John 6:53-60

53 So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 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 for ever.’ 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

The Words of Eternal Life

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’

Psalm 84 gives us a great picture of what our approach, our attitude, our mindset should be every time we enter church.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.

If only we could have that sense of joy, of pleasure, of “loveliness” as we enter the church.  Now, of course, we all know that God’s dwelling place is not just confined to the church.  God is everywhere, all around us.  God’s dwelling place is, God’s residence, is ever present.  What would it be like if every time we got up out of bed, walked out the door into our neighborhood, we sensed such a deep connection with God’s Presence.  

It would be amazing, overwhelming, lovely.

However, we all know that isn’t the case.  We are consumed by so many things that crowd out a sense of joy.  We are busy, we have issues with others, we let anxieties overcome us, we can’t seem to cultivate that deep sense of belonging to one another and to God.  

If you are like me, you sometimes have weeks where you have to stop and pause in the midst of all that is happening around you and wonder if this world, or even your own world, is ever going to move towards becoming what you hoped it would be.

I know these past few weeks have been crazy with my mom dying from cancer.  Its been up and down and in the midst of a season of so much change, adaption, and growth…growth that isn’t easy…if it ever is or is supposed to be.  

I also began to wonder if I could be my true self in this context that I have found myself in.  In times like that, I need to know that others are willing to be in this together, to be in a place of covenant, of depth, of relational fidelity, a place of believing in one another.   This church has been that kind of relational space for me…for many of us. 

I have had other friends as well who have believed in me and I in them. Rob Waddles, who I grew up with.  He died at age 46, but his belief in me continues into death.  As does my grandfathers, my mom, my dad.  Bruce Baker when I was with Campus Life, Phillip Roebuck at Northminster, my partner, Debbie, on numerous projects over the years.  Jay Borck, Sean Gladding, Troy Bronsink, Mike Zimmer, Lisa Allgood, Daniel Hughes, Ed Goode, Julian Kenny, Andy Sexton, and so many others…as well as many of you.  

A hallmark in that belief in each other is a sense of deep humility, authenticity, and willingness to be fully present.  That’s hard.  A good example is Phillip Roebuck.  Phil is still one of my best friends, he’s 17 years younger than me.  He was in our Young Life club, amazing athlete and valedictorian at Wyoming HS, and graduated in the top 3% of his class at Harvard.  Phil also has one of the best, purest hearts of anyone I know.  He’s also extremely competitive and has a high capacity and desire to achieve.  He is honestly one of the smartest guys I know.

After I graduated from Fuller Seminary with my masters in divinity and moved back to Cincy, Phillip, who had just graduated from Harvard, was in a place of deep searching.  He wanted to know how he could grow and become what God intended for him. That led him to doing an internship with me at Northminster in student ministry.

I love Phil, so we made it a point to meet weekly, to be fully present with each other, to make sure we willing to submit to each other.  Early on I pledged to him that I would invest in him fully.  In the course of those two years, our friendship deepened and, to this day, even through lots of arguments, disagreements, hard feelings, as well as joys, amazing things accomplished together, and sharing of life.  

Now, let me be clear, our student ministry didn’t explode with numbers, actually, the first year we declined in numbers.  Phillip was, and still is, well known within our neighborhoods of Wyoming and Finneytown, we had an amazing group of adult leaders, we had great programs and were in the community all of the time.  The second year of the internship, something beautiful happened.  Community.  We began to see wonderful relationships deepen, community transformation, and a solid heading that continued on in the student ministry for quite a while…and, yes, some folks came into the church that are still there, even through some hard times at Northminster.

Why do I share this, because Phil and I made a commitment to believe in each other and to fight for each other’s friendship early on.  We built upon a foundation of my being in his life as his Young Life leader, to true friendship that gave us energy every day.  When we see each other, we echo the psalmists joy and feel as if we are in the Presence of God’s dwelling place.

Our gospel lesson this morning gives witness to that as well.  Jesus is continuing to share that to be with him meant to share in his life, to eat his flesh, drink his blood.  The very word, Sarx, means literally flesh…not sooma, which is another greek word that means body in the wholistic sense, the authors are using flesh to go to a guttural meaning…Again, sounds morbid, but what he’s saying is that we have to be willing to get into the very bowels of each other’s lives.  To love like we mean it, that each moment we are with each other, we are in the presence of someone made in God’s image and be willing to sacrifice for each other, to swallow our pride, to do things differently and to strive for authenticity.  Which, btw, authenticity is more than just being honest or “real”, it means being self aware and the surrendering of our self made identity in our work, projects, and even church.  It means living into the personhood that God created us to be, persons joined together with God, through Christ.  

