The Gospel asks too Much

In lieu of a letter this month, I am posting Sunday’s message. Consider it a love letter from God.

Nowhere Else to Go

You know what—let’s just say what needs to be said—
Sometimes the Gospel is darn right offensive.
It asks too much.

It tells me what is impossible to do—like love my enemies—
it tells me that I have to love God more than my own family—
I mean— it tells me that I’m not good enough as I am—
that I need to repent, to be baptized, that I am a sinner—
that I’ve fallen short of the glory of God—
I mean I’m not that bad of a person—I never was…
I never intentionally tried to hurt anyone—even if I did.
It’s all too much.

At least that is what some of those who were following Jesus
thought after Jesus told them to eat his body and drink his blood—they packed up and left him in the dust.

They did it and today, we’re still doing it.
We object to someone else trying to tell us what to do,
what to believe or to think, or how to live—
why should we bother going to church, never mind putting a few
dollars in the offering plate or giving of our time—

Today, as back then, people are walking away from Christ
and the church or never stepping foot in one—because let’s face it—
Christ asks too much—and who amongst us willingly will say
yes to him?

Oh, we want eternal life, that’s a no-brainer—
we want to spend eternity walking on streets of gold, but
loving God with all our hearts, minds and souls, and our
neighbors as Christ loved us, well that’s a different story.

But can you have eternal life without love?
Those who heard Jesus’ talk about eating his body and drinking
his blood— knew the Scriptures—-they knew what Leviticus had proclaimed: ( Leviticus 17:14 )

“For the life of every creature—its blood is its life;
therefore I have said to the people of Israel:
You shall not eat the blood of any creature,
for the life of every creature is its blood;
whoever eats it shall be cut off.”
Blood wasn’t forbidden territory for being dirty,
but for being holy.

When animals were sacrificed to God in the rituals that
were carefully laid out in Leviticus, various portions of the carcass were given back to the person making the offering,
given to the priests to consume,
or burned on the Altar and totally given over to God.

The same thing always happened with the blood:
it was always given to God.
Why? Because God considered it holy.

And God considered it holy because it was the blood
of the animal that embodied its very life.

The life force of the creature is its blood.
Because God is the giver of all life, life is holy.
Life is sacred.
And it’s not to be misused or mistreated—and certainly not consumed. It belongs to God, and God alone.

So, when Jesus tells his followers they are to drink his blood,
what he’s saying in the ancient biblical language of Leviticus is: take my life, and pour it into your bodies, your lives, your souls.

And by pouring his eternal-life-blood into their life,
they then are the recipients of eternal life themselves.

Jesus wants his followers then and now to
understand that he wants to course in their veins—
he is the One who is life—who gives abundant life—
that’s what the earlier followers didn’t understand—
in order for greater, fuller, more abundant life to flow
thru their veins, they had to take Jesus into themselves.

They held back. We hold back
They didn’t really want Jesus in their blood
and neither do we want to surrender to him—

We really don’t want to measure time against eternity—
we want control—we want—we want—we want.
Jesus asks for everything.
He says, empty yourselves and let me fill you.

He says believe what I am telling you—that I am the source
of life and nothing or no one will ever defeat Me and if I
am in you, then you too will be victorious in this life and
in the life to come.

Do you and I really want Jesus to course in our veins?
If so, that means he has open access to our hearts and
to our brains, our minds—that means he will wash both
our hearts and our minds with truth and love and grace
and compassion and wisdom and courage and bravery
and resurrection power—

Eat his body, drink his blood…
The Gospel is offensive and difficult—
and yet there is nowhere else to go—
for in Christ and in Christ alone is eternal life—

Many of us can remember that moment of recognition
when we heard God call us by name—to step out of our
old skin and become new creatures—

—By his blood we are renewed—
and by his sacrifice we can come into his presence—
and we are no longer enslaved to our self obsession.

To have Christ in us is to have love in our veins.
And love is all about generosity—it has to give—
and in the giving there is vulnerability—

think of it, while your enemies pounce on you —
you’re suppose to love and pray for them….

No wonder this crowd of disciples walked away.
It’s all too much.

The everything God—meaning the God who gives everything
and in return expects everything—who can accept it?

Maybe that is why Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God—
because to be a follower of Christ—to go forth in boldness with the Gospel that is and will always be a mystery—
—is to walk by faith and not by sight.

It’s to be led by love—and resurrection power—
not by our own strength.

It was love that made Paul stay behind in prison when
an earthquake broke his chains and opened the door—
love because if he escaped, the guard and warden would
be executed for failing their duties.

Paul writes in Ephesians that we don’t fight against flesh
and blood but against spiritual powers— against the rulers,
against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Paul is speaking of heavenly and spiritual realities—and of earthly officeholders or structures of power, and often to both at once.

For example, when Paul wrote that the “rulers of this world”
had not understood the secret wisdom of God or else they would not have crucified Jesus (1 Corinthians 2:7-8),
he was referring both to the human “rulers of this world”
who killed Jesus and to the spiritual forces that drove them.

There is a spiritual side—and there is a worldly dimension.
We take the New Testament’s language about “powers and principalities” to refer not exclusively to spirit-beings but also
to social entities, and norms for behavior.

Whether or not one understands the powers as spirit-beings,
it is important to recognize the systemic dimensions of sin
that they foster.

“Rulers and rules” are often intended for good,
as with legitimate governments, the medical establishment,
the family, a college honor code, or the Geneva conventions.

But all worldly powers are prone to corruption and sin.
Even powers with good intentions at times put selfish goals (such as profit or pleasure) ahead of the interests of God or fellow humans.
Consider the sexual abuse of youth by clergy.

In some cases the rulers and rules seem designed for evil,
as with a cartel of drug traffickers, or a gang’s expectation
that its members act violently.

Some “powers and principalities” are definitely worse than others, seeking only to enhance their own position.

They consistently reject rules and standards meant to protect the rights of others, and devotedly serve a lesser god.

Examples include the child pornography industry (where the “god” is money) and the Ku Klux Klan.

We all absorb social and cultural sick systems—
white privilege is one of them—

Or a “suicide bomber” may have been persuaded by the
members of a militant group to see acts of violence as
expressing loyalty to God and to the attacker’s own people.
(Info. Presbyterian Mission Agency)

We are responsible for the ways that we live and move in this world.
There are powers embodied in all our institutions, including the church, and humans are complicit in them.

Jesus’ lordship over the powers, and our authority as his disciples, is manifested in the divine strength we are given to persevere in the midst of this fallen world and to stand up
against injustices and sick systems and demonic ideologies.

If Jesus is coursing thru our veins—we will have power
to resist the evils of our day—for God’s power is the power to create—the power to endure—the power to forgive—the power to love.

God’s power is resurrection power. It is the power of life.

If you are offended by the Gospel—I say Praise God—
because now you’re getting it—you’re getting to the heart of it—
You understand what Jesus is saying—
that we need a spiritual blood transfusion —

Renew your mind in Christ—
redeem the time—equip yourself by being in the Word—
spend time it in silence and solitude—
prayer and contemplation—invest in eternity
seek Him while he can be found…

Don’t walk away because it is all too hard….
For there is nowhere else to go….
In Christ and in Christ alone is eternal life.

In his classic novel, “The Robe,” Lloyd C. Douglas has a character called Marcellus, who had become enamored of Jesus.

He wrote letters to his fiancè Diana in Rome.
He told her about Jesus’ teachings, about his miracles,
then about his crucifixion, and then about his resurrection.

Finally he informed her that he had decided to become a disciple
of Jesus. In her letter of response, Diana said,

—“What I feared was that it might affect you. It is a beautiful story. Let it remain so. We don’t have to do anything about it, do we?”

― C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Screwtape Letters—
a novel about one of Satan’s senior tempters, Screwtape, who schemes meticulously to capture the soul of an unsuspecting human on earth.

Here’s one thing that Screwtape writes:
“When God talks of their losing their selves,
He means only abandoning the clamor of self-will;
once they have done that—

He really gives them back all their personality,
and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever.”

Abandon yourself to God and you will know the overwhelming
love of Christ—you will know the power of the resurrection—
you will have eternal life that overflows onto others—
for to love as Jesus loved—to be give — is to be generous.

Jesus come and course through our veins that we might have
the Spirit of the Living God coursing through us—
that we might have life, the abundant, God given, life. Amen