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21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Proper 16 – August 23, 2015

Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

We have finally come to the end of John chapter 6 – from the feeding of the 5,000 to the gnawing of flesh to the life giving spirit. What a wild ride!

This chapter ends with a bang, not a whimper. These final verses are a come-to-Jesus meeting with Jesus! Can you imagine? Jesus catches you grumbling, complaining, murmuring like the Israelites in the desert and he calls you on it. “Does this offend you?” he asks. A more literal translation is, “Does this scandalize you?” What exactly is the “this” that offends? Could it be the teaching about chomping on flesh and drinking blood? Perhaps it is the undercurrent of this entire chapter that this Jesus is even more important than the all-important Moses? Maybe it is the scandal of the gospel itself: that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God. Jesus follows his question with another one that seems to say that if you are offended now, you will be utterly appalled by what is yet to come.

“Does this offend you?” It is a question worth asking ourselves and our congregation. How are we scandalized and offended by Jesus? If the answer is that we aren’t, then I think we’re not paying attention.

Are we offended by the people Jesus gathers around him? He seems to not only attract, but welcome those whom decent people avoid. Think Flannery O’Connor stories here. “Revelation” comes to mind with Mrs. Turpin and Mary Grace’s message to her. It is offensive to think who is at the front of the line into heaven. The order is not as we pictured.

Are we offended by what Jesus requires of disciples? Sell all you have, give the money to the poor and follow me. Hate your mother and father. Let the dead bury the dead. Take up your cross. Isn’t it scandalous?

Are we offended by Jesus’ priorities? Welcome the children. Touch the lepers. The last shall be first. I desire mercy and not sacrifice. Love your enemies. Love. Your. Enemies. Just sit with that one for a while and list some tangible implications of loving our enemies. I suspect if you preach it some will be offended.

This Sunday may be a come-to-Jesus meeting with Jesus if we stick close to the text.

Ask yourself and your flock: Do the teachings of Jesus offend you? Why? Consider that, too. Why do these things offend us? Well, because pretty quickly it becomes clear that God’s ways are not our ways. There is a radically other orientation required in following Jesus and often (if not always) we’d like the world to be about us. The teaching is hard, but following Jesus is about putting God’s ways before our own.

Many turn back, so John says. And Jesus keeps on with his come-to-Jesus meeting and asks disciples then and now, “Do you also wish to go away?” We also need to ask this question. We need to ask: Are you on board? Are you all in? Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? This is a week for a reaffirmation of faith, a renewal of our commitment, a come-to-Jesus moment. Not an altar call, but a clear statement of belief. This is a week to reaffirm our baptism or make plain the role of creed in our order of service. “Christians, what do you believe? I believe in God the Father Almighty… .” You get the idea.

We, like Peter, need to confess, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” That’s the climax of this text. It is an unequivocal statement of belief in Jesus Christ as Lord, Holy One, source of life eternal and abundant. Can we get there this week?

What offends you about Jesus? Well, then, do you want to bail? If not, do you believe and will you therefore follow?

The rest of John’s gospel will reveal the whole scandalous story with which we are already very familiar. These verses foreshadow what is yet to come. The teaching is difficult. The path to resurrection victory goes inescapably through the suffering of the cross and the grief of the grave. Do you wish to go away? How can we when we have come to know Jesus as the Bread of Heaven that gives us life now and forever?

Here is where naming the experiences of Jesus as the Bread of Life is critical. All that offends, saves. All that offends, saves us. We have been the lost sheep Jesus has sought and found. We have been the sinful woman and the rejected leper. We are the ones who, like Peter, both confess Jesus as Lord and deny we know him. And yet… he accepts us, forgives us, loves us. So where else can we go? Where else would we want to go? So, we’re in, all in, and it’s going to be wonderful and really hard, too.

We are in covenant relationship with the living God – what could be better? What could be more challenging? We have committed to stick with the God who sticks with us and, now as then, the world won’t always (often) welcome that covenant-keeping, steadfast love. For many the offense is too great. So great it must be crucified.

That means we need the strength of our Lord’s power. Ephesians 6:10-20 makes it clear that we will need to commit to following Jesus Christ over and over again. It is cosmic powers we are up against, so don’t leave home without the whole armor of God from truth to righteousness to faith to salvation to the Spirit. Put on the shoes that are best for keeping up to Jesus so that you can proclaim the gospel of peace. Don’t forget to pray. All the time. It is critical.

Make this Sunday a come-to-Jesus meeting with Jesus. Ask what about Jesus offends your congregation. Hold up the possibility it may well be too scandalous to overcome. Make a clear affirmation of faith. Don’t hold back on the rigor of the journey ahead and then help them prepare for it. Hand out the armor, preach and teach the Word, pray with and for each other, serve the Bread of Life, be alert for the grace of God on the loose and name it, and don’t forget the saints who will help uphold you even as the Spirit intercedes for you. The teaching is difficult but the teacher is none other than the Holy One, Jesus Christ and the lesson is life eternal. Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of Christ’s power as you step in the pulpit on Sunday.

This week:

  1. Consider this quote from Anne Lamott: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” How do we reduce the scandal of the gospel by creating Jesus in our own image? How do we keep from doing this?
  2. What difference does it make if you use the word “scandal” instead of “offend”? Do a little research on the phrase “scandal of the gospel.” How does what you discover inform you reading of this text from John.
  3. Take some time to think about each piece of “armor” in the Ephesians text for this Sunday. Is there a different metaphor you might use? How does this relate to being clothed with Christ?
  4. Read Flannery O’Connor’s story “Revelation” and think about how Jesus is offensive.
  5. As part of your devotions this week think about what teachings of Jesus are difficult for you and why. What offends you?
  6. Use Peter’s confession in verses 68-69 as your confession of faith each day this week.

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