And The Walls Came Tumbling Down

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Despite the title I won’t be preaching from Joshua 6 (where the walls came tumbling down). In fact, we’re not even reading that story this Sunday at HCN. Here are the texts (with links) for this week:

Psalm 34:1-8
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

This Sunday we conclude a large pericope (pəˈrikəpē) in the Gospel of Mark that began in chapter 8. It began with Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus has his 3 “Passion Pronouncements” of his impending crucifixion and resurrection, the disciples keep putting their dirty sweaty feet in their mouths, the rich young man is told to sell everything, and concludes with a Blind Beggan Bartimaeus asking Jesus to have mercy on him.

Jesus, his disciples, and “a large crowd”  are making their way to Jerusalem. In the middle of their journey this Blind Beggar Bartimaeus (whose name means “Son of Timaeus”) cries out to Jesus. The crowd “sternly ordered him to be quiet.” In the Greek, it says that they “rebuked” (epitimaō) him.  The root word here is “timaō,” the same root as Bartimaeus’ name! This is the same word when Peter “rebukes” Jesus at the beginning of the pericope for saying he’s going to die. It also appears when Jesus rebukes Peter’s rebuke.

Another way to translate this word, as we talked about weeks ago, is “to censure.” The crowd is censuring this one who is systemically enslaved to poverty. They don’t merely tell him to “keep it down.” They’re telling him not to address Jesus. He doesn’t have the right, the status, the esteem to address one like Christ! You see, this crowd is pretty happy being the ones who follow so closely to this radical new teacher. They think they have a bit of privilege here. If this man thinks he’s worthy of Jesus’ attention and affection, it might just upset the fruit basket. The social hierarchy would be tossed about. And the crowd wants to keep things as they are.

But Jesus won’t have it. He has the man called over to him. Heals him of his blindness. The status quo will not stand. He gives a voice to this one who had no voice.

Oh, did I forget to mention the location of this story? It’s outside of Jericho… Do you remember what happened the last time people were crying out outside of the city of Jericho? Of course you do, you know the song.

Perhaps it is no accident that this story of Jesus healing the Blind Beggar Bartimaeus takes place outside of this historic city. It reveals quite a bit of what Jesus came to do. Jesus sought to tear down those things that divide us. In the Kingdom of God women and men have equal status, every race, tribe, and tongue  is welcome, there is no distinction between the haves and the have-nots. Christ is the great leveler.

So, HCN, what are our walls? We read about the Blind Beggar Bartimaeus and we recognize the social wall being torn down. We look back (just 50 years!) to the civil rights movement and saw people like Martin Luther King Jr. working to tear down the walls of racial divisionn. What walls are constructed that have no place in the Kingdom?

Will we, like the crowd, try to censure those crying out for equity and justice because it makes us uncomfortable? Or will we side with Jesus as he turns this world upside down? Can we all sing in unison, “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down?”

Aren’t You Sick of “Tolerant” Christians?

Yeah me too…

This post is part of my church’s “Weekly Words” installment in reflection of this Sunday’s Gospel passage, Mark 10:32-45.

Do you ever feel like Christianity is losing it’s grip on America? Do you ever feel that the Church isn’t as great as she once was?
Do you ever wish the Church would take her place as first priority in our culture?

The truth is, our world is changing faster than at any other point in recorded history. My grandparents generation has endured such a great cultural shift with more grace that I could muster. Things aren’t what they used to be, are they?

And if you look at statistics of church membership, participation, and influence things can get depressing. Membership is way down from only 30 years ago. Young generations don’t tithe like the older generations. (but HCN is implementing Online Giving!!) Historic positions of the evangelical church in the West are being challenged. Cultural influence is waning. There are real threats to the church’s influence, right?

One of the most polarizing has to do with human sexuality.

  • Caitlyn Jenner received ESPN’s Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYS. (Just do a little google search and you can find plenty of Christian memes showing how much of a threat this was.)
  • You can’t watch TV without a program, or even commercial, showing members of the LGBTQ community.
  • The amount of sex and sexual references in media continues to push already loose boundaries.
  • Everyone should be permitted to sleep with whomever they want whenever they want.
  • A mother’s right to choose trumps the right of an unborn child.

Then there are the less polarizing, yet still seemingly threatening issues.

  • Minorities seem to have more influence today than they did in days past.
  • The immigrant population continues to grow taking American jobs.
  • The 10 Commandments aren’t displayed publicly in many public places.
  • Teachers aren’t allowed to pray with their classes.
  • There are Muslims praying in public locations.

And in the midst of all of this the Church is told to be “tolerant!” Are you sick of the church being told to be tolerant? Yeah, me too…

Take a listen to Gungor’s new single “Us For Them.” The whole album is worth a listen, but this song fits the Gospel passage very well.

Gungor “Us For Them”

In this world where Christians are losing their influence, where the Church is not the driving cultural force, it’s easy to see things as “us or them.” Our Gospel passage this Sunday helps us see that it is not an “either/or.” “…Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant. …Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” (verses 43-45)

Followers of the one who came not to be served but to serve don’t have to choose between “us OR them.” No, we are a people whose stance is “us FOR them!”

So, let’s not be “tolerant.” Aren’t you sick of being told to be tolerant?! I know I am! Tolerance is a problem.

The problem with tolerance is that it does not even come close to the amount of LOVE we are to show to those who might be so different than us. We’re not called to “tolerate” others. We’re called to serve them! You see, “tolerance” isn’t nearly sacrificial enough… It doesn’t take anything from me to tolerate others, but Christ tells us to live sacrificially.

We are to be servants, no, slaves of all. Not just those who are like us, but even (or especially) those who are very different than us.

Christians aren’t called to be tolerant. We’re called to be sacrificial. The Christian doesn’t seek “self-propagation” but “self-sacrifice.” Regardless of where Christians find themselves on the social or political spectrum the call is not to promote “my agenda” or seek “self-interest.” The Christian is called to be a servant, a slave, and sacrificial. This is very far from tolerance, but not in the direction we’re prone towards.

Who is different than you? Who do you perceive as a threat? What challenges the Church? Instead of asking how to “out-influence” them or trying to take back our cultural influence, maybe we need to ask, “how can we serve them?” As Gungor sings, “May our judgement be love.”

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Danny Quanstrom

Follow Me . . . Again!

Below is the manuscript for last Sunday’s sermon titled “Follow me . . . Again.” Should you desire, you can follow along with the podcast here. Grace and peace.

“It was 2007 and we were the remote mountain in the Kapchorwa region of Uganda…”

“It started to lightly snow as we climbed Pike’s Peak outside of Colorado Springs…”

“In the winter of 1944 we were in the Ardennes forest…”

This is often how we begin to tell stories. Or when we’re telling stories we make sure to include it.

Do you know what IT is?

Location. Place.

So often when we remember things or tell stories we include the location of that event.

This weekend we remembered the tragedy of 9/11 and how many of you said, “I can tell you exactly where I was when I found out?”

Location is important. Location grounds us. Place matters.

And it is important that it was at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus asks his disciples the questions of all questions.

After asking who the general public believe he is, he asks them who they say he is.

“What about you?” He asks.

And I want to question Jesus reasoning for asking this. Sometimes we think this is a test, that Jesus is looking for a particular answer from his disciples.

