Saturday, August 25, 2012

Filled and armed

Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

Here we are, finally, at the end of the Bread of Life Discourse. It began with Jesus feeding 5,000 hungry people in Gentile territory with just two loaves of barley bread and five fish. The scene changes as Jesus and the disciples travel back home to Capernaum, and Jesus teaches what it means that he has fed them. This teaching has been the topic for the last five weeks.
Jesus’ bread is better than manna; Jesus’ bread gives life, eternal life; Jesus’ bread is his very body and blood. Those who eat this Jesus-bread have eternal life in relationship with God the Father. Those who don’t eat Jesus-bread do not have eternal life and they do not have a relationship with God the Father.
In today’s text, we see the response to Jesus’ words. The disciples complain that this is a hard teaching. They are struggling to understand what Jesus means without the advantage of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some don’t even try to understand, they just get angry. They are offended, and Jesus calls them on it. “Does this offend you?” he asks.
Jesus says and does lots of stuff that offends people. As we considered last week, the eating of Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood was offensive to folks who understood him literally. Throughout the gospels – all four of them – Jesus upsets the way the people have been taught to think and believe. He forgives sin; he talks directly to women; he teaches theology to foreign women; he eats without washing his hands; he dines with both tax collectors and Pharisees; he heals on the Sabbath; he overturns the money-changers’ tables. He tells the rich man to get rid of all his possessions and give them to the poor.
Jesus gives his enemies plenty of ammunition; to them, he is quite offensive. Lots of people stop listening, and some of the disciples also stop following. In this case, the word “disciples” refers to a large group of followers, many more than the “Twelve” closest followers.  
... Intentionally offending people is not something we do in our polite society. We try hard to be neutral, to not raise eyebrows. We don’t speak in polite society about politics or religion, for fear of offending someone. We even make decisions in church based on the possibility of offending someone. But this may mean we are not living out our calling as followers of Jesus.
In our class Monday I asked this question: How do the gospel passage about the bread of life and the passage from Ephesians about the full armor of God fit together? We decided that the bread of life nourishes us and challenges us to go out and do what God calls us to do. Sometimes that means we’ll cause conflict, and to manage the conflict, we need the full armor of God.
It’s important to notice that the armor includes protective garments: the breastplate covers our internal organs, for example. It also includes other items that send us back into the conflict: shoes that help us proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
Once we have been sent out to proclaim the good news, we need to return to the bread of life to be filled up again. So, the bread of life fills us up and gives us strength to face whatever life and God send our way. The whole armor of God gives us the protection, the courage, and the calling to go out and share Jesus. It’s a cycle that never ends.
This food and this protection means it’s OK to experiment, to take risks. We don’t have to have all the information before we begin a project. We don’t have to be afraid that someone won’t like what we want to do. What we do need to do is pray, to get a sense of God’s calling in the project.
It’s always been a goal of mine to feed hungry people. Since only Jesus can take a boy’s lunch and feed 5,000 people with it, we have to look to each other to help get the food. In the spirit of adventure and feeding hungry people, we are hosting the weekend backpack program, Citrus County Blessings, which feeds hungry children in our neighborhood.
The Piecemakers and Martha Circle are discussing the option of giving quilts and projects locally instead of shipping them out of the country. We have just voted in the council meeting to partner with SOS, the Serving Our Savior food pantry in Hernando. The more we are able to bless those who have less than we have, the more blessed we know we are.
I always ask questions. I wonder why we do such and such. I wonder what would happen if we ... . I wonder who does ... . Lately, I have a new question for Hope, well, actually, a set of questions.
“Are we as a congregation willing to do what it takes to grow the congregation?
“ Are we willing to take some risks to reach more people with the Good News of Jesus Christ?
“Are we willing to accept some changes for the sake of sharing Hope with our neighbors?
“ Are we willing to welcome the new ideas that new members bring?
“Are we willing to risk offending some of us, and to challenge some of our own preferences, for the sake of Christ?”
Jesus feeds us and arms us and equips us for whatever he calls us to do. Are we ready to take up some new challenges in his name? Are we willing to put aside our own feelings of being offended so we may be open to some new ways of being church? Are we willing to do whatever it takes to grow this congregation and to grow Jesus’ Church (with a capital C)? Together we will discern, talk, decide on where we are being led next.
 Let’s pray that we will be filled by Jesus, the bread of life, and dressed in the whole armor of God, and guided by God’s plans for Hope in the future. Amen