The Very Rev. Tom Callard – August 22, 2021
For the last four weeks, the Gospel has spoken of little except Jesus and bread. Four weeks ago, we heard about the people following Jesus who needed bread because they were hungry. And then we heard about Jesus offering people the bread of heaven. And then we heard about the bread which Jesus offers which is his body. And today we hear about eating the body and blood of Jesus as a way of obtaining eternal life. And so it’s a lot of talk of bread.
If we look at these passages about bread and we go back to where they began, at the beginning of John Chapter 6, we find this moment when Jesus and his disciples cross the sea of Galilee and suddenly there are all these people following them. The Gospel says that Jesus goes to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and a large crowd kept following because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.
Suddenly Jesus is not just working with just the 12 disciples and the small group of others who are with them, but he has this huge following of perhaps more than 5,000 people. His fame has spread. People have heard what’s going on -that there’s this Jesus of Nazareth who is doing amazing things. And people have shared what they’ve heard. And from every corner of the world people have come to see him. Village have literally emptied out so that the people could go to see Jesus.
And most of us would look at what’s going on in the Gospel with all these people and we would say – this is an amazing story of success. After all, what is the most successful thing you can do in life but to have a lot of followers? For anyone on social media, there’s no other way to measure your success except by your number of followers.
And it’s certainly true for churches, that we would love to have those thousands of people with us every Sunday! If you’re a church and your attendance goes from whatever we normally have here to more than five thousand people, with people spilling out the door, with every service packed, every pew taken, every parking space in a ten block radius filled, that would be the height of success. We would pat ourselves on the back. We would be the envy of our neighbor churches.
It’s funny – the church where I served in Los Angeles before I came here had periods where the church was at full capacity. It was amazing to see, a church so filled with people that people were lined up on the sides and standing in the back.
And we would have to get out the extra chairs which were actually stored in the unused confessional booths in the back. Of course, the church in Los Angeles was much smaller than the Cathedral, but there were many Sundays when it was standing room only at the Spanish service.
And that’s how it was for a while. And then suddenly one day something happened that drastically reduced the numbers – which was the world cup. And I remember this year when the world cup began and Mexico was doing well –the majority of our parishioners were from Mexico. And suddenly we went from being standing room only with people lining the walls, to having just a handful there on Sunday. It was like the rapture had come. Because of the world cup. And they told me, don’t worry, this only happens every four years.
And so what can you do? I’m not going to start preaching against the evils of soccer. And I’m not going to pray that the Mexican team gets eliminated in the first round so people can come back to church. You just have to keep people focused on Jesus. And we set up a big TV behind the church so people could sneak out and watch the game.
Again and again the in the Gospels, Jesus challenges us to see things not as the world sees them. And success is one of those things that Jesus sees differently from the rest of the world.
For Jesus, success is not found in gaining huge numbers but it is found in gaining one heart. Just one heart is an amazing thing for Jesus. The Gospel begins with five thousand people following Jesus today, and it ends with 12. And that was a good day. Because among those twelve, people gave their hearts.
Life is filled with moments where you just show up some place and you’re just there and you don’t really know why you’re there. Perhaps you even feel that way sometimes about church. I’ve had those days. This habit, this routine of coming in or turning on to watch the service but your heart’s not really in it.
I imagine so many people that day with Jesus show up but not knowing why they are there. They know there’s bread. And they know there’s healing because their friends and neighbors have said – you’ve got to see Jesus. He’s got bread and he’s got healing. But beyond that, they have no sense of who Jesus is at all.
And so Jesus gives them all this talk about bread we have heard for the last four weeks because he wants to tell them that there’s more to life than the pursuit of momentary pleasure and the drive to focus on these things which will pass. And that to find that more, they have to give something up.
Give your life to me, he says. Give your heart to me. Dedicate your life to serving others, to doing good, to loving and helping. Dedicate it to something more than yourself and your ego and your fear and anxiety and own selfish demands.
That act of giving oneself to God is too hard, many of them say, in fact most of them. And little by little they disappear today . And he’s left with just the handful. But he’s left with those who to have committed themselves to him. And that, for Jesus, is success.
And with all those people gone, all those numbers low, you don’t see Jesus concerned. You don’t see him trying to get them back, running after them on the street to offer them more bread and give them promises so they will return. In fact, he’s not trying to appeal to them at all. Let them go, he says. For I want to focus on those who want to be here. I will focus on those who want to focus on me.
We have a two-way relationship living with God who is desperately trying to live with us. And we have to permit God to do so. We have to let God in, We have to let Jesus have our hearts and not worry about anything else, even bread.
And much of our relationship with God begins with us just showing up. Just showing up is the first step. But see how today’s Gospel is about the step beyond that, which is the moment when we commit.
Is the cost of committing to God so hard? Well, it is according to the many people who left. It was too hard. So ask yourself – when was the last time your faith was hard. Has it ever been difficult or challenging for you to be a Christian? When was the last time you really struggled to practice your faith?
It’s not like we’re in a country where it’s dangerous to follow Jesus. I know undocumented immigrants in parts of the United States who do not have drivers’ licenses who must decide every Sunday whether or not they are going to risk driving to church and getting pulled over because they could be deported. That’s a hard decision for your faith.
We know of the people who have marched for their faith, people who have died for their faith, people who, because of their faith, go out at night and put themselves in situations where they are feeding people and giving them clothes, those who work on the streets, or who work closely with the sick, those who go into prisons and work with the incarcerated. And all the others who sacrifice themselves and dedicate their time because they believe in Jesus. Because that’s what he has asked them to do – to give. Because for them faith is a dance and the dance is most enjoyable when you’re up moving and not just sitting on the sidelines watching.
I think sometimes it has to be difficult to be a Christian. But when it is, let us know the reward. When it is, it means that, like the 12, we are doing more than just walking in here, or just turning on the internet to sit there watching. When it’s difficult it’s because we have decided, somewhere in here, that we are going to make this life his, so it can belong to God.
Thank you for joining us today, thank you for coming in or for watching at home. And my prayer is that if you haven’t done so recently, consider how you might give your heart and your life to Jesus. Today is the perfect day to do so.