But I want to ask if this isn’t a test, but is a genuine question that matters. That Jesus is personally curious who they say he is as if their answer has some bearing on his identity.

Because, you see, for first century Jews, and for non-western peoples all over the world, identity was not individualistic, it wasn’t autonomous, it wasn’t self-contained.

One’s identity wasn’t wrapped up in “ME.” Fullstop.

No, “identity” or “the self”was absolutely communal. One’s view of one’s “self” had to do with others, primarily one’s family, synagogue, or village.

And when we come to Jesus at this point in his ministry he has recently lost nearly everyone who was close to him.

We’ve seen that his family thinks he’s a bit off his rocker; his primary community is gone.

The 5,000 families he fed all deserted him after he told them he wasn’t going to be their king and to eat his flesh and drink his blood.

He doesn’t have a massive following anymore.

And, most of his followers have deserted him. Remember what they said after Jesus told them to eat his flesh and drink his blood?

“This teaching is difficult. Who can accept it?”

So I wonder if Jesus is posing a legitimate inquiry to his disciples as though their response has bearing on his life.

Then we get Peter’s response. On behalf of the other 11, how does Peter respond?

“You are the Messiah!” You are the Christ! You’re the one we’ve been waiting for!

Yes! This is it! This is the moment we’ve been hoping for since the Gospel of Mark began. We finally get to see that the disciples are understanding who Jesus is.

For the first time in the Gospel of Mark, halfway through the book, the term Christ, or Messiah, is used.

Peter get’s it right, right?

I don’t normally do this, I don’t normally have pictures in the sermon, but I’ve asked Tom to help me out. I’ve asked him to put on the screen this classic painting.Emmaus

Do you know this painting? Do you know who is in this painting?

Can you picture Jesus? He’s there, do you know which one he is?

Caravaggio intentionally painted Jesus, the central figure, with chubby cheeks, a pointed chin, and this ruddy unfamiliar appearance.

This painting is called “Supper at Emmaus,” and it depicts the resurrected Jesus.

Caravaggio painted Jesus in a way that would be hard to recognize because those disciples couldn’t recognize him.

Obviously we know this isn’t what Jesus looked like. He most certainly had a beard, wouldn’t be so ruddy.

But this isn’t the Jesus we see when we think of Jesus, is it? Jesus is hardly recognizable to us.

If you remember from last week, we had a hard time recognizing Jesus. Last week we really wrestled with seeing Jesus as he calls the Syrophoenician woman a dog.

Unfortunately, I believe Peter suffers from this as well. I think Peter, and perhaps the other disciples on whose behalf he is speaking, might struggle to really see Jesus.

He is right, though, that Jesus is Messiah, correct?

Peter certainly has the right title, but he most certainly doesn’t have the right idea…

Because, as we saw earlier, location matters. Place is important. And where did we read that Jesus and his disciples are located?

They are in Caesarea Philippi.

A city named after whom? Well, it has 2 names in our ret because Herod Philip II, the Roman consulate to the region just East of the Sea of Galilee, founded the city in 3AD after himself, but 11 years later he changed the name of the city to Caesarea. In honor of whom?

Caesar!

If you’re a Roman citizen, who is Caesar?

Caesar is a god. Caesar is divine. Caesar holds the title “Son of God.” Caesar is called “Lord.”

And this city is named after him.

If you’re a Jew living in first century Israel, who is Caesar?

Caesar is the occupying, oppressive overlord who has invaded your homeland!

He is the head of an imperial force that is suffocating your people.

If you take this into consideration, if, as we saw, location matters, what does Peter mean when he calls Jesus Messiah?

As uncomfortable as this image might be, probably something like this…

Rambo Messiah

Boy, that’s kind of a disturbing image isn’t it…

But, you see, Peter expected this militaristic, nationalistic, imperialistic messiah. A messiah who would overthrow the oppressive and occupying Empire through the same means by which the empire oppressed his people.

He wanted a messiah who was going to fight back in the name of national security!

We know this because, in a book where Jesus has been trying to keep his Messiahship a secret, he now says openly that he isn’t going to bring the Kingdom through the means and violence of Empire, but, says plainly, that he will suffer, he will be rejected, he will die, and he will be resurrected.

In response to this, what does Peter do?

He “rebukes” Jesus. This Greek word can also be translated as “to censure severely.” Peter sees himself as a campaign guide, someone making sure his man says the right thing at the right time and in the right place.

Peter CENSURES Jesus! Jesus speaks openly for practically the first time and Peter tries to CENSURE him!

“Jesus, this isn’t how you’re going to overthrow the Empire of Rome… If you want to be a Messiah, you need to keep this kind of talk down… This isn’t the time and it certainly isn’t the place for you to be discussing things like a cross.

“Jesus, Messiahs aren’t rejected, they do the rejecting”

You know, after all, that the cross was a form of torture and shame and execution for those who were considered enemies of Rome.

Peter wanted the messiah to be an imperial conqueror.

And according to Peter, Jesus can’t hang on a cross not because he isn’t an enemy of Rome, but because the Messiah is going to win! And hanging lifeless on a cross would most surely mark defeat… It would be losing.

“As a good friend, let me advise you to keep this kind of talk quiet, Jesus!”

You see, Peter had this very specific image of who the Messiah was to be and it didn’t include all that stuff Jesus was speaking so openly about…

So Jesus takes Peter aside and rebukes Peter’s rebuke. He tells Peter, “You are right that I am Messiah, but you have NO CLUE what that means… Get behind me Satan.”

Yeesh…

Now, it is important to qualify this a bit, to note that Satan, here, is not a proper noun. It isn’t a title or a name, it is description. A Satan was a tempter.

Evidently the militaristic, nationalistic, and imperialistic notions of Messiah were tempting for Jesus and Jesus tells Peter to cut it out.

You see, Jesus reveals to his disciples, and to this, presumably Gentile crowd in Caesarea Philippi, who he really is. What we see in this morning’s passage is the first mentioning of the Christ since the introduction.

And this is also the first time we hear of the cross…

The Messianic secret is opening up, Jesus is revealing his TRUE nature.

Jesus tells his disciples and this crowd what his mission and ministry are about. He tells them it is not about self-exaltation, but self-emptying…

Once he has told them who he really is and what he is really about, he tells them what it takes of them to follow him.

He offers them, again, an invitation to follow him. Only this time he is making it abundantly clear what following him means.

So, HCN, how do we see Jesus? How do you see Jesus? What Messiah do we want? How do we picture the Messiah?

I think sometimes we want this to be our Messiah.

Buddy Messiah

Wouldn’t you like it if this were our Messiah? This guys is your pal, he’s your buddy. He’s always there with a good joke, a wink, and a smile.

This is a good guy to play Euchre with, he’ll make you laugh. This is a nice Messiah, isn’t it?

Something I think we’d like a Messiah who is rather inconsequential, a Messiah who is non-threatening, a Messiah who is comfortable.

Is this the Messiah we want?

Or what about this Messiah?

Strong Messiah

Now THIS is a Messiah! This is a guy you want to hang around…

Is this the Messiah you want? A Messiah who may go to the cross but is unaffected by it? A Messiah who doesn’t really suffer because on the cross, who doesn’t die on the cross, but a Messiah who breaks the cross.

This would be nice, wouldn’t it? A Messiah so strong that he is unaffected by the cross?

