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!
2 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.