The disciples are hearing this and realize that being this intimate with Christ and each other means deep change, deep awareness, and something that they couldn’t quite swallow.  They felt secure in the status quo and they let anxiety overtake them.  They realized that the hard work required for true community was too much.  I respect them for this recognition.  They were honest, and they left.  Jesus, at this point, was a failure at church growth.  Yet, Jesus also knew that something more beautiful, more lovely would happen.  Jesus wanted the disciples, and all of us to have life, real and full life.  It required taking in all of Jesus.  Richard Rohr talks about how hard this is, it seems like we in the church are constantly re-crucifying Jesus, constantly trying to put off our own death, yet Jesus says that’s exactly what we need to do, experience death so that we can experience resurrection life, true life.  

I have had to die so much in my relationships and even in my image of what could be. We all do.

Later in this story, in John 6, we have this passage about the crowd of followers after hearing Jesus:

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.’

When Jesus asks Peter and the disciples that stuck around, what about you, Peter gives a feeble, but honest answer, where would we go, we don’t have anywhere else to go.  

We may be in that place today in our lives, we may feel like we don’t have anywhere else to go, but Jesus sticks by our side, believes in us, and calls us to partake in his life.  In so doing, we will change, it’s inevitable, we will also grow.  In this death and resurrection, we can trust that Jesus goes with us and we share in his life, even in the hardness.  Some of us may drift away, some may give up like many of the disciples.  But, for those of us willing to stick with Jesus and believe in each other, like the disciples, we may see the world change…at least our worlds.  


John 6:51-58

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.56 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.”


“To be or not to be”…isn’t that the great Shakespearean question?  What does it mean to be?  “Be” is the English languages most irregular verb…it’s a word of action…to be something or someone.  It is a verb of existence or reality.  I am in a car, I am in church, I will be grilling hamburgers tonight.  It is also a verb that points to relationship.  I am friends with…I am a member of this community…

This is something that has been incredibly important to me these past few weeks.  Being in friendship, relationship, community…here, in our church, and in the generations of friends that came by the hospital, the house, the funeral home, and the funeral service.  

Today I’d like to talk to you about being, specifically being in a friendship.  Over the course of my life, I have been blessed with some wonderful friendships and great community like we have here at Fleming Road UCC. 

I shared this at my mom’s funeral last week while officiating it.  “Mom, like her father, my PePa, believed in people.  She believed in me.  That has shaped me in more ways than can ever be explained.  It has led me to so many others throughout my life that have also believed in me.  My friend John McKnight, the well known author, teacher, community organizer, and mentor to many of the folks who have helped shape our culture over the years, once shared with me and another friend that his entire life has been touched and surrounded by the presence of God.  Why?  Because he’s been in relationship with people that believed in him…and that gave evidence to God’s belief in him as God is ultimately all about relationship. 

Mom exhibited the very nature of God.  The power of relationship.  She loved growing up in her community, has been blessed by community all of her life.  Wherever she went, she built amazing friendships.  So many people have invested in her over her life, the return on that investment has far outweighed anything that folks have put in!

Throughout my life, and even in so many ways the past few weeks, this investment in relationships was so evident.  

That makes sense, you see, we were all created to be in loving friendships or relationships with each other.  We were even created by a relational God.  It says in Genesis 1:27, that God created us in his image.  God’s image is one of relationship.  God exists in perfect unity as a three-in-one God…God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Three distinct persons, but of one essence…God’s essence is relational and that relationship demonstrates perfect love.  Out of that essence, that loving essence, God, the uncreated created us.  

If that wasn’t enough, creating us…God gave us the gift of God’s self.  God desires to simply be in relationship with us.  Throughout history God has demonstrated God’s pursuit of us, rescuing humanity from itself.  Humanity has sought to know God, yet we have often forgotten that God knows us and loves us.  

