Sermon for Ordinary 20 by Rev Dr Sam Cappleman
Choices to make…
There is a scene in the 1999 Science Fiction film ‘The Matrix’, where the hero, Neo, is offered two different coloured pills by Morpheus. Neo must take one, and once taken there is no turning back.
The Blue pill will return Neo to the illusionary world of the Matrix from where he has come and he will be none the wiser. The red pill will mean that he will enter the real world and find and see the truth. Morpheus offers Neo the opportunity to see the truth for the first time.
Neo takes the red pill and the rest, as they say, is two sequels, neither of which I thought were as good as the first film!
Just as it was crunch time for Neo in the choice that he made, it’s the same for the followers of Jesus in the reading from John.
Up to now they have been following Jesus, listening to His teaching and watching as he performed miracles. In the readings we’ve had over the last few weeks Jesus and His followers have caught up with him after He fed them and then walked across the waters. They are in a synagogue in Capernaum.
In almost a parallel structure to the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus earlier on in the gospel, ‘you must be born again…, ‘…how can I be born again?...’ there is an extended discussion about the Father giving true bread which is sent from heaven, Jesus being that bread and inviting everyone to eat of it.
But just as with Nicodemus, ultimately there is a life and death decision to be taken. A red pill/blue pill moment.
Jesus says we are to eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood if we are to have eternal life.
Not only would this be challenging for the listeners to comprehend, it also challenged their understanding of what religious observance was all about and seemed to be hitting at the very core of Jewish life.
The Jews knew that they should not eat meat with blood in it: the Torah makes this very clear, e.g. Lev. 17 v 10 - 14. Moreover, it’s the only dietary law that has its rationale made explicit. The blood is drained out of the flesh to be eaten so that blood is not consumed because the life (literally the soul of the animal) is contained in the blood.
(Leviticus also says in the same verses that blood was given for the expiation and salvation of lives – sound familiar)
The Jesus, a Jew, speaking in a synagogue, would know this law part of the Jewish Dietary law, the Kashrut, just as well as the hearers.
But using their understanding is exactly what Jesus is doing. It precisely the point He wants to make.
It’s as if bit by bit he has been revealing His purpose using food and bread in particular as His visual image.
After feeding the 5000 He speaks about the need to really hear what He was saying, to be moved by the message and not just follow Him because He provides food.
When they ask for a sign and ask about the bread the Israelites ate in the dessert provided by Moses. He points out that it was God Himself, not Moses, who provided bread. This bread was from heaven and He, Jesus is that bread.
Now Jesus makes things even more explicit. He is not just the bread that sustains life, He is the bread that is life itself.
He says explicitly in Jn 6 v 56 that ‘…whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person…’ There is that inner presence which stays with us forever.
In that sense, whoever accepts Jesus into their life has the very lifeblood and soul of Jesus within them, there can be no turning back. He invites us to take that lifeblood within us.
It’s not just about being sustained in the life we are already in, it’s about having a new life stemming from the life that can be within us
John presents this, as he does so often through his gospel, as both a challenge and in invitation.
A challenge and an invitation for the hearers to move from being spectators of Jesus to participants with Him; to move to be pilgrims on a journey to the truth rather than just being intellectual tourists on a guided tour.
To join with Him is proclaiming true freedom from the world, and not to be escapees from it.
To take the transformation from the old way of seeing things to the new.
That’s the invitation he offers to us all and which we accept from Him on a daily basis.
The difficulty is, that in our modern, seemingly rational and busy existence it’s so easy to deny that presence in our lives.
Sometimes that’s a very conscious decision. It’s as if we know what we should do, the right thing to do, but we do something else because it’s easier, simpler, and more expeditious and creates less problems for us later
Sometimes though, it’s because we are on a pilgrimage and are still discovering the truth. As Neo found in The Matrix, sometimes it’s hard to tell the real from the illusionary.
But the more we strive to do so, the easier it becomes – and the less inclined we become to rebel against God’s will for us and our lives.
Jesus calls us to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood so that we can have that new life within us.
The Communion is a reminder of that offer of new life, and as we take the bread and the wine so we take again the new life into us and from us on to those we meet every day.