Bread of Life #5 of 5: Bread on the Waters

Sunday Worship at Black Forest Community Church
Black Forest, CO
August 23, 2015
© Rev. Diane Kay Martin

“Bread of Life #5 of 5: Bread on the Waters”

John 6:60-71

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

Because of this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “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.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.” He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray him.

Uncanny—isn’t it?—that last Sunday Sarah and David McHugh sang the song “Home,” which I interpreted as the words of Jesus, calling us to our eternal home, and this Sunday my husband Nathan is in Minnesota with his mother who has heard and is responding to that call. Some of the lyrics, again, are:

Now in the end it’s coming clear, you’re not alone.

‘Cause everyone you’ve ever loved is waiting here for you.

So don’t give up, no don’t give up.

Help will come. Yeah, you can come back home.

‘Cause help is on the way. Yeah, you can come back home.

So come back home.[1]

Jesus came to bring us the words of eternal life. He came to tell us that in the end, we’re not alone. And that really is “the moral of the story,” amen?

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This is the fifth and final sermon in our series on the Bread of Life, based on the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. The bread theme is in the background in today’s scripture; it’s not mentioned in this passage at all. It’s in the background as the “difficult teaching”; in other versions, the “hard teaching,” the “hard saying”—ultimately, the offensive thing Jesus just said—that he was the Bread of Life who had come down from heaven, and that his followers must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life. Yes, that was a hard teaching, tough to swallow, tough to digest. And then he puts the icing on the cake by saying that not only did he come from heaven; he’s going back to heaven where he came from. And that he knows that some of them don’t believe him. And will turn away.

And many of them do. They leave. Submit their letters of withdrawal from membership, ask to be removed from the email distribution list and the church directory, turn in their keys and throw away their name tags. Done. Gone. Kaput. It was good while it lasted, but it’s no longer a fit for them.

Jesus lets them go. … Sends them on their way with his blessing. Sad, but out of his control. And he turns to those who stayed. He asks them, “Are you going to leave me too?” And Peter, often the impulsive mouthpiece of the group, says, in a moment of prophetic faith—“Where can we go? We know you now: you’re the Holy One of God. You have the words of eternal life!” So they stayed.

This makes me wonder about something though. Where did all the others go? Remember Ecclesiastes 11:1, which I mentioned during the Children’s Message at La Foret? “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.” It will return to you. It will return to you. I believe that in many for whom Jesus’ message may have seemed too “hard” at first, that bread—that seed of faith—took a little longer to germinate. I just can’t help thinking that later, when Peter and Paul had gone on to found churches, and the Holy Spirit fell upon those churches, and God’s love was being preached and miracles were being done in Jesus’ name, that many of those “waters” upon whom God had “cast his bread”—his Bread of Life, his son Jesus—I believe that many of those people returned to follow Jesus’ teachings.

Maybe the mom—one of thousands in the crowd that day on the hillside—thought the teaching was too difficult, but the daughter remembered having sat upon the knee of that mysteriously kind man. Maybe the uncle, whom Jesus had healed of leprosy, died, but the nephew remembered what a miracle the last several years of his uncle’s life had been. Maybe the boy who had the five loaves and three fishes walked away empty at first, not believing, but later found fellowship with a group of like-minded believers. … I find it difficult to accept that they just “went away,” having seen, having heard, having been touched by Jesus in that way.

John, the author of this Gospel, wrote, “For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.”

Jesus knew. He knew which ones were ready to hear his message. He knew which ones did not believe—yet—and he knew that Judas Iscariot was going to betray him. Jesus said, “Among you there are some who do not believe. … Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.”

Jesus called Judas a devil. After all, Judas betrayed Jesus, and Christianity has never forgiven him for that. We can’t forgive him, because human nature needs a Judas. We need a scapegoat. We need someone to hate, someone to blame. Someone who is so wrong that they are doomed to eternal punishment … We can’t imagine God forgiving Judas … can we?

Rev. Dr. Ray S. Anderson, senior professor of theology and ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary from 1976 until his death in 2009, saw in the early ’70s, some graffiti on a men’s room mirror. It said, simply: “Judas come home. All is forgiven.” In 1991, Anderson wrote a book titled The Gospel According to Judas: Is There a Limit to God’s Forgiveness? in which he sets up a series of dialogues between Judas—in the very place where he had taken his own life—and Jesus—fresh out of the tomb, resurrected and renewed with God’s glory, even before he appeared to Peter or any of his other disciples.

