Words from Our Pastor

Monday, August 27, 2018

Pentectost 14, 8/26/18: A Holy Tug

Sermon for Pentecost 14, 8/26/18                   John 6: 56-69                                            A Holy Tug

            Jesus asked the disciples, “Do you also wish to go away?” And he had sure given them reason! Eat my flesh? Drink my blood? They would have been disgusted by this invitation! Jews were forbidden to consume the blood of any creature—that was God’s law, recorded in Leviticus. Jesus’ words contradicted their faith and their obedience to God’s law. A big deal.
Even in our day, it’s a hard invitation to, well, swallow.
Pastor Martin Copenhaver remembers a Communion moment in worship when as he repeated Jesus’ familiar words, ‘This is my body given for you. This is my blood shed for you,’ a small girl, from her pew, suddenly responded in a loud voice, “Ew, Yuck!” Sometimes kids say aloud what the adults are thinking.
Ew, Yuck! And yet……
there is something about what Jesus says that tugs at us, and tugged at the disciples in their day, even when who they were and what they knew best was already pushing against the limits of trusting Jesus. Peter, despite his disgust and confusion, answers Jesus’ question, “Do you also wish to go away?” in a powerful way: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Something deep in Peter told him Jesus’ words were true and trustworthy.
But for some others, this was the last straw. What Jesus said was simply too much. Jesus as the living bread from heaven—as he stood before them, that was not so hard to swallow. But gnawing on his flesh? (This is what the Greek word for the verb ‘to eat’ used here would have meant.) No. “Does this offend you?” Jesus asked. Indeed it did, and many of them walked away, so many that Jesus was left with, well, just the 12.
Fast forward 20 centuries, when today people are offended over much less, especially in church. Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “If this church comes down on that side of this issue, I’m out of here.” Or “I can’t belong to a church that would fund a project like that.” Or perhaps someone you know doesn’t go to church anymore because she simply couldn’t take any more of the hypocrisy. Or he couldn’t stand the liberalism. Or maybe it was the literal-ism when it came to the Bible that sent him running.
            So IS there a church out there that’s perfect? Not if you’re searching for a place that is perfectly aligned with you. The problem is if I’m looking for a church  that agrees with me on everything from the choice of hymns to where to stand on gun control or abortion, then I have a really good excuse never to belong to a church with more than one member—me. And that’s not church at all.
Truth is there is no perfect church. And, in fact, (going out on a limb here) there is no perfect God….IF you take perfect to mean that you understand or agree with everything Jesus appears to say or God seems to sanction. It doesn’t take much looking to discover the Bible itself includes plenty of violence that out in the real world most of us would renounce. (Note today’s reading from Joshua, in which the Amorites were ‘driven out’—a violent removal, initiated by God.) The only word I can find to describe God’s behavior in some of those stories might be the word “inscrutable.” Sometimes what God does simply does not make sense to us. And yet… we stick around like glue—to the church, to God. It’s as if there were a holy tug at work, the tug of the Spirit, to keep us coming back.
I met a young man at a local Harris Teeter recently who was feeling that tug. His name was Carmichael. He called to me from beyond three checkout lines of full shopping carts: “Ma’am, how’d you like to have elite customer status today?” (What? I looked behind me—who’s he talking to? But it was clearly me.) “Come down to Aisle 5 and I’ll get you checked out in a flash!” Nobody in those lines but me was happy about this special invitation, but I took it.
As he started ringing my items, Carmichael said, “You’re here in the middle of the afternoon. Where do you work?” I told him I was a pastor in a local church, and he lit up. “I’ve never met a lady pastor before,” he said. What church? I told him. Then out spilled something I hear a lot, nearly every time someone finds out I’m a pastor…… “I need to get back to church,” he said. “I’m in school and work almost full time here, and Sundays I’m just trying to catch up. But it’s important. I grew up in the church. I used to love going. I need it, I know. But the devil’s been working on me. Maybe I’ll come visit your church.” I invited him and gave him my business card. He bagged my groceries. I paid him and said thanks.
I’m sure he was serious about the devil. He’d obviously felt tempted not to live up to who he was. But Jesus was working on him, too. He had plenty legitimate reasons not to have had time for church lately. And yet… he was feeling a holy tug that would NOT let him go. The Jesus who was abiding in Carmichael wasn’t giving up on him.
The way Jesus abides in us is not always comfortable. He can offend us, embarrass us, make us squirm. His teaching can be confusing, his stories unsettling, and his people aggravating. Folks sometimes walk away. You can do that, too—you are free to choose.
But you are also free to trust. And trust is not as hard as our culture of suspicion and deceit tempts us to think. In fact this very culture of suspicion creates a longing in us for something that IS trustworthy. Don’t you think?
We are made to trust, and it’s already planted within us. It is the person of Christ himself who was planted there in baptism and has put down deep roots in you and me. So finding the trust we long for is no more, really, than embracing the life and strength of Jesus, already inside us.
So to Carmichael and to you, and to my own heart that aches when I’m feeling far away from Jesus, I say this: Take heart. You don’t have to shop for the answer to that deep longing…or open it with a corkscrew…or work long hours to get it…or search for it in someone else. It’s tugging at you right now, from the inside. It’s the Christ in you; patient, but also insistent that you notice him.
He asks, Do you wish to go away? Oh, there may be times you are so annoyed with him and with church that you do—it happens to all of us. .and yet..
·      Where else will you hear words of eternal life?
     ·      Where else will we receive his body and blood (incomprehensible as that may seem)? 
     ·      Where else will we, all of us together, remember the sacred stories and recognize once more the love that from manger to cross to resurrection promises us unending life?

Nowhere else but here, friends in Christ, right here. Amen.