Pentecost 10B John 6:35. 40-51
The sermon for today continues the sermon from last Sunday about the bread of life. "Whoever eats of this bread of life will never die but live forever."
A picture of the universe from a star telescope. The universe goes on forever and ever and ever into the infinity of space.
Handel’s Messiah sings with power, “and he shall reign forever and ever.”
King David believed the promises of God, “You shall live in the house of the Lord forever.”
Isaiah, the prophet, dared to dream the eternal dream: “His kingdom shall have no end, and he shall reign forever and ever.”
Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever.”
Jesus boldly stated to Lazarus’ sister Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will never die but shall live forever.”
And if you summarize the whole Bible into one small nutshell, you may quote John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him will not die but live forever.”
In John 6: 51-58, the gospel text for today, we hear that “whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
“Live Forever” is a big word, a victorious word, a triumphant word. Live Forever. How long is...living for ever?Infinity. How big is infinity?
The universe is infinite, but … but…but … our universe appears to be infinite matter and nothingness. In our modern concept of the infinity of the universe, there is no life. But simply infinity. Simply perpetuity. Simply without end. No life forever. No live forever. No everlasting life. Just forever.
There is a big difference between “forever” and “living forever.”
I thought to myself, "What is the oldest living thing on this planet Earth and the oldest living thing perhaps in the whole universe?" The General Shermon Giant Sequoia Tree in California.
My wife and I saw that tree recently and the guide told us it was 2700 to 3000 years old. Yes, this tree was large. It could contain four Boeing 747s, but equally impressive was that it was old, the oldest living thing on Earth, and perhaps the oldest living thing in the known universe. Almost 3000 years old.
But three thousand years of live is not eternal life, not everlasting life, not forever life. Three thousand years old is but a speck within the eternity of time.
It wasn’t that many years ago, (time does fly quickly), that I found it difficult to believe in either the resurrection of Jesus or that we are loved by God forever or that we are intended to live with God forever. I could believe in infinity and the infinity of the universe but this great universe of ours appeared to be lifeless. Inert. Dead. Expanding at the speed of light into the infinity of space. But Jesus taught, everlasting LIFE. LIFE forever. LIFE infinitely.
I was a young skeptic, and I was convinced that resurrections only happen in peoples’ minds. In their hallucinations. In their visions. I was convinced that miracles don’t happen except to ignorant fishermen who see visions of angels sitting in caves. They were primitive people, superstitious people of the first century.
With Bertrand Russell I could say, “‘When I die, I will rot and nothing of my ego shall survive.” He called it “the Easter foolishness,” the foolishness of believing in the resurrection and life forever. ...How long is life forever???
Bertrand Russell, the great British philosopher, said that “mankind is an accident in the backwash of nature” and I could easily see the human race as nothing but an accident of nature in a small pond of dead water of a stagnant lagoon.
And I agreed with the skepticism of Sinclair Lewis when he wrote: “Life is like a silly motion picture. It doesn’t make any difference which way you run it, backwards or forwards. It’s all the same. Life signifies nothing, so run it forwards or backwards.
You see, like so many people of my “sputnik” generation, when the Soviet Union sent up the first satellite, I was a young skeptic and found it very difficult to believe in either the resurrection of Jesus or that I would live forever, that God’s intention was to love me forever. .... How long is forever, to live forever with God???
And, so when I came to church on past Easter mornings, I wanted the preacher to convince me. I wanted him to convince me that Jesus was raised from the dead and that there was life everlasting. In my mind, these things were too good to be true and therefore they couldn’t be true. I wanted to believe but I couldn’t believe because my mind wouldn’t allow me to believe. Why? Why couldn’t my twentieth century, rational mind, brought up on anthropology and cultural psychology, believe? Because eternal life and “living forever with God” were too good to be true. As if that were a logical statement. It had to be wishful thinking. Thank you Sigmund Freud. “Wishful thinking” became a new natural law for me. Anyone who believed in living and loving forever must be guilty of “wishful thinking.”
