Read John 6:56-69
We live in a world that is saturated with advertisements, brand images and product placements. As we move about this world and we are bombarded, every single moment of every single day, with some message from a company or corporation telling us that we need this product or service to make our life complete. The crazy thing is that the number of these impressions, just keeps growing and growing and growing.
I was reading an article this past week where it was estimated that back in the 1970s the average person would encounter 500 different advertisements a day. 500 different times during someone’s day a company or corporation would get their product along with a catchy jingle or a clever commercial in front of a potential buyer. Do you know how many different advertisements we see today? Double that? Nope. How about 10 times that at the very minimum. 5000 different images, commercials, product placements drift into our world every single day. And this on the low end. The reality is that for most of us it is probably much higher than that.
Why does this matter? Well it seems to me that all of these images and advertisements are trying to tell us a very similar story: something is missing in your life, something about your life isn’t quite as good as it could be until you buy our product. Or to put it another way: if you buy our product we will help you to be who you want to be in this world.
A couple years ago I was really struck by this commercial for Apple computers. It was a simple commercial with two men on screen. The man on the left was dressed like a dorky, middle aged man. He had a suit on which was brown and beige, wearing glasses and he generally gave off the impression of someone who works in the accounting office. Standing next to him was a young guy, wearing cool jeans and a hoodie, his hair was slightly messy in that hipster, I’m too cool for school kind of way.
As the commercial began the guy on the right said, “ Hello I’m a Mac.” And the other guys said “and I’m a PC.” I’m a Mac, I’m a PC.” I mean it is clear to most which one you want to be. You want to be the cool, young, hip, relevant guy on the right. See they aren’t just selling computers but they are selling an identity. I’m a Mac and definitely not a PC.
Our scripture lesson for today speaks to this in a very real and honest way. Let’s unpack it just a bit. The gospel reading comes from the end of the 6th chapter of John. We heard the very beginning of the chapter a couple weeks ago when Jesus fed the multitudes with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish. After this miracle the writer of John relays a series of teachings that Jesus gives to us about being bread of life and the bread of heaven. It is a long discourse and a long series of teachings in which Jesus talks about the various aspects of what this teaching means in the life of a believer.
Our reading from this morning is the conclusion of this set of teaching. Jesus is in a synagogue in Capernaum, which is a town right on the sea of Galilee. He’s teaching in this place when he says to the people:
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Those who are following Jesus respond to this teaching by saying, “this teaching is difficult, who can accept it?”
I can tell you this much, I identify with those disciples and followers of Jesus who are baffled and confused by such a teaching. In fact this doesn’t just apply to this teaching but to a lot of teachings that Jesus gives us. It’s difficult to understand what he is trying to teach us. It is difficult to understand what it means for us to each his flesh and drink his blood. A lot of the folks that heard Jesus teaching this were baffled because they thought he was being literal.
They had a surface level understanding of what he was trying to get at. For that reason they were really confused by Jesus. Eat your flesh? Drink your blood? I don’t think so. That’s too much. And so baffled and not quite comprehending these difficult teachings some of the disciples turn away from Jesus. They go back to their day to day lives. They stop following him.
Now it might be easy to want to distance ourselves from those disciples. It might be tempting to say to ourselves, well I’d never leave Jesus, even when things got difficult or confusing or you weren’t really quite sure what all of this faith stuff actually means. That’s the easy way for me to go in interpreting this text.
It’s easy to put some distance between me and those disciples questioning Jesus “this teaching is difficult, how can we accept it?’ But the truth is that there isn’t that much distance between me and those disciples and I am pretty sure I’m not alone in this.
Perhaps you are like me in this way, there have been times when I’ve felt like this way of living is just too difficult and challenging for me to accept. There have been times when I’ve felt like believing in Jesus and living following in his way might actually be in vain. I’ve sat with folks whose faith is deep and rich and wondrous, folks who have the kind of faith that inspires you and uplifts you, and as I’ve sat and listened to their story I’ve heard them relay moments in their journey where they too wanted to turn around and stop following Jesus. They’ve relayed feelings of wandering around in the dark or feeling as though it was all for not.
