Inspired by John 6:56-69
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone, and had to stop and remind them, that you’re on their side? As a parent, I find myself doing that quite a bit. I may not always use those exact words but I often find myself in conversations with my children, and having to stop and remind them that I’m not the enemy here, that I am in fact on their side, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.
I can tell they need that reminder when I notice that they are reacting to a conversation in a way that I didn’t necessarily intend, maybe they’re getting angry, or sad, or defensive. Those are the times when I feel I need to remind them that what they are hearing in the conversation, even though it may not sound like it, is being said with their best interests at heart, not my best interests, theirs. And sometimes that reminder is received well and sometimes it’s not, I get that. I remember being on the other side of those conversations myself with my dad.
But parents don’t have a monopoly on these kinds of conversations do they? Sometimes you have to have these conversations with a friend. You know, one of those, “I have something difficult to tell you but please remember that I’m telling you this as a friend”, kind of conversations. Or maybe you’ve had to have these kinds of conversations with a coworker, particularly if you are their supervisor. They may start like, “Let me begin by saying how much I appreciate your work here.”
And if you’re on the receiving end of that, that’s when you brace yourself right? “Oh God, what did I do now? This is going to be bad!” As you give a nice white-knuckle grip to your chair. And when I’ve been on the receiving end of that conversation, my worst fear is never realized, I wasn’t fired, but just given some constructive criticism. And afterward I’d crawl into a hole and want to die for a while, but I’d get over it and hopefully was a better employee for it.
When you’re on the receiving end of those conversations, when someone has to remind you that they are on your side, is hard. It’s hard because you feel attacked, and so you get defensive and angry, and often times they seem to come out of nowhere. Now, it’s one thing when you feel attacked by a parent, or by a friend, or by a boss or coworker. But what do you do when you feel attacked by Jesus? Because that’s exactly what happens to some of Jesus’ disciples in our story from the Gospel of John today.
They feel attacked by Jesus, and they leave. And it’s important to note here that John says that these were disciples of Jesus that left. Not the Jewish opposition that he was writing about earlier in the chapter. These were disciples! These were on the Jesus bandwagon, right up until this point, when some had to jump off. It was just too much for them. For a Jewish community, all this talk of eating flesh and drinking blood sounded too much like cannibalism. It was a hurdle that they just couldn’t jump over.
Which got me thinking, what can we do, when we feel attacked by Jesus, so that we don’t end up like these disciples and jump ship? How do we remain on board, remain on the Jesus bandwagon, when we feel attacked by Jesus, when we feel judged by Jesus, when we feel Jesus calling us to do something we really don’t want to do, when we read a Bible passage that convicts us to the very core?
What do we do then? Now, if some of you are thinking to yourselves, “Jesus would never judge me!” Wrong! Jesus is all about judgement! But let’s not confuse judgement with condemnation. Jesus judges us all the time! What Jesus promised not to do, is condemn us. But let’s not sit here and pretend that Jesus is just going to turn a blind eye to our bad behavior. Or ignore the evils of this world. Or not call us to do difficult work for him.
That’s what Jesus came for—to transform this world, one disciple at a time! Unfortunately, that transformation isn’t easy, to say the least, and sometimes, it can feel like we are being attacked—attacked by the very person that claims to be the bread of life, the living bread that came down from heaven. Which brings us back to the question, what do we do when we feel attacked by Jesus?
Well, there’s a few things I think we can do, three in particular that I’d like to share now. First, consider the alternatives. Jesus was ok with people walking away! I didn’t hear him begging for any of them to come back! Moreover, as they’re walking away, Jesus turns to those still there and asks, “Do you also want to leave?” As if to say, “If anyone else wants to go, there’s the door!” Now, I think when he asked that he expected the answer was no.
But at the same time, I’m sure all of those still standing there had considered the alternatives! And I don’t see Jesus condemning us for that. I always joke with people that if I ever had to leave Christianity, I’d become a Buddhist. But I can only joke about that because I’ve actually considered it! At various points in my life I’ve probably considered just about every religion. But nothing has kept me from sticking with Jesus…yet! But it’s actually been helpful to my faith to explore the alternatives, not harmful.
A second thing I think we can do when feeling attacked by Jesus is take a quick glance over our shoulder, take a look at your life’s path behind you, and see who Jesus has been for you in the past. Has he ever left your side? Has he ever failed you? Now, I’m not gonna stand up here and pretend that everyone can easily answer no to those questions. For some of you, maybe the answer is yes, Jesus has failed you! You do feel that Jesus has left your side in the past. So then have that conversation with Jesus! And with those whom God has placed in your life to have those conversations with! I’ve been there.
I’ve had to sit Jesus down and say, “Look man, I love you, and I say this as a friend, but you gotta know you really hurt me!” But I’m able to stand here, as a follower of Jesus, as your pastor, because I had that conversation with Jesus. We came out on the other side of that conversation better for it! Not overnight mind you. We gave each other the silent treatment for a little while after that. He can be stubborn, let me tell ya! But we never can seem to stay mad at each other for too long!
Finally, and maybe most important thing we can do when feeling attacked by Jesus, is remembering, and believing, that Jesus is always, and forever, on our side. When we get a difficult word from Jesus, whether it's in scripture, or in worship, or in our heart or mind, remembering who Jesus is can make all the difference. As difficult as Jesus can be sometimes, as stretching, as bitter-tasting, as offensive as Jesus can be, Jesus is on your side. And being open to hearing that can be difficult, when he sits us down for that difficult conversation, when he sees us get angry, or sad, or defensive, and says, "Hey, I'm on your side!" And "I am the bread of life…he living bread that came down from heaven"—on your side. Thanks be to God. Amen.