14th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 6:60-69 Sermon
September 10, 2006
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
213 "Behold Us Lord A Little Space"
252 "O Word Of God Incarnate"
516 "Faith Of Our Fathers"
282 "For The Bread Which Thou Hast Broken"
TO BELIEVE OR NOT TO BELIEVE
TEXT (vs. 60-64): “Many of [Jesus’] disciples when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.’”
This morning, since I’ve been gone for the last three weeks, I thought I’d start my sermon with a joke somebody Emailed to me this past week. There’s nothing like a little bit of good ecclesiastical humor to get things going.
Nine-year-old Joey was asked by his mother what He had learned in Sunday school. "Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his army build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. Then, he radioed headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved."
"Now, Joey is that really what your teacher taught you?" His mother asked.
"Well, no, Mom. But, if I told it the way the teacher did, you’d never believe it!"
That’s a cute joke, but it carries a very real truth. Nine year old Joey, when presented with the miraculous story of how Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea so the Israelites could pass through safely on dry land just seemed to be too far-fetched. He thought his mother would never believe something like that; so he altered the facts of the story and told his mother something that in his mind sounded more credible, more believable.
When this story is applied to a nine year old’s mind, we think it is kind of cute, and we laugh. However when this same line of thinking is used by adults, some of which call themselves pastors and theologians, then it ceases to be humorous. In fact, human beings have for countless generations attempted to take the vast and unfathomable reaches of the wisdom and miracles of God and confine them to the finite, faulty, and very limited box of human logic and wisdom.
I like to think about the bumble bee (not the honey bee). We see these rather large and cumbersome insects buzzing about all the time, and we really don’t give it a whole lot of thought. But the bumble bee has stymied scientists for years, because the bumble bee is designed all wrong. From all studies of aerodynamics and physics, the bumble bee cannot fly. The engineers who have designed the most sophisticated forms of aircraft, and who know such things as drag, and lift, and air currents, and air flow, and how such things work cannot explain the simple bumble bee. Technically, the bumble bee cannot fly. But nobody ever told the bumble bee that fact. And so it flies, just the same as it has since it was created. God can, and indeed does thumb his nose in the face of man’s science.
In our text for today, we find some of Jesus’ followers balking at his teachings. Jesus had explained who he was, and that it was only through faith in him that humanity would be saved and inherit eternal life. Jesus had given them the word, that true word of life. But yet there was doubt. Human thinking was setting in. Certainly there were things about him that they could accept; but there were those things that they balked at. They couldn’t get past the limited and finite box in their own minds.
In verse 63, Jesus says, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail…” In other words, the words of the spirit come through the pages of Holy Scripture; the flesh, or the logic and reason and words of human beings are of no avail. When man’s words counteract or contradict God’s word, when man’s logic seeks to confine the power of God and make it subjective to his own wisdom, then we have the verdict Jesus gives—it is of no avail; it is absolutely useless. God always comes out on top.
As I was on my back recuperating from my surgery, I had the opportunity to hear various church services and sermons on TV. It was kind of a reality check for me to hear what other people were saying.
One sermon I heard was given by a pastor of a very large congregation. I obtained a hard copy of his sermon so I could be sure of what he said. First of all, he did the whole sermon sitting in a folding chair in the chancel. He explained the reason for this:
“…I so tire of Christians who stand up and use the Bible to prove they are right and righteous. So I’m going to sit down. Too often, Christians use this book to take a stand…Christians often make a stand on what they take literally or not in the Bible….A church like ours is very open minded about what parts of the Bible you take literally and what you hear as a symbol or a metaphor. Some Christians take a stand that everything in the Bible is literally true….Take for example the virgin birth story in the Bible. In a church like ours you can believe it literally happened or instead be inclined to hear it as mythic poetry….So this literal versus non-literal interpretation thing in regards to theological issues, does not seem like a high stakes game. Each Christian should simply seek their own integrity and sensibility.”
I think I’ve quoted enough. If you want to read the whole thing for yourself, I can give you the website and reference where it can be found.
When this pastor explained why he was sitting down, an old saying immediately came to mind: “He who stands for nothing will fall for anything.” I think this applies here.
Secondly, he said: “Each Christian should simply seek their own integrity and sensibility” when it comes to what the Bible says. Wouldn’t this be the same thing as trying to take God’s wisdom and logic and trap it in the box of the human mind? Isn’t this what that nine year old boy was doing when he explained his Sunday School lesson to his mother?
