

I confess that I look suspiciously today at calls for loyalty. We have been badly served by loyalty over and over again through history, and it’s happening again now. Over five hundred children separated from their families at the border remain un-reunited. It wasn’t loyalty that tore them apart – no, that was something different – but it was loyalty that caused hundreds of men and women to receive the orders to do it, and then to do it.

I confess that I am not a big fan of loyalty for its own sake.

I am, however, a big fan of trust in God. And I am a big fan of trust in Jesus: He has offered himself as deeply as any human being can, as deeply as the Holy One does, to see that we are fed, and nurtured, and strengthened, and supported.

Is it too easy? No, it probably is not. Not if we take this seriously. Not if we recognize how reluctantly we offer our trust. Not as we realize just how much this trust calls forth from us. Not if we realize that it’s not easy to be a Christian, and it’s not easy to act like one.

Susan Hylen writes: “But ‘abiding’ with Jesus is difficult. Staying with Jesus and learning from him is a long process. For many, a quick fix would be more attractive. The crowd was initially attracted to Jesus when they saw him as a Moses figure — one who could work miracles and provide political victories. As they continue with him, they learn that Jesus is not offering an easy victory but the long road of discipleship.”

So it is not too easy. No, it isn’t. But it is not a lonely journey, it is an accompanied one. Jesus’ followers had their trust, and we have our trust. Jesus’ followers had each other, and we have each other. Jesus’ followers had Jesus – and we, too, have Jesus.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon:

Is the recording identical to the recorded text? No. Did Pastor Eric actually preach a shorter sermon than usual. Um. Well. Perhaps. But perhaps not.

The image is “Christ Speaks to the Disciples,” painted by Meister der Reichenauer Schule ca. 1010 – Photo by the Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: | Posted on August 26, 2018

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