Unfortunately, these are not the messiahs Jesus came to be.

Certainly Jesus came to counter evil and oppression. Jesus certainly came to bring the Kingdom of God. Jesus absolutely came to conquer death.

But he came to do so not through the means of Peter’s idea of nationalism, militarism, and imperialism, as tempting as that may be.

This was not the way of the Christ.

No, Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God by means of self-denial, self-sacrifice, self-emptying.

“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

This, church, is our Messiah. He’s not hiding what it means that he is Messiah. For the first time in this Gospel, he is speaking plainly and openly about it.

And, as he offered his disciples, he offers to us, the decision to follow him AGAIN. Jesus told them and he tells us, “Knowing full well who I am, knowing what you’re getting into, will you, once again, follow me?”

“Will you, with me, pick up your cross, will you deny what your idea of “self” is?

“Will you follow me?”

This, church, is what it means to be a disciple; to deny one’s “self” and take up one’s cross.

Denying self is not this accepting or glorifying of abuse. It’s not seeing some merit in victimization.

Denying one’s “self” is seeing our selves through the lens of the Kingdom, not through our own lens.

To deny one’s “self” is to see that my identity is absolutely wrapped up in who Christ says I am. My “self” is not my own. My “self” is wrapped up in the community of Christ, who is the church!

Friends, do you believe that the church shapes our very selves?

Jesus says that to follow him is to deny your and my idea of who our “self” is.

And he also says that we must take up our own cross.

We, with Christ, live absolutely incarnationally. You see, the cross was the ultimate sign of Jesus’ incarnation, of God becoming human; even to the point of death.

So, too, are we to live incarnationally with the oppressed, with the marginalized, but also with one another!

To live incarnation ally is to hold nothing back, to give one’s “self” fully to that thing. And, church, that is what Christ is calling us to!

To live incarnation ally with one another and with our community.

So, HCN, hear Christ’s question to Peter as if he were asking it to us, “Who do you say that I am?”

How do we respond? Out of our own comfortable or desirable notions of the Messiah?

Or will we acknowledge that he is the suffering servant who brings about the upside-down Kingdom of God through unexpected and self-sacrificial means?

Will we heed his call? Will we, will you, follow him?

Will you see your “self” as one created in the image of God, one whose being is connected with others?

Will you take up your cross, withholding nothing of your self from the mission and Kingdom of God?

There is no veil, there is no glossy or pretty sheen; all is being made plain by Christ.

Hear Christ asking us, asking you, today, “Will you follow me . . . again? Even if you’ve been following me for a long time, knowing that I’m going to the cross and that you need to grab one yourself, will you still follow me? Will you follow me . . . again?

An Open Letter to Prime Ministers Viktor Orbán and Robert Fico

Prime Ministers of Hungary and Slovakia, Viktor Orbán and Robert Fico, respectively, and other Eastern European leaders, I’d like to take a minute to reflect on the Christian response to the refugee crisis your countries are currently facing in light of this Sunday’s lectionary Gospel passage.

Mark 7:24-30: From there [Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. (NRSV)

Mehmet Can Meral/AP

Mehmet Can Meral/AP

In this passage Jesus is seeking some time away, a little vacation. He desires a respite from his work so he leaves Galilee and goes to the Roman city of Tyre. While seeking a bit of solitude, a Syrophoenician woman barges into the house where he is staying, bows at his feet, and begged Jesus to cast a demon out of her daughter.
She interrupts Jesus’ daily life.

This text poses many problems for many reasons, not the least of which is Jesus’ troubling response to her.  The cultural and legal boundaries are being pushed to their breaking point.
1) She is female. For her to approach a man in such a bold manner would have been intolerable.
2) She is essentially breaking and entering. This is not her home. Nor is it Jesus’! She enters this home unannounced and without permission, out of desperation.
3) Being Syrophoenician, this woman is associated with three major enemies of the Israelites; the Canaanites (the Gospel of Matthew records her as such), the Romans, and the Greeks. At different times in Israel’s history these three empires threatened the nation of Israel. For all intents and purposes, she is an enemy of Jesus.

After she asks for Jesus to heal her daughter, he says he can’t take what is supposed to be given to children and give it to dogs.  Being fully human (as our Christology recognizes), Jesus is a Jewish man and a product of a very nationalistic period in Israel’s history. It was a common Jewish slur to call Gentiles ‘dogs.’ While this response may not be surprising, it is certainly troubling.  We don’t like to think of our Lord speaking this way.

From where I write, I see that Jesus is voicing the common perspective of his people. He is merely expressing the cultural bias with which he has grown up. In Matthew’s parallel passage Jesus tells her he was sent “only to the lost sheep of Israel.” (15:24) Jesus denies her access because his work is not supposed to include her. In this Jesus has not sinned but expressed the cultural imagination of the time.

After she acknowledges that she is not asking for a feast, but merely some scraps, Jesus grants her daughter healing. Interestingly, not because of her faith, but because of her argument, her “word.” (logos in Greek) She doesn’t have a conversion experience, she doesn’t confess that Jesus is the Holy One of God, she is still a Gentile, she is still a political enemy of Israel, she’s still pagan.

In her desperation, Jesus restores her family. Jesus heals her daughter, granting this vulnerable child and her family redemption and new life.

Now, I do not claim to understand the pressures of dealing with the surge of Syrian and Iranian refugees to your countries while trying to balance political expectations, European Union laws, national laws, and your particular religious convictions. But here’s the thing, you have been placed in a situation similar to Jesus.  We see striking similarities, one of which being this woman was SYRO-Phoenician: She is from SYRIA! 

In your house you have Syrian and Iranian refugees seeking restoration and life. Not merely for themselves, but for their children. You have, at your feel, parents who desire that their children not be possessed by the evil ravages of war. Parents who desire that their children receive new life.

In truth, they have broken into your house unannounced and without permission. Like the Syrophoenician woman, they’ve pushed cultural and legal boundaries to their breaking point. Like the Syrophoenician woman, they are begging out of desperation for mere crumbs. Like the Syrophoenician woman, given political history, one might even consider them your enemies.

I write to you, Prime Ministers Viktor Orbán and Robert Fiko, because the two of you have already, like Christ, expressed the cultural and national perspective, that it would be unacceptable to help them.  You have already, initially, denied access. You have said as much publicly. Besides erecting a razor wire fence along the souther border, Prime Minister Orbán’s remarks can be found here. Prime Minister Fiko said that Slovakia will only assist Christian refugees.

So then, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, how now will you respond?
Prime Minister Robert Fico, how now will you respond?
European national leaders, how now will you respond?

Will you, like Christ, change your mind? Will you help them, not because it is politically expedient or serves national interest, but because the Kingdom of God is intended for everyone? Christ didn’t qualify his help based on her faith or her conversion, but helped her out of her desperation. Will you do the same?

May we not be found using the name of Christ in a manner that is contrary to the ethic of Christ.

This Sunday, Christians around the world will be reminded of a Christ who helped this desperate, boundary pushing, maybe-even-enemy woman of Syrophoenician origin. It seems, then, that the Christian thing to do would be to help these desperate, boundary pushing, maybe-even-enemies of Muslim origin and restore them to life.  You have been placed in a position to help them. Please help them.

