Is Our Faith Authentic?
The Rev. Dr. Ross McGowan Wright
The Church of the Good Shepherd
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, August 12, 2018
Text: John 6:35-51
“No one comes to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” ,
Our Lord speaks these words to some religious people who have a problem with Jesus. They have witnessed a miraculous sign: Jesus has feed five thousand people by mysteriously transforming bread and fish, so that this food continues to give, rather than to give out. They are drawn to this food that gives eternal life. Who wouldn’t be? Wouldn’t we all like to find some magical food that turns back the aging process, preserves our memory, and helps us maintain muscle mass and flexibility? But they are offended by Jesus’ claims that he is the life-giving food from heaven: “I am the living bread that has come down from heaven … unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” They murmur against Jesus (to paraphrase): Who does this guy think he is to say that he can give us his flesh to eat and to claim that he has come from heaven? We know where he came from. We know his parents. Since when does a human being get the right to speak for God the Father?
Jesus Christ provokes controversy. He stirs things up. Whenever we encounter the risen Christ, he stands before us – as real as your next door neighbor. Like any other person, he has a personality. He has opinions – some of them you agree with, some of them, you have some questions about. When the Lord Jesus Christ meets us, he speaks words of comfort and hope, and he also makes a lot of controversial statements that call into question how we look at the world and how we think about God and about ourselves. Most important of all, to encounter the living Christ is to come to a fork in the road. One path is wide and well-traveled, but it leads to more of the same old, same old. The other path is narrow and not as well-traveled. It is the way of Jesus Christ. The Lord stands at the fork in the road, and says to us: Which way will you go? Will you follow me?
We are religious people. We have been drawn to the Lord Jesus Christ and have begun to follow him. Our faith teaches us that the Lord has power to give us life through the bread of his teaching and through his flesh. He makes himself present to us through his teaching. He is present to us through the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. These are some of the revelations that come to us from the Bread of Life Discourse in the Gospel of John. I hope that as we have been meditating together on this great sermon of Jesus that you sense that there is something live-giving here – better yet, there is someone here – to nourish our spiritual lives.
But this Bread of Life Discourse is far more challenging than it first sounds. To mix a metaphor: this teaching of Jesus may appear to us like a mountain stream when we’ve been hiking on a hot day. The stream looks inviting, but when you jump in, you discover that the water temperature is not what you expected: it hits you like an electric jolt.
When Jesus offers us heavenly food, he is offering himself. To partake of the food of the Son of Man – by listening to his teaching and by coming to the Lord’s table – is to experience union with Christ – a bond, a covenant relationship, which has as much power to transform us as the most intimate relationship with another person. Marriage is a good analogy. Marriage doesn’t necessarily make you a better person, but it definitely makes you a different person. Marriage changes you. When two people have been married for decades, they may take on the characteristics – the quirks as well as the virtues – of the partner. You’re heard the saying: Be careful whom you marry, because you will become like her/him.
Jesus is real food. As we ingest the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, as we partake of him, we are changed. The life of Christ begins to live in us. To quote another familiar saying, “You are what you eat.” What you ingest becomes part of you.
No one comes to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.
We are believers, followers of Jesus the Christ, because God has drawn us. I want you to consider the implications of Jesus’ statement that the Father draws us. The word that Jesus uses here for “draw” can mean “to attract” – the way that the sweet-smelling honeysuckle attracts bees in the spring. But the word can also convey something more forceful: no one comes to me unless the Father compels him. C. S. Lewis writes that he resisted faith in God for years and had to be compelled to enter the kingdom of God. In a famous description of the night of his conversion, he writes:
You must picture me alone in that room [at Oxford University], night after night, feeling whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet … In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.
The Father draws us: he attracts us or compels us. Either way, the emphasis in Jesus’ words is on God’s action, God’s initiative. God is the one who creates faith in us. God is the one who draws us to Jesus Christ.
What does all this mean for us? I began by saying that Jesus spoke these words to religious people who had a problem with him. Can we see ourselves in these people? Can we hear Jesus’ promise about the God who draws us as good news? Let’s try to turn the spotlight on us for a minute.
Do you ever wonder if your faith is real? Do you ever find yourself wondering: Is my experience of God the real thing, or am I somehow using the words, going through the motions, trying to live into the role of the practicing Christian, based on what I’ve heard it’s supposed to be like?
I hope you’ll allow me to speak from my own experience. One of the occupational hazards of being a priest is that your faith easily becomes tied to the institution of the church. If your livelihood comes from the church, then you have something at stake in the survival of the institution. So maybe you don’t allow yourself to ask the hard questions about faith.
I think that a lot of faithful believers wonder silently or out loud about the authenticity of their faith. A lot of us wonder if our experience of God actually lines up with the faith that is revealed in the pages of the New Testament. Is living faith like a battery that eventually runs out? As you get older, does the experience of faith begin to fade or wear out, like an old sweater that has been worn too often?
If you ever find yourself wondering about the durability of your faith, here is a promise that you can come back to: You have come to the Lord Jesus because the Father has drawn you. God has given us to the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ promises that he will lose none of those whom the Father has entrusted to him. He will raise us up on the last day.
The promise that the Father draws us points beyond our current experience of faith, beyond the undulations of our spiritual life, to that last great day, when Christ will return and God will be all in all. On that day, each of us will hear the Lord Jesus Christ call us by name, and say: “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”