Connecting with Jesus, is our basic of discipleship that I’m inviting us to reflect on today.
Connecting with Jesus, is what some people consider to be the whole of their discipleship. A lot of people have told me over the years, I pray every day, Pastor. Don’t get me wrong. I love praying, praying is important, it is essential.
But it does not equal being a disciple of Jesus.
So far in the series on Back to Basics of Discipleship, we’ve talked about the starting point that we GO- we DO we ACT in the ways we know Jesus calls us to, however we are able. We’ve meditated on the balance of service and compassion, rest and renewal, that is our life as a disciple. We have considered an orientation to God of abundance, that as disciples, we share what we have with others.
Only now on week 4 am I getting to what a lot of people, who may call themselves Christian or think they know what a Christian is and does, consider it to be, giving and receiving from Jesus in devotional time, prayer, Bible study, and coming to church. I will be expanding even this. But before I dive into this passage, I want to make it clear that while everything I will talk about today is essential, essential yes for being a disciple, it is not the whole thing. Being a disciple of Jesus means being on a path of transformation and building up community for there to be more and greater transformation. It does not begin and end on Sunday morning, or whenever your personal prayer time is. Discipleship invades your life.
But discipleship is impossible without a regular, and I would insist, varied, way of connecting to Jesus.
Last week if you were with us you heard about the feeding of the 5000. Of how one small person offered a small amount to be shared, and in the hands of Jesus it was more than enough. Jesus then goes on to talk quite a bit in John’s gospel, about what just happened.
He says, I am the bread of life. That he has a way to nourish us with his very self. He mentions the manna in the wilderness, the story that everyone around him knew by heart- when God the liberator of slaves led them to freedom and then fed them when there was nothing else with a strange substance, but eventually they died. Jesus is the living bread that provides undying, unperishing life.
See people started following him from there thinking, well if he did it once he can do it again. We don’t have to worry about food anymore: here is our meal ticket!
And Jesus had to clarify that what he did was not just for their bellies. Yes he filled each one, the body’s needs are honored on that day with Jesus, but it was that re-orientation to who God is, the giver of abundance, the life that does not end that Jesus is trying to bring people to as well.
He goes on to talk about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. We automatically think of the symbolic meal we will share today in holy communion. But think about those hearing this for the first time- it really sounds like Jesus is talking about cannibalism. That is why it is a hard teaching and a lot of people turn away. Drink his blood- eat his flesh, it sounds awful. But it is another way he is pointing to God, God’s ways. He is foreshadowing the way he will not hold back even his very life, so that others can experience the abundance of God, out of his own death and then resurrection.
But he says that is the way to abide in him. Eating his flesh, drinking his blood. To remain in him, and to have him live in us at the same time. We Methodists- and we Lutherans- say that Holy Communion is a means of Grace. It is a special way that God comes to us and comes into us. Abiding is more than accepting what God gives and saying thank you, and then coming to ask again. Abiding is part of this ongoing transformation that Jesus brings. And it points to all the ways that God is pouring out grace on us, all the ways God can be transforming us.
You need to physically eat and drink to abide, Jesus says here. You have to take from Jesus, take him into you. I think this is definitely talking about Holy communion- but I think it is also talking about a lot more.
All the ways we let God’s ways soak into us. Yes in our prayer time, yes in our worship, yes in our small groups. Yes in our living lives of service, of compassion, yes in the ways we offer healing and support and respect and are there for each other. All of this is abiding. And I think abiding in just one way can tend to lead to burnout, or at least, less fullness of life, than recognizing all the ways that God is nourishing us and abiding in us. Because if you only ever pray by yourself, you are missing out. If an hour on Sunday is all the time you give to God, you are missing out. If you don’t participate somehow in holy communion or intentional serving or giving of yourself, or a small group, you are missing a way for God to abide more deeply in you.
I say this not as a guilt trip. I’m just saying it like I see it. When you have a more varied diet of abiding in Jesus, you can grow more as a disciple. And just like what I eat over the course of a week or two isn’t the same as what you do, we don’t have to try to match each other or outdo each other- just know that we benefit from abiding in jesus and taking him in in different forms.
Nadia Bolz Weber, a Lutheran pastor, mentions how we like to say that all are welcome to the table, and you are, everyone is welcome to participate who desires to do so, just like everyone there in that secluded place where Jesus was teaching, was welcome to the baskets of bread that started circulating. But sometimes we don’t want to include all of you, all of me, in this welcome. We want to keep hidden from Jesus The parts of us we are ashamed of, how we yelled at our spouse or sibling this week, how we cut someone off in traffic, how we- or has a “problem with lying, or hates our body. That part within us that suffers from depression and can’t admit it, or is too fearful to give our money away, or is riddled with shame, or cheats on taxes. All these parts of us we wish Jesus had the good sense to not welcome to his table are invited to taste and see that the Lord is good.”
What if we brought those parts of ourselves to the table, invited Jesus to inhabit those places of ourselves we would rather hide?
This is a whole life, and not just individual, a whole community life thing, Jesus is doing. So we bring our whole selves to receive and be inundated with this grace that never quits, never gives up on us. And we do it as we share with one another. We do it in holy communion, in the other ways that we abide in Jesus.
In many ways Holy communion is both an awesome way to abide in Jesus, and illustrates all the ways Jesus abides in us. Jesus gathers people around, gives thanks to God, shares the food, points out that he is doing this with his very life as well as with the literal food. Giving himself away for others to receive from God. And every time we celebrate Holy Communion, we act this out.
It’s a hard teaching, this cannibalistic sounding thing Jesus says, and a lot of those 5000 decide they just are not sticking with Jesus after he says that. But by the end Peter says, Where else would we go, who else could we follow Jesus- you have the words of eternal life. You bring to us The orientation towards God that is revealing, that is true, that points the way to transformation and life to the fullest, life in abundance.
Peter sees the nourishment Jesus offers as what it is, life-giving relationship to continue to transform us.
In this one passage we have references to sacrament and word, another means of grace. But one is tightly linked to the other, they are both Jesus.
So that is why I think abiding in Jesus is more than a matter of personal prayer. It includes that, for sure. It is more than coming to church- it includes that, certainly. It is more than doing good deeds and living humbly, it is all of that and more.
To me connecting with Jesus, abiding in Jesus, in different ways and intentional ways, helps us live our whole lives as disciples. 24/7. Sleeping? As a disciple of Jesus Christ. Eating? As a disciple of Jesus Christ. Working? Playing? Yes yes yes. And praying and worshiping and serving and giving and resting and… it becomes Holistic giving over of ourselves to God inviting God in- And holistic acceptance of God, receiving of grace over and over, to be able to share it with others.
It sounds overwhelming, maybe. We are all on a journey. Trying to do one more little thing consciously, helps us do more without even thinking about it. This to me is the ongoing transformation of our new life in Christ. Our everlasting, our life to the brim life.
How can you vary your diet, so to speak of abiding in Jesus? How can you bring your whole self to the table? How do you want to grow as a disciple of Jesus?
Jesus is the word of eternal life, Jesus is the bread of everlasting life, let us eat, let us abide, Amen.