August 22, 2021
We all do things that could have been perceived as foolish when we were younger. Perhaps we may still do foolish things on occasion. I know I can look at my children and the foolish things they have done, but it also reminds me of those things I have done. Imagine a group of four honor students hanging out together. You would think we may want to do something to bolster our college applications. Yet, we had something a little more devious in mind. Part of that plan involved purchasing a few packages of toilet paper. Now, I cannot pinpoint whose idea it was to begin with, but we all followed suit and ventured out late at night and in the early morning hours. We hid in the dark shadows to avoid the police and went across town to one of our honor teachers houses. We proceeded to decorate it with that toilet paper and even forked the lawn. Placing hundreds of plastic forks in the front lawn for the crowning touch. Under the dark of night, we journeyed back across town and continued to celebrate our conquest and play video games.
This was out of my comfort zone, but I did not want to look like the square among my friends. This was one of those times which felt like you are either with us or you can get left behind. The following Monday when we returned to school, nothing was ever said to us, but I think our teacher knew who it was that decorated his home. From our appearance we were just four smart friends who would never cause trouble.
I believe Jesus had a similar challenge when it came to the beginning of his ministry. Jesus was misread by many. As we heard last week, the comment was made that he was simply Mary and Joseph’s boy, how could he be everything he claimed to be? How could he claim to have come from heaven? How could he claim to be the Bread of Life? He came from Nazareth and was a carpenter’s son. Surely, God could do much better than this. Forget about being divine, he looked human to all who encountered him. He was just like everyone else!
Jesus surely could have used an agent and the marketing could have been much better. Brian Stoffregen suggests the entire problem with Jesus was in the packaging[i]. The Jewish faithful were expecting a savior looking completely different, and nothing like Jesus. Jesus looked like them and this they could not comprehend. They were expecting Blue Fin Tuna and in their minds they received perch.
Yet, God enabled them to believe. As we heard last week, Jesus encourages us to eat his flesh and drink his blood which in an invitation to the table. However, it is not those items alone which enable us to believe in the Word. It is the Spirit embedded in the sacrament which is alive and well enabling us to follow Christ and believe. The appearance of Jesus may have seemed simple, but he was not alone in feeding the people of God. We encounter the Spirit through our baptisms and every time we break bread and drink the wine. The Spirit is not limited to the sacraments. The Spirit is alive and moving in and around us as we listen to God’s calling in our lives. It may not be what we expect, yet it is God’s grace within and among us.
We get into trouble when we discount the Spirit. When we resist it and decide to go down our own path. The Spirit is not part of the Trinity that usually garners a lot of our attention as Lutherans yet maybe it is the part we need to reconnect to so that we hear God’s Word for the future. The Spirit leads us in unexpected directions. It was here that the early disciples of Jesus balked. They were not comfortable with his proclamations and the action they were being called to. They turned around and left.
I will admit, I take solace in this movement. Knowing people turned around and left Jesus gives us hope for our ministry. Preaching the gospel is difficult and sometimes people do not recognize it when they hear it. They are expecting Jesus packaged a little different. Many in our country have created an Americanized version of Jesus which goes counter to everything Jesus preaches and does. So, when hearing of a Jesus who welcomes all regardless of who they love, the color of their skin, their gender, and so forth, it makes some people uncomfortable. Jesus welcomes everyone, refugee and resident, broken and whole, those who encounter him for the first time and life-long believers. Just as a certain image is placed upon Jesus, a certain expectation or image has been projected upon his followers.
We do not all look the same. Our paths are varied. We each encounter our own struggles and suffering. In Peter’s acclamation, we find hope, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Amid it all, Jesus invites us. Through the Spirit we are enabled to hear those words of eternal life in new vibrant ways. God invites us to open our hearts to the Spirit and partake in the Bread of Life.
We have heard a lot about the Bread of Life these past five weeks. It is easy to tune it out thinking it is just the same message we already heard. Yet, the author of John’s gospel invites us on a journey. A journey in which Jesus first addresses the crowds and feeds 5000. A journey where Jesus confronts the opposition and holds fast to his teaching and the truth that he is the Word that was in the world from the very beginning of creation. A journey which ends this chapter with Jesus having a conversation with the many disciples gathered and some turning and walking away because what Jesus was saying was too difficult to comprehend. Who would walk away from Jesus? Many of us have done it at one point or another. When the path seems difficult, or the challenge seems insurmountable, and our anger rises. Yet, Jesus reminds us in his ordinariness and simplicity we are all welcomed into his journey, even if at one point we walked away. The door is open, and we are invited to cross the threshold. A threshold where truth reigns and we encounter the words of eternal life.