“Many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him”
When I was a scout our Group Scout Leader, George, smoked a pipe. If you asked him a question he would fish out his pipe, find his pipe knife, scrape the old ash out of the bowl, blow through it a few times, suck on it experimentally, then find his tobacco pouch, pinch off some baccy, finger it into the bowl, tap it down, suck on it, dig it out again, then press it back, then find his matches, light his pipe, puff on it a few times, and then answer your question.
You never got a quick answer, but you always got a good answer.
We live in an age of instant gratification. We want and we want it now. We don’t save up any more, we buy things on credit. We don’t make an appointment to see the bank manager, it’s all handled at a 24/7 call centre. We don’t browse in bookshops, we click on Amazon and download to a Kindle.
Not everything however can be instant.
We are here today because we choose to answer the invitation to become companions with Jesus through bread and wine. Jesus spoke of himself as the bread of life, his life nourishes our life, but only if we have a hunger for him, and a patience for him. If we are filled with other priorities and satisfied with material wellbeing, then there is no space in us to receive him.
I want to remind you that our gospel has a wider context. John chapter 6 begins with the feeding of the five thousand – a narrative so important that it is the only miracle story found in all four gospels. John tells us what happens next –
The people were delighted with free food. Their hunger had been satisfied, they have been given what they wanted. This was pretty wonderful. You might, of course, suspect such a preacher to be buying people’s affections. If we put a sign outside church saying free beer and cakes perhaps the congregation might grow.
(And if not in numbers then at least in waist size!)
But Jesus wasn’t buying their affections. When he moved on they sought him out – when they found him they were shocked because he had hard words for them – he recognized what they were after. “Truly I say to you – you seek me not because you saw signs, but because you had your fill.”
And he went on to make clear the point of the feeding was not that it filled their bellies, but that it is a sign of something far more life changing. What he offers is a different set of rules, and alternative set of values, a new way of living.
But it has to be chosen, it has to be accepted. And most people choose not to accept.
The life of faith, though joyful, is at the same time sacrificial and hard. The fullness of life offered is found through obedience and service. The rewards are not instant, nor are they easy. Like George with his pipe – you don’t get a quick answer, and often not an easy answer.
Predictably, then as now, these words are hard. Even the disciples protested – “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Many didn’t, and they knew it. It is one thing to follow a leader who everyone wants to be with. It something quite different to follow a man who makes people turn away.
The task of the church is not to be popular, nor to count success as growth through numbers. The first task of the church is offer worship, through which relationship and companionship are formed. And not formed quickly. It takes time, patience, and hunger.
The task of the church is to be transformational. You don’t need me to repeat the diagnosis that despite our standard of living, our technology, our health care, despite all the good things we enjoy, there remains a deep longing for happiness.
I read of a sign outside a pub – ‘Had a rough week. Tired. Exhausted. Bored. Come to our Happy Hour and experience the attitude alteration hour. Come and leave with a new perspective on life.
The pub trade is pretty desperate, but no-one really thinks a Happy Hour will make anything better. The crowd had had their happy hour – free food – yet still they were searching. They might be full, but they sensed their emptiness.
There is no happy hour – but there is a choice that alters attitudes and creates a new perspective. It was not an easy choice then and it not and easy choice now.
The prophet Isaiah said, “He who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and labour for that which does not satisfy”
Most of the time most of the people seek satisfaction in the wrong place. Isaiah speaks of that which is without price, but which is worth everything. It was famously said of Margaret Thatcher that she knew the price of everything and the value of nothing. I think that describes a great many people these days.
The choice Jesus offers goes against the grain. It is not easy, we ought to be surprised that when the gospel is proclaimed those who proclaim it do not have the biggest fan club.
Christians today know we are in the minority – and some people think this is a bad thing. I am reminded of George messing about with his pipe – always refusing a quick answer, and always coming up with a good answer.
The crowd left. Jesus said to his friends, “Do you also wish to go away?” How we answer that question is rather important.