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Free Sample for August 23, 2015
By David Howell

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Preaching John 6:56-59


The last pericope in Jesus’ Bread Sermon calls for a decision. As we’ve gone through this chapter, we’ve seen a change come over the crowd. At first, they were following Jesus because they liked what he had given them—free food! As their conversation continued, however, they found there was a cost after all. Jesus told them that if they wanted the gift of life, they had to take his sacrifice into themselves, which meant making sacrifices of their own. That brings us to verses 56 – 69, where we see that his disciples realized, “This is hard!” and many of them turned away from following him. All of chapter six has been leading up to this climax: would they, or would they not, follow Jesus?

A sermon on this passage should ask the same question: Will we, or will we not, follow Jesus? As with the other texts from the Bread Sermon, I used a food-themed television show to bring the passage to life, this time calling the congregation to add the ingredient of faith to their spiritual diets with the show, No Reservations.

Of all the food programs on TV, No Reservations is my favorite. The title is a play on words—no reservations, as in reservations for a restaurant, and no reservations in the broader sense, of holding nothing back. As someone who has been out of the country only once, and that for a church mission trip, in a way I live vicariously through the show’s host, Anthony Bordain. He travels the globe with no reservations, being totally immersed in the cultures, experiences, foods, and lifestyles of those he visits. He sits on a dirt floor with a Vietnamese family, eating food they’ve cooked over an open fire. He joins in festive rituals with villagers in Africa, dips his hand into the common pot to share a meal in the Middle East.

We might ask the congregation to think about how comfortable they would be in unusual situations. It is human nature to want to stick to what we know, not take risks, stay within the sphere of our comfort zone.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples for telling Jesus, “This teaching is difficult. Who can accept it?” Who can accept it indeed? Jesus had been talking about eating his flesh and blood, and then he repeated, again, that he was the bread of life, the bread that came down from heaven. If they would eat this bread, they would live forever.

The preacher may need to remind the congregation that this is one of those times when “disciples” refers to a large crowd; many of them had been present when Jesus fed the 5,000, and they followed him from there.
All of these people had been taught to observe the law—all of the law. There were hundreds of regulations about what to do—and hundreds more about what not to do. Being a good person, being righteous, meant observing the regulations, following the laws, making the sacrifices, participating in the rituals.

Now, here was this man, saying, Believe in me, and you will have eternal life. How simple! How wonderful! How impossible! Believe in him? Why? What good would that do?  They had already protested, back in verse 42, that they knew who he was; they knew his mother and father. He was no different than any of them—was he?  
He was saying that he came from the Father in heaven, and that it is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. What were they supposed to do about all their rules? Their sacrifices? Their religious rituals? Just give them up? Toss them aside? Take with a leap of faith that in this man was the fulfillment of the law, that he had the power to do all the things they had trusted their rituals to do, that in him was the way to God himself?  

They had reservations, and for many of them, the reservations were too great to overcome. Verse 66 says, “Because of this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”

The preacher might acknowledge that it seems that Jesus asks too much of us. It can be difficult to have faith. When life does not turn out the way we want, when it seems as if our prayers are not answered, when we lose someone we love, when the diagnosis is not good, when the job does not come through, when day after day the newspaper reports stories of bad news: How can we have faith?  

The curious thing about faith is that it is something of a paradox. Faith is both a gift and a choice. Faith is not the absence of doubt, but a choice that we make, to believe in spite of the doubt. When we choose to believe, when we say, I am going to live in faith, no matter what is going on in the world around me, when we make that choice, God gives us the gift of faith.

That doesn’t mean we will never be uncertain again. Faith is a choice we make over and over, a choice about how we are going to live our lives.

If we would add the ingredient of faith to our lives, we must choose to believe. After many turned away from Jesus, he asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”  Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to know and believe that you are the Holy One of God.”

This passage calls us to choose: will we go away with the crowd, or will we follow with no reservations? Following Jesus is faith in action. As we follow, like Peter, we will “come to know and believe” that Jesus is the Holy One of God.

Rev. Dawn M. Mayes


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See Tom Steagald's Preaching Journal! Tom is the Pastor at Lafayette Street United Methodist Church in Shelby, NC, and adjunct professor at Hood Theological Seminary (AME, Zion) in Salisbury, NC. Tom has just published Shadows, Darkness and Dawn: A Lenten Journey with Jesus (Upper Room). Previous titles include Praying for Dear Life and Every Disciple's Journey, both from NavPress. He is a frequent contributor to Feasting on the Word, The Abingdon Preaching Annual, and other preaching resources. Tom's journal will detail each week's work to "discover" the sermon to be preached at Lafayette Street. Follow FestHomiletics on Twitter 

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