Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: What Lies Ahead

Read John 6:35, 41-51

A piece of rope walks into a bar and the bartender looks suspiciously. He says, "Sorry, we don't serve your kind here." So the pieces of rope walk out again. Sitting in the gutter outside and feeling really thirsty the rope thinks, "Hey! I've got an idea to get me into the bar." So he starts twisting and turning, wriggling this way and that, pulling out a few threads here and there. Then the piece of string walks back into the bar. The bartender looks at him a little suspiciously again and says "Here, you're not a bit of rope, are you?" The piece of rope replies "No, I'm a frayed knot."

Now, I’m sure you’ve heard this rather corny joke before, but if you think about it, this piece of rope actually has much in common with Jesus in our gospel text today. Jesus says something intriguing things to the crowd in this narrative from the gospel of John. He realized that how you present yourself determines who you will become. Just like the piece of rope that became something else so he could get into the bar, the way we view the world can either limit our horizons or expand them. Let me explain:

The crowd that surrounded Jesus in our Gospel lesson in John became angry at what they perceived as arrogance, if not blasphemy, on his part. How dare he call himself the bread of life? The way they saw him, he was just the kid that grew up down the street? Was he not the same one that ran home when it was supper time? You know the one who was so smart. Wasn't this that carpenter Joseph's son? How can he satisfy us? Do you remember that time he got lost in Jerusalem? How is he making such a claim? After all, he is one of us…just a piece of rope like the rest of us.

According to a few verses earlier in the chapter that we read last week and the week before, that sure had not been their opinion. They were ready to make him king. They had seen a little boy's lunch turned into a spread for thousands, and the leftovers spill over from 12 baskets. But Jesus knew that even though they were amazed at the miracle they really didn’t understand the good news. So he refers to himself as the bread of life, something that would last far longer than the bread that they ate or the bread that he fed to the multitude, something that would satisfy the hungers of their very souls. But they couldn't see it.

This talk of having come down from heaven only confused them. They had seen him grow up like the rest of them. They knew his mother and a father. But if they had seen him more than the carpenter's son, they might have heard the depth of the good news. When they limited their world to what they knew or had experienced, they missed the vastness of God's grace in Jesus’ message. They could only understand what they had already experienced.

How many times have you said to yourself, “I can’t do that!” Or perhaps you’ve told another person, “You can’t be that!”

You see, the way we view the world can limit our horizons or expand them. Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Ephesus, "Be imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." Paul was saying that we become what we habitually imitate. We become what we put into ourselves—just as the bread we eat. The thoughts that fill our minds, the loves that fill our souls—these things create who we are. If we fill our hearts and minds with the trivial, the esoteric, the debase, we're making ourselves a smaller person. That is why it's so important for what role models we choose for ourselves and our children. We will become the patterns by which we live. If we fill our hearts and minds with God's Word and attempt to love as God loves and to care as God cares, we are creating a soul for eternity. We are becoming imitators of God.

There once was a community of ducks waddling off to duck church to hear the duck preacher. The duck preacher spoke eloquently of how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly. With these wings there was nowhere the ducks could not go. With those wings they could soar. Shouts of "Amen!" were quacked throughout the duck congregation. At the conclusion of the service, the ducks left commenting on the message and waddled back home. But they never flew.

So can we know what lies ahead for us? How can we ever realize what God’s realm is like unless we begin to visualize it now? Growing up I was taught that Heaven was a destination somewhere else—way out there—beyond the clouds. But what we fail to realize when we adopt this view of heaven is that this reflects a worldview that is over 2000 years old. In Jesus’ time there was an earth and a heaven, and that was it. The earth was flat, the sky was an ocean between heaven and earth, stars were a part of the firmament, situated just below the heavens. No one understood that there were other planets, and even galaxies out there. How did they understand the sun and moon? Did they ever dream outside of what they could see? History tells us they couldn’t and didn’t. But Jesus was different. Jesus was enlightened. He understood that there was a metaphysical world…a world that we could not see. He ushered in a spiritual renaissance that expanded the hearts and minds of his followers. And Jesus’ view of God, of heaven and earth still impacts the world.

And as this spiritual renaissance expands to include our understanding of modern day science, people are coming to see the spiritual life not as a destination, but as an adventure — the greatest life has to offer. If our gospel does not free us up for a unique life of spiritual adventure living with God daily, we simply have not entered fully into the good news that Jesus brought. The fact is, we are moving from being a culture that thinks it knows everything, to one that knows there is more it doesn’t know than it does. Your life will not have meaning if you are not actively searching for discovery. As I mentioned last week, if your life has no meaning, then your spiritual maturity will reflect that. This focus on discovery, a journey toward the eternal, has deep roots in the world's great wisdom traditions. Jesus said you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless you approach it like a child. And Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” He is speaking about living a life that seeks discovery.

In just a few weeks we’ll be starting a sermon series and church wide small group series called, “Not a Fan.” It’s an exploration of what it really means to be more than a fan of Jesus. It’s a challenge for you and this church to become committed followers. This spiritual adventure is something that every believer needs to engage. Over the past few Sundays we’ve been discovering the complexities of Jesus’ message—his good news. Starting in September we’ll explore exactly how to be a follower of Jesus, and not just a fan of Jesus.

What lies ahead? What happens after this life is over? Where does your soul go? What does heaven mean to you? If you don’t know the answers to those questions—then perhaps a spiritual adventure is just what you need. Stay tuned!

(Excerpts from Rev. Dr. Wiley Stephens’ sermon "Living in Love" from August 10, 2003, Other resources: