Sermons 2009
Proper 16B, 23 August 2009, John 6:56-69

Home | Proper 17B, 30 August 2009, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 | Proper 16B, 23 August 2009, John 6:56-69 | Pentecost 10 (Proper 14B) 9 August 2009, John 6:35, 41-51 | Pentecost 8B (Proper 12B), John 6:1-21, 26 July 2009 | Pentecost 7B (Proper 11B), 19 July 2009, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 | Pentecost 6B (Proper 10B), 12 July 2009, Mark 6:14-29 | Pentecost 5B (Proper 9B) 5 July 2009, Mark 6:1-13 | Pentecost 4B (Proper 8B), 28 June 2009 | Pentecost 3B (Proper 7B), 21 June 2009 | Pentecost 2B (Proper 6B), 14 June 2009 | About Pentecost, Pentecost B, 31 May 2009, | On the Trinity, Trinity B, 7 June 2009 | Jesus and Prayer, Easter 7B, 24 May 2009, John 17:6-19 | How can we love? Easter 6B, 17May 2009, John 15:9-17 | 2 Sermons: Vineyard and a Baptism, Easter 5B, 10 May 2009, John 15:1-8 | Who's in? Who's out? Easter 4B, 3 May 2009, John 10:11-18 | Sacramental Meals, Easter 3B, 16 April 2009, Luke 24:36b-48 | Resurrection, continued, Doubts, and a Baptism, Easter 2 B, 19 April 2009, John 20:19-31 | He is not here, Easter B, 12 April 2009, Mark 16:1-8 | The Seven Sayings from the Cross, Palm Sunday B 2009 | We wish to see Jesus, Lent 5B, 29 March 1009, John 12:22-33 | For God so loved the world, Lent 4B, 22 March 2009, John 3:14-21 | Out with the money changers! Lent 3B, 15 March 2009, John 2: 13-22 | On taking up the Cross, Lent 2B, 8 March 2009, Mark 8:31-38 | News or the real Good News?, Lent 1B, 1 March 2008, Mark 1: 9-15 | Listen to Him! Epiphany Last B Transfiguration, 22 February 2009, Mark 9:2-9 | What do you mean, demons? Epiphany 4B, 1 February 2009, Mark 1:21-28 | Immediately and discipleship, Epiphany 3B 2009, 25 January 2009, Mark 1:14-20 | Right in front of your eyes, Epiphany 2B, 18 January 2009, John 1:43-51 | In the beginning, water and the Spirit, Epiphany 1B, 11 January 2009, Genesis 1:1-5; Mark 1:4-11 | In God we trust, Christmas 2B, 4 January 2009, Jeremiah 31:7-14; Matthew 2:1-12

Proper 16B 2009                                                 John 6:56-69


“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it.’”  Thus the NRSV; the new English Bible is more direct:  “This is more than we can stomach!  Why listen to such talk?”


This is the original hard saying of Jesus in the scriptural witness.  In fact most of this 6th Chapter of Saint John’s Gospel is filled with difficult sayings in this “I am the Bread of Life” chapter.


It’s really characteristic of all of the Fourth Gospel, these powerful “I am” statements uttered by Jesus:  I am the door to the sheepfold;  I am the Good Shepherd;  I am the true Vine, I am the Light of the world; I am the I am the way, the truth, and the life;  I am the resurrection and the life;  I am the Bread of Life.  Difficult sayings, difficult to be believed by the disciples 20 centuries ago, difficult to believe by many modern disciples 20 centuries later. (1)


It reminds me of someone years ago who told me that she didn’t and couldn’t believe many things in the Nicene Creed, but she said it any way.  When I asked her how she managed the cognitive dissonance, she told me that she crossed her fingers when she came to the difficult parts she couldn’t believe that day – and that some days she kept her fingers crossed the entire time that the Creed was being said.


The Fourth Gospel does present us with difficulties, not least because it is essentially different in so many ways from the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in its depiction of Jesus.  The great Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple wrote that the synoptic gospels may give us something like a photograph of Jesus but that “Saint John gives us the more perfect portrait.”  (2)


But at the same time, when the Region 2 clergy gathered at Saint Hon’s West Point for clericus last Tuesday, there was a general feeling of relief that this Sunday today was the last of the four Sundays in a row that were focused on Jesus’ declaration, “I am the bread of Life.” 


            Those I am declarations have called forth interesting reactions:  The great Christian social activist and pacifist Dorothy Day said that “Christ is God or He is the world's greatest liar and impostor.”  (3)


            Phillips Brooks, the renowned Bishop of Massachusetts observed that “In the best sense of the word, Jesus was a radical....His religion has so long been identified with conservatism...that it is almost startling sometimes to remember that all the conservatives of his own times were against him; that it was the young, free, restless, sanguine, progressive part of the people who flocked to him. “   (4)


            And the ever astute George Bernard Shaw noted that “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn't be a great moral teacher.  He'd either be a lunatic –– on the level with a man who says he's a poached egg –– or else he'd be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.  "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild" is a sniveling modern invention, with no warrant in the Gospels.   (5)


Even if later generations of Christians haven’t reacted as strongly as Jesus disciples who couldn’t stomach such talk, they -- and we as well -- have remained perplexed by these “I am” sayings of Jesus – and many other difficult things Jesus said.  In part the difficulty stems from their rigor.  They set forth higher standards or faith and practice than human beings seem able to meet in each and every instance and case.  In part it is because the precise meaning of these difficult statements escapes us as we become farther and farther removed from Jesus in time and culture.


And in part, still other statements seem to clash with what Jesus said elsewhere  or with our own interpretations of what Scripture can legitimately expect of us and what virtues, practice, and behavior it ought to stress and demand of us.  (6)


Jesus never said it would be easy.








1.  William Neal, The Difficult Sayings of Jesus, Eerdman’s, 1975, p. 97

2.  Neill, 97-98;  William Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel, Morehouse Barlowe, 1985 reprint, p. xix

3.  Dorothy Day, as quoted in SermonWriter for Proper 16B 2009

4.  Phillips Brooks, as quoted in SermonWriter for Proper 16B 2009

5.  George Bernard Shaw, as quoted in SermonWriter for Proper 16B 2009

6.  Neil, flyleaf cover