Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 26, 2018
[sermon begins after the Bible reading]
John 6:56-69 [70-71] Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 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.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “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.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
“This is why I can’t give up on Christianity…,” said Richard Rohr as several hundred of us listened to him speak. He said it often over the hours of class. “This is why I can’t give up on Christianity…” It’s a little surprising that he would say it that way. After all, he’s a Catholic friar of the Franciscan order. The Franciscans are the largest order in the Roman Catholic Church. Six popes emerged from the Franciscans. His statement suggests that he may have wondered a time or two about why he sticks with Christianity.
Brother Rohr would make this statement about not giving up on Christianity and then he’d fill in the blank. For instance, “This is why I can’t give up on Christianity, because when you’re hurting and gaze upon the crucifix – suffering unites with cosmic suffering.” Yeah, he says super fluffy stuff like that. Then he quotes a wide variety of theologians both historical and current. The man must read constantly. Doe the guy even sleep?! With all that he said during those lectures, not-giving-up-on-Christianity sticks with me.
Brother Rohr’s words about not-giving-up stuck with me when he wrote a few days ago about the new revelations of priestly abuse and cover up. His own lament for this “moral catastrophe” is palpable as he calls for “public and sincere lamentation from every corner of the Body of Christ” as the first step toward deep healing. His statement briefly makes a few clear points. I’m not going to detail his argument here although I invite you to read it. Feel free to connect with me and I can tell you where to find it.
What I do want to talk about is this paradox between showing up to church to receive Christ and, instead, experiencing the complete opposite of the gospel from other people. And I’m not just talking about priestly abuse and a single denomination’s problems. I’m talking about hurt of all kinds across denominations under the wide tent that is Christianity around the world. People often leave their churches in solidarity with people who are hurt even if they’re not hurt themselves. These injuries hold us all accountable to making sure we’re open and above board with each other as the body of Christ; that we check and cross-check especially how we watch over our children.
Honestly, people leaving churches because of moral catastrophes is absolutely understandable. The gospel hardly stands a chance in those dark shadows. So, I’m taking Brother Rohr’s challenge to heart and deeply lament with the families and children who have grown into adults carrying a pain no one should carry. I also lament with my Catholic friends and family who are struggling either with their own faith or with the institutional hierarchy responsible for the church they call home. And I wonder why they aren’t giving-up-on-Christianity.
While we hold space for that lament, I’d like to draw attention to the Gospel of John reading today. These verses conclude the sixth chapter that is often called Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse. A super dry term that sounds like bread gone bad. The sixth chapter begins with the feeding of the 5,000 and 12 baskets of leftovers; then Jesus walks on water, calling himself the Bread of Heaven and Bread of God and Bread of Life, and finally shocking his listeners with talk of his flesh and blood as wine and bread are eaten. The disciples listening finally said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” A tighter translation from the Greek would read, “Difficult is this word; who is able to hear it?”
This Greek translation is one of the reasons the Gospel of John is compelling. Skimming stones over John’s first chapter reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…what has come into being through him was life…yet the world did not know him…and the Word became flesh and lived among us…and we have seen his glory…full of grace and truth.” Some of my favorite verses in the Bible are right there. Those verses from John’s first chapter make the Greek helpful in the sixth chapter. “Difficult is this Word…” the disciples complain. (Difficult is this logos/ λόγος)
Their complaint is just one reaction among the many different ways people respond to Jesus in the sixth chapter. Here are some more. In the feeding of the 5,000 the people “follow” Jesus and are “satisfied.” When Jesus walks on water the disciples are “terrified.” In the Bread of Heaven part of Jesus’ discourse the people are “looking for Jesus” and “request” a sign finally asking Jesus to “give us this bread always.” When Jesus says he is the Bread of Life, the people “complain about him.” Jesus then says, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” and the people “disputed among themselves” and begin arguing. Finally, the disciples ask the question, “Difficult is this Word; who is able to hear it?” Some of the disciples “turned back and no longer went about with” Jesus. But Peter confesses his faith, believing and knowing that Jesus is “the Holy One of God.” And, finally, one of them “was going to betray him.”
