Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost / August 27, 2006
Message by Rev. Carol Kniseley /
Text: John 6: 56 – 69 / Title: In Defense of Banana Bread
If I were stranded on an island somewhere out in the middle of nowhere…and you were to ask me what one source of food I would need to sustain life…there could only be one answer. My moma’s banana bread. No one makes banana bread…from scratch…like my moma. Ever since I was a little kid, I can remember watching the banana’s on the kitchen counter turn just a little bit riper with each passing day until finally they would be gone. And I just knew, that in a matter of hours…the house would be filled with the mouth watering aroma of warm banana bread. Spread a little butter on top of a freshly sliced piece right out of the oven…and you would swear you had died and gone to heaven. And if that’s not what life is all about…then I must admit, I don’t quite get it.
Apparently the folks in today’s Gospel lesson didn’t quite get it either. There really is something bigger going on here…and for that reason, even Jesus will risk ‘offending’ in order to make his point.
In case anyone missed it, the Gospel lesson today continues to be about eating and living. In fact the entire sixth chapter of John has been about nothing but, beginning several weeks back with the feeding of the five thousand. If you will recall, they needed bread to live…and so, Jesus fed them, using only 5 loaves and 2 scrawny fish…and still had 12 baskets of scraps leftover. But as the story goes, there is even more to life than eating our fill of bread and fish.
In today’s lesson, Jesus called it eternal life and the only way to receive it (according to him) was by eating his flesh and drinking his blood. In fact a more literal translation would read: “Those who chomp my flesh…and guzzle my blood…have eternal life; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” It is a gross image that sounds more like something for a butcher shop than for a church. No wonder people were offended. Add to that the fact that Hebrew scripture clearly forbids the drinking of blood, and one can begin to understand why Jesus’ followers began to pull away from him at this point. “This teaching is difficult,” they said. “Who can accept it?” Who can accept it, indeed.
Instead of making it easier for them to understand, Jesus makes it ever harder. “Does this offend you?” he said to his disciples. Then how on earth are you going to accept it when you see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? If they were going to follow him…then they were going to have to give up their need to understand…to agree with…or even approve of everything that he said or did. They were going to have to believe in him…even when what he said offended them. They were going to have to trust him…even when everything that he did went completely against everything that they had been taught.
Listen…even now, one can almost hear their minds slamming shut. The look on his face must have told everyone that he was serious…because plenty of “disciples” turned around and went the other way. At least, according to John’s Gospel, all but the Twelve, to which he asked: “Do you also wish to go away?” Fully expecting the answer to be a resounding…”Yes!”
Maybe it’s just me…but for the life of me, I can’t quite figure out why the twelve decided to stay. Take Peter for example. He would have been as offended as anyone else by what Jesus was saying. Of all the disciples, Peter was the traditionalist in the bunch…keeping the dietary laws, never eating forbidden things, including any kind of meat with blood in it. The very idea of “gnawing” human flesh (and yes, that is the exact translation…) and “guzzling” down actual blood as if it were ice tea…would have been enough to turn anyone’s stomach, much less Peters. But the real question becomes…if not to Jesus, where are the disciples to turn?
As confusing as Jesus is, Peter has glimpsed something in him that he cannot turn away from. He has glimpsed God, and if trusting that means struggling with a whole lot of distasteful things that go with it, then Peter will consent to struggle. He will not give up the truth he has found, even if it comes tucked in a box full of distasteful flesh. He will not go away from the life he has been led to, even if it is miles away from the life he thought he wanted.
Peter’s words have added meaning for us in the church today, when so many folks are wary of aligning themselves with “imperfect” communities of faith. In case you haven’t noticed, here at Resurrection we do not lack for visitors coming through our doors…trying us on…especially during the summer months…to see if we fit their ideal of what it means to belong to a church. Give it a few months, and I guarantee that somewhere along the way…the church is bound to offend someone. Because wherever God is God, there will always be things that offend. Like Jesus. Like fleshy bread and bloody wine. Like this church we call Christ’s body, in which we are grafted to each other (whether we like it or not) as surely as we are grafted to him.
Do we wish to go away sometimes…perhaps to an island all by ourselves...surrounded by the one thing that we love the best? Of course we do. We all do…given the right circumstances. But the truth is…where else would we go, if not to Jesus? He is the one from whom we have all heard the words of eternal life. And like the smell of my moma’s banana bread…it is well worth the waiting for. And someday, when my moma is no longer around to make it…it will make the memory all the more sweeter. Because in the end, it’s not the bread itself that satisfies the hunger. It’s the memory of the one who baked it…and gave it for all of us to eat. Thanks be to God, Jesus is the bread of life…come down from heaven…to stay. Amen.