|21 st Sunday in Ordinary Time||
August 27, 2000
THREE TURNING POINTSWhat causes a person to turn to Christ?
Why do some people believe in God and others turn their backs and walk away?
Richard grew up in a Christian home. His
parents shared their love and their faith with him. They taught him all
the basics of the faith but he still rebelled. At 13 he began to steal and
vandalize. He once got caught stealing a T-shirt but the store owner did
not press charges. When he was 18 he met a girl who was into the occults
and drugs. The relationship did not last even though Richard thought that
they would eventually get married. Heartbroken, Richard turned to the
heavy metal music of AC/DC, Iron Maiden and Guns 'n Roses for comfort.
Three years later, he became very desperate. He had to decide what he
would do after graduation. He was confused and uncertain. He brought a
Bible and a devotional and began to read. Richard said,
All the first verses in the devotional were very basic scripture saying, "be courageous, stand up. The Lord will be with you." Others were basic about sin-Jesus Christ dying on the Cross for my sin. After months of reading, Richard finally succumbed to the tug of God on his life and became a Christian. 1
Lee attended a school that required daily readings from the Bible. He did not get much out of the stories. Science fiction was must more interesting. He had a fascination with Arthurian legend the occult and New Age books. Early in his adulthood he considered himself an atheist. He go involved with the occult through a friendship with a woman. They lived together for four years but she decided to break up the relationships. He fell into a state of depression when he learned that she married someone else. He visited mediums, dabbled in magic and even tried praying but not much helped to resolve his depression. One morning he began to sob while taking a bath. He prayed, "God if you are there, show me." A few days later he was sent to a church to do some repair work. Lee started a conversation with a staff member. After a few minutes the staff member invited Lee to attend an Alpha course. It took Lee a few months to arrange his schedule but he finally started coming. It was not long for him to realize that his small groups leaders had something that was missing in his life. Lee started reading the book of Matthew and Run Baby Run by Nicky Cruz. During the next few weeks Lee started searching for God. On the Alpha course weekend retreat, Lee asked for pray. While the ministry team was praying for him the Spirit poured out its life giving water and Lee was washed in new life. When the experience was all over Lee was reborn.3
Richard, Mary and Lee walked a different journey to come to faith in Christ. They each had their own unique struggles; their own doubts and misgivings; their own reasons to ignore God and disregard the claims of Christ. What caused them to believe and others to turn away from God? Each of us knows people who were in the same predicament as Richard, Mary and Lee. They may have even been exposed to the gospel from their relationship with friends and family. They may have even read the NT and attend church but for whatever reason they refuse to follow Christ? Sometimes it is hard to understand why one person believes and another does not? We wonder if we could have said or did something different, maybe then they would have come to faith.
In this mornings Scripture passage, we hear about several people who were at a turning point in their life after their encounter with Jesus. Some believed but others turned away. Let us consider the passage and trust that God will guide us in understand how turning points occur in a person's life that lead to conversion.
The lectionary reading abruptly begins in the middle of one of the many monologues of Jesus found in the book of John. None of the other gospel writers include this section. The apostle John has recorded the material because he has a particular theological bent that is somewhat different than the other writers. However, even before we review first part of the monologue we must understand it's setting.
SIGN SEEKERSThe passage takes place after two incredible miracles-the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on the water. Jesus had been going about Galilee teaching and preaching. Large crowds began following him because "they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick." (Jn 6:2) Mark records that Jesus was trying to get away from the crowds to a solitary place so that he could spend time with his disciples. However, the crowds pursued him and would not allow him to find refuge in the wilderness. With the threat of starvation looming, Jesus transforms five loaves of bread and two fish into enough food to feed 5000. His action may have been the precursor to an old French proverb that states, "A good meal always begins with hunger."4 It was such a good meal that the people wanted to show their appreciation by making him King but he refuses. His response is somewhat confusing. You would have thought that Jesus would have been thrilled by the desire of the crowd but instead he leaves them. In this mornings passage we learn why. The crowds were only attracted to Jesus so long as he met their needs by performing miraculous signs. "Jesus refused to do for the crowds what they wanted."5 Jesus wanted the crowds to answer the question "Who are you?" before asking the question "What will you do for me?"
