"Understand What Jesus Brought"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - August 6, 2006
Psalm 51:1-12; John 6:24-35
For example, in the book of Hebrews we find these words, “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for and to be certain of the things we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1) These words are magnificent and they describe perfectly how our connection to God works. However, the author’s words do not always communicate.
Can you imagine reading or hearing these words while you are intensely grieving over the death of someone who was very close to you? Could you grasp the content of these words when you are one of the 5,000 AOL employees that will soon be laid off in northern Virginia? Or suppose you are a very wealthy 86 year old, living at the top of one of those high rise condominiums in Chicago when your complex lost power for 5 days in last week’s heat wave? You wondered how you were going to manage getting down all those flights of stairs with your walker. You may not be thinking of having certainty about something you cannot see.
Life is intense and as the television commercial communicates quite effectively, “Life comes at you fast.” Every day something else comes our way. We find ourselves looking for encouragement and hope in the midst of life’s rapid dramas and quite often we are not prepared when what we seek is staring us in the face. Distractions are powerful. We are not always able to discern the very thing we are seeking.
Jesus was frustrated during his ministry when he knew that people were coming to him completely unprepared to hear what he had to say. From our lesson today Jesus challenged his audience, “You are not interested in hearing what I have to say. You have come because you want another free meal. Do not work for food that will spoil, learn to work for food that lasts for all eternity!” Did they understanding the meaning of such a teaching?
Some listeners in the audience responded, “What can we do in order to know what God wants us to do?” Jesus said, “God wants you to believe what I am telling you.” They responded, “What miracle will you do so that we might see it and believe you?”
We can sense Jesus becoming increasingly challenged because what his listeners were seeking, he was unable to give them. When people came to him with empty cups, or in need of seeing a lot of miraculous events to reassure themselves, they were not ready to hear what they had to do to make a personal connection to God.
Jesus wanted the attention of his audience to become so focused on what he was telling them that he said, “Look! I am the bread of life. Those who come to me will never be hungry; those who believe me will never be thirsty.” Did they understand that he was not talking about bread and water?
As the chapter continues the answer to that question becomes clear. As Jesus’ frustration increased, his metaphors became more graphic. Toward the end of chapter 6 we read, “Many of his followers heard his words and said, ‘This teaching is too hard. Who can listen to it?’” (John 6:60) “Many of Jesus’ followers turned away and would not follow him any more.” (John 6:66)
There are many aspects of life that we will never understand simply by talking about them. Jesus knew that if he healed 50 people, walked on water, turned water into great tasting wine, calmed the winds and the waves in front of all of them, such feats would not increase their faith.
There is considerable verbal evidence in the Gospels that the disciples, who experienced such events, had not mastered many of the skills of discipleship that Jesus hoped they would grasp. If they did not understand, how would the casual listeners understand, particularly if they had only listened to Jesus teach once or twice? Jesus had a problem. How could he stop being the sensation so that he could help people find their individual connection to God?
Some years ago a high school teacher joined me when we took my senior high youth group to a center managed by the Prince George’s Country Board of Education. After completing a series on the development of a healthy self-esteem, Richard and I took them to the Daily Discovery Center to test the fiber out of which they were made.
We had the kids climb a ladder to reach a platform high off the ground. There were two ropes they had to walk on and two ropes they could hold as they crossed over a deep ravine. They had to walk like a tight rope artist about 20 feet to another platform directly across from the first one. To compound their fear factor, we blindfolded the kids. If the kids fell, they were totally safe because we had them tethered the entire time. From their responses, one would have thought we were trying to kill them.
On another occasion, we had many of the same kids in the Shenandoah National Forest repelling off 150-foot cliff. We had to listen to their same responses. They were visually up-set and screaming at how much they hated me. All I said was, “I don’t care what you think of me, and you are going off that cliff.”
My point is that one cannot acquire self-esteem by reading books, listening to motivational tapes, or watching others display what total self-confidence looks like. It is a skill that develops over time from doing what we never thought we could.
Jesus wanted people to trust totally in what he was telling them. They wanted to eat. They wanted proof of his authority to teach. He wanted to teach them how to find the power that was still dormant within them. They were not interested in hearing about that. They wanted to see his fruits, and remain mystified and entertained by his abilities, instead of discovering their own inner treasure, their own connection to God.
The only way we will ever acquire the skills of faith is to step out on those ropes blindfolded, or place our lives into someone else’s hands, as we are repelling off a cliff. We can totally believe in Jesus Christ and still not have an ounce of faith. Often there is a large gap between believing and being disciples who authentically represent God’s presence in the world.
Faith comes from standing forth in life when there are no props, no security nets, and no support from close friends – a time when it is just you and God whom you cannot see. This is what Jesus brought – a faith that remains fearless in the face of challenges.
We cannot get from where we are to where he was without putting at risk everything that represents our material security. Once we make that leap of faith, other skills quickly follow. When we make that leap, we finally understand what it means to follow Jesus with complete trust in the one who sent him.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving God, our voices enjoy singing about your presence in our lives. Our minds enjoy hearing words that inspire confidence in your faithfulness. Our presence today at your son’s table reminds us of what he taught and who he asked his followers to be in the world. Yet we confess that our own desires and needs often frustrate our mission. We often find ourselves wanting the very things Jesus invited us to help others to find. Remind us that as we give away kindness and support, we find it ourselves. As we become caring listeners, we find patience for the burdens we carry. As we help others to find hope in the midst of their challenges, we experience it ourselves. Allow us to go forth confidently that your will is always unfolding in our lives. Amen.