Pentecost 13.18 “Real Food” John 6:51-69
We live in an age of a lot of fake stuff: fake news, fake empires, fake wealth, fake history, fake leaders—spiritual and political. And though the fraud is exposed time and again, we seem to have an appetite, a preference even, for the fake over the real. And this impacts us at every level, but maybe nowhere more powerfully than in our food and medicines. They say you are what you eat (one bit of common wisdom with which Holy Scriptures wholeheartedly agree!). We are becoming more concerned about fake food—packed with fillers, additives, preservatives that do not nourish but harm our bodies. Same with medicines—Big Pharma is big business and yet you wonder sometimes if the miracle drugs are really any more healthful than some of the nonsense Gwyneth Paltrow and other hucksters push on infomercials and magazines. Anecdotally, I have family members who were on enough prescription meds to choke a horse and who died relatively young after decades of poor health, and other family members who’ve never taken so much as an aspirin and enjoy rude good health well into their 80’s. Food for thought…
Jesus has a lot to say about fake food and real food, about fake medicine and real medicine—as we’ve been hearing in this chapter long discourse from John 6 for the last several weeks and today it concludes. To catch you up, previously in the Gospel of John: Jesus had fed over 5,000 with just five loaves and two fish. The next day, an even larger crowd came to find Him on the other side of the sea from where the Feast had been enjoyed. They wanted more. Jesus told them they should be after real food, the food that the Father gives away for free, which nourishes to eternal life rather than food which causes us to perish. They went: like Moses and the mana he gave us in the wilderness? Jesus points out that Moses did not give them anything, but God the Father gave bread from heaven and that, by the way, Jesus Himself is the living bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, that if anyone eats this Bread he will live forever; and the bread that Jesus will give is His flesh, for the life of the world..
The best sermon opening I ever heard was my friend Christopher Esget’s homily for morning prayer on the first day of the Synod convention in 2016. Pastor Esget read the words of institution, and after “…shed for you for the forgiveness of sins; this do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me” he paused for a good while as a serious hush fell over the large crowd. Everyone sort of leaned forward, expecting something serious. He just looked at the sea of faces and with a slight smile continued: “And the disciples… argued. They argued about who was greatest. Sure glad that doesn’t happen anymore.”
Which was exactly the response of the Jews who heard Jesus tell them if they eat His flesh they will live forever: they argued. They quarreled among themselves, saying “How can this Man give us flesh to eat? Who would want to, even if He could?!” And just so you know that the more things change the more they stay the same: this chapter, John 6, has been (especially since the Reformation 500 years ago) one of the most bitterly contested and argued over portions of all the Scriptures. All of Christendom is still quarreling over this. How can Jesus really give His flesh to eat and His blood to drink? Surely He doesn’t mean this, literally, right? Surely it is some kind of metaphor! I mean, it isn’t only impossible, but it would be kind of gross even if He could pull it off. Much of the Protestant world is famous for rejecting this saying just as the Jews who first heard it did. But even the Roman Catholic Church [which is much in the news right now for other problems] even more significantly largely rejects the words of Jesus on giving His flesh to eat. Thomas Aquinas back in the 13th century (a very unlucky and unpropitious century Luther thought and I agree) came along and he argued that we don’t really eat Jesus’ flesh and drink His actual blood. No, no! What Jesus really meant and which only Aristotle can help us understand is that we eat and drink not His flesh and blood but the substance of His flesh and blood. Which is… what? Well, that’s a tricky one! Aristotle says substance is this invisible, incorporeal, imaginary friend kind of stuff that makes things what they are. So, what happens in the Lord’s Supper is that the substance of the bread gets sucked out and is replaced by the substance of Jesus Body. And voila! You’re just eating this fake “substance” stuff (like Newtown’s ether); not the Real Body, the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. Great, huh?
That’s the actual doctrine of transubstantiation as affirmed by all the Roman Catholic councils ever since—their answer to the Jewish question of how this Man can give us His flesh to eat—that substantially (see what I did there) He can’t and doesn’t. The more things change… so add to the list of fake stuff in our world fake sacraments promulgated by the largest Christian organization in the world for the last 7 centuries or so. I seriously wonder why so many people put up with Rome’s shenanigans rather than reading the Bible and seeing that Luther had and still has a bunch of great points…
Jesus is quite clear: “Most assuredly, I say to you: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood drink indeed.” Real Food. Real Drink. Really and truly right here for you, now at His Table! Given away, all for free to beggars, to poor sinners who come empty handed and open hearted.
And yet… like the thousands of Jews who argued with Him then and abandoned Him, most of Christendom argues with Jesus and abandons Him still today, to say nothing of those outside the church! The idea that genuine Christianity will draw large crowds takes a big hit in John 6. Yes, Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5,000 drew a crowd. But not a crowd of believers. A crowd of skeptics, scoffers, gawkers who just wanted a bigger show. When He proclaims His Word that unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood—Real Food, Real Drink!—we’ll perish eternally, they argue; they quarrel with Him, and finally even those who considered themselves disciples of His up and left, arguing: “This is a hard saying, who can stand under it?” The miracles of Jesus drew crowds. But the Gospel Word of Jesus clears out the crowds faster than you can ask them: “Is Ebola contagious?” You know how many were left to enjoy the Feast of His flesh and blood? 12. That’s right: 12 (mostly unpromising!) guys. And Jesus saw the skepticism even in their hearts and heads and asked “Do you also want to go away?” And Peter, in one shining moment goes, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
That’s the Real, Honest-To-God News, right there! And such knowledge comes only by faith in Christ’s Word, the Sacraments—through which the Spirit grants such Faith to beggars, bums, sinners, saints, searchers like you and me and Peter and Company. So have done with the fake; come to Christ’s Table for Real Food, Real Drink, Real Peace, surpassing all understanding, guarding heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.