When Moses was being called by God out of a burning bush to go and preach release to the Jews who were being held as slaves in Egypt, Moses sought to know God’s name, because in those days, to know someone’s name was to know who they were, to have them define, to be in relationship and to know them.  Yet, when asked, God gave a peculiar answer:

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.’ “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation. (Exo 3:14-15 TNIV)

I am who I am.  The verb used here in Hebrew is “to be”. God is.  God is saying that he is wholly other and cannot be comprehended.  Yet, he goes on to say something more.  He is the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Moses knew that God interacted with all of those people.  God is saying, in effect, I am a God of relationship.  I cannot be comprehended, but I can be apprehended.  

God with us.  God with us in relationship.  Ultimately that is displayed in God becoming one of us through Jesus.  Jesus is completely God and is the exact representation of who God is, a God of relationship.  

Our passage this morning is one of deep relationship.  We are continuing the theme of Jesus being the bread of life.  Jesus goes on to say that in order to have eternal life, or abundant life filled with meaning and purpose, a forever life, then we must consume Jesus’ body.  Again, the word flesh is used, it’s very graphic.  When some folks in the first or second century heard this reading from John after Jesus’ death, they actually thought Christ followers were espousing cannibalism!

Of course, that’s not true.  It’s a metaphor that’s implying that we must consume Jesus, we must take Jesus in to the deepest parts of who we are, even the parts that are messy, our very bowels.  We cannot change, grow, become self/others/or God aware without help.  We need Jesus’ life to rise up within and outside of us, to take Jesus in.  

Jesus goes on to say that we must remain in him, as he is remaining in us.  This is a phrase that is referenced in others parts of John.  

John 15:4 says this, “Remain  (or abide) in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”  Remain, or abide, live…Live in Christ.  How do we do that?  We are in Christ, he sustains all things.  We simply have the pleasure of saying thank you by living in the imperative of remaining in him.  Just like any relationship, we need to be with God and with each other in order to grow.  

Friends, we cannot truly live as we were meant to live separated from Christ or from each other…to attempt to do so makes us less than human.  We may not understand that completely, but our being our “I am” is found in the actions of Jesus.  Jesus is the exact representation of God to us and he is our truly human representative in the presence of God as God in the flesh.  

So friends, BE!  Be in and with Christ, consume Christ!  He is your identity…you are not defined ultimately by the color of your skin, how much (or how little) is in your bank account, what political party you identify with, or what you have done or not done…YOU are defined by Christ’s actions on your behalf!  Your wealth in this life is defined by the relationships you have which is defined by your relationship with Christ!  My truest friend has always been Jesus.  He is really different, yet I find my identity in him because of his pursuit of me.  Friends, as you live and find you identity in Christ, know that God wants to be with you and will not let you go! 


John 6:24-35

24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

35 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.

It’s good to be back with you this morning after a much needed, and very much enjoyed albeit short, vacation with my family.  I’ve heard great things from Dave Workman and others about last week’s service.  I actually listened to the sermon and much of the service while I was on a run in Seattle!  One of the great things that we are doing now out of the pandemic is having our services out on Zoom and Facebook Live!  It was so good!  

I also texted Dave right after the service!  He enjoyed being with y’all and I’m looking forward to catching up with him.

On our vacation this year, we went to visit friends in Seattle and to take time to hike in some amazing places outside the city.  Our son wanted to go to Seattle because of the University of Washington.  As many of you know, he’s deferred his college admission for a year to take a gap year and serve with AmericCorps.  He’s committed to the University of Pittsburgh for next fall, but can break that commitment if another school gives him a better offer (and pay his parents back for the tuition deposit that we had to pay Pitt to hold his spot for a year!!).  

We had a great time exploring the city.  I’ve been to Seattle quite a bit and we’ve had relatives that used to live there, but there’s always more places to find!  We also had some epic hikes with amazing elevation gains that gave us beautiful heights, lakes, waterfalls, and snow capped mountains to explore.

And, then, there was our visit to the University of Washington.  

We may have lost our son to the PNW.

We also found out that Seattle is known, not only for coffee and IPA’s, but for biscuits!  We had a biscuit the first day that was so huge and so good, I wanted to get more…but, when I went back later in the week, there was a 30 minute wait just to place an order!  

In today’s Gospel lesson, the focus seems to be on bread.  Jesus had just performed the miracle where he fed the 5,000 from a few loaves of bread and fishes.  There was so much food that they had leftovers.  The Gospel narrative implies that folks had their fill, they were well fed.  

