THE DISCIPLESHIP QUESTION

DO YOU WANT TO GO AWAY?

JOHN 6:60-71

 

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            As a young boy, living in Southern California, the least favorite part of the day for me was “the call.”  I would be playing outside with my friends, and my mother would stand on the stoop of our apartment and yell, “Dick, it’s time for dinner.”  And if it happened to be the middle of summer with the days much longer, it would come at night, “Dick, it’s time to come in.” 

            As a boy, I hated that call, and once we were in the middle of a game of hide and seek, and I heard my mother call me in for dinner, but I continued to play as if nothing had happened.  I heard the call, and I ignored it.  Then my mother came out once again and a little more forcefully yelled, “Dick, it’s time to come in.”  Over time, she got tired of calling me into the house, so she told me when the street lights came on, I had to head for home.  If I ignored the street lights, and she noticed, I was in big trouble. 

            As we pick up the action this morning, the disciples had heard the call from Jesus and had responded to it.  Of course, the responding part is the difficult part.  I venture to say that all of us, at one time or another, heard Jesus call and kept playing hide and seek.  We ignored him like I ignored my mother when she called.  You see, answering the call once does not mean we will always answer the call.  We see that in the question Jesus posed to his disciples in our passage for today: "Do you also wish to go away?"  Put another way, “Are you still with me?  Do you want to continue answering the call?”  This is the discipleship question, the fourth question that we are considering this Lent.  Are we going to continue to follow his lead, respond to his call? 

            Our story for today began with these words, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’"   Of course, our question is heard what?  What did they hear?  What had Jesus said?  Well, we need to go back a bit in chapter six to get the context of Jesus’ discipleship question.

            Jesus had just fed the five thousand, and the next day the full-bellied crowd followed him across the Sea of Galilee.  When Jesus noticed them, he did not mince words.  He confronted them with the fact that they were following him not because they realized who he was, but because their immediate hunger needs were being met.

            Well, they got a little perturbed at Jesus for saying that and so they asked him, “If you are really from God what sign will you give us, after all,” they said, “Moses had given the Israelites in the wilderness the sign of manna.”  Then Jesus made that amazing claim: "I am the Bread of Life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

            The discussion continued, around the image of the bread and the manna in the wilderness.  Finally, Jesus closed discussion, saying, "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day ...This is the bread that came down from Heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died.  But the one who eats this bread will live forever."

            That was the difficult teaching.  Those were the hard words.  It sounded a bit like cannibalism, eating his flesh and drinking his blood.  What he said shocked them, even though they were somewhat familiar with the practice.  You see in ancient sacrifice, in which most of the crowd had been raised, the animal was very seldom burned entirely.  Usually only a token was burned on the altar, although the whole animal was offered to a god.  Part of the flesh was given to the priest as a prerequisite, and part was given to the worshipper to enjoy later.  And once the flesh had been offered to the god, it was believed that the god had entered into the flesh, and therefore when the worshipper sat down to dinner to eat the rest of the animal, he was literally eating the god, taking the god into his very most being, nourishing himself or herself with the very life and strength of the god.

            Some in the crowd wondered if Jesus had gone off his rocker.  They were not going to participate in cannibalism.  Of course, we understand the symbolic context, and we will gather at this table today to eat the bread and drink the cup, but many in the crowd did not understand what he was saying.  What he said offended their sensibilities, and many left him, they drifted away from him.  There was a time in John’s Gospel when it seemed everyone would flock to Jesus, and this marks a turning point in the Gospel.  Instead of everyone flocking to him, from now on there will be a growing opposition to him.

            As Jesus often did, he used this event to focus on the inner circle - The Twelve - and calling them to consider their own commitment.  He asked them the question, "Do you also wish to go away?"   It's the discipleship question - a question that Jesus not only asked of his twelve disciples, but a question he asks of us today.

            Let's pursue that question by considering first, the temptation to go away. 

            People drop out, drift away, for a variety of reasons.  Some reasons involve Christ and some reasons involve the church.  Their prayers weren’t answered.  Church people were insensitive.  They got out of the habit.  They felt the church talked to much about money.  Speaking of that, one of my favorite cartoons on the church and money shows two men standing in front of a church.  The strange thing about it was that they were both dressed only in their underwear.  One of them says to the other, "That's the most effective sermon on money I've ever heard."

            Some drop out because they don’t agree with the politics of the church or they don’t like the pastor.  People drop out for a variety of reasons, and l want to mention two big, general reasons I think people become discipleship drop outs.

            The first big reason is the uniqueness of Jesus' claims.  Jesus claims to be the bread of life, the source of any meaning that any of us are going to have.  Some folks simply can't follow along with that, and they certainly can't follow along when he begins to make those hard claims on our life, claims about denying ourselves, giving unto the least of these, taking up a cross, becoming humble, living clean and holy lives.  So because of the uniqueness of Jesus' claims and the demands he makes of us, people drop out.

