Sermon for Trinity+13
Year B 2018
The struggle to believe . . . in Jesus
‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.’ Luke 6:27-30
Well, as too often happens, those who choose the lectionary readings have decided to treat us as infants and cut out words of Scripture that are too challenging for us . . . the particular irony this week is that the two verses are words of Jesus, at the end of a passage about people deserting Jesus because he confronted with them with ‘difficult teaching. who can accept it’ . . . so in a passage about people deserting Jesus because his teaching is too hard to accept, we cut out two verses which are to hard to our ears
We heard Verse 68 – 69. As Jesus sees many of his disciples deserting him he turns to ‘the twelve’ and asks them ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ To which Simon Peter replies “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.”
So we backed out of the conversation on a high note, but we did not listen for Jesus’ response to Peter’s confident assertion – “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.
Put another way, ‘so, you think you’re a follower of Jesus? But are you Judas . . .’ Of course the link to Judas is not unexpected in this regard. Judas is in with the powers that be, that wish to keep the Emperor and his money economy sweet, who want spirituality, but one that can easily be accommodated in their world order. Who don’t want for example to consider that camels go more easily through needle’s eyes than rich people go into heaven – or that if someone takes your goods, you shouldn’t ask for them back . . . or any of the other hard teachings of Jesus.
They want a Jesus-lite, a pocket size Jesus. Certainly not one who is going to turn over all the tables of comfortable existence . . . perhaps that is why the early Jesus movement caught on so rapidly amongst those who had nothing – for a while, it really was Good News to the poor, but has been reduced over the years to spiritual consolation for the wealthy and a drip feed for the poor
Since arriving here seven years ago, my bookshelves have become increasingly disordered – so these last few weeks, I have been reordering them, and coming face to face with a book I didn’t really want to read again, but can’t let go of. It is ‘To believe in Jesus’ by the Carmelite nun Ruth Burrows. You may remember her – she is the one who tells the story of faith as being ascending a mountain with a beautiful vase – our life – which we wish to present to God, but when we get to the top of the mountain we realise we are in the wrong place – he’s not at the end of our Life. To find God we have to let go of our life, of wanting to control it, and descend a steep and perilous path in the mist – we cannot take the vase with us.
Well these nuns can be pretty on the nose with this whole Christian life thing. Burrows book ‘To believe in Jesus’, almost leaves you despairing, for she shows us just how hard it is, to take Jesus at his word. For to take him at his word is to acknowledge who he really is and thus to do what he says, everything.
As I’ve been at pains to point out these past few weeks, the words of Scripture all direct us if we follow their path to the person of Jesus. Joshua – who has the same name – is a manifestation of Christ in the Old Testament – his speech to the Twelve – the twelve tribes is uncannily similar to Jesus conversation with the twelve. They say they will serve God, Joshua tells them they are not up to it. Peter says ‘you have the words of eternal life – Jesus tells the twelve – one of you is a devil.
As the spokes of the wheel find their focus, there is a density to Jesus that is hard to take.
So Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
Pardon the pun, but this is hard to swallow – ‘unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you??’
Which is why so often we keep our distance. We come up with different versions of Jesus to suit our agendas and our lives. Jesus, the Social Justice Warrior! Jesus the teacher of Wisdom, except where we try and modify his words to allow us to go on as we always did – after all there was a gate called the eye of the needle and heavily packed camels couldn’t get through it, unless their loads were removed. Except there was no such gate. And then there’s all that loving your enemies stuff, and doing good to the people who hate you . . . Well my Jesus understands that I can’t do that . . . We allow Jesus to go to the cross for us, but we keep our distance – won’t follow him. In other words, we don’t believe in Him . . . ‘Our Jesus’, or as a priest once lamented in public ‘my Jesus’ isn’t like the Jesus of the gospels. After all wasn’t it Jesus who said ‘you need to be careful around money – you can use it well, but it might take you over . . .’ well I’ve heard many a sermon trotting out that assertion . . . except he didn’t say that he said ‘you cannot serve God and Mammon’ – to take the words of Jesus as embodied in Joshua ‘Choose today whom you will serve’
Interestingly of course, or perhaps instructively a church that loves money has cut out the rebuke of Jesus to the twelve, amongst whom is Judas, whom like the Judea’s loved money. the money lovers will betray Jesus . . . well this is a difficult teaching, who can accept it?
You see our problem isn’t with the Jesus we have in our heads, its with the Jesus whom we encounter in Scripture, the Real Jesus.
And this is where its helpful to consider love of enemies. Jesus, interestingly never commands us to ‘love everybody’, but to love our neighbour, to love your fellow Christian – the one you know, the one you encounter . . . A member of a church had fallen out with another member -‘I love everybody! was their mantra, but their problem wasn’t some abstract ‘everybody’ – it was this particular friend who had become an enemy . . .
It’s easy to have warm feelings in our heart about everybody, but our faith doesn’t deal in our warm feelings but the reality of the other. It’s to love the person we can see no reason to love, but this is to be confronted with our own inner nature, our incapacity to truly love – to love THIS person. To See Jesus in Reality, not as a nice idea to keep us comfortable. Is there not an incredible powerful parallel between our desire not to love the enemy, and not to take Jesus at his word? Is it not rooted in exactly the same place in our heart, the place where we cling on to our life, and so cannot take hold of the life that is eternal?
Peter, for all his failings does see things. Jesus declares him blessed for his confession of Christ, if in the next moment he calls Peter Satan. Again all the spokes come together – Did I not call you, the Twelve, yet one of you is a devil . . .BUT Peter is still right. ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.’
The words of Jesus are words of eternal Life, for He himself Is eternal Life. Living Water flows from his mouth. To believe in Jesus is a struggle – to say yes to Him and his words will always be hard until his work in us is complete. We believe in him, because we have encountered life in Him – we desire that life – we desire Him, but it is hard – it requires coming to birth
Recently Ben, our son in law discovered what those of us more experiences in these matters have know for a long time, young babies don’t like having garments pulled on over their heads – after all being born is a terrible trauma . . . perhaps this is why the business of being born again is one we flee from – preferring the comfort and warmth of the dark womb, where we can have sweet dreams of reality but not be faced with it . . .
We like Peter stumble and fall – we do watch Jesus go to the cross. But is it for us . . . or ahead of us . . . Finally of course Peter does follow Jesus who has gone ahead of him. There is no avoiding the cross, no standing at a distance. May god in his unlimited grace and mercy give us the grace to give us an unquenchable desire him in all and through all, and above all. To have our eyes opened to Life in Christ – to say whatever befall, where else can I go.
Surely, this struggle is the struggle of birth – of coming to life
As Jesus says, ‘you must be born again’