As I came to church on past Easter mornings, I wanted to hear the arguments for the resurrection, so I could more legitimately believe. I wanted to hear the preacher argue the facts of the resurrection. I wanted to hear the arguments...that so many different people saw the resurrected Christ. First Mary Magdalene. Then Peter. Then the ten disciples. Then the eleven disciples. And then the five hundred. I mean, not all of them could have experienced hallucinations. Some of them must have seen something. Did that many people in those different situations all have hallucinations? No, I don’t think so.
And then...I wanted the preacher to tell me that the scientific mind of the Western world was close minded and bigoted, when it said that miracles don’t happen, that resurrections can’t happen. .... Why? You tell me! You tell me why resurrections can’t happen? Why cannot a living God, a forever God, an eternal Living Presence not exist? You can’t give me your rational arguments but you can give me only your prejudices, only your values that you have been taught and you have accepted and you now spit out with rational confidence.
And then it started to dawn on me that I had been raised in a time of great skepticism. Like all people, I was a product of my generation. I was not such an independent, free thinker, after all, but I merely reflected the prejudices and biases of my generation. My mind had been taught not to believe in miracles nor in a resurrection nor in the living presence of God. I had a mind, biased against the living and loving eternal God. I, too, had become bigoted and become close-minded about God and his miraculous future.
And then I started to think…maybe…maybe God could create life after death and God could love me/us forever. If God loved Jesus forever, then perhaps God could love me forever. Wow, what a thought. And I started to think…maybe…maybe God could have raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. If God could create life in the first place, God could certainly raise Jesus from the dead, if that is what God wanted to do. And the living God, who created life in the first place, could certainly life eternal.
And God started to laugh. God was sitting up there in heaven, smoking a cigar, sitting in a rocking chair and reading the evening newspaper, and I, a mere mortal, had come to the conclusion that God could live and love forever and God sat there laughing that I, a mere mortal, had such panoramic thoughts about God.
Seven times in John 6 we hear the words "eternal life" or "forever."
Joh 6:27 - Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.
Joh 6:40 -This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life;
Joh 6:47 - Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.
Joh 6:54 -Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life,
Joh 6:68 - Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Joh 6:51, 58 - I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever;."
The words, “live forever” and “eternal life” are the same words in the Greek language. The words, “live forever” and “eternal life” occur 396 times in the Bible.
The words from John 6 are in the presence tense: The person who believes HAS eternal life, not WILL HAVE eternal life.
The Bible is trying to convince us that the plan, vision and destiny of God is for us to believe in Christ and live and love forever, beginning now, today, this moment and for all eternity.
The theme of this particular sermon is that God wants to give us eternal life…now. Not when we die. Not in the future. Not at the end of time. But now. When we eat the bread of love, the bread of Jesus, we begin eternal life right now, in this moment, today, when we live a life of love.
Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is the bread of love, the energy of love, the power of love, the vitamins of love. When we consume the presence of Christ, we take in the energies of love.
Tielhard de Chardin, the French Roman Catholic phiosopher, said, “Some day, after we have mastered the wind, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of Love. Then, for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.”
Are you harnessing the energies of love in your life?
When we eat the bread of life, Jesus, we are taking into our hearts the energies to love...on this day and forever.
Jesus is the love of God for all people, everywhere. Jesus is the forgiveness of God, indwelling in our hearts. Living within our hearts, our actions, our attitudes. Jesus is the peace of God, indwelling within us and all that we say and do.
“The person who believes in me HAS eternal life.” Now, not in the future, but now.
This past week, I looked up all the passages in the Old Testament and New Testament that had the word, “forever,” in them. In the Old Testament Hebrew, it was always a single word: “olem.” I have grown to love the Hebrew word, “olem.” I love Psalm 23 and recite it at every funeral and focus on the last line and the last word of that line, "I shall dwell in the house of the Lord ... forever."
In the New Testament, it was the Greek word, “aiwnios.” It is translated eternal, everlasting life, forever, forever and ever, and eternal.
