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”
Luke 22:39-46: And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14).
I have this vivid memory of one particular class at seminary: it was my Old Testament Hebrew class, it was Friday afternoon, in summer heat of 100 degrees, with no air-conditioning, and sounds of the lawnmower, and the other students getting into their cars to drive home for the weekend…. And the professor’s voice gradually fading into the background ….and out of nowhere the words “Why are you sleeping”.
It was not like I planned to fall asleep. I did not come in saying “This is my sleeping class”…… It was just that the warm afternoon, and the end of a long week, and the soothing sounds of his voice – seemed to have an effect on me!
“Why are you sleeping?” still rings in my ears all these years later –
These were the words of Jesus to his disciples
There was a crisis at hand – Jesus was about to arrested, and they were sleeping.
They did not plan to fall asleep…
But they slept while the crisis evolved around them: the plans had been made, the arresting party put together, the torches of those coming to arrent Jesus were visible…and Jesus finds his disciples asleep. And so Jesus words:
“Why are you sleeping”
This becomes the kind of question that rings throughout history –
There are many moments that people have seemed to be asleep when they should have been awake…..
Politically I think of the people of Rome being entertained in the circus while the emperor and the senators skimmed the top off the taxes for their personal wealth and so the citizens of Rome are asleep to the crumbling of the Roman Empire,
or in our time the people who watch football, basketball, baseball – in fact anything to distract us from the nasty civil discourse that is breaking this nation in half.
“Why are you sleeping”
Spiritually I think of how we sleep our way through the illnesses of our culture that sees the abuse little children, and violence to women and the use of alcohol and substances that numb the mind.
And so the crucial question: “Why are you sleeping?”
It seems to be a human condition that we fall asleep. This is pointed out by St. Paul in a letter to the Jesus-followers in Ephesus: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14). This letter points out that it is possible for followers of Jesus to fall asleep – to become spiritual sleepwalkers. This is a life where we go through the motions of life without the alert spiritual awareness of people who are in a relationship with God.
Let us hear the voice of our Heavenly Father saying to us – it is time for you to wake up:
discover your joy for life / live your live as if today matters.
Let us refuse to live on autopilot…Wake Up.
So How do we wake up?
Let me begin at the other end: we fall asleep when we lose our curiosity about life / when we become complacent / when we think that we have nothing more to learn.
I recall visiting a care centre for the elderly, and a nurse telling me of a new patient they had admitted. She told me that she gave him 6 months to live. I was astounded – because he looked healthy. When I asked her why she said that she answered – “He gets us each morning and switches on the television. And he sits in his chair in front of it until bedtime. He does nothing else with his day.” And I was at his funeral 6 months later: he literally fell asleep in his chair and never woke up.
The only way to stay awake is to Cultivate Curiosity – be open to looking for signs of God at work in our lives. Let us not think that we know all that we need to know: God has so much more in store for us!
I want suggest two simple things:
Charles Wesley, a founder member of the Methodist movement, challenges us with these words: “it is high time for us to awake out of sleep before the 'great trumpet of the Lord be blown”. 
O God of all Creation,
you call us to trust you in every circumstance of our lives,
yet we try in vain to control our lives.
And so like sleepwalkers we wander away from you, absorbed by our own wants and desires, blind to all you have planned for us.
We no longer expect you to show up in our lives
We forget to serve you,
And we close our eyes to those around us who need love and care.
Forgive us, O God..
Turn our hearts to you,
Surprise us with your love that we may taste fullness of life.
Keep us curious and open to the renewal of the Holy Spirit.
Pursue righteousness, godliness,
faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.
Live curiously, trusting God with everything you are
and everything you have.
Take hold of the life to which God calls you.
Go forth, rejoicing in God.
 Taken from the Sermon “Awake, Thou that Sleepest.”
Jesus and his disciples are visiting Caesarea Philippi. This city was made up of a mixed population of Greeks, Romans and Jews. It lay at the foot of Mount Hermon, and had a giant spring that gushed from a cave and tumbled down the valley. The Greeks originally called this town Paneas: and believed that Pan, the Greek God of deserts, lived in the cave. The Romans renamed the city to honor Caesar Augustus and would offer annual prayers in the name of Caesar. And the Jews preached against this this idolatry and prayed for a messiah to liberate them from Roman rule. This was a city that was consumed with gossip – as the various groups of people watched each other and plotted their own futures free of each other.