Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father."
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
In our text for today Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and when he’s done a bunch of his followers say “This teaching is haaaard.” and Jesus is like, O I’m sorry, does this offend you?” and several of them left right there on the spot. He then asks “Do you also want to leave?” and Peter replies “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”
As many of you know, my denomination – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America met in church wide assembly this week. The highest governing body of the church. Among the business at hand was deciding on a full communion agreement with the United Methodists, which passed. And several historic decisions to be made around what this church’s stance is on issues of human sexuality. In the end, we approved a social statement as well as policy changes which now allow congregations to bless and hold publicly accountable those in same sex life long monogamous relationship as well as to call GLBTQ pastors in such relationships to serve as their clergy.
The debate on the floor between those at the green microphones who support these steps and those at the red microphones who reject these steps was sometimes inspired and sometimes insipid. Those in support urged the church to be open and loving as Jesus had been. Those opposed urged the church to heed the Bible. Both sides were passionate and faithful and I’m proud to say that throughout the debate the assembly paused every 20 minutes to pray together.
As an ELCA pastor serving you, a community committed to the full inclusion of all GLBTQ brothers and sisters in Christ, I watched the proceedings with my heart in my throat. If these policy changes hadn’t been approved I honestly had no idea what I could possible come back to you and say. Watching people’s comments I would try to fight off thoughts like “man, that guys an idiot” with more or less success. I watched people say prayerful things, hurtful things, thoughtful things, and idiotic things on both sides of the aisle. Yet there several of my friends were: standing faithfully at the Green microphones. Standing faithfully to make this church a house of prayer for ALL people. And I couldn’t help but think…if Jesus was here, he’d be standing in the green line. And then a young pastor got up to speak at the green microphone and the first thing he said, in a quivering voice was “anyone else frightened to speak? I’m shaking. Please pray for me” and the man standing right next to him in at the red microphone reached over and laid his hand on him and prayed while his brother of the opposing view point spoke. Then I knew that Jesus was really in between the red and green microphones. Not in some sort of neutral “Jesus as Switzerland” sort of way, but in the you must lose your life to gain it sort of way. Jesus is between the red and the green microphones…between the red and the blue states offering us life and salvation in the Words of eternal life and in the Sacrament of his own body and blood. Jesus right there between the liberals and conservatives speaking the word that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Jesus standing there between those who are harmed and those doing the harming saying forgive as you have been forgiven.
Part of me is with the disciples who say These teaching are difficult, who can accept them? So when Jesus says Do you too want to leave….I think the only reasonable answer is well yeah. I do. cause these teachings are haaaard and I’m very aware of how much these policy changes mean to this community I love but I’m also aware of how painful these policy changes are to a minority in this denomination I love.
So after the vote went the way it did people keep calling and emailing and texting me saying “Are you celebrating? Aren’t you so happy we won?” I am, of course. But I am also deeply aware of the faithful people in the Lutheran church whose hearts are breaking and who now feel as though THEY are the alienated ones. So how do we celebrate?
To be sure today there are some places to go in the ELCA for super-gay triumphalism…but while celebrating a well won victory is understandable…these are not the words of eternal life.
To be sure there are some places today in the ELCA where you can hear the words of angry indignation and revolt….but while disappointment is understandable…. these are not the words of eternal life.
To whom shall we go?
Shall we go to partisanship? Shall we go to gurus or celebrities…or both- like Oprah? Surely Oprah has the words of eternal life.
To whom shall we go? Fox News? NPR? Shall we go to the self-help section of the tattered cover for the words of eternal life?
There are words of eternal life, but they are not our words. So Let us not go to ourselves because as deeply as we hold our beliefs about inclusion, or social justice, or as deeply as we hold our beliefs about social conservatism or personal morality…we do not have the words of eternal life. We have our beliefs, our convictions, our understandings of scripture and hear me clearly…these are not to be taken lightly or walked away from. But they are not the words of eternal life. Jesus, the true Word of God standing between red and green, points us to life and life abundant. Not the empty satisfaction of being right because we are the majority or because we are the righteous minority, but counter-intuitively the words of eternal life tell us that we must die. We must die to self and live to Christ.
At the beginning and the end of these debates Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson reminded us that “WE MEET ONE ANOTHER FINALLY, NOT IN OUR AGREEMENTS OR OUR DISAGREEMENTS, BUT AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS. WHERE GOD IS FAITHFUL, WHERE CHRIST IS PRESENT WITH US, AND WHERE, BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, WE ARE ONE IN CHRIST.
So let’s again look to Christ and not ourselves because in the end there are no winners and losers, there is just what there has always been, the good news of Jesus Christ The Holy One of God. To whom else shall we go? He has the words of eternal life and offers all the inexplicable gift if his own self, body blood and word. And bid all come and eat.
So today church as we celebrate …. And there is reason to do so. Let us pray that the Lord make us one and have mercy on us all and let us recognize that he is already doing so. amen