“Staying True to Jesus” John 6:56-69
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, August 22, 2021
I remember this time of year in so many summers of my youth. Our church typically had youth camp in August. Oftentimes there was even a youth revival on the weekend before school started, which was every youth minister’s last chance to make sure students got a last boost of faith before being back on the school campus and facing the temptations we had been warned about at camp. I recall how strong I felt in my faith and walk with Jesus and how it was indeed challenged by things and people who had different values than I had adopted at camp. I was faced with choices of whether or not I was still all in with Jesus or if I would take a different route.
Our gospel text this morning describes a time when some disciples knew and said they were all in with Jesus. I say “some disciples” because whoever was taking notes that day reported that many of the disciples decided they were not, saying to each other, “This teaching is too difficult; who can follow it?” These are the same people whom Jesus had fed from five loaves and two fish a day or so earlier. They loved his catering so much they traveled to find him the next day and were looking for more bread rather than more of what Jesus was really about. So he called them out on it. When Jesus started talking about bread in a different way, they weren’t as interested. When they saw that they wouldn’t get anything out of it for their stomachs, they were done with Jesus. And so here he calls them out again, asking them, “Does this offend you?” Of course, it did. His words about death, violence, and self-sacrifice were not what they wanted to hear from someone they thought could be their Messiah. So they turned away from him to go find someone or something else to satisfy their stomachs.
But there were some disciples who stayed with Jesus. Twelve in fact. He asks them if they too will quit following him, Peter speaks up for them, “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.” They had seen and heard enough about Jesus to know who he was; to know there was no other they could ever follow. We get the idea here that perhaps they had thought much like the other disciples at one point, being shallow in their reasons for going along with Jesus, only following him as far as their immediate needs could be met. But they’ve seen something more about Jesus, and about themselves as well.
How do we answer when Jesus asks “Are you still with me?” How have you responded when that question comes up? If we are ever following him, it does come up. Sometimes it happens when we begin following Jesus in the same way the crowd did. We see what Jesus can do in a friend or family member’s life and it gets our attention. We are around people who follow Jesus and we are moved by their enthusiasm and peace in life. And so we go to Jesus and experience his love, goodness, and compassion. We are even willing to follow him wherever he goes so that we can benefit even more; that his agenda is our agenda and he will lead us to where we want to go. But then Jesus starts talking about things that make us uncomfortable. We hear him mention death—his that will surely come and ours if we keep following. We hear him mention things like loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, picking up our crosses, and giving worldly goods to the poor and we start having second thoughts. Even though we may not say out loud what the disciple said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”, we likely have said it to ourselves or thought it just the same.
So how do we join in with the twelve disciples who said, “Lord, to whom can we go?” What did they do differently to get to their answer, “You have the words of eternal life”? We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” One thing they did that the other disciples didn’t was to walk with Jesus awhile. The twelve had already been with Jesus, walking with him from town to town and experiencing his teaching and works. That’s what we should do too if we are going to get beyond a Jesus who just meets our needs. We walk with him wherever he is going.
As we walk with him, we hear his words. It is vital for us to pay attention to what Jesus is saying. Sometimes we get what he’s saying and other times we struggle to understand. Either way, we allow Jesus’ words to fill our ears as well as our hearts. Hearing the gospel each Sunday in church, reading a little of it as you begin each day, and putting Jesus’ words into practice are all great ways to find that Jesus does indeed have the words of eternal life.
In addition to Jesus’s words, you and I must pay attention to his actions as well. We must not only see the miracles but also the acts of selflessness and sacrifice that Jesus does. That’s what Jesus was getting at with much of this bread talk. He is talking about his life, his body, and his sacrifice. This is his route to bring peace to the world as his actions would be the ultimate sacrifice as he exposed the evil of its powers and empires. As we watch what he did with his life, death, and resurrection, we find God’s better way in this world, one that is eternal. Isn’t it important for us to keep our eyes on those actions in times like these, in our world of violence and worldly empires seeking to stay in power?
These are a few ways we can be like the twelve who stayed with Jesus. And there are more. May we learn from them and make new ways ourselves for us to continue to say to Jesus, “To whom can we go?”