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John 6_56-69

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TITLE:  Does Christ Offend You?             SCRIPTURE:    John 6:56-69

I was born in the 1950s -- a world in which it was difficult to imagine Jesus being offensive.  Memories of World War II and the Korean War were still fresh, and the world was clearly divided between good guys and bad guys -- Communists vs. Americans.  Schools practiced "Duck and Cover" drills where kids crawled under their desk for protection against a nuclear bomb.

Jesus was popular then.  Churches were bursting at the seams.  Not everyone was a believer, but no one was a critic.  Jesus' only enemies were the scribes and Pharisees.  It was difficult to understand why the scribes and Pharisees had opposed Jesus -- just as it was difficult to understand why the cowboys in the black hats opposed Roy Rogers -- the bad guys actually wore black hats in those movies.  The only explanation was that they were evil.

But the 60s turned our world on its head.  All of a sudden we had Christians involved in controversy -- protesting the war -- leading marches against racial segregation. 

A pastor at a small rural church during those tumultuous years said one of his key laymen challenged him with this question.  He asked: 

      "If Martin Luther King is such a great man,
      why is there so much trouble everywhere he goes?"

It was obvious from the way that he asked the question that he thought he had the pastor -- that he thought there was no answer to his question. 

      "If Martin Luther King is such a great man,
      why is there so much trouble everywhere he goes?"

-- But as far as I am concerned, he might as well have asked, "If the prophets were so great, why did people kill them?”

-- Or "If Jesus was so great, why did they crucify him?"

As far as I am concerned, the man's question reflected no discredit on Dr. King.  It reflected discredit on that man's limited vision.  People had opposed Biblical prophets.  They had opposed Jesus.  It should come as no surprise that they would oppose a modern-day prophet as well.

But it was a good question nevertheless -- a question that needed to be asked.  Some people who sow conflict are evil.  Hitler was evil.  Idi Amin was evil.  Pol Pot was evil. There is no shortage of evil people today. When people stir up trouble, we need to ask whether they are evil.

I knew the answer to that layman's question.  The answer was that Martin Luther King was uncovering the iniquity of racism.  He was struggling to change things.  He was threatening the status quo. He was like a person who enters a house and turns on a light, causing roaches to scurry into hiding.  Such a person wouldn't be responsible for the roaches but only for turning on the light to reveal their presence.

But if you owned that house and were trying to sell it, you might be offended by his turning on the light. 

Martin Luther King was shaking the foundations -- upsetting the apple cart -- comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.  It's no wonder that conflict followed in his wake. 

Jesus created conflict too.  He made people very uncomfortable when he said:

      "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me,
      and I in them."

Some of Jesus' disciples said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" But Jesus said,

      "Does this offend you?
      Then what if you were to see the Son of Man
      ascending to where he was before?"

In other words, "If you think you are offended now, just wait until I take the next step."  If would-be disciples found Jesus' teachings difficult, they would find his cross even more difficult.

"Does this offend you?"  I can understand their being offended.  When we hear someone talk about eating Jesus' body and drinking his blood, we think of the Lord's Supper.  Those people had no way to make that connection.  When Jesus talked about people eating his flesh and drinking his blood, he was using provocative language.  It wouldn't be until much later that Christians would understand his meaning.

"Does this offend you?"  The New Testament was written in Greek, and the word is skandalizei -- "Does this skandalizei you?  Does it offend you?  Does it cause you to stumble?"

The New Testament talks about the cross of Christ being a skandalon -- a stumbling block.  What is a stumbling block?

Israel was a rocky land.  If you walked through the fields, you had to watch your step or you would stumble over one of the many rocks.

Even on roads, a buried stone might protrude enough to cause you to stumble, especially if you were walking at night or thinking about other things.

In Jewish law, there was a provision against placing a stumbling stone in the path of a blind person (Leviticus 19:14).  It's difficult to imagine somebody doing that -- but there are mean people who delight in hurting others.  God told them not to do that.

Ezekiel said that silver and gold were a stumbling block to Israel (Ezekiel 7:19).  It isn't hard to understand what he meant by that!  Silver and gold have been stumbling blocks from the beginning of time.  No matter how much we have, we always want more.  Just think about the wealthy people who ended up in jail recently because they wanted more -- more -- more! (Congressman Randy Cunningham, Jeff Skilling, Dennis Kozlowski, Bernie Ebbers, and John Rigas, to name a few.  Ken Lay was headed for jail until he died unexpectedly.