Think for a minute what it would be like if I, as your pastor could pick and choose things out of the Bible that I wanted to believe and teach. If I were to teach that committing adultery was okay, or that you could lie and cheat and steal any old time you wanted to, and the only sin was getting caught, I think that my call here would be yanked immediately. If I used God’s name in vain as a useless expletive to make points in my sermon, you’d probably walk right out the door. If I said prayers invoking the name of Buddha or Allah, or if I selected readings from the Koran or Hare Krishna instead of our Bible lessons, you’d think there was something seriously wrong with me. But if people can choose what parts of the Bible to believe and what parts not to believe, all this would be possible, wouldn’t it?
I begin every sermon I preach with the words of John 17, 17 which says: “Sanctify us in thy truth O Lord, thy word is truth.” I want to reiterate over and over again that God’s Word in the Bible is truth, and that it is something we can believe and trust without any reservation or hesitation.
I’ve heard people agree that God’s Word is truth, but it isn’t necessarily fact. What? For some reason, certain theologians believe that there is a difference between truth and fact.
I’d like to see them try that line of thinking in a court of law. A person takes the stand, and the bailiff asks, “Do you swear that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” And the person answers “I do.” Do you think that the judge will make any distinction between what is truth and fact? I hardly think so. Truth and fact might be different terms, but they are inseparably connected. One has to include the other.
There are several Bible passages we need to keep in mind when we consider the truth and reliability of Scripture. II Timothy 3, 15-17 is a good place to start: “…and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
And in II Peter 1, 20-21 we read: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
We know that God used human beings when he recorded Scripture. The Bible has a very human element to it. This is absolutely necessary when speaking to the human race. Scripture reflects the writing style of the various authors.
However, we also know that the words are God’s words. There is not a word recorded that God did not want to be there, nor has anything been overlooked or eliminated that God wanted to say to us. Therefore we believe in a plenary, or verbal inspiration of Scripture.
Secondly, we know that Scripture is not a product of the writers’ individual interpretation or feeling. The truth of the Bible is objective truth, not subjective according to human will or logic. Even though it was recorded centuries ago, still it speaks a truth that is timeless.
Not all of Jesus’ followers could accept his truth either. Our Gospel lesson tells us that many of them left and no longer followed him. And so Jesus asks the twelve apostles in verse 67, “Do you also wish to go away?”
Simon Peter gives the answer that demonstrates a steadfast faith in verses 68-69: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Jesus indeed has the words of eternal life. There is nobody else where we can go. Jesus is the only one who can save us from our sins. Even though we may doubt at times, and other philosophies may seem more attractive, yet it is faith in Jesus our Saviour which will save us. When we come to him, we can see how flawed our logic and wisdom is when we have trusted in others. When we come to him, we know that he will accept us the way we are, and give us something that we could never figure out for ourselves—forgiveness of sins and eternal life. And what’s more, when our faith is weak, he will strengthen it; when we stray, he will put us on the right path; when we’ve tried to confine him to our own wisdom and logic, he will open our minds to accept the majesty and fullness of God—even though we can’t fully comprehend it.
When we say that God’s Word is truth, we know that God isn’t going to lie to us or tell us something that isn’t factual. When it comes to things like the virgin birth, or the parting of the Red Sea, or Jesus walking on the water, or Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead, God doesn’t want us to try to cram it into the closed confines of our logic; rather he wants us to open our minds wide enough to accept that he can do and has done the miraculous and the unexplainable.
Little nine year old Joey probably had heard enough tall tales and science fiction to figure that his mother wouldn’t believe something as incredible as Moses parting the Red Sea, so he altered the story into something that sounded more believable to him, and hopefully to her. In his mind, he hadn’t learned to accept true miracles. Indeed it is too bad that adults have the same problem.
“He who stands for nothing will fall for anything”—I think that is so true. Standing on God’s Word is a good thing. It means that we are open and accepting of what he has to tell us. It means that we can believe and share all of the love and forgiveness he has to offer. It means that we can trust him, and that he will never lie to us or lead us astray.
This morning, I am going to conclude with some of the words of Paul’s final exhortation to the congregation at Thessalonica, as recorded in II Thessalonians 2, 15-17: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”