O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Spirit of your Mind
Based on John 6:51-69
Preached on August 12, 2012
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Fellow baptized saints, what goes through your head when you see less people in the pews on a Sunday morning? How do you feel when you see believers leave the true confession of Christ for other priorities? How do you feel when you see people who say they are believers, but they don't come to hear God's Word preached on Sunday morning?
Does it make you feel weak, like there is no real power in the Gospel being proclaimed here? Does it make you question your faith, as if you have only believed the Gospel because other people have? Does it make you to change something, perhaps the style or the message or the music? Or does it make you feel like one of the faithful of years gone by, looking to the Lord for His reassurance and promise, while the world turns away?
In our text this morning, an absolutely shocking thing happens. Something that we have trouble understanding. Something that we don't think should be able to happen. Jesus has just spent the entire chapter preaching the Gospel to hundreds and perhaps thousands of His disciples, and suddenly we hear, after this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him. What!?! You mean, people who believed in Jesus and spent their lives following Him around hearing His teaching suddenly turned back and gave up on Him? Yes, this happened to Jesus in His day, and it continues to happen to Jesus today, especially when it comes to church attendance.
Church attendance is down in almost every Christian church across the continent, and Christians have been quoted saying, "I don't have to go to church to have a relationship with Jesus." They think they can be turned towards Jesus yet have their backs turned on His preaching and teaching. They imagine they "have a relationship" with Jesus because they own a Bible and say their prayers at night. But this is not what Jesus says. He says in our text, "The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." Listen to that again. "The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." What gives us life? What is our connection to Jesus? His Words. His spoken, preached Word. In this verse, Jesus equates Himself to His preaching. Hearing preaching is having a relationship with Jesus. Jesus wants to give you spirit and life - and the way He does it is through preaching. After all, who is it that sent the apostles to preach? Let nobody fool you, Christians hear preaching.
But how could this happen? Why did many of Jesus' disciples abandon Him? Weren't they listening to His words? Yes, they were. In fact it was His very words that made them turn away. Our text says, "when many of His disciples heard it, they said, "This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?" They heard His words, but not with faith. They did not believe Him, and so they abandoned Him. If they were going to follow Jesus, He would have to change His message, or His style or something. But is that what Jesus did? Did Jesus run after them apologizing for His teaching? Did Jesus play the politician and try to convince them that they had misunderstood Him? Did He change the way He preached? Did He water it down, make it more socially acceptable, make it more welcoming - or did He continue to speak the truth knowing only it could save them?
Christ's message is the same today. Faith is still the only thing that will receive His Words. And people still turn away from Him and demand that He change. But rest assured His Good News will not change. The Words that He has spoken will continue to give spirit and life to those who believe. They will continue to heal, forgive, and promise eternal life, no matter how many people turn away from Him. Christ continues to preach the same message for the salvation of those who believe.
That being said, our congregation should be constantly changing and improving how we welcome one another into God's house. We can always do a better job of getting to know those who hear God's Word with us. Especially visitors. We know that some of what Jesus preaches is hard to hear, why give visitors other excuses not to come back? We should be hurt when visitors don't return. Christ certainly was. He may have been unapologetic about His message, but that doesn't mean He wasn't hurt when His disciples abandoned Him.
You can almost feel how hard it was for Him when they left. He turned to the Twelve and said, "Do you want to go away as well?" Here He was, the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world, and they were turning away from Him. Here He was procuring their eternal life, and they were throwing it away. He would still give His life on the cross for them. Still suffer their punishment, but He was deeply saddened that they did not want His free gift.
What about you? Are you sad when you see people turn away from Christ? Does it bother you, hurt you? Well, you are not alone. Christ hurts with you, even today. It is still Him they are turning away from. He has already secured eternal life for them, they need only believe it, but He is deeply saddened when they do not want His free gift.
His question to the Twelve, however, still echoes in our ears, "Do you want to go away as well?" Jesus knew that in His darkest hour, one of them would betray Him. One would betray Him, and they all would abandon Him. The same is true for us. Which of us has been faithful our entire life, let alone even for one whole day? We may not be spurning His free gift, but we certainly aren't worthy of it. Like His ‘faithful disciples,' we too have moments of weakness and scatter like sheep, but He does not abandon us.
He stayed the course - He still chose to die - even when all of humanity, abandoned Him - even when His heavenly Father turned His back on Him - He continued to give of Himself for our salvation - He wanted to forgive us for abandoning Him - He had to call His frightened, selfish sheep back to Him, back to His Words, back to the foot of the cross - so He could make sure they knew that He still loves them and still wants them to be in His kingdom forever.
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. What an incredible confession that Peter makes! What a statement of faith! We have believed and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God. God is active creating faith with His words. The Words He has spoken to us are spirit and life.
And if you want confidence that you stand among the faithful, look at the way Christ has been shaping you with His liturgy for your whole life. This confession, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life," this is what we stand and cry out when Christ is about to speak His Gospel to us. We know the words may be difficult to hear. We know they may be hard. Yet we stand and listen. We do not turn back. We do not abandon Him. We call out to God that we may hear His Words with faith.
Then Our Lord speaks to us in the Gospel reading. We hear the exact same words that He said to His disciples. He teaches us, as He taught them. And then when the Gospel reading is done, it is as though Christ turns and asks us what He asked His disciples, "Do you want to go away as well?" - and we respond immediately as faithful Peter did, by making a confession of our faith. Peter said, "We have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God!" Today we confessed the Nicene Creed. We make an incredible confession of the true faith.
This order is very specific. Christ has shaped faithful Christians with this order for centuries. It is the high point of His Service of the Word. And that day with His disciples it was the difference between those who abandoned Him, and those who recognized Him as the Holy One of God by faith. In the liturgy we stand together with a multitude that no man can number, clothed in the white robes of baptism, we hear the Lamb speak from His throne are moved to confess all that He is and all that He has done for us. We are caught up into the worship of Christ in the heavenly realms. We join them in hearing the same Word of God, and we respond with the same faithful confession of those disciples that have gone before us, even the apostles in heaven. The Word of God we are immersed in throughout the liturgy has been forming faithful Christians since Jesus first spoke with His disciples. For that is what God is doing in His liturgy.
Over the next year, we are going to look into the meaning of the Divine Service. We are going to find out what Christ is doing for us, what He is giving to us and how He is shaping us in His liturgy. We are going to ask our Lord the hard questions, and hear from Him why He serves us the way He does. We are going to pray that this fresh understanding will draw us closer to Him and one another, and move us out into our community to share this deeper meaning of Christ's service with others. They may turn away, but Christ will pursue them nonetheless. For He has died for them, as He has for you.
In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr