This week’s sermon comes from Dr. Mary Gaines, who proclaimed the Word of God at FPC on December 30th. The text for her sermon is John 6:41-44, 51-69. Her sermon is a powerful reminder of what’s really important in the New Year, and what it means to let Christ live in us.
Do You Know What You Want in the New Year?
“Do you know what you want in the New Year?”
That is the question with which I want to begin this sermon.
“Do you know what you want in life?” is a question we frequently ask ourselves throughout life. Every day we ask:
“What do you want to do today?”
“What do you want to wear?”
“What do you want to eat?”
“What do you want to be?”
But it always comes to the forefront at the beginning of the New Year when we pause to reflect on the old year and what might, what could be different in the new year.
In life, this question becomes most critical during adolescences and young adulthood when we are forming our adult identity, but it is a question we come back to again and again.
It begins simply when we are a baby wanting only food and comfort and gets much more complex as we go on through life.
How do you answer that question today in whatever stage of life you are now?
Do you want just the basics: food; clothing; a roof over your head; basic financial security?
Or do you want that plus more –things of quality and beauty: gourmet food, a beautifully furnished home, designer label clothes, high-class entertainment?
Or do you want the things that enrich your life like computers, iPhones, Kindles, exercise equipment, higher education, money to pay for travel, or tickets to major sports events; or, more seriously, to pay for advanced education for yourself or your children?
Or is it self-fulfillment you want, through personal success, the acquisition of power, involvement in great adventures or discoveries; through religious quests, great artistic expression, or the experience of a deep and fulfilling love?
Or maybe you simply want happiness for yourself and your family?
Or is your main focus on the meaning of life –knowing life makes sense and has a purpose you can participate in realizing?
It is a simple question, “Do you know what you want in your life?”
But it gets more complex the more you think about it. It brings up other questions: “Do I want too much? Do I want too little? Do I need to prioritize my wants? Are all my wants healthy? Are they good or bad or neither? Are my wants what I really need? Will I want the same thing ten years from now? Should I be more realistic about my wants? Do I even know what I want?”
The media bombards us with so many things to want.
Fifteen years ago I hardly knew what the Internet and e-mail were, and now I cannot live without them. Now I am trying to figure out Facebook and Twitter.
What we want keeps changing.
Even if we know what we really want in life, can we get it? How do we get it? Do we have to work for it? Or is it something given to us?
The 5,000 people following Jesus around the Sea of Galilee were wrestling with similar questions. And for a few days there they thought they had found what they wanted: a man who could get them anything they wanted: THE RABBI JESUS, the one who called Himself “THE BREAD OF LIFE.”
When Jesus multiplied the loaves of bread and the fish, they were amazed, and it dawned upon them that, if they followed Him, He would provide for all their basic needs. Even when you got sick, He could heal you!
In fact, THIS JESUS offered you “a universal health care plan” without it costing anybody—not the employer or the employees or the government.
And His teachings were wonderful!
He made so much sense out of life.
He even made you feel like He really cared about you.
So, they tried not to let Him out of their sight, rushing after Him on land and sea.
But then all that rushing after JESUS stopped. It says here in John 6, that there are only the 12 disciples left standing there with Jesus.
You see, JESUS began to say some very odd things.
JESUS said the people were wanting the wrong kind of bread, that is, the wrong kind of things in life. Jesus said that He, JESUS, is the real bread, THE BREAD OF LIFE, the living bread that comes down from Heaven to fulfill all their real needs. It was a strange way of talking, and it didn’t make sense to a lot of the people.
It seems that Jesus was speaking of A SPIRITUAL BREAD that can somehow nourish you in your spiritual being.
And somehow it is a more important nourishment for life eternal than physical bread.
Well, some of the people could see how that made sense.
Life was made up of more than physical needs being met.
But then JESUS got to talking about Himself being THE BREAD and how HE would give that bread, His life, for the world, like somehow HE was going to sacrifice Himself.
HE even told Peter HE must suffer and die.
Now this didn’t make sense at all to the people.
How could JESUS give you life if He sacrificed his own life?
How could a dead man help you with any of your needs?
And when they asked for clarification, JESUS didn’t really explain.
HE just made it worse by saying,
“Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat THE FLESH of the SON of MAN and drink HIS BLOOD, you have NO LIFE in you.
Those who eat MY FLESH and drink MY BLOOD have ETERNAL LIFE, and I will raise them up on THE LAST DAY. . .”
Now that is getting really physical!
Some of the people really thought JESUS was being cannibalistic with this statement, and so they were turned off immediately by such a GROSS idea. They hightailed it out of there as fast as they could.
OTHERS, though, figured out that JESUS was using words “flesh and blood” metaphorically in the Hebrew unitive sense to represent the total being and life of a person. But, they too were puzzled by what it meant to take the total being of another person into your own being.
It was a very intimate form of relationship, this abiding in another person.
To have JESUS abide in you seemed too close for comfort!
Whatever JESUS did with His life, you may have to do the same with your life, like suffering and giving up your life for the world!
So, the crowd said, “No! Hold on! We are here to get the good things of life, not suffer, not die! THIS MAN won’t do.”
And they left.
The seashore of Galilee must have seemed very empty then –after the 5,000 people were gone.
