August 23, 2021
The Pastor Luke paraphrase of this section is Jesus saying “I’m bread, eat me.” The people grumble “What did he say?! That’s rude!” Some people leave. Jesus asks his disciples if they’ll leave, too. Peter says, “Where would we go? You’re doing the impossible. We want to do that, too!”
Jesus talks about his flesh and blood. As Pastor Karen pointed out last Sunday, this isn’t just about the Last Supper or communion. Jesus is inviting us to feast on his way of life, to take him into ourselves at every level. To live as he does, as he is the bread of life which leads to eternal life. He’s talking about his body, the structure of all things. We need structure and routine. We need symbols and ritual. However, I take today’s scripture of John to mean that we also have to understand the spirit side of things.
The fellowship of Christ is about the mutual indwelling of Jesus and the person of faith. Community is formed from those who share Jesus’ presence. Body and spirit belong together. Only when they are held together do we get eternal life. If we’re just following the structure, the routine, then we have the body but without the spirit then it’s just dead. Like roadkill at the side of the road. All the bones are there, but there’s no animating spirit.
John 6 implies that there are those who get what Jesus is talking about and there are those who are very confused with his language of him being the bread of life and telling folks to eat of his flesh. There seemed to be those who are called by Jesus and those who aren’t. How can you tell if you have a call? It’s a question that keeps me up at night. It’s a question I hear a lot as well. Questions around anxiety about not having a goal for one’s life. Questions about purpose. About why we are all here.
I have a call but I also have my doubts as to whether I’m following it to the best of my abilities. I hate to disillusion you, but almost every thoughtful pastor I’ve ever known struggles with doubt. There’s a lot of writing by our ancestors of faith about doubt. St. John of the Cross wrote about the Dark Night of the soul; and existential doubt so severe that you question everything.
There are books of the bible all about this. Ecclesiastes. Job. The Book of Lamentations. Whole sections of the various prophets and Psalms. To doubt is biblical. To ask after a sense of call is also biblical.
Usually when folks discover their call in scripture, they try to deny it or run away from it. Moses tried to get out of leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Joshua tried to explain why someone else should lead the Israelites into the promised land. Jonah hopped a ship in the opposite direction of Nineveh. Jeremiah complained that he’s not eloquent enough. Mary said that she’s not married, and Paul talked about the thorn in his side.
There are plenty more examples. How can you tell if you have a call?
This question can cause a lot of anxiety, and it seems like we have enough anxiety right now. The pandemic is causing all sorts of anxiety. As are the events in Afghanistan. And when people feel anxiety, they lash out. They complain. Think of the Israelites who longed for the fleshpots of Egypt. The thinking is, “Sure we were slaves and worked to the bone, but at least we had three squares a day and a sense of routine.”
It’s a disheartening time and I apologize for not handling a global pandemic perfectly. I’ll do better the next time. What keeps me going is John Chapter 6, as confounding as it is.
I take John 6 to mean that we also have to understand the spirit side of things. Jesus is the spirit, as well. Jesus is Jewish and the Jewish faith is a very grounded faith. Very practical. It’s the Gentiles who have Plato and Aristotle and other purveyors of the abstract concepts. They are all spirit and no body. This is vapor. Jesus is saying he is the bread. Dwell in him, feast on his spiritual way of life, the structure that he provides so that the same spirit that is in him will be in you; in us.
I take great comfort in John 6:66, “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” People quit Jesus. His own disciples. If Jesus couldn’t get all his followers to agree, why do we expect everyone here to agree? I’m doing the best I can, you’re doing the best you can, together we’re doing the best we can.
Which brings me back to the first question: How can you tell if you have a call?
My mentor and friend Jan Linn had a great answer to this question. You can tell if you have a call if it’s impossible. There is no risk in doing the possible. That’s body with no spirit, that’s a roadkill like faith. It’s going through the motions. We need both body and spirit.
And that’s where the impossible comes in. In Jesus’ time, there was no possible way to beat the Romans or overcome the corrupt temple system. Jesus did both. It was impossible. And he did it. Those looking for a quick fix, those looking to circle the wagons and be reactive… they listened to Jesus talk about being the bread of life, they said, “This teaching is difficult, who can accept it?” and they turned back and no longer went about with him.
You can tell you have both body and spirit if your call is impossible. That’s the union of the divine and human. Standing up and calling for unity in a divided time is impossible and people will call you an idealist and you’ll get yelled at by every side that has staked a claim on division. Do it anyway.
Working to feed hungry people in the most prosperous nation where some people believe if you’re hungry it’s your own fault for not working hard enough is impossible. That’s how you know it’s a call. It’s a ministry. Do it anyway.
When Shirley Krcmar started raising funds for St. Jude Hospital, beating childhood leukemia was impossible. The success rate was only 6%. It was impossible, that’s how she knew it was a call. She started raising funds. Did she do the research to combat leukemia? No, but she raised funds for those who could. Together, the impossible happened and now childhood leukemia isn’t a death sentence. It’s beatable. It was impossible. And she did it anyways!
