“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Even the disciples, the ones specially chosen, the closest ones to Jesus during His ministry, struggled with what He was saying right in front of them. But for us, we don’t simply wonder how it’s possible that bread and wine can be our Lord’s body and blood in Holy Communion. It’s this whole teaching of the Christian faith. It is difficult, to say the least. It’s more than understandable that many still struggle to accept even the most basic premise of Jesus’ death and resurrection that sets all of us free.
In case you haven’t noticed the Bible as a whole, filled with accounts of God’s activity in the world, is not so easy to accept at face value. For instance, the first reading we heard from Bruce this morning comes from a book named after the one who finally brought the Israelites into the Promised Land. It was Joshua, not Moses, who ultimately fulfilled the hopes and dreams of an entire people, to find what would be their new home after unbearable years in slavery. Except we tend to overlook the background that it was other people’s home before the Israelites got there.
There was a song that many Sunday school children learned over recent decades called, “Joshua fit ‘da battle of Jericho,” describing the story from the Bible when Joshua and the Israelite army marched around the ancient city, and when Joshua commanded the trumpet blasts the “walls came a tumblin’ down.” The upbeat rhythm would not allow the young people to forget that song for days on end. Except we easily forget the fact that inside those walls that came crashing down were young people, no older than our Sunday school youth, who were killed for simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time. This story, supposedly our story, is difficult, to say the least.
But then this Jesus comes along and adds a whole ‘nother level to the difficulty. For some reason beyond our understanding the almighty, all-powerful, all-transcending God decided it was worth to come down to earth in human form, to actually experience unrelenting hunger and intense stress and overwhelming pain. We take for granted just how unbelievable that really is, that God actually becomes one of us mere mortals.
But the story gets even more impossible to bear when that God in flesh, Jesus Christ, actually dies on the cross. First of all, doesn’t Jesus have the power to live forever? Why does Jesus heal the sick, eat with sinners, raise the dead for only three years, as many scholars believe? Why not longer? Why did Jesus have to die at all? And why such a terrifying, horrible, way to die? Why did God allow that to happen? Was that the only way to offer hope to the world? This faith, our faith, is difficult to accept, to say the least. And yet, the truth is…it should be.
Because after all that is said and done, and somehow miraculously, against all scientific odds, Jesus, born in human flesh, just like us, rises from the dead. After that miracle of miracles of eternal proportion, the miracle that supposedly set us free from sin and death, that’s evidently not just about people getting into Heaven, but redeeming us from obsessing over own selves and our future, to instead focus on serving others, thereby following the same ministry laid out before us by the God, Who evidently became just like us to show us how it’s done. If that’s all the case for the Christian faith, why does it seem like nothing has changed since that day He walked out of the tomb?
Now granted, there will still be death. Jesus didn’t take humanity with Him when He ascended into Heaven. There will still be suffering. But why all the anger? Why all the hatred? Why all the manipulation and greed and selfishness? How’s come nothing has changed since God saved the world on the cross and out of the empty tomb? This faith, this story, this teaching…difficult is an understatement.
However, the church is not meant to have all the answers, and we are not meant to look down on those who struggle with this faith. After all, we shouldn’t just accept the teaching blindly either: that minimizes how powerful the story ends up being for our life. That undercuts how transcending Jesus’ love is for all of us.
So we keep on coming back to experience just a bit more, as best we can. We keep on coming back to worship to be filled, literally, with Jesus. We create small groups and Bible studies to struggle with the story together, to catch just a glimpse of God’s holy activity in our own life and our world surrounding us. We find places where we can serve in our communities to see the precious image of God in others.
Now the Gospel story we heard this morning ends with one of the most powerful verses describing exactly our difficult, yet wonderful, predicament as children God; when Peter, just like us with a fair share of questions and wonderings, says to Jesus, “[Where else can we go?] You have the words of eternal life.” So we keep on coming back in worship, in Bible studies, in our own time of devotion in the morning or before we go to bed, in service to the world. We keep on coming back to see Jesus, to hear the words of eternal life, that He is our Resurrection and the Life, and that neither death nor life, nor the questions about the Bible, nor our shortcomings in living up to our calling as our Lord’s disciples, nor our lack of understanding this God, nor our doubts on this faith journey, nor anything else in all Creation can separate us from that love of God brought to life in Christ Jesus, our Lord. And for that, we give thanks to this God of everlasting life now and forevermore. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Dennis Smith, Interim Pastor
Office: Tue - Fri: 9 a.m. - Noon