[Jesus said]: "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. This 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.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But 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. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 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.” Jesus answered them, “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.
Pastor Marc's sermon on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (August 23, 2015) on John 6:56-71. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
When was the last time you were introduced to someone new? What did the person doing the introducing actually say?
My guess is they probably said your name. That’s usually a good start. They might have said how you know each other - something that you share with this new person like a mutual friend or hobby that- and they have might even pointed out some of the awesome things you’ve done.
But what if, instead of introducing and saying what we’ve done or who we are or who we know - they instead, said, what we’re going to do - what, in the future, we’re going to be known for?
Something like “hey! in two years time, this person is going to be your best friend” or “you’ll hang out tonight but then never see each other again” or “you two are totally going to hit it off and it’s going to be amazing and then - in a year - you’re gonna break their heart?”
Because that’s exactly how Judas is introduced to us today. He’s one of the twelve, a disciple of Jesus, someone who has been there from the beginning. Today is when Judas first shows up in the Gospel According to John - at the end of Jesus’ long talk about being the bread of life. And this is how Judas is described - as the one who’s going to betray Jesus.
So what does it mean to betray?
The other gospels are pretty solid and consistent when they talk about Jesus being betrayed. To betray is to simply do what Judas does: he works with the political and religious authorities, comes up with a plan, and he's there when the police and soldiers arrive. He kisses Jesus as a way to tell the authorities who Jesus is. And he's there when Jesus is arrested and dragged away to be interrogated, tortured, and killed. Judas' betrayal is doing all that he can to have his teacher and friend arrested.
But that's not the full meaning that John tells. Sure, Judas works with the political and religious authorities. He's there when Jesus is arrested. But Jesus, in John, is always in control. He knows why he's here. He never prays in anguish in the garden, he never asks for this journey to be taken from him. When the soldiers come, Jesus turns himself over. John's Jesus is never anxious. He's knows what's coming up next. He knows that Judas is going to get him arrested. Betrayal, in John, isn’t only about the acts that Judas does against Jesus. Betrayal is bigger, deeper in John - and it has something to do with bread.
Now, I know, I know. We've been hearing about bread for five weeks now. Even I, someone who usually likes every loaf of bread he meets - even I am kinda getting tired about hearing Jesus talking about bread. So I'm pretty sure that the crowd - the disciples - and the random folks that showed up in the synagogue at Capernaum - they probably were sick of hearing about bread too. But there’s something about bread that is bigger than just the final product. I use to live across the street from a large commercial bakery - one of those store-front kind of places that provided rolls and loaves to all the restaurants, delis, and bodegas in the area. And whenever I was up way too early - or out much too late - I’d stumble by that place when the lights were on and the morning crew was just starting their day. They were mixing and kneading and baking all these loaves that would be served later in the day. And the smell out of that place was incredible - it was just so...warm - fresh - so earthy and honest. Bread is always bigger than a loaf. It’s a process - a network - a web of human hands working in God’s creation to till and grow, grind and mill - everything that goes into that one loaf. Eating bread - like eating everything else - invites one into a relationship with the food and everything that went into creating it, nurturing it, and it puts us in relationship with everyone who brought it into being. When we eat, we live in and with the water, soil, sun, and hands that made this food for us. When we eat - we, in Jesus’ words - abide in all that it stands for and in all the relationships that brought that food into being.
And that’s what Jesus is inviting the crowd - the disciples - the folks inside Capernaum to do - to abide - to share in that web of relationships that connects all of us to what creates, nurtures, and holds us.
So, in the gospel according to John, betrayal is more than just turning Jesus in. Betrayal is anything - anything that breaks that promise to abide in Jesus. It’s anything big and small, anything that might separate us from Jesus and from God. Betrayal is turning away from this….God - this creator of everything - who is bigger, stronger, and more mysterious that we could ever imagine. Betrayal is turning away from this God that decided, in Jesus, to abide with us - and to keep abiding with us, even when we betray him - ignore him - forget him. This God doesn’t just love Creation - this God has chosen to live in - to abide - with creation and with us. God chose to love us - even when we share a hurtful word with a friend, even when we let our busy schedule stop us from seeing God, even when we keep creating a world with too many haves and too many have nots, and even as we build walls to keep us from being in an honest, authentic, and equal relationship with each other. Even in all of this - Jesus comes to abide with us.
This Jesus - who knew that Judas would betray him - who knew that Peter would deny him - who knew that the disciples would run and scatter and that only a faithful few women would show up at his tomb - this Jesus - doesn’t let betrayal be the end of the story. Jesus is introducing his disciples - he’s introducing the crowd - he’s introducing the world - to just what abiding with God and abiding with each other might actually look like. He’s showing that when we abide with each other like Jesus abides with us - the hungry are fed and the resources of the world are multiplied a hundredfold so that everyone is satisfied. He’s showing us that no one is denied the opportunity to be fed - to experience the grace of God - because they are black or white - gay or straight, man or woman, disabled or abled, healthy or sick, old or young. Abiding is about living with rather than against.
Jesus doesn’t tell the crowd that abiding is easy. He doesn’t talk about people’s struggle ending. He doesn’t say that they’ll never suffer, or that their hardship will end, or that trouble won’t come their way. Jesus doesn’t promise that our Cross won’t come if we follow him. But he does promise that our Cross isn’t what, in the end, is going to define us. Our Cross doesn’t give us value or take our value away. Our Cross doesn’t diminish who we are because our Cross can’t diminish the One who chose to live with us - the one who breaks bread with us - the one who says take and eat to us. The Cross didn’t break Jesus’ love for us and our Cross won’t break Jesus’ hold on us either - because when we’re first introduced into this world and this body of Christ and up until our final introduction when we’re on our way out - we are loved. And God will never betray that.
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