I want to share with you some excerpts from a couple of those dialogues. Cindy, will you come back up and help me with this? You can be Jesus. … J

Judas: Jesus, why have you come to torment me? Aren’t you satisfied that I perished from this earth by my own hands? Leave me alone! Let me go to the hell I deserve! I betrayed you; I delivered you over to your own death. I said I was sorry, but sorry isn’t enough. Sorrow doesn’t change anything.

Jesus: You are right, Judas Iscariot. There are things that do not change. Though I am not one who causes torment.

Judas: Yes, that’s true. I brought the torment on myself, and on you, by causing your death. Yet you do torment me. You will probably tell me that you still love me, but don’t you realize that for the betrayer, love is a cruel reminder of failure? Go away! I have enough pain without your love punishing me further.

Jesus: I tell you that you love me, and that is the cause of your pain and torment.

Judas: You’re talking nonsense. If I loved you I would not have betrayed you. After all, betrayal is not an act of love; it’s an act of treachery. You can’t deny the logic of that.

Jesus: Judas, betrayal is the sin of love against love. Betrayal uses love to try to destroy what is loved. Forgiveness seems impossible if betrayal is the final act. But betrayal is not final; it is not the end of love.

Judas: For me, betrayal was a single, final, and fatal act. I tried to deny the feelings of love I have for you. That’s why my betrayal of you hurts so much. But our relationship can never be the same again.

Jesus: True. We can never return to our innocence. But the love that has suffered loss is not a crippled love: it can be healed and made a stronger love.

Judas: You speak as though we’ve only had a lovers’ quarrel! I went beyond denial. I burned the bridge that made our relationship possible. I cut the cord that bound my heart to yours and my hand to heaven. There is no way back.

Jesus: That is true. But there never was a way back. There is only a way forward. The past can only be returned to us out of the future. Love is greater than faith and hope, because it can heal faithlessness and cure hopelessness.

Judas: In a way that I don’t understand, you place my act of betrayal, and even my death by my own hand, between us as something that can be forgiven.

Jesus: Do you still think that by betraying me, and by taking your own life, you sealed your fate and plunged into the realm that God has forsaken? I have been to that Godforsaken place, Judas. It was on the cross, not in the black hole in your own soul. God has not forsaken you!

Amen. Matthew 27:3 says Judas “was filled with remorse,” “repented,” and returned the thirty pieces of silver for which he had sold Jesus’ life. And God did not forsake him! God met him there in the black hole in his soul and forgave him. But Judas could not forgive himself. He was sure God could not forgive him, and he could not live with that. But Ray Anderson is right: Jesus is the only one who has been in a totally Godforsaken place. For a moment—just for a moment—God could not look upon the torment of his own son, hanging on that cross, and had to turn away. And Jesus, for the first time in his existence, felt the horror of God’s absence, and he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice, and God will never, ever look away again! Not even from Judas.

But we still have to deal with the fact that Jesus called Judas a devil! A devil—in Greek, diabolos, from the words dia (through) and ballo (to throw). To throw through. It makes little sense in English. In Greek, when it’s used with the definite article—the devil—of course it refers to Satan. But when it’s used with the indefinite article—a devil—as it’s used here, it means something else. It means slanderer, accuser, malicious gossiper—someone who disregards, “throws through”/speaks right past, the truth. There are several examples in the New Testament of it being used this way. As in 1 Timothy 3:11, describing the behavior of the wives of deacons: “[they] must be serious, not slanderers (diabolos), but temperate, faithful in all things.” As in 2 Timothy 3:3, describing the behavior of people in the last days: “For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers (diabolos).” As in Titus 2:3, Paul instructing Titus in establishing churches, “Tell the older men to be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance. Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behavior, not to be slanderers (diabolos) or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good.” Tell them not to be people who throw their words right through that good thing which God is trying to do. Judas was this kind of a diabolos. When Jesus called Judas a diabolos, he was calling him out for being a slanderer, an accuser, a gossiper; he was not condemning him to hell. He was throwing Judas a lifeline—casting the bread of life, of mercy, upon the waters of Judas’ confused existence!

“Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.” The bread has been cast—far and wide. What is our task—we who have received God’s unfailing love through Jesus? Our task is to cast the nets wider still, to gather as much “bread upon the waters” as we can. Crusts, crumbs, and everything in-between. If not to our net, then to some other net, amen? It’s still Jesus’ net… Our task is to share with all the message of the Bread of Life, the true bread from heaven, who promises that we will never be hungry, never be thirsty, and will never die. And here ends the series. Thanks be to God! Amen.

[1] Writer: Casey Blue Crescenzo. Copyright: BMG Gold Songs.