BIBLE READINGS:    John 6:35,41-51      Ephesians 4:25-5:2

 

SERMON
Is there any truth to Jesus' claim that we will be raised up "on the last day?" — that hope of a time when God will bring all things to fruition,  and do that in a way which will include you and me. Or are we simply a flash in the pan - a biological footnote in the history of the universe?

Both the religious Jews of Palestine and Jesus assumed God is. Both they and Jesus assumed there was resurrection - none of them disputed this. The argument between the two, and the argument between John's community and the synagogues, was about the way life and resurrection happen.

Jesus will say of himself that he is the way. (14:6) The religious Jews think the way to truth and life is to hold to the traditions of Moses. If there is resurrection, it will come through living out the traditions of Moses: Do the Passover. Keep the food laws. Keep the Sabbath. Honour God. To which Jesus says, "You will still die": "Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died." “... I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."

The conversation between Jesus and the religious Jews is too familiar. It is a true picture of us humans; we dispute. And once we begin to dispute, there can only be one ending; someone will lose. How often does an arguement end with one side saying Ohh…. of course you are right and I was wrong! Thank you for pointing out my mistake. My observation is that such arguments lead to bitterness and hurt feelings… to broken relationships and the breakdown of trust.

Maybe a better way is to walk away from a dispute, and simply to be compassionate as we are able. Which sets us on the same path as Jesus: compassion is to be with, to sit in the place of, and to share the burdens of, those who are suffering and vulnerable. At its base, it is to join the losers. Compassion is to choose to lose. It is to see and grieve the depths of human suffering, and to walk close to the place of death. Compassion ceases to deny. It ceases to pretend we can win in life. It gives up on being right and correct, and sits alongside.

There is no proof of resurrection as we use the word proof. There is no testable, repeatable, controllable experiment one can do. The reality of life and death is that they are largely out of our control; we swim among them.


When we dispute, we are the religious. Right or wrong, we will argue our case. we are eating of the bread that does not give life, but rather that feeing of eating food with MSG - you feel full for a moment, then you are hungrey once more. But it feels so much safer than believing in Jesus by being actively compassionate. For active belief in Jesus sets us on a journey where we have one certainty, which is that there will come a time when we will wonder whether... if we had earned more money, or had better super, or had cultivated the right kind of friends, we might now live a little longer.

The work of the center of life is to trust that neither our arrogance nor our despair is the final word. We will have everything taken away sooner or later. We will die. And so will all our relatives and loved ones. It is in giving ourselves to that death, without defense, that we take Jesus' death into ourselves and trust. We die, and we rise in compassion, forgiveness, and responsibility for what is around us - even as we are over-whelmed...  

John seeks to teach us Jesus' message about life and resurrection. He understood that wherever we are - whenever we live, that we will have the religious amongst us - setting us the rules for living and being on God’s good side. The religious Jews of Jesus’ time are the religious people of our own - arguing their case and woe betide you disagree with them! Yet their victories are short lived - for they too will die. John saw what Jesus did. He saw Jesus give of himself for the religious Jews. Yet he saw that Jesus walk away from the disputes. He let them win. He let himself be overwhelmed.

This is hard for me to do. I like to win - I like to make my point heard - but to what end. we will all die in the end - and then we are all left in the hands of God.

 

I want to end with a quote from a book I loved as a teenager - J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo says,

'I wish it need not have happened in my time.' ...
'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'

Acknowledgement: Andrew Prior