We start at verse 24 where Jesus has left that occasion and the crowds are wondering where Jesus and they go looking for him.  They catch up with him in verse 25 and give him the respectful address as Rabbi or teacher and ask when he got there, as if to say, where have you been?  They wanted more of that bread, just like our family wanted more of those biscuits!   It had filled them up and they not only wanted more, they had some questions.  

Jesus picks up on this and makes a statement that they weren’t really looking for him, but for what he could provide for them.  They were not simply looking for a show of power or a miracle, they were at they simply wanted more feed.  They had a needy outlook and what to meet needs.  Jesus has none of that, and simply says that you are so much more than simply trying to satisfy your needs or the needs of others.  

It reminds me of how we, in the church, and in the non-profit world in general, often ask, what are our needs or even the needs of those around us?  Sometimes those are good to identify, but there is a deeper question to ask, what are we aiming for?  Who are we?  What do we have already?  I think those questions are exemplified in the feeding of the 5000.  Jesus knows that folks need to be fed, but instead of asking how do we get to a place, he simply says, what do we have?  What are our assets, then he uses those assets to bless the people gathered.

Jesus goes on to say in our passage this morning that we should not work for food that spoils.  Again, he’s saying that we can provide for needs of the moment, but we should look for something deeper, something more meaningful or even empowering.  We should look for food that doesn’t spoil, that lasts forever and is eternal.  And, remember, as we’ve mentioned before, the word eternal in the gospels has much more to do with quality than quantity.  Jesus wants us to have big, meaningful, and full lives together with each other and with God.  

Jesus also goes on to say that God has placed God’s seal of approval on the Son of Man.  Two things about that:  in those days, a seal was meant to be placed on something that was being offered as a sacrifice, it meant that it was an acceptable gift.  The Son of Man also signifies identity with humanity, God has placed his seal on Jesus who represents us, therefore God has given us, humanity, his approval through Jesus.  It’s also a gift, we can’t work towards it, it is given to us. 

The folks hearing this, much like us today, don’t get it.  They feel that they have to somehow do something, earn it.  Jesus says, no, the only work that you have to do is to believe.  Of course, that can be harder than any physical action.  Movement in our lives towards believing in God and in others can be difficult.  It takes trust, love, and a recognition on our part that we don’t have to be defensive or try to prove ourselves, we simply are called to believe in God and, subsequently, to believe in others.  That doesn’t mean we can’t question or have our doubts, on the contrary, believing in something or someone causes the beauty of mystery and curiosity to flow as it is held together by a bond of friendship, of relationship.

Which, is what Jesus is driving his listeners towards.  They keep on asking questions and go to the place of trying to connect Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 to Moses providing Manna from heaven.  Moses’ Manna lasted for 40 years and helped the Jewish population stay alive physically, but the point of that is that it came from heaven.  God provided through Moses.  Jesus says this, says this is truth telling, God has given them, and us, the true bread from heaven, that gives life to the world, everyone.

They clamored for that kind of bread and asked where they could get it.  Jesus then declares with a double imperative, which translates from the Greek “I am, I am the bread of life.”  Whoever is willing to believe and to dare to grow and become the person that God created them to be, to receive the gift of relationship from God will never be thirsty.  

Friends, this world needs this kind of bread.  I used tell my cross country runners all of the time that there are good carbs and bad carbs.  Bad carbs can fill you up but have no nutritional value other than making you a larger person, but good carbs give you energy and are building blocks for getting stronger, healthier.  

Jesus is coming to us with the promise of Presence, of relationship.  A promise that he will be with us, even in the darkness of our lives.  He doesn’t promise some self-help technique, he simply gives us relationship.  

Jesus is the bread of life, and that bread starts with yeast rising.  That yeast has been planted in this world through Jesus’ coming to us, entering humanity, being one with us, while also being one with the Father and with the Spirit.  

God’s Spirit is also moving in and through us like yeast in dough.  We’re being molded and moved around, it’s sometimes a bit awkward, but that yeast is working its way through the dough and Christ is rising up within us and around us.

Friends, as we participate in the Lord’s Supper, let’s remember the seed that God has planted in us, God’s very self, God’s Presence, that is growing, that is giving us ideas and new life, and is moving us towards being the body of Christ to the world around us and to each other.