Kyrie Eleison

Pastor Danny Quanstrom

 

True Religion

This was a difficult sermon to preach. The text for this sermon was Mark 7:1-23 where Jesus calls both the scribes from Jerusalem and the Pharisees hypocrites because they have failed to see how they neglect loving others. 

You can follow along with the podcast HERE.

A few weeks ago I told you I was a nerd. I told you that because I referenced Star Trek The Next Generation. That was true…

But I’m also a nerd because I love history! One of my undergrad degrees was in history, so I love it!

And I believe we all love history. Even if we don’t think we do, we do.

Some of us love sports history: going back to Jacki Robinson or Willie Mayes.

That is history.

Some of us love TV history: Dick Clark, Audrey Hepburn.

That is history.

Some of us love European or American history.

Then there are those weirdos who love theological and religious history…

Hate those guys…

But, in truth, understanding the past allows us to understand the present. When we understand the apparent tyranny of England, American history begins to make sense.

In the context of an oppressive distant, non-representative government, the reason the founders included certain laws makes sense.

History is important…

So this morning we’re going to have a brief history lesson.  You ready?

Well, our brief history lesson this morning has to do with ancient Jewish sects. We’re familiar with these, we read about 2 of them in Scripture, even though there were 3; Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes.

While all three of these sects were thoroughly Jewish there were marked differences between them. For our purposes, we’re looking only at the Sadducees and the Pharisees.

These two groups, the most well known, had a long history that shaped them and their theological and practical beliefs.

The Sadducees were had an older tradition; they had been around far longer than the Pharisees. The Pharisees saw themselves as a reformation movement in Judaism.

The Sadducees were legalists. Literally. That is, they were lawyers, they would draft legal documents. They believed in a priestly class within Israel. There was something special about the priesthood and the priests were to live exemplary lives according to Torah

The Pharisees, however, believed in what we might call, the priesthood of believers. They believed that the Law applied to everyone, not just the priests.

The Pharisees are accused of putting burdens on people because they believe everyone needed to adhere to the Law.

But Sadducees and Pharisees also had different perspectives on the Law.

The Sadducees were literalists; they took the Torah (first 5 books of the Old Testament) literally. There was no other canon, no other inspired texts.

The Pharisees, however, believed in the oral tradition; what is referred to as the Talmud or the Mishnah. The Mishnah, a part of the Talmud, was an oral tradition that traced itself back to Moses. It was Moses’ exposition of the written Law.

The Talmud, when finally written down, is recorded as being 6,200 pages.

For Pharisees, the Talmud was as significant as the written Law. The Sadducees rejected the oral tradition.

This led to a difference of theological belief. The Pharisees believed in a resurrection after death, because that was included in the Talmud, the oral tradition.

Sadducees rejected the idea of a resurrection because that was NOT recorded in Torah. If you read the first 5 books of the OT, it doesn’t mention the resurrection of the dead, therefore the Sadducees didn’t believe in it.

So the Sadducees were the legalists and the Pharisees were the traditionalists.

These distinctions and differences were things Pharisees and Sadducees fought and quibbled over for years and years!

There you go; that’s your brief lesson for the day. Though this lesson is not without contemporary similarities.

Jumping ahead a few thousand years we may see that something similar happened around the 1500s.

If we look at the things that distinguished Sadducees from Pharisees we might find similarities with the things that distinguish Catholics from Protestants.

Now before I jump into these differences, I want to be clear that this is not anti-Catholic.

For those with Catholic backgrounds, those who appreciate Catholicism, and to any Catholics who might listen to this recording, understand that I truly appreciate the Catholic tradition. Truly…

We should first note that Pharisees and Sadducees were both thoroughly Jewish. Likewise, Catholics and Protestants are both thoroughly Christian.

Like the Sadducees, the Catholic tradition has been around longer than the Protestants, or the Pharisees.

Like the Pharisees, Protestants saw themselves as a reformation movement; reforming the faith.

Like the Sadducees, Catholics adhere to a priestly class. They wouldn’t be as separated from daily life as the Sadducees, but the priestly role is more distinguished for Catholics than Protestants.

And like the Pharisees, Protestants argued for, what we call, the priesthood of believers; that ministry, mission, pastoring, and priestly duties aren’t reserved just for clergy, but are to be practiced and shared by all believers.

Like our Jewish counterparts, Catholics and Protestants have differing views on what constitutes inspired Scripture.

Catholics include in their canon, their inspired books, the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha includes what are called Deuterocanonical books; which means, “second canon.”

In the Protestant Reformation, like the Pharisees, the reformers believed what was inspired was slightly different.

And while both Catholics and Protestants believe in the resurrection; not unlike Sadducees and Pharisees there are marked theological differences.

Pharisees believed in resurrection, Sadducees didn’t.

Catholics believe that, in communion, the bread and wine transform into the literal body and blood of Christ. This belief is called transubstantiation. The substance of communion is transformed.

We Protestants don’t believe this.

Catholics venerate Mary. While Protestants should probably pay more attention to Mary than we do, we don’t venerate her.

I don’t mention these differences to put Catholics down, but to recognize that, just like Pharisees and Sadducees, Catholics and Protestants have had arguments over rituals, practices, and theology for years and years.

In truth, even in our own Evangelical traditions we have these issues that we end up quibbling over.

What to wear to church, what to eat, how often to take communion, etc. etc.

The reason I share all of this because our Gospel passage has Jesus addressing both the the Pharisees and the Sadducees, or, as the text says, “scribes from Jerusalem.”

In this story where they inquire why Jesus doesn’t have his disciples wash their hands after leaving the market Jesus calls them hypocrites. He says they “abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.

One thing to note right off the bat is that Jesus doesn’t put down tradition or the Law. Jesus doesn’t say that tradition or the law are wrong or inappropriate in and of themselves.

He doesn’t tell the Sadducees the Law is incomplete, nor does he tell the Pharisees that the Talmud isn’t inspired.

What he tells them is that they are so lost in their particular interpretation that they are neglecting the greatest commandment; which is what?

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.

How can Jesus accuse these scholars and scribes of this?

They’re super religious.  These are the ones that understand. They get what it means to live according to the precepts of YHWH.

You see what has happened is that they have tried so hard to follow the law that they have ended up using the law to break the law…

Stick with me here.

They have sought to keep the letter of the law in a manner that has led to their neglect of others; which breaks the greatest commandment.

And this happens twice in the passage.

For one, Pharisees and Sadducees washed their hands up to their elbows and washed the food they ate from the market not for personal hygiene but because of ritual uncleanliness.

You see, the marketplace was full of beggars, invalids, the blind; people who had no other means to live.

This was the most logical place for the poor and hungry to hang out. You might get a piece of food or some change from a benevolent shopper.

So the religious would wash themselves after the market just in case you or your food came in contact with these invalids rendering you or your food “unclean.”

This, in turn, led to the perpetuation of unjust marketplace practices. This was not love of neighbor. This was not love of other.

Rather than seeking to alleviate the pain of the dregs of society, the religious would take their food  away and sterilize themselves and their food.

There was nothing wrong with sterilizing their food, but this practice kept them from interacting with and seeking the redemption of those who were without.

Their pious practice hindered them from loving others well.

Then Jesus calls them hypocrites because of their practice of Korban, or an “offering to God.”

How could an offering to God lead to their being hypocrites?

