the one about stumbling blocks...
August 27, 2018, 12:00 AM

Sermon from August 26, 2018

Text: John 6:56-69

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, I want to tell you a story. Many of y’all know that our family includes a beautiful and wonderful dog, Arden. She’s a great dog, she really is. Even though she doesn’t do a lot of the stuff that you’d expect a dog to do. She doesn’t fetch, she doesn’t cuddle. The older she gets the more standoffish she becomes it seems. She’s an anxious dog and always has been.

I remember a number of years ago while Erin and I were living in Huntsville, AL we’d go on our walks around the apartment complex. Arden loved those walks – and until recently loved walks in general. Like any dog, she’d smell everything, she’d do her business, but there was something odd about those daily ventures. On the sidewalk there would be a metal grate of sorts. Just a textured metal covering over a drain for water to pass through to the sewer system. Arden wouldn’t touch it. Never. She would do everything possible not to step one paw on that metal. She’d squeeze herself between a bush and that metal grate and squirt as quickly past as she could.

Anything different than carpet, asphalt, dirt, or grass has been Arden’s stumbling block for some time. It continues even today. When she gets to stay over the weekend at Erin’s parents’ house while we’re out of town, she literally does not move from the carpet in the dining room. Why? Because the whole house has wood flooring. She’s scared of slipping and falling. You almost have to carry her to the door in order for her to go outside to go to the bathroom.

In our Gospel lesson today, the followers of Jesus also came to their own stumbling block as well. Up until these verses in John’s Gospel, people have been flocking to Jesus to hear him, to see him, and to be closer to him.  They have enjoyed seeing him do wonders and signs that can only come from God. The more signs they ask for and Jesus performs, the more people continue to turn to him and listen. Whether it is turning water into wine at a wedding or feeding thousands with mere scraps, people are continuing to come and see what Jesus is all about. Yet, as Jesus has already noticed, and if you’ve been an astute listener these last few weeks, the more Jesus talks – the more he shares about himself and about God – the less people stick around. We started a number of weeks ago hearing about over 5000 people gathered around Jesus and it seems that each week the group is getting smaller and smaller, until we are left with the 12 disciples.

In our text today, the same people who have followed Jesus are now turning away because of what Jesus has said. Keep in mind that these are not just ‘random’ passersby, they aren’t even the skeptical and at times combative Jewish leaders, but these are disciples of Jesus who have turned away. We must eat of the true food of his flesh and drink of the true drink of his blood. Those who do this, abide in Jesus and Jesus in them. What? We have to eat you they might have yelled? That seems a little extreme…and well…kind of nasty I’m sure they pondered. Because of this ‘offense’ by Jesus, many have turned away. For these ‘would be’ disciples, this was their stumbling block.

I’m sure there are many of you here today who have your own stumbling blocks as well. I know I do at times. These stumbling blocks can be small and trivial, or those large disastrous blocks which seem to block our way as we walk in this Christian life with Jesus. These stumbling blocks are physical, emotional, and spiritual. They keep us from experiencing the true glory of God, because for whatever reason we cannot believe that Christ will wash them away. However, no matter what is going on in our lives, Christ is always at work. The Holy Spirit is always with us, and the Father is always calling us.

For me, one of the greatest stumbling blocks has always been love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. That’s tough. It isn’t how we naturally want to react. Yet, Jesus calls us to follow a different path. For many in the world a large stumbling block has been that they hear of this Jesus guy – his love, his radical acceptance of those on the outskirts, his willingness and desire to upend political, social, and powerful cultural norms – yet, they see those who follow him live out a completely opposite way of life than what Jesus appears to be teaching and guiding his followers into. Mahatma Ghandi probably summarized that particular stumbling block best when he said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Everyone has stumbling blocks in this life of faith. Those who are on the ‘inside’ and those looking in from the ‘outside.’ The things that Jesus says, the ways and love in which Jesus calls us into is difficult. It really is. So, difficult that people walk away – even some of the most devout.

At the end of our gospel reading today, Jesus turns to the remaining twelve and asks ‘Do y’all wish to go away?’ Peter responds by claiming that Jesus has the words of eternal life and that Jesus is the Holy One of God. He seems to say, “Where else can we go?”

As we have been told throughout John’s gospel, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is the bread from heaven. Partaking and abiding and eating and drinking of Jesus leads us to eternal life. Believing into all that Jesus is grants us the eternal salvation that comes from the Father. The Father calls us all to Jesus, the Holy Spirit gives us life in Jesus, and through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are saved from death. 

No matter the stumbling blocks that appear in our lives. Jesus is always the way, the truth, and the life. Despite the stumbling blocks in our lives, our baptisms are still and always valid. We always remain children of God.  Finally, no stumbling block takes the feast away from us. No matter what, the table is always open, the bread and the wine, Christ’s body and blood, are always freely given and available for us to take.

Does this mean that the stumbling blocks in our lives are any less frightening or difficult? Unfortunately, no. Does believing fully into Jesus, partaking in his flesh and body remove these stumbling blocks from ever appearing in our lives? Again, no it doesn’t. However, knowing that God is watching over us, the Holy Spirit is guiding us, and that Christ is walking with us allows us to persevere through the stumbling blocks in our lives and turn back towards God.

You know, when our dog cowers in fear from those metal grates, her stumbling blocks on our walks, when she pulls hard to get away; when she cowers and whimpers because there is a large section of wood floor leading to the door; Erin and I are always with her. Assuring her and leading her to ‘safety.’ No matter where we walk during our lives, Christ is always with us, God is always watching over us, and the Holy Spirit is always guiding us.  That my friends, is good news. Amen.

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