But Paul said, "We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles" (1 Corinthians 1:23).  How could Jesus be a stumbling block?  Why would he trip people up?

It wasn't Jesus who was a stumbling block, but his cross.  Paul said that Jesus' crucifixion was a skandalon -- a stumbling block.  Paul meant that Jesus wasn't what people expected, so they had trouble accepting him. 

-- They wanted a king like David -- a mighty warrior.  Instead, they got a man who taught them to turn the other cheek. 

-- They wanted a great leader who would bring back their glory days.  Instead, they got a man who taught them humility. 

-- They wanted a crown, but they got a cross.

It would be easy to criticize them.  How shortsighted they seem!  How blind not to recognize the Savior in their midst!

But people are still offended by Christ.  The layman of whom I spoke earlier would have been offended by Christ if he had understood Christ better -- if he had understood that Christ would call him to love Martin Luther King.  He was, in fact, offended -- angry -- furious -- determined to stand his ground -- determined not to change and not to allow his nation to change. 

I think that man genuinely loved Christ, and wanted to do the right thing.  However, he was hearing things from the pulpit that he couldn't abide, and was determined to defend what he believed.  And so he asked:

      "If Martin Luther King is such a great man,
      why is there so much trouble everywhere he goes?"

I have to admit that I feel morally superior to that man.  It seems that he was trying to defend that which could not be defended.  It seems obvious to me that Christ was calling our nation to right the terrible wrong of racism -- and that God was using King for that purpose.  I know these changes would be painful, but I know that we must make them.  I understand why that Christian Brother couldn't see it. 

Jesus says, "Does this offend you?  Does it cause you to stumble?"  If I am honest, some of Jesus' teachings do offend me.  In each case, the teachings that offend me are those that demand more of me than I want to give. 

Jesus says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 19:19).  The love of which Jesus speaks is (in the Greek) agape.  Agape love is more about actions than feelings.  Jesus isn't calling us to feel warm feelings toward our neighbors -- although that would not be a bad thing.  He is calling us to act in loving ways toward our neighbors. 

That has become difficult for me lately. But Jesus says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  I'm struggling with that.  It's a stumbling block for me right now.

But Jesus wasn't satisfied to ask me to love my neighbor.  He also says:

      "Love your enemies
      and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43-44).

That is even more difficult for me: 

-- I want to hate people who hijack airplanes and fly them into skyscrapers. 

-- I want to hate people who detonate bombs in shopping malls and train stations. 

-- I want to hate people who are determined to force women to wear burkas. 

-- I want to hate people who would use weapons of mass destruction to kill us. 

-- I want to hate people who are trying to ruin the world in which my grandchild will have to live. 

But Jesus says, "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you."  And then he asks, "Does this offend you?"  I have to admit that it does.

But there is Good News here too -- two kinds of Good News.  The first is that Jesus calls us to very high standards.  But he came not only to challenge us, but also to forgive us when we fail -- even when we, like that Christian Brother who hated Martin Luther King, dig in our heels and resist mightily doing what is right.  The Good News is that Jesus loves us even when we don't deserve it. 

The second bit of Good News is that Jesus feeds us with the bread of life -- nourishes us with his body and blood.  He says, "Whoever eats will live because of me."  He says, "The one who eats this bread will live forever."

Through much of my adult life, I have thought of this as a promise of life everlasting.  But I have come to realize that we don't have to wait for heaven to enjoy the blessed life that Jesus came to give.  We are already receiving sustenance from Christ.  We are already experiencing the blessedness of his presence -- the peace that comes from knowing that he is with us -- the access that we have through prayer and sacraments. 

While preparing this sermon, I happened to hear Paul Harvey's broadcast (August 10, 2006).  One of the items that he reported was an insurance company study of people who have reached the grand age of 100 years.  What made it possible for them to live so long?  Good genes?  Good medical care?  Those things help, but Paul Harvey reported, "Most credit their religious faith."

When some of his disciples left him, 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."

If you follow Jesus, he will sometimes offend you.  If you follow anyway, he will give you the words of eternal life.

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