Sunday August 23rd
Sermon on John 6:56-59
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." 59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father."66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" 68Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?"
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "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."
As a kid I read the Bible with a voracious appetite. I consumed its books, Old Testament and New. And it scared the bejeesus out of me. There were so many rules. So many things that made God angry. And if you learned one thing, especially in the Old Testament, it was that making God angry was not a good idea. Snakes and earthquakes, darkness and famine, Assyrians and Babylonians all could come calling and put a hurting on you; and sometimes people just dropped dead. And it is not just in the Old Testament either. In the Book of Acts, Ananias and Sapphira – they lied to one of the Apostles and then they died. Just…like… that.
So then I spent a lot of time reading all of the rules and they confused me. There might be Ten Commandments, but there were so many more rules that God gave to Moses to share with God’s people. What to eat and what not to eat. What to wear and not to wear. How to treat people and animals. When to work and when to rest and so on and so on. And then Jesus added more rules and one more commandment and changed some of the old ones and seemed to throw out others.
Then things got really tough: we learn that Jesus made all things new and told us to put new wine in new wineskins. Of course I wasn’t drinking wine at the time, just root beer, but our Sunday school teacher told us that in Christ Jesus God was doing something brand new, something never done before. He probably tossed around the word grace – it’s been a few years. But I am sure that grace was a part of that conversation.
Now as a fourth grader my regular school teacher, Mr Grosvenor, had a lot of rules, too. And if you broke those rules and were really bad you earned a trip to the copy room. Now we all knew that Mr. Grosvenor would carry a ping-pong paddle with him on such occasions. And you did not want to play ping-pong with Mr. Grosvenor, if you know what I mean. You might have trouble sitting for awhile. Now somehow I managed to figure out Mr. Grosvenor’s rules and actually follow them, but the Bible had a lot more rules and punishments much worse than a trip to the copy room! And God didn’t bother with a ping pong paddle.
Well, in the 35 years that have passed I have learned a bit more about God and the Holy Scriptures. Luther called the Scriptures the cradle in which the Christ child was laid. For a lot of people those sixty-six books that together form our Bible can become a stumbling block instead of that cradle. A dividing line. A wall.
In our Gospel today, Christ’s teaching was too hard for many of the people to buy into. Jesus said that he was the Bread of Life and that if they ate of him that they would live forever. We look at each other and say – right – Holy Communion. They looked at each other and said or more like thought – this guy Jesus had lost his mind. Oh, and he claimed to have come down from heaven and that God was his Father. So a whole lot of them basically said: “I’m out of here.” It just did not square with the Holy Scriptures, which were for them what we call the Old Testament. And now, even with the benefit of the New Testament, we Christians, even we Lutherans, have a hard time agreeing in our understanding of this collection of Law and Gospel, this cradle, this living Word that we call the Bible.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America of which we are a part, has some things to say about the Authority of Scripture and the most productive ways in which we can engage them. Individually we may disagree, but as the people of this congregation, part of that body, this is what we as the ELCA declare:
“ELCA Lutherans confidently proclaim with all Christians that the authority of the Bible rests in God. We believe that God inspired the Bible’s many writers, editors and compilers. As they heard God speaking and discerned God’s activity in events around them in their own times and places, the Bible’s content took shape. Among other things, the literature they produced includes history, legal code, parables, letters of instruction, persuasion and encouragement, tales of heroism, love poetry and hymns of praise. The varying types and styles of literature found here all testify to faith in a God who acts by personally engaging men and women in human history.”
We believe that the Holy Scriptures are the inspired Word of God.
Not inerrant, but inspired. Those two terms are not equivalent.
To say that the Holy Scriptures are the inspired Word of God makes them no less authoritative for us as Lutherans.
As Diane Jacobson, one of the authors of the book “Opening the Book of Faith” puts it: “The Bible is authoritative because God speaks there.” “The Bible is authoritative,” she goes on to say, “because it communicates the grace of God in Jesus Christ.”
We as Lutherans begin with what the Bible does.
To say that the Bible is inspired means that the words we find there are as the ELCA teaches, are full of “human emotion, testimony, opinion, cultural limitation and bias. ELCA Lutherans recognize that human testimony and writing are related to and often limited by culture, customs and world view. Today we know that the earth is not flat and that rabbits do not chew their cud (Leviticus 11:6 ). These are examples of time-bound cultural understandings or practices. Christians do not follow biblically prescribed dietary laws such as eliminating pork from one’s diet (Leviticus 11:7) because the new covenant we have with God has replaced the Old Testament covenant God had with his people. Because Biblical writers, editors and compilers were limited by their times and world views, even as we are, the Bible contains material wedded to those times and places. It also means that writers sometimes provide differing and even contradictory views of God’s word, ways and will.”
The authors of “Opening the Book of Faith” may have foreseen what happened this last week at the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly when they wrote: “We see disagreements about Scripture between individuals, within congregations, in denominations, and across global Christianity. Disagreement is not new. Disagreements have been a part of faith’s experience since the very beginning. The Bible, itself, reports disputes among God’s people about God’s Word. Nevertheless, seeing such disagreements, ancient or modern, can make us uncomfortable and threaten our confidence in God’s speaking.”
They continue: “The Lutheran conviction that God speaks in Scriptures as demand and promise does not support the notion of a Bible that will answer every question and problem that we bring to it. We do not say to God or the Bible, “Solve this! Resolve this!” However we may prayerfully say, “We and our sisters and brothers are in perplexity, and we seek to listen intentionally to your Word. Guide us by your Spirit.
Our anchor in facing the challenges of conflicting interpretations is the same foundational belief: God in Christ Jesus speaks through the Bible….The Word interprets us, so we stand before it with hope, with our varied understandings….[and] We listen in confidence.”
The greatest trait, I think, in approaching the Holy Scriptures is humility.
There is a bumper sticker I used to see a lot: “God said, I believe it, that settles it.” Or something like that. On one hand we could say that is bold faith and on the other that it expresses a distinct lack of humility. Slave owners of a time went to scriptures to find their authority to subjugate other human beings. Whites used Scripture to justify many sinful actions against people of color. Jews were murdered. Wars were fought. Woman were left as second class citizens.
Because we bring the totality of who we are – our gender, our upbringing, our life experiences, our social-economic status, and so much more – the totality of who we are – each time we open the Bible – we should come not looking for answers, but for the One whom we know will find us there – Christ Jesus. That’s humility. Diane Jacobson reminds her students and us: “I hope you love the Bible, but remember, the Bible will never love you back. Jesus will. It is Jesus who loves you, not the Bible. You cannot have a relationship with the Bible. You can have a relationship with Jesus.” Amen.