In a consumer oriented society the first question of the crowds still remains "what will you do for be?" Since the mid 20th century the church has changed its message to answer that question. Sermons have been delivered on how to live a happy and victorious life, how to have a successful marriage, how to overcome depression, and how to ........, fill in the blank.
This has been a significant change in methodology for the church. Prior to the mid 20th Century the gospel was not proclaimed with such a utilitarian purpose, it was proclaimed simply as the Truth. Preachers of a past generation did not attempted to carter to the whimsical desires and immediate needs of the crowds. They explored the mysteries of the person and nature of the Word incarnate. Their messages reminded the congregations that in Jesus of Nazareth the incomprehensible became flesh. They announced the good news that a virgin womb could give life.
I understand that most of us attend church to get help. We hoping that we will hear or experience something that will help us make it through the week. Maybe we will be moved by the anthem that the choir sings or inspired by the message to young Christians. However, if that is the only reason why we come, when the message becomes too difficult to accept, we may find ourselves walking away from our Lord. William Sloane Coffin is reported to have said that "he did not know how you attracted people by appealing to their essentially selfish needs and then end up offering them the unselfish gospel of Jesus."6
In the monologue of our Lord that serves as
our text this morning, Jesus makes several non-seeker, non-consumer
conscious statements. He is attempting to move his readers beyond the
physical world and into the spiritual realm. He wants them to feel beyond
the limitation of their physical stomachs and look beyond the limitations
of their physical eyes. He wants them to comprehend and understand Truth
that transcends the material world. He uses the metaphor of bread to point
to something greater and more important that the reconstituted grains of
wheat. Than rather than clarify what he is saying Jesus stuns them with
perhaps the most repulsive and disgusting metaphor he could have
selected-the eating of human flesh.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks myt blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. (John 6:56-58)
The chaplain at Duke University, the Reverend William H. Willimon, tells about a woman who attended one of his seminars for preachers. She was a practitioner of something she called "destructivst art." She created her compositions by throwing hydrochloric acid onto a sheet of canvas, while her views watched the acid dissolve the acid. It appears to be a very fluid and existential form of art. She claims to be making a statement about George Bush.
After she demonstrated her art, a few members of class expressed rather negative comments ranging from, "This is art!" to "This is the dumbest think we have ever seen!" She responded with grace and good humor and said,
There are good reasons for not understanding this art. Don't be so hard on yourself. This art is very demanding. If this art is rally making a critique of the present structures of society, then if one is caught in those structures, or benefiting from those structures, there are good reasons why one should not be able to understand. In a way, your inability to comprehen this art is, in itself, a validation of what I am claiming to be the aims of this art.7
Besides being impressed by her prophetic statement, I am most impressed by her willingness to be misunderstood. She was undisturbed by her audiences failure to understanding the message. She was challenges her audiences basic values, beliefs and mores. To compliment her art would require them to deny everything in their own life. To admire her rotting canvas would require them to recognize the decay of their own life. That would be much too hard.
CONCLUSIONJesus demands the same. His message challenges our society's material comforts. His sacrificial life confronts its self-seeking, self-serving, self-oriented manner of living. His humble, gentle spirit exposes its boastful, uncompromising pride.
Why do some turn their backs on the Christian message? It is simple too hard, too demanding, and too disruptive. They want to preserve the status quo. They want a god who comforts without commitment. They want a god who performs not one who demands. In essence, they want a god who did not send a Son. Unless we are willing to accept the demands of the gospel we can never affirm the words of Simon Peter:
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy one of God (Jn. 7:7)
1 Mark Elsdon-Dew, The God Who Changes Lives, (London: HTB Resouces, 1995), 46.
2 Mark Elsdon-Dew, The God Who Changes Lives, 23-30.
3 Mark Elsdon-Dew, The God Who Changes Lives, 166-172.
4 William H. Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 28, No. 3, "Bread of Life."
5 William H. Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 28, No. 3, "What are you looking for?"
6 William Sloane Coffin from an unknown source by William H. Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 28, No. 3, "What are you looking for?"
7 William H. Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 28, No. 3, "What are you looking for?"
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