A Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16B) + August 26, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16B)
First Lesson: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Psalm 34:15-22
Second Lesson: Ephesians 6:10-20
Gospel: John 6:56-69

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

tumblr_n1ofcjZ4KV1sanzo7o1_1280Have you ever noticed how some people use the phrase, “No offense,” right before they say something really offensive?

Do you know what I’m talking about?

For example, let’s say someone walked up to me one morning after church and said, “No offense, Father Eric, but that wasn’t your best sermon.” I would be very offended by that! Just because that person said, “No offense,” right before criticizing me doesn’t mean that I would be any less offended. By the way, that’s never happened to me, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything!

Has this ever happened to you? Has anyone ever come up to you and said, “No offense, but…” Fill in the blank. Or, perhaps, you were the one who said it to someone else.

When we say things like, “No offense,” it usually means we’re about to say something that we know may be hurtful. So, why do we bother saying it in the first place? Why would we begin an offensive comment by saying, “No offense”?

Well, I have a couple of ideas.

I think we say it because, deep down, we want to protect ourselves. We don’t want people to get angry with us when we tell them what we’re thinking or feeling. We want to be honest with them, but we don’t want to be held accountable if they get upset. So, we sometimes use the phrase, “No offense,” like a “get-out-of-jail free” card. As long as we say it before we criticize someone, we’re covered. We don’t have to worry about the consequences.

Another reason why I think we say it is because most of us genuinely care about other people’s feelings, even when our words and actions may suggest otherwise. When we say, “No offense,” we mean it. The last thing we want to do is intentionally hurt someone. Of course, there are those who have little or no regard for other people’s feelings, but, for the most part, I think we really do care about how our words and actions affect others, especially those who are closest to us.

It’s good that we care about how other people feel, and it’s important to be aware of how much of an impact our words and actions have on others. These are noble qualities, and as Christians, it’s part of the way we live out our baptismal vow to love and serve others.

But, I think it’s also important to be aware of the fact that people are often going to be offended by the things we say or do, whether we realize it or not. Sometimes we can avoid it. Sometimes we can’t, and then there are sometimes when we shouldn’t avoid it, no matter how difficult it may be.

As Christians, part of our responsibility is to speak the truth in love, but the truth that we’ve been given to share is one that a lot of people aren’t willing or able to hear. That’s because the truth of God in Christ Jesus is offensive to the way that so many of us live our lives.

If there’s one thing I know about this Christian way of life to which we are called, it’s this: the truth must be shared. It can’t be bottled up or locked away. It may not be the easiest thing to hear, especially when it goes against our worldviews and when it challenges our preconceived ideas or opinions, but it is the path that leads to eternal life.

Our lesson today from the Gospel according to John ends with these words from Simon Peter: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

If we back up a bit in our lesson from John, we come to discover that not all of the disciples are on the same page as Simon Peter, are they? There are some who simply can’t accept Jesus’ teaching when he says to them, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” You can imagine how controversial this teaching must have been at the time to those who heard it. After all, the Hebrew Scriptures clearly forbid the drinking of blood from live animals. Jesus’ teaching not only paints a disturbing image for the disciples, but it also contradicts what they’ve always known.

Even by today’s standards, it sounds controversial, doesn’t it? Can you imagine trying to explain to your non-Christian friends what Jesus meant when he said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them”?

In order to follow Jesus, the disciples must be willing to let go of what they’ve always known to be true. As Barbara Brown Taylor once wrote, “If they were going to follow him all the way, then they were going to have to give up their need to understand, agree, or approve of everything he said or did. They were going to have to believe him, even when what he said offended them. They were going to have to trust him, even when what he did went against everything they had been taught.”

In the end, there are some who are so offended by Jesus that they simply can’t go on. They feel as thought they have no choice but to turn and walk away.

I think this Gospel lesson is so relevant for all of us. It challenges us to take a good long look at our own strongly held opinions and beliefs and to consider whether or not we’re willing to let them go in order to grow in the way of Jesus.

It also challenges us to consider the importance of living in Christian community with our brothers and sisters, especially in those moments when we struggle with our faith and are tempted to turn away.

Living in community with each other provides us with the support and encouragement we need to wrestle with our deepest and most difficult questions. That’s one of the many reasons why I love the Episcopal Church so much. We’re not afraid to ask the hard questions. In fact, I’d say we’re more comfortable with asking questions than we are with providing answers, and to me, that’s a very good thing. Asking questions creates space for the Holy Spirit to do her work. I consider that a precious gift- a gift that we have to offer those who are searching for a safe place where they can truly belong, no matter where they are on their journeys of faith.

The Church is by no means perfect. It’s filled with just as many broken and sinful people as any other institution. But, it’s also filled people who are just as capable of being forgiven as any other institution. At its worst, the Church exists solely for the purpose of sustaining itself. At its best, it exists to help fulfill God’s dream of a world redeemed in love, to help bring about heaven on earth.

There will always be things about the Church that offend us, whether it’s something we read in Holy Scripture or something the preacher says in one of his sermons or an off-color comment made by a fellow parishioner. But, when those things happen, when our long-held beliefs and worldviews are challenged by the teachings of Jesus or even the decisions of the Church, I don’t think the answer is to get up and walk away. We need the support of the community too much to do that. We need our brothers and sisters in Christ to help us wrestle with the difficult questions we might have, to grow more and more into the full stature of Christ, and to always remind us that we’re in this journey together as the Body of Christ.

In the spirit of Simon Peter, where else would we go? Amen.

Click here to listen to an audio recording of the sermon.

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