October 5th, 2022
Does This Offend You?
Sermon by Pastor Pete 10/2/22
We live in a culture that is easily offended. A prevailing attitude is that anything that I do not agree with gives me the right to shout my objection, or perhaps take a video for social media, or at worst to scream profanities and to throw punches.
For this reason we all have become very cautious about giving offence. We weigh our words before speaking, or we choose to keep silent, or we simply walk away. Today’s scripture reading is about Jesus giving offence – and his followers are offended. John’s Gospel tells of a pivotal moment in the ministry of Jesus when he confronts his audience with a difficult idea: and they take offence.
59 Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60 Many of his disciples who heard this said, “This message is harsh. Who can hear it?”
61 Jesus knew that the disciples were grumbling about this and he said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What if you were to see the Human One[a] going up where he was before? 63 The Spirit is the one who gives life and the flesh doesn’t help at all. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 Yet some of you don’t believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning who wouldn’t believe and the one who would betray him. 65 He said, “For this reason I said to you that none can come to me unless the Father enables them to do so.” 66 At this, many of his disciples turned away and no longer accompanied him.
67 Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”
68 Simon Peter answered, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are God’s holy one.”
Jesus speaks difficult words – and therefore, we are told, many people stop following him. Then, having stirred up the pot, he turns to his disciples and asks them “Does this offend you?”
I am inviting us to be curious: what is the offence?
Jesus is challenging the way the people of his day understand the meaning of their relationship with God: he has just fed 5000 people, and as a result his popularity has grown. He has given hungry people food, and they flock to hear more from him. This might have been the moment for Jesus to consolidate his support – perhaps to preach some pleasing sermons, and to organize his followers into a network of sustainable support. But he does not do this. Instead he questions the motives of his supporters: he asks them if they are following him because they want more food – or because they are expecting to get other stuff from him. And then he points out that he has not come to bless the children of Israel with material possessions. Instead, says Jesus, he has come to connect them with the Spirit of God – and that his message was intended for anyone else who wanted to be spiritually blessed. Jesus then used an allegory to illustrate this – he said that he is like bread and blood:
And just a bit of cultural explanation:
• In the time of Jesus: Bread was broken together by friends and family: Jesus says he is inviting anyone to be part of such a welcome – friends, family, strangers can share the breaking of bread.
• Blood was thought to be the life force of any living being – drain the blood and there is no life. Jesus says – share my blood – be part of my spiritual life force. And let this invitation be open to all.
But this is offensive to those who hear him:
Those who heard him did not believe in sharing bread with just anyone: Jews only ate with Jews – all others were thought to be unclean, and so it was impossible to speak of opening the table to just anyone..
And just the mention of blood was offensive. Jesus then makes it worse by suggesting an illustration that speaks of the sharing of blood? The mingling of blood was impossible to talk about. Jewish history was about purity of blood – not about allowing others into the family.
And at this point Jesus says - the Kingdom of God is open to all who are willing to join with me. There is no exclusion from breaking bread. There is no superior bloodline. All are welcome into God’s family.
And John Chapter 6 tells us that some of the people listening to him turned around and walked away. This was too hard for them to hear. They had interpreted the belief that they were God’s chosen people to mean that they were better than all others – not that they were chosen to bear witness to the love of God. And it offended them to discover that God loved everyone.
It is at this point that Jesus asks his disciples “Does this offend you?”
Before we look at how the disciples’ answer: I am wondering if the words of Jesus offend us? Are we able to hear Jesus saying that everyone is welcome to break bread with him: can you hear the Good News of welcome – especially when you feel unworthy of the love of God. You are God’s beloved. No matter what you have been told - You can break bread with Jesus.
Of course the same applies to everyone else – there are no unwelcome guests who must sit elsewhere. And there is no superior bloodline that gets to stand in the front of the line. All are welcome.
This is tough – because we all are tempted to see people, or categories of people who we think of as less desirable: I am curious – who are the people you think of an inferior to you? Listen to these words from the disciples of Jesus:
68 Simon Peter answered, “Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.
The words of eternal life are words of welcome for everyone. No one is excluded from the family of God. This is the Gospel of Jesus – do not shut people out of breaking bread with you – and with Jesus. Do not shut people out because of their bloodline, or their nationality, or their education, or their gender identity or their sexual orientation or for any other reason.
These are human inventions – they are not the way of God.
Jesus says – “I am the bread of life – come break bread with me”