Only Jesus’ inner circle of 12 disciples was left.
And they too were milling around, wondering if they too should leave.
Empty & sad this story is –because it not only happened long ago, it still happens today!
JESUS really does have that which makes life worth living, and only HE has it.
But too often people can’t see it because they believe that what they should want in life is something they get rather than something they give. And at the beginning of the 21st century ,we in Western culture are in more danger than humankind has ever been in missing what truly gives us life because we are surrounded by such a materialistic culture that preaches a personal salvation through getting, getting, getting –whether it is getting possessions or success or self-fulfillment.
And it is all done through competition, in which there always has to be losers as well as winners; really many losers and few winners.
You only have to think of recent financial scandals and ugly fought political battles, where people believe they have to win no matter what it costs, no matter how many lies they tell.
Sadly we are blinded by our obsessive wanting to get, get, get… from seeing the presence of JESUS, who has come into our world “to bring in His flesh God’s grace and justice.”
It is only through JESUS that we can all win and receive abundant life, but too often we don’t realize it because it doesn’t make sense to our competitive, materialistic minds.
It is a hard saying that JESUS speaks to us, his follower.
HE has come into our lives not just to feed us and give us everything we want but to call us to conversion: “a conversion from the logic of the marketplaces of our world to the logic of God;” a conversion “from the logic of getting what you want to the logic of receiving what you truly need.”*
It is an alien language Jesus speaks; hard for his first disciples to understand and hard for us today to understand.
But, let us attempt to listen and believe because our whole life depends upon JESUS’ action in our life.
First of all, we have sinned. That simply is the truth.
All people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
We have gone astray from the ways of God.
We have not obeyed God’s laws.
And in so doing, we have chosen a way of life which actually leads to death –physical and spiritual death –even while we are still alive on this earth.
JESUS CHRIST, however was and still is willing to die that death for us, even though HE never sinned.
And in dying our death and suffering the consequences of our sin, HE broke the bonds of death that are sucking life out of us—even right now.
JESUS gave up his body and blood for us.
So, for this new life to be effective in each of us we must take the totality of JESUS into ourselves, just as in the Communion Service we consume the bread & wine into our physical selves. What that means is letting JESUS live in us every day of our lives; every moment of our lives, expressing THE DIVINE SELF through us.
Then we can die with HIM and be raised up with HIM to new life.
But JESUS cannot live in us if we are still occupied in living our own self-centered lives.
There will be no room for HIM in us, as there was no room for HIM in the inn at Bethlehem.
WE have to empty our lives to make room for His presence there.
And that means, in a sense, “dying” –letting our old selves die.
But it is a death out of which new life comes, just as JESUS was resurrected from the dead to a new life.
We are “born again” as resurrected receptacles who can hold THE LIVING CHRIST in us.
As the Apostle Paul says, [2 Cor. 4:11]
For while we live [on this earth] we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal [earthly] flesh.
Maybe it sounds like you cease to exist, but in actuality you live far more fully than you did before.
All your talents, skills, personality, all the uniqueness of who you are comes into full use in being Christ’s disciple, in fulfilling His mission in the world.
You see, what you give up is using all of who you are for only yourself.
God created you for a different purpose: to be a part of the Messianic ministry of JESUS to redeem all the world.
When we all give ourselves up for each other, that redemption will be accomplished!
Everyone then will be getting what they truly need and should truly want!
And when you want that and receive that from JESUS, you will discover that you have everything you could possibly want.
You will feel far more self-fulfilled than you ever have before.
It is a paradox: from death comes life.
Again, it defies all human logic, but that is the way GOD does it!
In fact, that is the key to it all: God does it.
GOD transforms us into new living beings.
It is not something we can do ourselves.
It is not something we can get on our own, achieve on our own, or compete with others to get. It is something we can only receive from THE HOLY ONE of GOD. It is a gift of grace from Jesus Christ. It is the greatest Christmas Gift of all.
But that may be the hardest part.
We can do so little to get it.
We can take so little credit for it.
All we can do is receive it and believe that JESUS CHRIST’S way is the true way to life.
Even then it is GOD who empowers us to receive it and believe.
But what a transformation it brings to your life!
When JESUS looked around the empty sea shore to the remaining 12 disciples, HE asked them,”Do you also wish to go away?”
Simon Peter immediate answered, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Peter’s response was different from that of the 5,000 other people that day because he had faith in THE CHRIST.
And once you have that faith, you see the world differently.
Everything is turned around.
The logic of the world now seems irrational, and the logic of Christ’s way of life seems sane and rational.
The only place to go that makes sense now is to JESUS CHRIST, the Holy One of God.
You know HE has the only way to eternal life.
You know HE is the only one who has what you want and truly need.
Do you know what you want in the New Year?
I pray that it is JESUS CHRIST, who will fill you with all that is good and life fulfilling.
God offers us the greatest Christmas gift of all: life abundant in Jesus Christ!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Raymond Brown, The Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to John. Garden City, NY: Double Day and Co., Inc., 1966
James C. Logan, “Theological Reflections,” in Lectionary Homiletics, Vol. II, Num. 9, August, 1991.
Gerald Sloyan, Interpretation: John. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1988.