Korban was a Jewish practice where the leader of the family would decide to give their estate, or part of it, to the temple. They would sell or give their estate for the financial well being of the synagogue.

What’s wrong with this? I kind of think we’d like to hear about this…

The problem was that people who would sell these estates often had elderly parents who needed taking care of.  By selling the estate these were taking away the care of their parents which was a direct affront to the 5th of the 10 commandments; to honor your father and mother.

These held to this tradition so much that they neglected loving others…

When we see this, when we dig deep into the text, it’s really easy to side with Jesus and say, “Yeah, what are you guys doing?! You Catholics… You super-conservative Baptists… You orthodox… You liberal Episcopalians… You don’t get it! You’ve misinterpreted Scripture.

“You’ve misapplied it.

“You shouldn’t wear vestments. You shouldn’t wear jeans. You should take communion more. You should take communion less. You shouldn’t sing contemporary songs. You shouldn’t sing hymns.” Etc. Etc.

It’s easy to side with Jesus right? It’s easy to stand with Jesus and say, “Man, all of you don’t get it…”

The problem is, Jesus doesn’t side with either those stuck in their ways or the reformers. Jesus says they’re both wrong…

You see, both of these parties are quick to condemn when they should be quick to confess.

But that’s them. That’s not us. We’re right… We get it. We side with Jesus! Right?

…right…

Unfortunately, Jesus’ words may be as applicable today as they were 2,000 years ago.

Because, if we’re honest, if we confess, we might be able to see that there are still things the church quibbles about. Right?

Not unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees, we sometimes quibble about things like what we wear, how we wear it. What we eat and how we eat it.  Plus a few other things, maybe…

And the truth is that these are insignificant issues; these aren’t issues we shouldn’t discuss or care about.

But we see in our Gospel passage Pharisees and Sadducees who were so concerned about not being seen as unclean as they left the public market that was filled with unclean people that they ended up perpetrating injustice. They disputed what was clean and unclean, they practiced their piety to the point that they ended up overlooking the least of those in their society.

So I have to wonder, do we ever do the same?

And, Church, please hear this as an honest question, not a condemnation.

But have we ever practiced our piety in such a way that we might have missed fulfilling the greatest commandment?

When we quibble about the right thing to wear-you should wear a suit to church, you shouldn’t wear a suit to church, etc.-we might hear Jesus asking us, “How is what you wear loving me and loving others?” You talk about how to wear your clothes, but what about those who make your clothes?

In thinking about our vision for the year, asking the right questions, maybe it’s more important that we ask not “what is the right way to wear this shirt? Is it appropriate for this occasion?” but “Have the clothes we purchased perpetuated modern day slavery?”

Have our clothes alleviated the orphans and the widows who made them, or have the perpetuated oppression?

We saw that the pharisees and Sadducees are concerned about following the right practices to be in good standing with the synagogue, debating various interpretations of Torah and Talmud. And in giving their estate to the synagogue, in Korban, they neglected their parents, therefore breaking the law.

In a similar manner, do we do the same?

When we talk about food, both inside and outside the church, do we begin our conversations with the right questions?

You see we talk about how often to take communion. “You should take it this often, you shouldn’t take it this often, etc. etc.”

Vegetarians call meat eaters insensitive and meat eaters call vegetarians hippies.

Maybe the question isn’t, “should we eat meat or not,” but “does the food we eat promote love of God and love of other? Or does our food perpetuate injustice and oppression? Do those who grow, pick, raise, and slaughter our food get paid livable wages? Are they in bondage by a broken system?”

Church, please here these questions as genuine.

Please know that your pastor is struggling with these questions…

In truth, I don’t know that the clothing I’m wearing is conflict free or that the lunch I ate yesterday was grown and raised in the most ethical way.

These are complex issues with difficult solutions. I’m not advocating that we go home and get a brand new wardrobe or completely restock our pantries, but, as our vision for the year indicated, we’ve got to ask the right questions.

Maybe it’s not as important to ask “what is the most respectful thing to wear (not that that’s not important)” or “What should we eat (not that that’s not important),” but to ask, “How do our practices, whatever they may be, seek to alleviate injustice?”

“How do our practices, whatever they may be, seek to prevent oppression?”

“How does the way in which we live promote loving God by loving others?”

It is important that we ask ourselves if we have any signs of outward piety we practice in a way that perpetuates injustice.

Because, you see, as we read in James, true religion is this, that we look after widows and orphans in their distress.

This is not merely, literally, orphans and widows. These can be orphans and widows, but this is a category of people; these are those marginalized by society, those oppressed by the world.

Friends, who are our orphans and widows? Who are those that are distressed?

You see, let us not be found guilty of that which the Pharisees and scribes committed, using their own Law and tradition in a way that prevented them from loving others.

When our interpretation of Scripture allows us to perpetrate injustice, we’re interpreting it wrong…

When our interpretation of Scripture allows us to not love the least, we’re reading it wrong.

The lens through which we interpret Scripture should be the greatest commandment; loving God and loving others.

True Religion isn’t merely what we say with our mouths, it is what we do with our hands and feet. It is how we love the least.

Bread of Life Part 4: This is Difficult…

Listen to a recording of the sermon HERE.

Greetings on this last Sunday of our series Bread of Life. I have thoroughly enjoyed diving into this highly Christological text. A text that gives us a glimpse of who Jesus is. What is his nature, and how we relate to him?

The last three weeks have been highly theological messages, messages that have sought to reveal, at least a little bit, Christ’s nature to us.

We’ve been able to see that who Jesus is has implications for how we are to live.

We’ve seen that theology is not disconnected with real life, but that, in fact, theology, in this case Christology, has HUGE ramifications on your and my life!

Because of who Jesus is, we live a particular way.

We began 3 weeks ago, opening the Bread of Life series, by seeing that Jesus is I AM. We saw that Jesus uses YHWH’s title for himself. He says that he is God!

We saw that the implication was that we believe in him because he is I AM. We don’t believe because he performs really cool or extravagant acts. We aren’t to suffer from “America’s Got Talent-itis.”

He is, therefore we believe.

Then 2 weeks ago we looked at how this one who has called himself God says that if we partake of the Bread of Life, if we eat the Living Bread, he offers us eternal life.

We saw that the eternal life Jesus gives is offered through his death; his crucifixion.

The “Whole New World” Jesus offers isn’t through his self-exaltation, but his self-emptying.

And we saw that we share in this eternal life right here and right now by doing the same; through sacrifice.

In our text last week Jesus told his followers that his flesh truly was food and that his blood truly was drink.

We recognized last week that there is great mystery in Jesus’ words. That he is true food and true drink is a great mystery. And it is a mystery into which we will live until the Kingdom is fully realized.

But this Sunday, everything comes together. Our text this morning is the culmination of the Bread of Life discourse.

As we’ll see, it may be a rather anticlimactic and even depressing conclusion. It doesn’t end like our reality TV shows or our Disney movies.

So, friends, have any of you ever been on a blind date? Have you ever been set up by a friend with someone you’ve never met?

I was thinking, and I’ve never been on a blind date, but I imagine it being a pretty nerve racking experience.

You hear about this person from your friend, but the perspective you get is only what this friend wants to share with you.

It is not an unbiased perspective.

But anymore we can get to know someone before we meet them, or at lease we think we can, due to social media.

Today’s equivalent of a blind date might be online dating or Facebook stalking before meeting them.

