Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 12, 2018 Lectionary B, Proper 14
ELIZABETH OF HUNGARY IN RICHMOND HILL, GEORGIA
The Rev. Dr. C. Clark Hubbard, Rector Scripture: John 6:35, 41-51
Stretch out your hand [Oh, Lord] to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Acts 4:30
Let us pray. Heavenly Father, send now the Holy Spirit to brush away the cobwebs of our preconceptions, so that we might fully see Jesus for who He truly is our Lord and Saviour who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God for ever and ever. Amen.
“In 1956 Samuel Shenton created the International Flat Earth Research Society, running it as ‘organizing secretary’ from his home in Dover, England. Given Shenton’s interest in alternative science and technology, the emphasis on religious arguments was less than in the predecessor society. When satellite images showed Earth as a sphere, Shenton remarked: ‘It’s easy to see how a photograph like that could fool the untrained eye.’ Later asked about similar photographs taken by astronauts, he attributed (the) curvature to the use of wide-angled lenses, saying, ‘It’s a deception of the public and it isn’t right.’
Shenton went on to state that: “Historical accounts and spoken history tell us the Land part (of the earth) may have been square, all in one mass at one time, then as now, the magnetic north being the Center. Vast cataclysmic events and shaking no doubt broke the land apart, divided the Land to be our present continents or islands as they exist today. One thing we know for sure about this world…the known inhabited world is Flat, Level, a Plain World,” said Shenton.
Shenton died in 1971. Charles K. Johnson established and became president of the International Flat Earth Research Society of America. Over the next three decades, under his leadership, the Flat Earth Society grew to a reported 3,500 members” (Wikipedia).
“MIAMI — Left alone inside a police interview room just a few hours after he had gunned down 17 of his former classmates and educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the confessed gunman, Nikolas Cruz, said he no longer wanted to live. “Kill me,” he muttered to himself, finishing with a stream of despairing expletives.
Detective John Curcio of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office had stepped out to get a glass of water for the suspect, though Mr. Cruz had said he didn’t “deserve it.” The recorder inside the room was still running. Mr. Cruz said. “I just want to die now. “Why didn’t he kill me?” He exclaimed over and over. The transcript revealed for the first time what Mr. Cruz told police following the mass shooting, including that he blamed a “demon” voice inside his head for his actions. The voice, Mr. Cruz told Detective Curcio, gave him instructions: “Burn. Kill. Destroy” (Patricia Mazzei, NYT, 8-6-2018).
Preconceptions—we all have them. We may not believe that the world is flat, but at one time many did. And, if we are inclined not to believe in the spiritual realm, then it would be our preconception that there could be no devil telling Nikolas Cruz to destroy. No, we would attribute his murdering actions to mental illness—a concept, a preconception of its own, is it not? We all have preconceptions about any number of things. Some might call those preconceptions stereo-typing. In today’s highly politicized society others would call it profiling. Whatever we call it, the non-pejorative term is preconception. When we came to church this morning, we had a preconception of what things would like, what would happen, and who might be here. In truth our daily lives depend in large part on preconceptions. If we are driving to work, to shop, or out to eat we have a preconception of what we will see along the way, when suddenly to our dismay there are a bunch of orange and white barrels, every few feet, lining highway 144.
Preconceptions govern our understanding or lack of understanding of the environment in which we live. The news, our friends, our families, most everything are colored, influenced, and yes judged by our preconceptions of the way people or things are or should be. Our very identity is a statement of our preconceptions. We see the world through the lens of who we are—practical, generous, conservative, liberal, loving, fearful, trusting, or depressed.
Our preconceptions lead us to expect that things should operate a certain way. We don’t like it when they don’t. We don’t like it when our preconceptions are challenged, never mind proven to be inadequate or wrong. This shakes us, perhaps even threatens us. Maybe, life, the world, people are not what we think they are. This brings us to today’s gospel from St. John and the unrelenting reality it presents. What is that? It is the consistent and irritating fact that Jesus challenges our preconceptions of how we believe things should work. He did so when He walked this earth, and He does so now.
Today’s gospel begins with the verse with which it ended last Sunday. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” Talk about challenging our preconceptions. Unless Jesus is advocating cannibalism, we have got to wonder what He is talking about. How is He somehow bread and something to drink? Immediately, we are alerted that when it comes to Jesus, things are not going to be what we expect them to be. Whatever preconceptions we may have about Him, life, or even ourselves are going to be challenged.
So, if Jesus is going to challenge our preconceptions, then why? What is it that He is trying to get us to see, believe, and yes, be at this very moment, right here and now? In the next verse Jesus tells His listeners that their preconceptions have blinded them to what their very eyes have seen. He says, “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.” What is it that they have most recently seen about Jesus? He fed more than five thousand people with only a few fish and loaves. How is that possible? What does that say about who Jesus is?
Notice that these are questions that challenge not only their preconceptions about who Jesus is, but about who God is? Could God in a man actually be standing right in front of them? If this man Jesus is God, then that would mean He should be believed and listened to. Indeed, Jesus’ listeners’ preconceptions about God and how He works were being seriously challenged.
Having attempted to break through His listeners’ preconceptions in hopes that they might now be prepared to listen to Him, Jesus begins to share something of what His purpose is. “This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.” This was too much for them. Their preconceptions put up a big red stop sign, saying, “Listen no more.” They could not even begin to contemplate Jesus’ purpose. Instead, they regress back to something they thought they understood—bread and heaven. How does John describe it?
“Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
The Jews could not understand Jesus as being other than the son of Joseph—a regular old Joe if you will. This limiting and misidentifying of Jesus not only applied to when He walked this earth, but applies now. Who do the Jews today believe Jesus is—certainly not God or the Son of God? Who do the Muslims believe Jesus is—a prophet, right? Who do the Hindus or Buddhist believe Jesus to be—perhaps another divinity like Krishna or Rama? Who does our society believe Jesus to be—an historical figure, a great teacher, or just a fictional character? More to the point, who do we believe Jesus to be? Is He God? Is He our saviour? Maybe, we believe in God, but do we believe in Jesus? Do you?
Yes, Jesus had challenged the preconceptions of His listeners, but were they to be blamed for their limited insight, which prevented them from seeing Jesus for who He is? This next verse in today’s gospel is a scary and sobering one. “Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.” Can we believe our ears? Do we hear what Jesus is saying here? Whether we believe in predestination or not, Jesus certainly seems to be saying that some are predestined for heaven and some are predestined for the hot spot. Is that sinking in? Do we get it?
According to Jesus’ words here, it is foreordained that some should go to heaven and some to hell. This is disturbing, is it not? Tell me. Does that not challenge our preconception of who God is and how He works? What about all the love bit? Should we be worried? Should we be worried about a certain loved one who has turned up his or her nose at Jesus? How seriously do we take this Jesus stuff? For all our resistance to evangelizing, for telling people about Jesus, does it ever occur to us that we may be damning people to hell?
Having told His listeners that it is not their fault that they may not believe in Him, Jesus no longer feels the necessity of holding back from revealing who He truly is. So, He says, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God;” Yes, Jesus is God. Do I need to say that again? Jesus is God. He is as much God as God the Father or God the Spirit. He is not a second class citizen god. We must understand this. Jesus is God. We cannot in good conscience leave Jesus out of the public debate. If we do, then we are leaving out God. We might as well try driving our car down 144 without an engine—no Jesus—no engine, and no getting anywhere. There is no being politically correct here, no compromise.
Could it be that we have failed to realize that if we are Christians, then we are different. I did not say that we are better, but different. We are a different, having no color and every color. It is, perhaps, difficult for us to see this in the culture in which we live. However, if we lived in a culture or country where Christians are being persecuted, it would become painfully clear that being a Christian is more than a preference or something we occasionally do on Sundays. It is who we are. We could no more suddenly become Muslim, Hindu, or Jew in order to save ourselves from persecution than we could change the color of our eyes or skin.
What, though, about those who say they believe in God. What about them? We all know or have known individuals who say that he or she believes in God, but is there a problem with that statement. Listen again to these words of Jesus in today’s gospel. “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” In other words, Jesus is saying that if you believe in God, then you are going to believe in Him. This would suggest that the converse is also true: if you don’t believe in Jesus, then you don’t really believe in God, but some idolatrous image. Jesus continues to challenges our preconceptions of how things work, does He not?
So, what are the benefits of believing in Jesus who is God and from God? Jesus tells us in verse 47 that: “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.” In hearing Jesus’ words here, we may again be running into one of our preconceptions. It is that preconception that says if we believe in Jesus, we will go to heaven. Whereas that is true, it is only part of the truth.
Jesus tells us in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Knowing God and knowing Jesus are eternal life. Notice that the operative word is “know”. In scripture the use of the word, know, implies deep intimacy, indeed a joining together, a union. We first come across the word, knowing, as joining together in Genesis 4:1. “Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain.” Certainly, we are not talking about sex with God or Jesus, but we are reminded, as with a marriage, that relationships require something of us if we are to make the most and get the most out of them.
This, of course, means spending time with the one in whom we are in relationship, talking with that person, listening to that person, and getting to know that person more and more. The same holds true for our relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit if we wish to truly know and enjoy the eternal life that comes from knowing them. Translated, that means spending time in prayer, talking and listening to them, and getting to know them better through scripture, through fellowship with other Christians, and in worship, regularly attending church. How would our spouses or children feel and how much would we enjoy our spouses or children if we only spent an hour or so with them each month?
Do you catch my drift? I don’t need to tell you that the world, the flesh, and the devil are forever besetting us. They are forever asking for our attention. Yes, there are matters and people in this world to which we must attend, and God knows this. However, God, the Father, the Son, and Spirit are just that—spirit, and that requires of us different eyes and ears than this world requires. We have been given the Spirit. It is He who makes us a different race, a new creation, as say St. Paul says, and a royal priesthood, as St. Peter says.
It is this same Holy Spirit, who resides in us, that is the substance of our being able to live eternally. When we heard Jesus say in the gospel this morning, “. . . and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh,” He is saying that the consequence of His sacrifice upon the cross is that we through faith in Him will receive the Holy Spirit, as first documented on the Day of Pentecost.
Eternal life, then, is not simply some place, called heaven. Rather, it is a relationship with God the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That relationship begins as soon as we believe in Jesus. This relationship however is different from any other relationship that we might have with our fellow humans. This, I would suggest, makes talking about Jesus or evangelism something different than our preconceptions. Needless to say, we talk to others about our relationships with our spouses, our children, our grandchildren, or our friends. What about talking to others about our relationship with Jesus?
St. Paul’s words from his epistle to the Romans come to mind. “And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?” If we are concerned about where people will spend eternity, tell them about our relationships with Jesus. They’ll especially enjoy hearing about when He did something extraordinary in our lives that made the world suddenly no longer flat and the voice of destruction silent. In this way, we will lovingly challenge their preconceptions about Jesus and who He is.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.