It’s NOW or NEVER
JOHN 6: 56-69
Today’s Gospel lesson was one of those moments in Scripture that seemed unfamiliar to me … had I read this before? I know that I must have read it many times but it came across as unexpected and harsh while also being a moment of clarity. In fact, the Common English Bible translation that we use here at St. Paul’s quotes the disciples as saying “This message is harsh. Who can hear it?”
Ah who can hear it … to believe, trust, and then live life with a central reality of Jesus the Christ as our essence. Our source of energy, our source of eternal life, what we embrace most in our days and go to bed with in our evening hours assured that yes, everything is going to be ok. The love of God is easy … the life living challenges hard at times.
One of the things that I love about God’s Word is how it is a reflection of the human condition in relationship with God. If I handed out a book that had all of the difficult to pronounce names removed and no references to historical moments and no title nor chapter names but that included moments like our Gospel lesson many would have ah ha moments thinking that yes they know people just like the book is talking about.
But, when we put the word Bible on the front of the book something changes … those people aren’t us or our generation. All too many take this Holy Book and go “that was then” but we live in the now. All too many act like this Bible with Jesus directions is irrelevant to the walk they walk, the talk they talk, and definitely not worth the time investment in discovering the words inside for the first, second or third time.
Now, Jesus knew His message was hard just as God was aware of the grumbling amongst the people of Israel in the desert. There in the synagogue that morning … Jesus knew that there were some in His midst who disagreed with the very idea that God had sent Jesus and that Jesus was the One who had come to restore humanity’s access to eternal life. There were some who liked hanging out with Jesus but who didn’t want to really change and follow. It was a simple process … change and be fed on God’s Word … “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” But, Jesus clearly was telling them that not eating … had the opposite result. So, he asks “Does this offend you? The words of spirit and life. Some of you don’t believe.”
And, some chose not to … some amongst His followers left and gave up on Jesus because they had other priorities or perhaps they just didn’t want to accept God’s truth in Jesus because it required too much of them. Jesus turned to the Twelve … to the men he had specifically had selected to be His team .. “Do you also want to leave?” Jesus asked.
DO YOU ALSO WANT TO LEAVE, He asks giving them a chance to return to fishing or whatever they did; God not demanding belief, God allowing the dismissal and rejection of eternal life by humans; Jesus fully understanding as He said that “some of you don’t believe.” And there was Peter, in one of the Gospel moments where he shows his leadership amongst the group of insiders who had witnessed so much of Jesus truth already … Peter standing up boldly and declaring in response to the Son of God, “Lord where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. WE BELIEVE.”
Where would we go without Jesus? What would we do without God? How do we respond when through the course of our daily lives we are asked in more subtle ways, do we want to leave Jesus? Questions to ask if we are amongst those who believe.
There is a story that some of you may have heard about an American farming community where all of the residents livelihood truly depends on the weather. They need the weather conditions to be in balance in order to grow their crops so that not only will their community be fed but so that they will be able to sell what they grow and have enough money to pay their ongoing bills. The business people need the farmers to succeed so that they will succeed. As I watched video of the recent flooding in central Pennsylvania, where the waters exceeded the river banks and reached the top of fully grown corn I was reminded of how precarious a farmer’s life is.
This story is about a community where the rains had stopped. The farmers were worried that this drought would ruin their crops and that their very way of life would be taken away. As the problem worsened, one of the local clergy called a meeting of the towns people … a prayer meeting.
The pastor’s regular crowd shuffled in but so did many of the towns people who only came to church on the holidays. He greeted each and every person spending time hearing their concerns.
He then slowly walked to the front of the church thinking about his message and what words needed to be prayed that day. As he turned to face the crowded church he scanned the audience. Yes, the mayor was there … prominent business people and yes, his regular church members. But then he noticed an 11 year old girl sitting quietly in the front pew … you see children don’t mind sitting up front in church unless they are guided to the back. He couldn’t help but notice she had the biggest smile on her face.
Next to her on that pew … open and ready for use … was a very colorful and extremely large golf umbrella that was bigger than the girl herself.
The pastor smiled as he realized just how much faith the girl had. Not a single other person in the congregation had brought an umbrella … all had come to pray but only the girl had come fully expecting God to answer.
There’s an Elvis song … do young people still know who Elvis is by the way? Well the words to this song go, “It’s now or never … come hold me tight. Kiss me my darling be mine tonight. Tomorrow … will be too late. It’s now or never. My love won’t wait.”
Jesus was drilling home a hard lesson for the people in the synagogue … about eternal life; about life choices that matter. Each day we get our It’s Now or Never choices because tomorrow may be too late if we don’t hold on. Now, God’s love unlike the song will always be there but the opportunity for each of us to live for God; to reflect Jesus might not be.
A survey was done a couple of years ago by LifeWay Research, a Christian organization, for what they called their Transformational Discipleship Assessment. They surveyed Protestant churchgoers in the United States; it’s possible one or more of you may have been in that survey. It should come as no surprise that nearly 2/3’s of those surveyed strongly agreed with the statement “I desire to please and honor Jesus in all that I do.” That’s pretty awesome but then …
When it asked about their personal faith growth and strengthening their own relationship with the Holy, church attending people’s own time with God away from church … only 19% of those surveyed personally read their Bible every day, 25% said they read their Bible a few times a week, 14% said once a week, 22% once a month, and 18% of church goers said they rarely or never read God’s Holy Word. And, yet our Bibles are right there in our Smart Phones Closer to our hearts than ever before in history.
Peter replied to Jesus asking if the disciples wanted to leave, “Lord where would we go? You have the words of enteral life.”
Tonight, our church will be filled with more children than many of us thought could ever register for Vacation Bible School. Our volunteers are ready to showcase God’s Holy Word … to create the foundation of faith that many of those children will remember for their entire lives. For some of those children this week is their “IT’S NOW OR NEVER” week because their families find more important things than church or God’s Word for family time. If Jesus asked if they wanted to leave … many including some neighbors I spoke to this week would say “we already have left and don’t want to come back.”
So, would you bring an umbrella to a prayer meeting about rain? Would you bring a list of children’s names to a worship service hoping to grow a children’s ministry? Would you bring your schedule to a mission’s meeting to insure that a mission for God was entered into your calendar? When you hear God’s Word are you thinking … I can’t wait to get home to read that passage myself?
I believe we are with Peter … I believe we are with the psalmist … “Better is one day in Your Courts than a thousand days elsewhere. We of St. Paul’s prefer to stand outside the entrance of our God’s house than live comfortably in the tents of the wicked.” We know that those who trust in the Lord are truly happy! We know that Jesus has given us not only the directions for living but the words of eternal life and that Jesus IS God’s Holy One just as Peter declared it that day in the synagogue.
And, as we leave … we will have our opportunities … each of us … perhaps a now or never moment to live our faith; to share our faith; to change someone’s life for Jesus Christ … tonight the children come let’s keep each of them in our prayers as well as each adult from this gathering who will be showcasing Jesus Christ in their words and teaching! It is NOW or NEVER!
How lovely is your dwelling place … Lord of heavenly forces! Our hearts and bodies rejoice out loud!