Speaking the truth when others demand you turn a blind eye to evil is impossible. Especially when those folks will say that it’s God that requires our silence and compliance. God doesn’t. God never has. God has sent prophet after prophet, and it’s the institutions that silenced and persecuted and killed the prophets. It’s only people who have a stake in the moral rot who will demand our silence and compliance, never God. Those who have the body and not the spirit. Do it anyway.
Church, Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus’ way is narrow and hard. Everything in John’s Gospel is about this chapter. Scholars call this a Eucharistic theology found here in the bread of life discourse. Eucharistic theology is not just about communion, but the wider body of Christ. It is against an institutionalization of the sacraments as communion belongs to the believer not to the structure of the church. Yet the structure exists to remind us of the spirit it was given in. Clergy, like myself, aren’t Jesus. We’re not in charge of the guest list or who gets to partake in the life of the church and in the sacraments.
Clergy exist to invite others to these sacramental moments. Clergy are given the responsibility to ensure that people of faith are provided with opportunities to participate in the sacred stories, to marry their bodies to the Spirit of Christ. To be both flesh and spirit, structure and inspiration. This is an impossible thing to do, that’s how you know it’s a call.
Clergy have this curiosity around religion. Around people. Why do we do the things we do? Where do we find meaning? How do we belong to one another? How can we nurture the best of what makes us, us while being honest about the worst parts of impulses? These are big questions that will never be fully answered. They are impossible to answer. That’s why it’s a call. I know through my conversations with you that you, dear church, are asking these questions as well.
How then shall we live together? Through communion. Sitting at the table and having honest conversations about the questions we are worried about. The things that keep us up at night. The things we are being asked to carry. Sometimes the things we think we’re angry with are covers of what we’re actually anxious about.
At the time of this writing, Medina County had a lot of new COVID cases. That is causing some anxiety and worry and other unwelcomed feelings. We’d rather be doing something else. We’d rather be back to our normal routine. It is in having conversations with Darlene and the Caring Team that we decided to post-pone the Chili Cook-off and to get creative with a few other offerings we were planning on. I want to do things the normal way, but I also want to keep my neighbor safe and healthy.
I could get frustrated, and I do. I’m human, too. Right there with you. If I could fix it for you, I would. But there is no group of people I would rather be in a pandemic with than you.
I take comfort in what Peter says, “Lord, where can we go? Only you have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you’re the Holy One of God.”
I bet Peter didn’t have the foggiest clue as to what Jesus was talking about. He was curious enough to keep having the conversation with Jesus. Where else could he go? Same with us. We are all about continuing to talk and discern and have the conversation because we’re doing the impossible, church. We’re keeping our anxiety in check with devotions and spiritual practices. I have found those who are weathering all the ups and downs of these past 18 months are those with strong spiritual disciplines. The routine that feeds their spirit. You’re checking in with one another. You’re talking and wanting to talk. I’ve had a lot of coffee and lunches and visits this summer and I’m so thankful. You’re reaching out to me, and I’m trying to keep up. We’re financially strong. We’ve added 21 new members in a pandemic with a possible 15 more this fall. Kelly retired. We were blessed to find Jeff. Hobby Horse is strong and ready to welcome around 135 young scholars thanks to Jen and her crew! We’re planning for confirmation, 3rd grade bibles, youth groups, mission projects, Garfield food deliveries, and book studies.
We’re trying to keep the spirit of Christ first and foremost. And that’s impossible, that’s how we know we’re called to do it. The Spirit gives life, the body counts for nothing. We’re embodied, we’re not just abstract spirits either. We’re in this thing in all that it means with our bodily concerns, aches, and pains. Tragedies and triumphs.
We’re doing the impossible, church. In a time of division, we’re united. In a time of ghosting and ignoring others, we’re present to one another. In a time where religious institutions are trying to figure out who gets access to sacraments and demanding that we turn a blind eye to evils, we’re honest and welcoming all.
We could demand our own way. We could stump for our individual rights. That’s not Jesus. Jesus is about self-sacrifice for the good of the neighbor. Of praying for the enemy and those who harm you. We could choose other gods. The idols of anxiety, ideology, and ego. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
 Peter Steinke’s book UPROAR: Calm leadership in anxious times details how anxiety plays out in church systems. It’s a timely book that the pastoral relations board is reading with me.
 John 6:60 is the quoted part, and the went about with him no more is verse 66.
 This phrase comes from the prayer at the end.
 Read all about Shirley’s story here: https://www.stjude.org/united-states-of-st-jude/ohio
 See NIB Volume IX pages 611-614. Anchor Bible pages 291-294.
The prayer cited in footnote #3:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
-this version is credited to Mother Teresa