Sunday, November 21, 2021

Too hard. . .

Our three week saunter through John 6 is not without complaint.  There are pastors everywhere who wasted most of what they wanted to say on the first appearance of the Bread of Life discourses on the first week or at least by the end of the second.  They wish the inventors of the three year lectionary had skipped a week or two of John 6.  I will admit to having had some of the same thoughts early on in my experience with year B.  But I got over it.  Not in the least because I came to realize that our Lord was not simply repeating Himself.  He had something to say.  It was hard, so hard, in fact, that Jesus' own disciples complained -- and they had heard and would hear more hard sayings from Jesus.  In other words, our Lord did not back down and lighten up.

The drumbeat for a lighter or easier Jesus has not subsided.  It has only increased.  But the voices calling for such a thing are not only those on the outside looking in.  They may be even more so from the inside of Christianity, from theologians and pastors and people in the pews who believe that doctrine divides, that the appearance of unity is more important than faithfulness, and that reason is a final judge over what is to be believed.  The Christian truth is under assault now more than at any other time and those disputing the facts of the faith, its truthfulness and historicity, and the importance attached to these facts are none other than those who were given the sacred responsibility of serving as guardians of this Gospel.

In response to complaints from our own pews and our own fears that we might been soon judged irrelevant or unnecessary to a good and full life, we have shaved off the hard edges of Scripture's truth and history and softened the Gospel until it has become merely a feeling.  Sentiment is chosen over fact and truth by those outside of Christianity as well as those inside.  What is left is a weak and shallow faith that is unable to reign in our sinful desires or even call them sin.  What is left is merely a meme of a cross instead of a place where real suffering and sacrifice paid the cost of our redemption.  What is left is a Savior who can only help you make your peace with death and celebrate your life -- not bestow upon you a life death cannot overcome.  We in the Church invented spiritual but not religious when we divided truth from content and began to serve as Jesus' interpreters rather than His witnesses.

How foolish we are!  Like the disciples of old who complained to Jesus that His words were too hard, we think that in order for the Gospel to succeed we must distance ourselves from Jesus or edit His words or tone down His voice.  What is so very foolish is that we think we can do this with impunity!  Jesus does not care.  But, of course, He does.  If we read John 6, we might learn that our Lord did not ease up on His disciples or give them an out but confronted them.  Who wants to leave? asked our Lord.  And many of them did.

60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

66After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

The faith will not be strengthened by our surrender to sentiment, by robbing the story of its facts, or by eliminating the need for a Savior by redefining sin.  The Gospel always divides.  From the promise given by Simeon at the Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, Jesus was an offense, a stumbling stone, and One who was set for the rise and fall of many whom many would attack.  I get that we in the Church do not like this and we as Pastors want to be loved, liked, and admired, but we gain nothing by giving up the Kingdom in order to preserve our own popularity or relevance.  The world cannot be gained even if we surrender our souls.  It is always a fool's gambit.  What we have forgotten or intentionally yielded in order to be winsome leaves us with nothing at all to proclaim and, at best, a tepid pat on the back for whatever the world believes and however the world lives.  

Either Jesus is King or He is nothing.  But if He is King, as He proclaims Himself, He is the servant King who rescues the lost, redeems the sinner, and raises the dead.  Hard as this is, it is the only real truth and hope for us and for the whole world.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Christ aid us to gird our loins, tighten our belts (and hang our Sword - the Word) there. We look to be facing the fight of our lives, well, simply the fight for this time in the history of the Church. Courage, Faith (Trust), and Service were required of the followers and disciples in John 6; it is no less for us.