11th Sunday after Pentecost

  1. Pentecost 11.21 “The difficulty (and great reward!) of doing nothing, Pt. 3” John 6:35-51

The last couple Sundays we’ve been considering the great difficulty (and beauty!) of doing nothing but believing Jesus, just kind of leaving everything to him and his love. Today is part 3 of this meditation wherein we focus less on the difficulty of doing nothing, and more on the great reward that comes from doing nothing but trusting Jesus and his love with everything we are and have. So, more of a pull than a push. And hey, look at me: I’m doing a sermon series! And loving it! It’s been very freeing for me and, hopefully, enjoyable for you…

Last week, we heard the first part of this episode in John 6. Jesus had previously fed 5,000 with five loaves and two fish on the opposite side of the Sea of Galilee; and then walked on water to get to this deserted spot on the other side. The crowd who meets him wonder how he got there?—and if he would please do more miracles and explain to them how they can do the works of God themselves. Show the trick, in other words…

And Jesus says the trick is to do nothing but believe in him, the bread of life and then we’ll never hunger or thirst again. That was the last line of the Gospel last week and repeated as the first line of our reading this morning.

And the “do nothing but believe in me” is very tricky for them (and for us, I think. Well, I don’t know about you, but it is tricky for me. It’s why I got into this field 37 years ago, because I just couldn’t figure it out, the whole faith thing, when I was a teenager, and into my early 20’s. Not that I’ve totally got it down today, you understand. I know I may appear relaxed and care-free, but actually—like the duck—my little feet are paddling pretty hard under the water to keep from going under in the faith race; sometimes, I take on water. So, yeah, this subject is of great personal interest to me as well!).

Jesus tells us plainly, so promisingly: “I am the bread of life;” he says, “whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Such lovely words. Well, let’s just do that, shall we? Let’s just do nothing but believe Jesus on this! And, uh, easier said than done! Doing this sort of “nothing” is very taxing and difficult, as Luther, Kierkegaard, and others have pointed out with wit and humor.

Jesus calls us out on this in the second line of our Gospel: “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.” And uh, yes, that’s also true, Jesus. We have seen and not believed. So, mmm… what do we do about that? Well, now! His answer is delightful…

We do… nothing! Jesus continues, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

That’s Christianity in nutshell! It’s nothing more and nothing less than that (see what I did there?)!

Just a couple observations: when Jesus calls us out that we have seen him and not believed, he does not then tell us what we need to do to believe. No! He tells us, much more reassuringly, that all the Father gives him will come to him, and whoever comes, Jesus will never cast out, but will raise us up at the last day.

I think sometimes we hear we have to come to Jesus—and believe in him!—and seize on that as something that we have to do. As if we must study, read, think, picture, ponder and then get the right ideas and feelings about Jesus. And these thoughts and emotions we identify as “faith”. And when the picture of the blond surfer Jesus from our 1960’s Sunday School lessons gets set firmly in our minds, and we are historically convinced that he really was God, and really did die and rise from the dead, so he can do as he says, we feel pretty good! Yes! I believe!

But, then: doubts creep in. We find out Jesus wasn’t an American (!) and that he probably didn’t have blond hair, or surf(!). And how can God become a man and die and rise from the dead, anyway? How can we be sure the apostles who witnessed all this are reliable? They seem like not the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree for much of the Gospel narrative. And this Holy Spirit Person who is supposed to take away our doubts and confusion seems a little flighty too. The Pentecostal churches who gas on about him endlessly don’t exactly inspire confidence—right? But that Roman church at the other extreme—though more solid—hardly seems more better. I think the Lutheran shirt’s the least dirty one in the pile—but still, pretty dirty!

And then our lives don’t really change all that much! We’re not sweet to our wives and children. We can be selfish, grumpy, and do stupid things and be kind of mean, sometimes. And if we really believed in Jesus like he says, we wouldn’t be this way, surely? So, it seems that this Xn Faith business is beyond us. Perhaps we should just give up, and try Buddhism or Nietzsche or Camus and the whole Myth of Sisyphus, embrace your miserable fate kind of thing, and just be Zen about it, already?

Joseph Campbell said it’s all mythical, all show-business, sweetie. He said this at a public lecture in Manhattan in 1953—promoting his “Hero With A Thousand Faces” book that would inspire George Lucas to create a character called Luke Skywalker—that Jesus and Buddha were the same mythological hero: both were enlightened, one with the Absolute, saviors who made arduous journeys, who were both pierced by swords, though the swords used on the Buddha turned into flowers. W.H. Auden, the Christian poet, was in the audience that evening and at that point, blurted out, “The swords on Good Friday were real!”

Which kind of snaps us out of our mythological reveries.

When you heard the Gospel from the lectern a few minutes ago, did you go, “Oh, c’mon!”? Or did you hear Jesus’ Voice and go:“Yes, please”? My old teacher Hans Frei recalled being a teenage refugee from Nazi Germany (his family was ethnically Jewish but confirmed Lutherans which didn’t cut any mustard with that Hitler fellow!). At his Quaker school in England, he saw a copy of Hunt’s painting “The Life of The World” with Jesus standing at a vine-covered door, knocking. And Frei, twinkle in his eye, said: “Jesus looked out of that painting, caught my eye; and instantly I knew: it’s all true!”

You too; you know it’s true. When His Voice sounded in your ear, you knew! Jesus is the bread of life. He sealed you as His own at Baptism, so that whether you are weak, or bad, or doubting, He’s got you and will raise you up at the Last Day—perfectly holy; happy!

Till that Day, we’re in pretty rough shape. But whoever eats this bread at His altar will live, eternally. Jesus says so. And you can do nothing but believe in His Name; and Peace surpassing all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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