Maybe it’s that dark night of the soul we sometimes go through, those spiritually dry places when no matter what you do you just can’t feel God’s presence the way that you used to,
or perhaps it was walking through the illness of a loved one, a spouse, a child, a dear friend, and as you are praying you’re wondering why they are so sick.
Maybe it’s that terrible business decision you made for the sake of people and the stress of the finances and trying to make it all meet is just too much.
It is in these moments where we feel that real temptation to just turn around and stop following in the way of Jesus, because well, the road is tough, the teaching is difficult, how can we really believe it.
But Jesus speaks into this reality these words of challenge but also words of comfort, he says, eat my flesh and drink my blood, abide in me and I will abide in you always. Jesus says to take all of this, his teaching, his call to follow in his way, Jesus’ very life-giving love itself, take it into our selves, to take it into our hearts, our souls, the deepest parts of our inner being and to abide in him, remain in him and he will remain in us. He says take all of it into yourself and allow it to transform you from the inside out.
He’s teaching us this very important truth about a spiritual life, because: The spiritual life is about learning to be ok when things aren’t ok.
Spirituality, is not about transcending suffering or the heavy things in this life, nor is it about living in denial of these things. No, it’s about naming them, claiming them, knowing them for what they are, incorporating them into our story, but not letting them have the last word.
Jesus teaches us to live from our true identity and our true selves, first and always even when it gets difficult and challenging, even when the road seems dark and long and treacherous, and he promises no matter what that his life-giving love will never leave us, abandon us or fail.
See all that other stuff in this life will do just that it will fail you. No matter how awesome and useful, no matter how innovative, no matter how sleek and cool, all of it in the end is just temporary. No matter how much Apple wants me to believe their products can offer me this awesome and cool hipster kind of life if I just buy enough products with that cool logo on it. No matter how many iPhones I buy I’m still going to be that dorky guy who looks like he’s from accounting.
So I decided to title this sermon, you are what you eat. It’s that old saying which helps us to remember that one of the keys to being healthy is to eat healthy food. And there is truth to all of that: right what we take into our bodies matters, it affects us and it changes us, for the good and for the bad.
It’s the same thing with our spiritual lives. What we take into our spiritual lives matters. It can change us and transform us from the inside out in ways that are life-giving and healthy in our spiritual maturation, and ways that are life-stifling too. That’s why Jesus calls himself the bread of heaven, this is why he talks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. He’s helping us to see that we need to be aware of what we are spiritually putting into our selves every single day.
We are bombarded with all of those images and narratives telling us that we are not complete, we are not whole, we are not loved or lovable until we buy this one thing or we complete this one program. And yet we know that in the end none of those things will satisfy or bring us an abundant life.
One of the ways that our founder John Wesley believed we can stay in right alignment with God, allowing the love of Jesus to abide in us always was to participate in the sacraments of the church as often as we can. Now in case you are new to Christianity, or perhaps you need a little refresher course, the United Methodist Church practices two sacraments of the church. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of God’s inward and spiritual grace. In other words, a sacrament involves tangible material things which help us to experience, feel and understand God’s intangible grace at work in our world. The two sacraments that we practice are the sacrament of Baptism and Holy Communion. Each of these involve something material or physical, the water, bread and juice, but they take hold in our heart and our lives in this deeply spiritual way.
And at the core of each of these sacraments is a reminder, a grounding in our core identity, our true selves. In our baptism we acknowledge that each of us is known, called and loved by God first and foremost. When we receive holy communion we humbly recognize that in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection we find the fullness of our own lives, the freedom of life made new by God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness which is bestowed upon us continually.
When we celebrate the sacraments we remember that we abide in Jesus always and Jesus abides in us
That is who we truly are, that is who you truly are, you are loved, you are cherished, you are created in the image of the most high God and God is well pleased with you. When you move about your world, when you see all the different voices and narrative trying to lay claim upon your heart, those voices that tell you life would be perfect if and when you do or buy this one thing, gently remind yourself that you are baptized, you have tasted the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation, you are forgiven, made whole and complete by the love of our savior, Jesus Christ, who calls to us with a voice of love, calling us to know love and to be love for this hurting and broken world. Remember who you are and more importantly whose you are. Thanks be to God.