Has anyone done online dating?

When we get to know someone online we think that we have a very good picture of who that person is, right?

Even if it’s not dating, getting to know someone online gives us the idea that we know them.

But aren’t things different when you get to see them face to face, when you get to hear the inflection in their voice, when you get to see the expression as they talk, and when you get to touch them; putting your hand on their arm as you chat, when you hold hands for the first time.

There is something so REAL about going on a walk with someone. There is something so much more genuine when you sit across from one another over a meal to have a conversation rather than talking on the phone, texting, or even talking over FaceTime.

Things just seem to make more sense when we see them face to face, don’t they?

Whether it is a physical location or a physical person.

Have you ever had the experience of seeing a location for the first time and having your eyes opened.

When you see the Eiffel Tower, Victoria Falls, the Nile river, or the Gaza Pyramids with your own eyes, you’re really get a sense of awe that you don’t from a picture or film.

Even this last week, when touring our house, my sister-in-law told Kayla, “OH! I’ve talked with you when you were sitting on that couch!”

Seeing a space face to face can be illuminating.

This is even more true when it comes to people, though. Right?

When we can see someone’s expression, hear their inflection, and touch them, we have a greater understanding of their intent and their meaning.

You get this, right? You’ve had experiences like these, yes?

Have you ever wished to have this illuminating experience with Jesus? Have you ever said, have you ever thought, or have you ever heard some one say something like “Boy, wouldn’t it be easier if we could just SEE Jesus? If we could just touch him and hear his voice, we would understand more!”

Have you ever felt this before?

Of course you have. I think we all have…

Well, when we look at our chapter as a whole, we see a progression, a movement, of Jesus’ followers. It progresses from those who don’t know Jesus, who haven’t spent time with him, who haven’t seen him face to face, for very long to those who have spent the better part of a few years with him.

The chapter progresses from those who aren’t that close to Jesus to those that are VERY close to him.

With this progression we see a greater depth of understanding.

The closer people are with Jesus, the more they understand him and his teaching.

John 6 begins with Jesus feeding the 5,000 families. People that didn’t know him all too well. And it ends with Jesus’ disciples, those closest to Jesus.

The chapter progresses inward from the outer circles to Jesus’ inner circles.

We see at the beginning Jesus gains a massive following! 5,000 are all highly impressed by Jesus’ miraculous work. They start following him, even though he runs away.

This would look good on Jesus’ annual report, right? Wouldn’t this be really cool to experience? An almost instantaneous massive following?

This is something we’d like to see, right?

The DS would be SUPER happy about that!

If we saw this happen we’d likely be written about in Nazarene publications for other churches to model so that they could gain a following like this too.

But it gets troubling because as the chapter progresses it’s basically Jesus purging his followers…

The rest of the chapter is basically an exodus away from Jesus! The more he speaks the more people are offended and the more people leave!

First, the massive crowd of 5,000 families. This crowd experienced Jesus miraculous feeding but when Jesus refuses to give in to their “America’s Got Talent-itis” they leave him…

When he tells them belief shouldn’t be contractual or conditional thy struggle… They have a particular notion of what Messiah is supposed to be and do.

They want a performance driven Messiah, a “showy” savior.

Jesus doesn’t fit their imagination, Jesus isn’t in the business of performance or “show,” so they end up deserting him.

Then the story moves on to those would understand Jesus a little bit more; who John calls the “Jews.” Likely, a religious elite.

These would likely have had greater understanding, probably spent more time with him.

They’re down with the whole not performing thing. They don’t seek a “showy” Messiah, but they just can’t get behind Jesus saying that he has come from heaven and that he grants eternal life through the chomping on his flesh and slurping his blood.

This is a problem for the very religious folk. And it’s just plain gross…

“We’re to eat Jesus’ flesh like a cow chews her cud?!”

The truth is, for the intellectually and religiously elite, the mystery was too much for them.

These “Jews” also end up deserting Jesus

So our text today moves even closer to Jesus; from the crowd, to the Jews, now to his disciples.

It’s important to recognize that at this time Jesus had many more disciples than just the 12. His following would have been fairly expansive.

We don’t know how many disciples he had, but it had to be a fairly large group because they were the ones who collected up the baskets from the 5,000 families.

This would have been quite the task and would have required many hands.

His disciples tell him that his teaching is difficult. Literally, “This word is difficult.”

What exactly is difficult we’re not sure. It could be that Jesus calls himself I AM, it could be that Jesus says to participate in eternal life means to chew on his flesh and drink his blood, it could be a combination of everything that has just happened.

Nonetheless, they struggle.

They might not be looking to desert him, they may simply be asking for clarification or an explanation, but Jesus doesn’t help them out…

Instead of saying, “OK, let me spell it out for you,” he says, “Are you offended?”

As you read in the Weekly Words this weekend, the Greek word here is “skandalizo.” Sound familiar?

Jesus is asking if they feel scandalized! Jesus is asking them if his words are scandalous.

Jesus has said that he is the way to eternal life.

For pluralists, the exclusivity of this claim is scandalous. How can new life be given everyone through the act of this one man?

Yet he offers this new life to everyone; to all who would believe. For the legalist this radical inclusivity is scandalous. How can new life be given to everyone through the act of this one man?

As we see, in their curiosity, Jesus doesn’t help them out. He says, “Are you scandalized? What are you going to do when you see me ascending to where I was before?”

Do you know to what Jesus is alluding?

In the Gospel of John, when Jesus is “lifted up” or when Jesus “ascends” it is a reference to his being lifted up on a tree, to his crucifixion!

In order to go back to the Father’s presence, Jesus “ascends” on a tree.

“If you think what I’m telling you today is scandalous, what are you going to do when I’m hanging lifeless on the cross?!”

Jesus doesn’t seek to domesticate or sugar coat his message, he actually makes it MORE scandalous!

Because of this, Jesus ends up losing most of his disciples…

What was once a great ministry technique – gaining thousands of followers in a matter of hours – has resulted in only the 12 remaining! And one of them is going to betray Jesus!

I had a pastor friend post on Facebook, “If Jesus were on twitter he would be so lame, only 11 followers…”

And for us, this might NOT look so good on the annual report.

“Yeah, we dropped from over 5,000 families to 12 guys…”

We might have something written up about what NOT to do if this were our ministry, right?

In a matter of days Jesus has scandalized thousands of people and has lost not only them, but also the majority of his personal following.

I think we’d be hard pressed to call this “effective ministry.”

So, church, would it really be easier to understand if we were able to walk and talk with Jesus?

We get a clearer picture of what someone means or what they’re like when we see them face to face.

Is that true with Christ as well?

Do we understand more, the closer we are?

Well, maybe! In fact, I think so. Were we to see Jesus face to face, were we to talk with him and walk with him, we might just understand a little more.

And it should be noted that we CAN see Jesus face to face. We CAN see him, physically.

We do so by sharing in the life of the Church! The church is the corporate presence of Christ in this world, and we see his face by sharing in the life of the church. The Church is Christ’s body. Physically…

If you want to see Jesus, share in the church, for we are his body.

Do we understand Jesus more by being in proximity to him? Certainly!

There is just one problem… It seems that knowing what Jesus is talking about, that understanding him, doesn’t make it easier to believe!

