You are the One – John 6:53-69 Pastor Trudy Franzen
When you think, “sheepdog,” what do you imagine? A dog chasing sheep, yes? For millennia, that is what dogs do. People have cultivated that and refined it so that today we have modern day sheepdogs, shepherds if you will. German shepherds, Australian shepherds, Border Collies and Old English sheepdogs. All chase sheep, bark at them and nip at their heels. Except this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKJ2sxC ep-E
What do you notice?
• She’s breaking the rules
• She’s not doing what is expected
• She’s having a LOT of fun
• The sheep seem to like it
Now, in Spanish and Latin the word “Pastor,” means shepherd. Did you know that? And of course, Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we are like his sheep. People like Jeri and I are called “Pastors,” or shepherds, sheepdogs, that assist the Good Shepherd, Jesus.
For a lot of years, pastors have behaved like the traditional one ~ barking, chasing, and nipping at the heels of people. Historically, that is what is expected. Yet, since about the 70’s, fewer and fewer pastors act like this and more like the pup in the video.
Imagine just for a second that you are one of the sheep in the video. At first, you are would be very confused by this new sheepdog, yes? What in the world is she doing? She is not at all predictable. She’s not doing it right! She wants the sheep to follow her instead of chasing them. Now, some sheep probably didn’t like being barked at or nipped in the first place, but still, this way is very confusing!
In the same way, Jesus confused his disciples. Instead of following the way of all the rabbis before him, he did a lot of stuff that was totally unexpected and totally broke the rules of the day. And he seemed to have so much fun doing it!
In our text today, the disciples hear him say on of the weirdest things he ever said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
Whoa! That sounds really, really sick.
Even to today’s ear, that sounds really, really weird and totally gross! It sounds like cannibalism. Imagine how it sounded to people who had very strict and defined dietary laws, especially one big one against the drinking of blood! Leviticus 17:14 says, “You must NEVER eat or drink blood!”
Some of the people just couldn’t do it. They just couldn’t stay with Jesus after that. It was too much for them. Can you blame them?
Some folks in the church have been having a hard time the last, oh, 12 years or so. Because the church has been radically changing. It is beginning to be too much for them.
Recently at St. Stephen’s, there were some exchanges in worship with a woman who is very, very distressed by all of the changes in the church. She was very angry, and very public. She did not hold back. Here are some of the things she said, and I do not share them to shame her or embarrass her in any way. I share them because she voiced to all who would listen the same things many people have been silently thinking.
She is a person who has deeply loved the church her entire life, for longer than I have been alive. She’s given time, talent and treasure for decades, and she is in serious, spiritual distress.
She said these things: I feel like you are putting us out to pasture. I know that the young people are important, but we are important, too and you are just ignoring us and hoping we will go away.
You aren’t singing my favorite songs anymore. Some songs are too fast and some of them are too slow! I can’t get up early and come for the music at the early service, and you don’t seem to care!
You don’t do the Kyrie anymore. Nobody can hear those darn videos, it is just too hard to follow. You did away with the decent bulletins. We hate the screens, we cannot get used to that. You no longer print music, and some people actually still read music and want to see the notes! And why did you move the confession to just before communion? We just don’t do it that way!
The sermons are impossible to follow.
You are supposed to preach on law and gospel. Law and gospel, that’s it. Not any of this flowery stuff.
When we come to church, we don’t want to be surprised. We want to know what to expect.
Does that about cover it? Can you think of more?
Now, some are going to be bewildered by all of that. What? The music is fine. The screens are fine. The bulletins are fine. The sermons are fine. I like St. Stephen’s just the way it is, it is just right!
But the truth is, she is also right. She is 100% right. And she is voicing it loudly for anyone who is willing to hear. Because she is grieving the church that seems to have passed her by, she’s in legitimate spiritual pain.
We have come to a time in modern day unlike any other time. In no other time in history, have we had the span of 80+ years or more in the church. People simply didn’t live that long before. And those who did were too tired to object to the changes. Today’s typical 80 year old is not so tired.
Our sister says, “I might just not come back here anymore. At the other church, I feel like I am a part of things. Here, it is just like you don’t want me anymore.”
Our sister is at a crossroads. Like the people in Joshua’s day, and the people in Jesus’ day, she must make a choice. We, too, must make a choice.
Perhaps not now this minute, as Joshua demands, but in the next months and years, we do have a choice to make.
Joshua says, “Choose now who you will follow. It is either Yahweh God, or those other gods. Who will you worship?” Well, the people say, “Of course, we’re going to worship Yahweh God, who else?” Joshua is a good leader, because he even pushes them a little if you keep reading on in that chapter. “No, really,” he says, “Are you certain? Because we’re not playing games here, are you choosing Yahweh God or not?”
John the Evangelist tells us that many of Jesus’ disciples turned away and did not follow him anymore because the teaching was too much for them.
You can almost feel the intensity in Jesus’ voice when he turns to the twelve and asks, “What about you all? Are you going to leave me, too?” Peter says, “We’ve got nowhere else to go. You’re the One.” You’re the One.
So, the people of St. Stephen’s and indeed all of the church have two decisions to make. One is, will we continue to follow Jesus, even though his words are too much for us? Even though we don’t understand all of what he says? Even though this stuff is just too darn hard? Will we continue to follow him anyway?
For some of us, it has become too much. Some will say, “You know, it is too hard. It is too much. I don’t know what I am going to do, but I don’t think I can be a Christian anymore.”
What is important to remember about that is that God does not condemn such people. Indeed, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but rather to save it. God will not condemn you for walking away. There will be consequences, yes, but condemnation isn’t one of them.
The second choice is more “close to home.” Peter says, “Yes, we will continue to follow you Jesus, because we have come to believe you are the One. We will follow you despite how difficult it is and because we see no viable alternative.” At that point, you must also ask the question, “In the company of whom shall I follow Jesus?”
Not necessarily now, but certainly in the next months and years, you must ask yourself, “In the company of whom shall I follow Jesus?”
Will I follow Jesus in the company of those at St. Stephen’s, here on Olson Lane, or will I open myself up to something else, something new?
Few decent pastors are ever likely to encourage anyone to leave. I am certainly not one who will do that. (Usually, when they do that it is for their own benefit, not the benefit of the person involved.)
No, in fact, I will make every effort to try to get you to stay. But if God is truly leading you elsewhere, who am I to compel you to stay? This is a choice you have to make. No one can make it for you.
Seek God and listen for God’s direction. Ask the hard questions and give yourself plenty of time to respond. Don’t rush it. Don’t be impulsive. Pray. Take courage from today’s Psalm, “When the righteous cry out, Yahweh listens; God delivers them from all their troubles. Yahweh is close to the brokenhearted; God saves those whose spirits are crushed.” God cares about those whose spirits are crushed, as well as those whose spirits are soaring. Whether you feel crushed today, or you are soaring, God is as present to you as your very breath. Amen.