The word of “eternal life” is found 400 times in the Bible, and the word expresses the very essence of God: that God is forever, that God’s love is forever, that the Lord God rules forever and ever, that God lives forever. And…those who are known by God shall also live and be loved by God forever.
Forever describes the very core essence of God, and therefore the very core essence of God’s plan for us today and in the future.
And we think, “Ah, but it can’t be true. It can’t be true.” Why can’t it be true? Because it is too good to be true. It is not true because it is too good to be true, as if that were a logical statement.
There is a chorus of disbelief that rings out in the recesses of our minds: “Death is death is death. Abraham is dead. Paul is dead. Luther is dead. John Kennedy is dead. Albert Schweitzer is dead.” “My mother is dead, my father is dead, my child is dead.”
And to the chorus of dead, dead, dead, the gospel message sings triumphantly, Life, life, life, forever and ever and ever.” The gospel tells us that there is no cutoff in our relationship with God. To be alive with God is to know God forever, beginning on this day and forever, for that is God’s very essence. … How long is living forever?
I like what Clement of Alexandria writes: “My sunsets have been turned into sunrises.”
And I like what Alfred Lord Tennyson writes; “In life after Easter, death becomes a laughable impossibility.” Death: a laughable impossibility.
A concluding story. The greatest freedom that we have is not the freedom of speech nor the freedom of press nor the freedom from slavery, but the greatest freedom of all is the freedom to die. For when one is free to die, that person is finally free to live. To live fully in the present. Head up. Chin up. Eyes open to the presence of the living God around us in every moment of every day.
It was the night of March 26th, and people in a room were remembering the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. The leader that night, a black woman, played a tape recording of Martin Luther King’s last sermon.Before the tape of that sermon, she told what happened to Martin Luther King, Jr. that day when he flew into Memphis. His airplane was two hours late, and the pilot spoke into the microphone about the delayed flight. He said, “My friends. I apologize for my plane being delayed but there were so many bomb threats concerning Dr. King’s life, it tooka long time to check the luggage into the plane. I am sorry for your delay.” And then, there was another two-hour delay as everyone was searched as they left the airplane People were being so cautious, so careful. Then, there were all kinds of barricades as Dr. King traveled to the church to speak. He arrived at the church very late that night and spoke those immortal lines, now etched into our memories: “I have been to the mountain. I have seen the promised land.Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. was ready to die. He was not concerned about longevity now. And the next morning, the assassin’s bullet found him and killed Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. is dead! No! Martin Luther King Jr. is not dead. He is alive and is present with God for he is a man who knows God, is loved by God, and is continuing to sing his freedom songs. When you have been to the mountain, when you believe in the resurrection, when you know that you shall live eternally with God, then…you are free to die…and therefore are free to live. Head up. Chin up. Eyes wide open to God’s living presence around you. No longer do you busy yourself trying to preserve a petty little day for its petty little pleasures. Having been to the mountain, you are now ready to serve God and be part of his kingdom and mission on earth. It is good to be free to die and therefore live.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die but shall live forever.” Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
Forever is a strong word, a powerful word, a victorious word. Forever is the word of God this morning and every morning for all eternity. Amen.
CHILDREN'S SERMON. Have everyone in the congregation who is over fifty years old stand up. Only those over sixty years old remaing standing. Only those seventy. Only those eighty. Only those ninety. Who is the oldest person standing in our congregation today? Introduce that person. Ask the children: "Has ________ lived forever?" "No," the children will chime in. "Will ______ die?" "Yes," the children will chime in. "When ______ dies, will she go and live with God eternally and be alive forever with God?" "Yes," the children will answer. "Is it God's intention for you to know God and live eternally with God, forever and ever?" "Yes," the children will chime in. "______ is very old. She is ninety years old but being ninety is not eternal. She has not been alive forever. When ____ dies, she will go and be with God and continue living forever. So will you and me. Thanks kids. Good bye."
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