John 6, 56-69; Ephesians 6,10-20
Jesus is a controversial man. Do you agree or not? I would say he definitely is. And that is also the reason why so many disciples went away. He was too controversial for them.
We hear “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” and “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
The image of eating and drinking is taking place in the Holy Communion as the image of dyeing and rising as a new creation with Jesus. Forgiven, newborn children of God, that’s who we are in Jesus, that’s who are those who believe and abide in Him.
But as we see in the Gospel, not everyone is willing to believe Jesus’s words. “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Jesus had a lot of disciples, the people who were following him and listening to him for a while. But this teaching was something new, and something controversial. The Judeans were outraged by his telling that they should eat his body and drink his blood. It was just against the Law. They didn’t accept it.
And Jesus is asking the Twelve: “Do you also wish to go away?”
What is your reaction when you do hear the words of love? That Jesus came because of you to give you hope, love and forgiveness?
“Do you also wish to go away?” Jesus asks.
I have to tell you, I did. I struggled a few times thinking how real is Jesus and if it’s even worthy to waste my time in a church, or trying to be good. You know,… all the rules, Ten Commandments, etc. But I learned, that this is something that just happens, and is just normal to human beings. To question everything. Is He really what he says? Is Jesus really the Son of God? Did He really die for me? But there was always something that stopped me. I stopped questioning and started listening to that. The memories brought to my mind. The memories of the situations and the times when I really felt God’s presence, when I really felt His love and I knew that even when I doubt, He is real, because I experienced Him, His forgiveness, or healing of relationships.
And the other thing I always remember in those times is Paul’s Armor of God.
The Ephesians’ faith was legendary among other churches in those days. And of course it was a hard time for the church in the Roman Empire, when being Christian was dangerous and also unbelievable in eyes of the society. And Paul is encouraging them. He is praying for them: “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love[e] toward all the saints,” (Ep 1, 15). And after all his encouraging he ask them to stay strong. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil,” (Ep 6, 10-11).
The Armor of God doesn’t consist of any machineguns or rifles like so many Christians would like to have on the list of the Armor of God, just because they want to kill off any disagreement or any differences.
We don’t know when the End is coming and what the devil’s last stand is going to be like, but we know that being Christian is not always and just about having a supper before a Bible study on Wednesday to meet at worship service on Sunday. But sometimes it is a fight against circumstances, sometimes against our own laziness. And sometimes against persecutors. Just as our brothers and sisters in faith, all over the Middle East and North Africa, and elsewhere in the world, are facing every day.
13 “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these,[c] take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes that make you ready to proclaim gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Holy Spirit, the word of God.
Paul is talking about the fight against the devil. Against doubts, against evil around us, when there is a persecution. But sometimes we can see world around us like a cultural persecution of nonbelievers by Christians. Don’t you think, that Christianity in the Western world is in general like a slowly dying group of religious people which instead of trying to come closer, to the culturally and philosophically different people by showing at least interest, is putting on itself the Armor of God in a way that the armor seems just offensive? We don’t have to see it like this, but this is the thinking of many non-Christians. These things are often the prejudices they have, if you tell that you are Christian. Because so many times Christians use the Armor of God as armor even when it is not against the devil but the neighbor who has just the different points of view.
Sometimes we are called to take off the armor and be more vulnerable, open, and less defensive. And that is the way which people can connect with us, to see real life, real ups and real downs and like we struggle with that through Jesus. Just look at the TV for a while, I beg you, do not sit there too long, and you will see that all what your country needs is anything but offensive Christians.
Let the armor repeat without the armors. The truth, the righteousness, the peace, the faith, the salvation and Holy Spirit, which remind us of the word of God.
Does it sound like an armor at all?
These things are mostly the things that world around us hungers for. A Truth in everyday lies, a righteousness in an injustice; a peace in the times of everyday stress; faith and trust in the times when it is hard to believe in anything or to anyone` salvation and hope when there is no hope for surviving an another day; God’s word, word of love, the words for those who have no one else who cares saying that there is someone who loves and cares.
Many of disciples went away from Jesus, some did stay when he explained and ask people to believe in Him, to eat his body broken for us, and to drink the blood shed for us.
In Christ’s name there is the truth, the righteousness, the peace, the faith, the salvation and God’s words of love for everyone.
And if Jesus is the bread of life, we as his followers, are called to be the bread of life for the others with all our armor without the armor part.
a sermon from Lebanon Lutheran Church, Whitehall (MI, USA), august 2015