It’d be nice if it did, but the passage today says that those who knew what Jesus was saying, those really close to him, those who understood him, ended up deserting him because they couldn’t believe.

Even his disciples are scandalized!  These disciples understand what he’s saying. They get it!

What they get, though, is that he’s speaking a scandalous word…

In truth, it is precisely BECAUSE they understand the great scandal here that the no longer go about with him.

Those who spent more time with Jesus understood what he was actually meaning; they had a clearer picture. But that clearer picture might not make it easier to believe.

Seeing Jesus face to face may allow us to understand him more, but we would also have a keen sense of the scandal.

Would you believe me if I said that being closer to Jesus made it harder or his disciples to believe?

Because, being closer to Jesus, they couldn’t claim ignorance. They really understood that Jesus was speaking a scandalous word.

Because, Jesus told them that the way in which he ascends to the place from where he came is by being lifted on a cross.

He says that the way to eternal life is through self-sacrifice and self-emptying.

To eat Jesus’ flesh and to drink Jesus’ blood is to participate in self-denial, looking not to our own interest. It is not self-preservation or self-promotion.

They understand. They get it.

But what do they say? “This word is difficult…”

Because, Church, it is! It is a difficult word! Jesus is not offering any small thing here. He is offering them the Kingdom of God. And he says that the way in which we participate in the Kingdom is no small thing, either.

We share in the life of the Kingdom through the daily laying down of our own lives; living not for our own gain, but for the sake of others.

By saying that his disciples are to eat his flesh and drink his blood he is not asking for a little bit of them.

He is asking that they surrender everything, withholding nothing. To eat his flesh and drink his blood is to share in his life; his self-emptying, sacrificial, cruciform life.

And then, what does Jesus ask the 12?

“What about you? Are you going to leave me as well? You understand what I’m saying, right? How then will you respond”

Church, hear this question as if Jesus were speaking it to you!

First, will we seek understanding? Will we pursue growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior?

Will we pursue knowing him more? (which we learn through the shared life of the church…)

Will we understand the great scandal Jesus is talking about? A difficult teaching, a hard word!

Friends, we must not seek to avoid the difficult, and even scandalous, teachings of Jesus, for if we choose to live in ignorance we aren’t believing in Jesus, we’re believing in our own imagination of Jesus.

Will we pursue understanding?

Absolutely!

But as understanding leads us to difficult questions and hard situations we have to ask how we will respond. What about us? What about me? What about you?

Do you hear Jesus asking you what he asked the 12?

“What about you? Are you going to leave me as well? Do you also with to go away?”

Church, when things get hard, when our understanding leads to difficulty, will we be like those disciples?

How will we respond?

How do you respond?

Because, Church, Jesus is asking us this morning, “Are you with me? Even though it may be hard, are you in?”

Will we confess with Peter, “Where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe that you are the Holy one of God!”

HCN, do you believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God?

Jesus isn’t looking for half-hearted followers. He’s looking for those who will give their whole lives-their own flesh and blood-to him as he has for us.

We can’t only follow Jesus a little bit…

Do you confess that Jesus is Lord? And do we commit to following Christ even though he takes us to the cross, or will we, like his other disciples leave him because this is a difficult thing to swallow?

Do you believe? Understanding the difficulty, recognizing that we might be considered scandalous, will you follow Christ?

Wholly, fully, entirely! Will we follow him even to the cross?

Bread of Life Part 3: True Food; True Drink

Here is the manuscript for yesterday’s sermon. If you desire, you can follow along with the podcast here.

Good morning and welcome to our third week of our 4-part series on the Bread of Life discourse recorded in John chapter 6.

In this series we’re asking what it means that Jesus says, “I AM the Bread of life.” We may not come to neat and tidy answers, but we’ll be wrestling nonetheless.

You’ll remember that when Jesus tells the crowd that he is the Bread of Life he is talking about bread, but he’s not… He’s talking about way more than bread.

When Jesus was talking to the crowd about the bread of life, about living bread, he was talking about bread beyond bread.

Two weeks ago we looked at not suffering from “America’s Got Talent-itis” where faith is conditional or contractual.

We saw that we believe because Jesus is I AM!

Jesus is… therefore we believe.

Then last week we looked at eternal life. We saw that Jesus says, ya’ll HAVE eternal life, not that ya’ll WILL HAVE eternal life.

We saw that eternal life is something in which we participate NOW!

We recognized that Jesus said it was those who have eternal life who will be raised, not that those who will be raised will have eternal life.

Eternal life precedes our being raised.

We also asked how it is that we participate in eternal life with the realization that it is to share in the cruciform, sacrificial life of Christ!

You’ll remember that these weeks we are looking deeply into Christology, the doctrine of Christ.

This is where we pick up this week.

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Does anyone here like the Mystery genre?

Do you like mystery novels? Or mystery movies/TV shows?

What is your favorite mystery novel or show?

One of the most well known, “The Hounds of Baskerville” tells the story of whom?

We all know this man. Who is it?

Sherlock Holmes! We love Sherlock!

We also love his trusty sidekick Watson!

Did you know that Sherlock Holmes is over 100 years old. He first appeared in print 128 years ago!

What is crazy is that there is a new British version of Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman-both INCREDIBLE actors-as Sherlock and Watson, respectively.

This version of Sherlock has a huge following!

Sir Arthur Canon Doyle struck a nerve with his now world recognized detective.

We love mystery!

Maybe, like me, your biggest introduction to the Sherlock canon came through Star Trek “The Next Generation.”

For you Trekkers out there, do you remember Data’s fascination with Sherlock?

Yes, you have a nerd for a pastor… Get used to it.

In The Next Generation, Data was the first fully functioning and “thinking” robot. He was the first Artificially Intelligent officer in the Federation.

Data was fascinated with humanity; he was curious about human emotion and the human mind.

This led him to study and impersonate famed British character Sherlock Holmes.

He would go to what they called the Holodeck; basically a virtual reality chamber. They could program artificial environments.

And Data frequently visited the Holodeck as Sherlock Holmes; trying to figure out some mystery.

He did this to try to understand the human mind and heart.

He enjoyed the clues, the puzzles, and finding the solution.

There is something deep within humanity that enjoys mystery and Data wanted to find out what that was.

Because there is something within us that enjoys the mystery.

Or, I believe, something within us that enjoys resolving the mystery! Right? We like mysteries because we’re curious how the mystery is going to be resolved.

There is something so satisfying about reading the last chapter of a mystery novel to see how everything ties together and wraps up, right?

There is something so enjoyable about the end of a mystery movie after the big reveal or the major twist where everything comes together!

Like at the end of “The Sixth Sense” when you find out (SPOILER ALERT) that Bruce Willis was a ghost the whole time.

We like mysteries, or, rather, we like the resolution of mysteries!

One of the reasons the TV show LOST is considered to have the worst ending in all of TV show history is because the show is filled with mystery and as the series came to a close they didn’t resolve the mysteries…

Even after the show is over, people were still lost!

The show’s mysteries don’t resolve and is really really bugged people!

They wanted to know!

__________

Our Gospel passage this morning is a passage riddled with mystery.

Both for the original hearers and for us.

For Jesus’ original audience, can you imaging being steeped in Jewish tradition and history and hearing Jesus say that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink?

