S. Pentecost 11.15 “See, Believe, Rise” John 6:35-51
Well here we are, a place I thought I’d never visit, something I thought you’d never hear me say: “Now, for Part II of our Three Part Sermon Series…” Because you know how I hate the conventional sermon series, stuff like: “Upbeat People in a Downbeat World!” [Exclamation Point!—always with an exclamation point!]! But I’m totally jazzed about this series our old pal the lectionary has created for us on John Chapter 6, Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse. Really!
In fact, I’m so excited about this fresh approach to a trite idea, I’m even going to do the old fashioned three point sermon today. Since Jesus raises everything, I’m trusting He can breathe life even into dead sermon stratagems. So, without further ado: Pt II [of our three part] sermon series’ makes these three points: 1) See 2) Believe 3) Rise. Ready? Set? Here we go…
There is an awful lot of muddle in Christendom today about just what exactly this whole Christianity thing is about, anyway. What is it about, finally? What do you believe about Jesus exactly? Why do you believe it? Where will it get you? Simple questions, but quick!: formulate cogent, concise answers for me, now! Uh-huh. I see some of you struggling. That’s OK. It’s not your fault. We have all been much distracted from the simplicity of Biblical Christianity by plenty of modern games, like, for example, the historical critical game: how do we know Jesus really said all that stuff in the bible? What if the disciples made some stuff up? Or, the contemporary worship game: aren’t you bored with that old liturgy? How about something more poppy, like what you hear on the radio, both talk and music stations? Or, the what have you done for God lately game: have you done enough for the poor, the downtrodden? Why not? Do you live your life in such a way that has all your neighbors just clamoring to get into the church next to you? (This is also known as the “pack your bags, we’re going on a guilt trip” game).
It’s all well intentioned (or some of it is, I think—at least, in my sunnier moments!). But it distracts us from the essence of Christianity, the what we believe and why we believe it and where it gets us thing…
Jesus cuts right to the chase this morning, doesn’t He? “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” Never hunger! Never thirst! These are not metaphors either, my friend! This is God talking and God neither lies, nor deceives nor says anything other than exactly what He means and what is true. You come to Jesus, and you’ll never be hungry again. You’ll never thirst, ever again. Who wouldn’t want that?
Apparently, lots of people—as Jesus follows that right up with: “But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe.” Are you one of those people who doesn’t believe Him? Hmm. Maybe, right? And why not? Maybe it’s too high a price? We need our space, our freedom, even if it’s space and freedom to starve to death or die of thirst. And Jesus, mysteriously, will respect our space to a shockingly large extent—as a world increasingly sour on Christianity, and disbelieving of Jesus, demonstrates…
But, finally, Jesus will have His way [His Father’s way, to be precise] with some of us—a goodly number, we hope. Jesus continues: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out… this is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life—and I will raise him up at the last day.”
See, Believe, Rise—Christianity is really a three step program. 1) You see Jesus. 2) You believe Jesus. 3) You rise with Jesus. Yes! It’s not just a good idea, and it’s certainly not the law, it’s the Will of God the Father—and who can stop God from getting what He wants? I would say the answer is “nobody”…
Now, the Jews complained, when they saw Him, that He said He is the bread that came down from heaven. They balked at step one. These nobodies absolutely refuse to see! God told Isaiah there would be days like this, plenty of people like this who will see but not see, hear but not hear. Still, God does His thing. He has His Way even when it looks like He doesn’t. Of all the Father has given Jesus, Jesus will lose nothing, but raise it all up at the last day. And it’s pretty hard (not impossible, but pretty difficult] to imagine the Father withholding anything He’s made from the Son.
But these nobodies in our reading help us imagine the nearly impossible. They see Jesus. But they don’t believe. Why? Well, I think it’s because they look at Him through the lenses of their own conceits and concerns and concepts. They think they know Him, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth and familiarity breeds contempt (and maybe this is why, for those of you who wonder, Jesus doesn’t just come in the flesh and show Himself directly to everybody, maybe because it it’s more blessed [and possibly a good bit easier!] to believe without seeing directly, by seeing indirectly by and through the eyes of others, the Word and Witness of Apostles…?).
The Scriptures’ Word, proclaimed by those Jesus sends, is this veiled kind of seeing. The Divine Service [the Holy Liturgy!] is the Word summed up every Sunday in a nice, bite-sized chunk, with actual bodily communion with Jesus Himself as the culmination. This is how you see (without seeing!). This is how you believe. When you see Jesus through John’s eyes, Matthew’s, Isaiah’s, Paul’s… by the Mysteries of of the Church, you see more clearly than if you looked at Him with your own eyes—Jesus tells Thomas this. [And I, for one, believe Him!]
When we look at Jesus with our own eyes, through the lenses of our piddly little earthly worries over money, health, family, job, etc. we’re blinded. We don’t believe because we make Jesus small like we’re small. But when you see Him through the Mysteries of Word, Sacrament, Holy Liturgy, you see Him as He is, the King, the One who raises the dead and just like that, you believe!
In The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt’s recent Pulitzer Prize winning novel, a young man, Theo, has a secret. In the smoke and haze of a terrorist attack on New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (that killed his mother) 13 year old Theo staggers out of the rubble with a priceless old painting, The Goldfinch. Theo says the painting was like a stranger in a dark alley going “Psst! Down here…” like a gateway to another world, a place where Theo felt “less mortal, less ordinary” sustaining in him “a great, hidden, savage joy: the conviction that my whole life was balanced a top a secret that might at any moment blow it apart.”
Jesus is a better sort of secret—though by Holy Scriptures, Holy Liturgy, Holy Supper, Holy Baptism, He’ll blow your world apart too. Seeing Him, you realize that you’re dead, because He, He alone is Life. But seeing this, you’ll believe Him when He says the Father has given you to Him, and He will raise you up at the last day—not better, smarter, prettier, happier. No, He will raise you up perfect as He is perfect; to live high, wide, and holy, Kingly, with Him in Paradise. See. Believe. Rise. And the Peace surpassing understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.