The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John colors a picture of many different responses to Jesus – from following and satisfaction to terror to asking to complaining to arguing to confessing to betraying. Neither loving nor praising make the list of reactions to Jesus in this chapter. Other than those two, the list seems thorough. It’s a list that makes me wonder how many of us see ourselves in those reactions. Some of us may experience several of those reactions to Jesus in one day, or in one worship service, or in five minutes of living life. This variety has me wondering about whether Brother Rohr’s question about not being able to give up on Christianity flows in an another direction too.
It makes me wonder if the re-framed question is why Jesus doesn’t give up on us with our own reactions being as fragile and varied as our circumstances. I suppose it’s easy for Jesus to ask the questions. Not so easy for us to answer him. We get lost in the details of Jesus’ words. 5,000 people fed, really?! What does being the Bread of Life mean? Flesh and blood equals bread and wine equals Jesus abiding in us and we in him – wait, what?!
There’s a temptation to dress up our reactions to Jesus. To think that we must have a worthy response to earn Jesus’ loving response to us, to position ourselves in right relationship with God by how well we react to him and his questions. The list becomes a bit like a multiple choice quiz at school – the test anxiety can be excruciating. But in the Gospel of John, Jesus sees all the reactions. Truly there is nothing new under the sun. Yet Jesus still does what Jesus is going to do as he completes his earthly ministry by redefining relationships, dying on a cross finishing what he came to do, and resurrecting in a garden calling people by name.
As people of Jesus’ good news, I encourage us to find ways to describe why we can’t-give-up-on-Christianity. It’s helpful in conversation with curious people who aren’t Christian who may wonder why it seems so important to us. Consider this an invitation to play with your answers as to why you can’t give it up.
As you play around with your answers, be assured that it’s really Jesus who can’t give up on you.
Jesus who can’t give you up because Jesus is the Bread of Life, the life that is the light of all people; the light shines in the darkness of our moral catastrophes and the darkness did not overcome Jesus’ light. Jesus who is our life and our peace and our love as we journey…
Hymn of the Day sung after the sermon:
Lord Jesus, You Shall Be My Song (ELW 808)
1 Lord Jesus, you shall be my song as I journey;
I’ll tell everybody about you wherever I go:
you alone are our life and our peace and our love.
Lord Jesus, you shall be my song as I journey.
2 Lord Jesus, I’ll praise you as long as I journey;
May all of my joy be a faithful reflection of you.
May the earth and the sea and the sky join my song.
Lord Jesus, I’ll praise you as long as I journey.
3 As long as I live, Jesus, make me your servant,
to carry your cross and to share all your burdens and tears.
For you saved me by giving your body and blood.
As long as I live, Jesus, make me your servant.
4 I fear in the dark and the doubt of my journey;
but courage will come with the sound of your steps by my side.
And will all of the family you saved by your love,
we’ll sing to your dawn at the end of our journey.
 Encyclopaedia Britannica. Franciscans: religious order. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Franciscans
 Fr. Richard Rohr’s statement on the new revelations of priestly abuse and cover up” may be found here: https://cac.org/fr-richards-statement-on-the-new-revelations-of-priestly-abuse-and-coverup-2018-08-20/
 Bible Hub Greek Intralinear: https://biblehub.com/interlinear/john/6-60.htm
 John 1:1, 4a, 10b, and 14.
 John 6:2 and 12
 John 6:19
 John 6:24, 30, and 34
 John 6:41
 John 6:52
 John 6:60 direct translation from the Greek
 John 6:66
 John 6:69
 John 6:71
 Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NRSV) What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.
 John 19:26-27
 John 19:30
 John 20:16
 Lord Jesus, You Shall Be My Song. Les Petites Soeurs de Jesus and L’Arche Community; tr. Stephen Somerville ©1970.