Can you imagine hearing this itinerant preacher from Galilee tell this huge crowd and these religious elite that they have to eat his flesh and drink his blood?

These “Jews” John writes about are, most presumably, a religious group from Judea. They have not only been raised on Torah principles, the Old Testament law, but they would have likely had the Old Testement (or at least most of it) memorized by heart!

What Jesus has just told them is scandalous, illegal, blasphemous, and just plain gross…

In Greek there are two different words for “eat.” One is generic, simply “to eat.” The other is less common and more descriptive. It means “to chew” or “to gnaw” or “to chomp.” It is to eat with your mouth open. It’s loud and evident.

In our passage this morning, John uses the latter word; the more descriptive word.

John records Jesus as saying, “Chew on my flesh. Gnaw on me. Don’t just consume me, eat with your mouth open. Grab a toothpick because you’re going to need to get my flesh out from between your teeth.”

How does that make you feel?

That’s kind of gross…

That’s really gross!

But Jesus is saying, “Don’t be gentle here… Eat with desperation! Eat my flesh as if your life depended on it!”

Because, friends, it does!

Have we ever tried to make consuming Jesus’ flesh neat and tidy? Something sterile and without scandal?

Because that is not what Jesus is saying here…

But then, Jesus also says to drink his blood.

If you’re a Jew steeped in Torah, this is absolutely uncalled for!

For one, Jews were forbidden from drinking the blood of any animal, but what is more, Jesus is speaking cannibalistically!

The command not to consume blood goes all the way back to Noah, recoded in Genesis 9.

Then, under the Levitical code, in Leviticus 17, it was legally forbidden to consume blood.

The law says “For the life of every creature—its blood is its life; therefore I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.”

What Jesus is proposing is scandalous! It’s gross! It’s downright wrong!

That is, if you take his words literally…

What we see in this morning’s passage of mystery is once again a misunderstanding of Jesus.

As is typical of John, Jesus is speaking about a heavenly reality, but his hearers are unable to understand what he’s talking about.

His hearers are educated; they’re intelligent. They likely know Jesus is speaking metaphorically, but don’t understand what he means by this.

“He can’t be speaking literally, because Jesus is a good Jew and knows this is against the law, but what does he mean?”

Jesus’ statement that he is the bread of life; that he offers eternal life; that they should chew on his flesh and chug his blood are difficult things for these hearers to comprehend.

They struggle with Jesus’ words.

They’re fraught with mystery.

But Jesus doesn’t help them out, does he? Does Jesus go on to explain what he means?

NO! He doesn’t. He just keeps repeating the statement!

Seriously, take a look at what Jesus says after they question him. He doesn’t help them out, he actually makes it HARDER for them to grasp it.

It’s almost like he’s trying to confuse them.

“What does Jesus mean?”

“Eat my flesh, drink my blood. Unless you do, you have no life! If you do, you’ll be united with me in a way that I am united with the Father!”

It’s like Jesus is pushing them further into the mystery!

And the text leaves it there…

These Jews don’t get what Jesus is talking about… They struggle with this hard saying.

But we get it, right?!

You and I? We’re enlightened individuals who have been steeped in reason. We’re spiritual people who understand what Jesus is saying…

There’s no mystery for us, right? We get it…

What does Jesus mean when he says that we must chomp on his flesh and slurp his blood?

Believe it or not, there has been a nearly 2,000 year long debate about what Jesus means…

There are two camps; one is the metaphorical/faithfulness camp and the other is the sacramental/communion.

The first, the metaphorical camp argues that Jesus is not talking about communion here, but is speaking metaphorically about our living faithfully.

When Jesus says to eat his flesh and to drink his blood he is saying that we should live sacrificially as he does.

That we should give of ourselves for others. To eat his flesh and to drink his blood means to live a life like his.

This metaphor makes sense, right? Obviously Jesus isn’t speaking literally about taking a bite out of his shoulder, he’s speaking about our faithfulness.

This makes sense, right?

But then the other camp is sacramental; that is, that Jesus is speaking of the sacraments; of the bread and the cup in communion.

The book of John does not record the upper room discourse that the other three do, so this is John’s version of the Last Supper.

Jesus offers his flesh and his blood as symbols of our participation in the Kingdom of God!

This makes sense, right? The language Jesus uses is strikingly familiar to what he tells his disciples at the Last Supper.

How, then are we to understand this passage?
Are we to reside in the metaphorical camp or the sacramental camp?
Who is right and how are we to comprehend this?

Or, could they both be right in some sense?

I’m inclined to say that we can glean truth from both, but I think it’s important to realize that both are probably lacking.

You see, our propensity is to think that we have things completely figured out, that we have our minds fully around difficult passages like these.

There is a mystery here…

The fact that scholars still debate the meaning of the text indicates that this is mysterious.

Perhaps there is mystery here that even we don’t fully comprehend!

Because Jesus’ flesh truly is food. And Jesus’ blood truly is drink.
Friends, this is a mystery…

There is truth in this that we do not even yet know.

But, you see, this teaching is difficult (and we’ll talk more about this next week) because while we say we like mystery stories; novels, TV shows, movies, etc., I think we like them because we so much like the resolution!

But the mystery story for us this morning, unlike Sherlock Holmes or other mystery stories, doesn’t have a neat and tidy resolution.

We’re still debating what Jesus’ meant.

The truth is, we’ll probably debate this until the Kingdom is fully realized.

In truth, the story we read this morning, and what we’re about to receive at the Table is a mystery that we probably weren’t meant to fully comprehend.

There is something deeper, something richer, something truer than we can fully grasp with our minds or our hearts.

And the reality is a mystery.

We live in a world of resolution, a world where mysteries can be resolved, but Jesus brings us into a world of mystery that won’t be fully resolved until the Kingdom is fully realized.

Can we live in that tension? Can we live into the mystery? Recognizing that there is something greater than we know to which we have been called?

We call this tension the Already/Not Yet Kingdom. The Kingdom of God has already been inaugurated, though it has not yet been fully realized.

We are citizens of this mysterious in-between. We live between the tension of the Kingdom that has begun, and is waiting full realization.

Friends, here is a mystery: Jesus’ flesh is true food and Jesus’ blood is true drink.

It doesn’t have the resolution of a mystery novel, it hasn’t yet been resolved, and the mystery still lingers.

What is more mysterious, though, is that Christ has invited us to share in this.

He doesn’t merely give us platitudes or propositions; he gives us himself!
And it is here at the table where we receive him.

In communion there is mystery. Something happens in communion.  Something we might not fully comprehend.

You see, the grace of God is mysteriously imparted to us and in us through the broken bread and poured cup.

This morning we will be receiving communion through intinction. We won’t pass the plates with the cup and the bread, but we have the bread and the cup up here. The invitation is to come, take a piece of bread, dip it in the cup, then consume.

This is on purpose. Were receive these elements this way for a reason today. Intinction is a bit more uncomfortable than passing the plates. It’s more intimate.

In truth, it feels a bit more fleshy!

There is a bit of mystery in taking the broken body, dipping it in the cup, and consuming.

We receive the body and blood through intinction in order to be confronted by the mystery of ingesting Christ’s body and Christ’s blood.

At this table, friends, we receive the Bread of Life!
At this table, friends, we share in the life of I AM!
At this table, we share in the eternal life of Christ.
And and this table, we share in the mystery of Christ’s love for us.