            The second big reason they drop out is the crowd mentality.  There are those who simply can't resist the crowd.  If the people who surround them are going in a particular direction that is against Christ and His Church, they find it very hard to swim upstream.

            No matter where we are in our discipleship, the temptation to go away is very real, and that brings us to Peter's response to Jesus' question.  I can imagine tears got in Peter's eyes as he shifted nervously from one foot to the other.  His soul went cold with fear as he spoke the minds of the other eleven: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

            The temptation to go away, to drop out, is always with us, and throughout time many have defected, maybe some in your own family have drifted away, and to stay we need two things.  First, we need determination.

            Norman Neaves, the pastor of The Church of the Servant in Oklahoma City, tells about a member of his congregation who wrote him a letter at 2:47 in the morning.  She had lost her husband to cancer.  She couldn't sleep one night, was upset and troubled on the inside, so she poured her feelings out to him.  This is what she wrote,

 

            Which stage of grief is this?  Or is it grief at all?  Just when I experience a little consistency in my new life alone, the next rug I step on is pulled out from under me.  Is this all a part of adjusting, or am I being humbled for some greater purpose?  My faith is not strong enough to stand on.  Why do my thoughts wake me up in the night, screaming out for paper and pen?  There are so few answers, I've found.  It would be nice to have the comfort back, but not at the expense of my very own soul.  So what can I do?  Well, I think I will continue to feel my way back through the dark, feeding my faith until someday the lights come on again.

 

            That's determination.  She’s determined to hold on to her faith and not let go, and that's essential for discipleship.

            But it takes more than determination to be disciples.  Our determination must be fed by discipline.

            Harry Stack Sullivan, was a psychiatrist in the mid-1900s.  He coined the term significant other.  He also came up with another term, a less well known term, "selectively inattentive."  That’s what most wives say about their husbands, that they are “selectively inattentive.”  Discipline, however, requires we be selectively attentive. 

            We are in the middle of college basketball’s Final Four weekend.  One person who was supposed to be here, but is not, is Mike Krzyzewski.  His Duke Blue Devils were a number one seed and got bounced out in the Sweet Sixteen. 

            Mike Krzyzewski is one of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time, some say on par with the legendary UCLA coach, John Wooden, and he teaches us about discipline, particularly discipline as selective attentiveness. 

            He came to Duke in 1980. By his third year, he was being booed in his own gym.

On March 11, 1983 the Duke Blue Devils suffered their worst defeat in school history, a forty-three point loss to Virginia.  In the team's hotel after the game, fans and alumni shrank from Kyzyzewski as if he had a disease.

            As he sat with his assistant coaches that night, someone suggested they recruit new players.  "Absolutely not," Krzyzewski said, his voice steely.  He then pushed forward a sheet of paper with five names on it, four of them freshmen players from the night's debacle.  "This will be our squad next year," he said.  "Losing doesn't make you a loser unless you think you're a loser.  I'm not quitting on these kids."  Now that’s determination.

            An assistant coach offered a toast: "Here's to forgetting tonight ever happened."  In other words, here’s to “selective inattentiveness.”

            Krzyzewski picked up his iced tea and looked around the table.  "Here's to never forgetting," he said.  In other words, “Here’s to selective attentiveness.”

            By the way, those battered freshmen, who Coach K refused to give up on, went on to win an NCAA record 37 games as seniors in the 1985-86 season, losing the national title by just three points. 

            Do you see it?  We don't try to forget defeat, or act as though defeat is not possible.  We give attention to defeat, and discipline ourselves in response to it, in order to know victory.  For the Christian, that means giving our attention to that which we know is life-giving and redemptive.  Peter knew that.  "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life."

            Last January, after his team was pasted by a conference rival, Krzyzewski was quiet on the long trek back to Durham.  At 7 p.m., after a three-hour bus ride, the team finally reached campus.  One by one the tired players filed off the bus, heading toward their dorm rooms.  "Not so fast," Krzyzewski called out.  The players turned in surprise. "I want everyone dressed and on the court in ten minutes.  Gentlemen, we're going to practice."

            And they did.  "But it wasn't punishment," says Krzyzeski.  “It was an opportunity.  That loss reminded us that we had to work hard to win."

            Determination and discipline.  That’s how Coach Krzyzewski got to where he is.   His wife attests to that.  "He just worked at it" and she continued, "Yeah, I know that's a cliche.  But there are so few people who are real cliches."

            If we approached our discipleship in that fashion, what powerful Christians would we be?

            It's a haunting question. "Will you also go away?"  We don't answer it once and for all, but at many stages on our Christian walk.  Determination and discipline will assure our response: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."