Crunchy Christianity: Jesus can be hard to chew

  • John 6:56-60
  • Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

This worship series about bread comes to a close this Sunday. We have been invited more deeply into refection on how the we are sustained by the physical gift of food that God provides for us through our daily bread, invited to share bread with each other as the community of faith, experience the way that God sustains us spiritually when we trust in God and learn to follow Christ as God’s example. Last Sunday our celebration of the Lord’s supper joined us again to the worldwide church of Christ-believers who also proclaim their desire to partake of Jesus both in spirit and in action.

So far, we have really enjoyed tasting and sampling the delicious morsels that have been provided. Today we use a less appealing form of flour and water – hardtack. Larry explained beautifully in the children’s story the durability of this military ration. But it is not recommended for it’s taste, nor for being pleasant to eat. Usually combined with a liquid because it’s so dang hard.

Today’s teaching by Jesus from John is just that tough to decipher. Or that’s what the disciples who heard it thought. We have been given a teaching that is just as crunchy and hard to chew as that hardtack. And when the disciples hear it they complain saying: “This teaching is difficult, who can accept it?”

This is the teaching that the disciples were grumbling about:

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them
Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father,
so whoever eats me will live because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate , and they died.
But the one who eats this bread will live forever.

As far as I am concerned, the disciples are not wrong even though Jesus challenges them. I am like them – for me the hard part is not the teaching about discipleship and obedience – I understand that I need to take up the cross, the difficulty of being a peacemaker, the challenge to give up my possessions – I don’t like those teaching – they may be hard to swallow, but I get it. Those are things that if I work at I can do . What is hard for me to chew is the teaching about eternal life, about salvation, about forgiveness and atonement through Christ. That is the real hard bread to gnaw on. It smacks a little too much of the grail quest such as is represented in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – the one who drinks from the grail will live forever – that’s just silly.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them
Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father,
so whoever eats me will live because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate , and they died.
But the one who eats this bread will live forever.

What I found so interesting when I checked the word that the gospel uses for the word eat in this text – it is used very rarely – one other time by John in a similar context and once bt Matthew when talking about he actions of the people before the flood of Noah. What it implied to me was a kind of lustiness and bodiliness of consumption. One of the ways that my handy computer program translates it is ‘gnaw’ or ‘crunch’. And it is a different word for the word used to describe how the Hebrews ate which is the same word for eat that we see everywhere else – conventional, normal, ‘eat.’

Jesus is not going to go easy on his disciples. He is offering something crunchy and hard but life giving and sustaining. He is saying It’s not as simple and straightforward as Indy taking the grail to his father and curing him with it’s contents in the final scene of the movie. He is saying, what I have for you is different, what I have for you, you might not understand but you will live. You will really live in me . It is possible through God – through me. Jesus is not talking about real bread – that moulds and gets crumbly and dry. I’m talking about what I can teach you about who God is, who you can be through God and how I can make you one with me and the one who sent me. It’s bigger than the life of the body. Stick with me kids.

When Perry Yoder was here a few weeks ago he called for people to be practical Christians. This is a challenge that many Christians need to hear and realize. It doesn’t hurt for us to hear it again and again and to urge ourselves in this direction. I think that we equally need to hear a call to be fed and nourished Christians. We need to know what is motivating our obedience to Christ. Why is this the man we follow? It is because here in this place we can find unity with God and life beyond our own. What motivates us to feed the hungry, free the prisoner and care for the widow and orphan? Jesus, who is the true bread of life.

Does this offend you? Jesus asks the grumbling disciples. Does this literally scandalize you? Are you shocked? When I sat in on the youth Sunday school class a few weeks ago, we talked about salvation – salvation – and I can barely wrap my mind around this concept as an adult. The story we used was that of Jesus healing the paralysed man who was lowered through the roof by his friends. We acted this story out with the couches creating the house and cushions the roof that was ripped away and as Dylan the Paralitic was half lowered, half dropped to the floor.

Heiki Lara and I mostly watched and encouraged as Brian, playing Jesus, before offering to heal the man, proclaimed the man forgiven of his sins – he offered the man his power to save – not his legs and his life on earth, but his life for eternity. And it wasn’t the power to heal that scandalized the Pharisees and challengers of Jesus, there were other healers and miracle workers wandering around Judea. What shocked and scandalized was that he claimed his power to save this man from his sins. How can it be?

How can it be? Many times I have felt like it is not only difficult to chew but downright ridiculous to be Christian. It is offensiveness to common sense to be a Christ follower. It’s a grail quest that will never see results. I have heard Weldon speak before about the foolishness of the cross. It was Paul who first talked about it in 1 Corinthians 1:18:

18 For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…

21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

It does seem ridiculous, it seems offensive, and yet it is exactly what Jesus is asking. Not everyone stayed with Jesus as his disciples when he began to teach about eating bread that would let them live forever through him. It may have seemed ridiculous to the people of Israel to worship only one God when wouldn’t it be safer to hedge ones bets and trust in many Gods? Joshua challenges the Israelites just as Jesus challenges his disciples …Now, if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve , whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River of the gods of the Amorites in hose land you are living; but as for me and my household , we will serve the Lord.

Whom will you serve? What will be our answer? Some of Jesus disciples just cannot gnaw on the bread that Jesus offers them to eat. Some turn away. The ridiculous is just too much. And now? The lack of evidence, the world full of evil – is it too much to believe that through Christ all will be make whole and united with God.

Yet when Jesus turns to the twelve and says ‘Do you also want to go away?’ Peter answers for them ‘where else can we go – you have the words of life.” The bread of life “we have come to believe and know that you are the holy one of God When Joshua lays down the line and says “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord” the children of Israel respond in kind saying “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us…from the land of Egypt…who protected us along all the way that we went…and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for the Lord is our God.”

Our worship these past weeks have been themed “Becoming Bread”. The way we become bread is by properly eating and sustaining ourselves for the journey. We celebrate, claim and proclaim Jesus, who is our sustaining bread of life, and who is also the way that we are enabled to become bread for the world. When we consume Jesus – hard to chew though he is – he lives in us. The work of Justice and peace, the work of mission in the world – these are the ways that we live the word of Jesus, living bread, and the crunchy Christianity practical.

Will you join me in the prayer of confession, and have ready the words of assurance to speak together? Let’s pray.

Living God
    we confess that we often choose the ways of death
    rather than the path of life.
Sometimes we do not trust your wisdom;
      sometimes we follow other gods.
Forgive our disloyalty,
     cleanse us from our unrighteousness
     and strengthen our trust in your good purposes.
Become bread to us and fill us with your love.
Set us free to serve you all the days of our lives,
      and when our life on earth is done,
      call us to eternal life in you.

Words of Assurance:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.