Many of you are no doubt familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. In the last of the Chronicles, The Last Battle, the world itself is being remade by Aslan, though not everyone can see it. A small group of dwarfs walks through a stable doorway into the new creation, a land of unparallled beauty and wonder; only, the dwarfs have a bit of a problem. You see, the Dwarfs won’t see what lies right before their eyes. In a world of light and beauty, they can only see a “pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.” When a child offers the dwarfs a freshly-picked bouquet of wild violets, they insist that she is “shoving a lot of filthy stable-litter in [their faces]. [With] a thistle in it, too.” Even when Aslan arrives, there is little he can do. He provides the dwarfs with a feast of rich foods and fine wine, but the dwarfs, as they are eating, can only taste “the sort of things you might find in a stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said, ‘Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.’ In the end, Aslan says, “They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”
Whenever I read the sixth chapter of the gospel of John, I’m reminded of Lewis’ classic story, and the fear and resolve of the dwarfs. The crowds gathered around Jesus were in the presence of God in the flesh, yet they could only see a carpenter’s son from Nazareth. When the crowds gathered the first time, it was because Jesus had been healing the sick. When they gathered again the next day, it was because Jesus had fed thousands with a few fish and loaves of bread. And as the people continued to follow Jesus, he began to teach about what was happening in bolder terms, until finally he speaks the plain truth we read this morning: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” At that moment, the violets turn to thistles, the wine turns into feedwater, and the darkness descends for many of these people who had been following Jesus.
The question I want to pose to you this morning is, where is your “stable stand” going to be? Let’s dispense with the idea that we can avoid making the same mistake as the dwarfs in Lewis’ story. I think we all know ourselves better than that. There exists, for each of us, a situation or circumstance at which point we will sit down, fold our arms, shut our eyes and refuse to see what is right in front of our faces. As Mark Twain is rumored to have said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for certain that just ain’t so.” All of us, in one way or another, will find ourselves refusing to see the plain truth because it removes the luxurious illusion of certainty we craft into our lives so very well.
Why is this important to know? Because it is that illusion of certainty which most often stands between us and Jesus. Sin is tempting to us, not because its pleasures are off limits, but because in the end Sin is about our grasping for control, wrestling dominion out of God’s hands and into our own. Jesus raises the bar and goes on the attack in these passages from John’s gospel, not to drive the sinners away, but simply to shine the light of God into the darkness of our humanity. Jesus uses our “stable stand” moments to expose our weakness and idolatry. Jesus uses our “stable stand” moments to expose our trust in ourselves and in our past rather than in God’s action in the present and God’s care for a future we cannot see.
God’s people are not threatened by the future. The future, unknown and mysterious to we who are bound by time, rests in the capable, gracious, creative hands of God. It is the past that poses the greatest risk to God’s people. True, the past is where we see God’s providence most clearly, but our eyes and hearts, bound to sin as they are, can see things in our past which never existed, blessings God has never given, certainty and confidence that are as much a lie today as they were then. This is how the grumbling, fearful mob who would have rather gone back to slavery in Egypt became “our ancestors [who] ate the manna in the wilderness.” This is how the dwarfs remain “for the dwarfs.” We choose blind allegiance to our inaccurate visions of the past rather than trusting in God’s generous, abundant vision of the future and the life God intends to bestow upon us.
The questions came fast and furious from the crowds trying to understand Jesus that day in Galilee. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” “How can this man be the Son of God? We know his parents, don’t we?” “What sign are you performing, Jesus, so that we may believe in you?” “What must we do to perform the work of God?” Even, “How are we to feed all these people with two fish and five loaves of bread?” All these questions reveal that we do not have the capacity to trust God within us. The same questions rise within us in modern times as well: “How will we pay for our building?” “How will we attract more young families to church?” “How will we pay for the wells in Hedaru?” “How can we ordain people in same-sex relationships?” How can we NOT ordain people in same-sex relationships?” “How will our church survive if we split over sexuality?” In essence, all these questions come down to one question: how can we ensure our own future so that we don’t have to depend on God?
But God won’t abandon us to our own misplaced hopes and dreams. Jesus exposes our misplaced faith in order to relocate it in its proper place. For every fearful How? When? Where? Who? Jesus has an answer: I am – I am – I am – I am. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus says, as he shines that light into our darkness. “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says, as he calls us back to safety under his care. “I am the bread of life that comes down from heaven,” Jesus says, and he offers himself, broken and poured out, to free us from all the misplaced trust in our past and orient us toward the future that now stands open to us.
This is what it means to receive the living bread from heaven, the flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ: we receive Christ Himself and all his benefits as we partake of wine and bread joined with God’s Word, an ordinary meal made into a feast of forgiveness and renewed trust and hope. As Pastor Brian Stoffregen writes,
An interesting approach to this whole picture is to take a biological view of eating and drinking. Through the wonders of the human body, what we eat and what we drink become part of us. When we eat bread and drink wine; or eat donuts and drink coffee, or pretzels and beer, or whatever, that food and drink ends up nourishing our blood which, in turn, nourishes every cell in our bodies. That biological fact can present a very graphic picture of Jesus remaining in us. Jesus is not just in our heart or head; but Jesus (as bread and wine) becomes part of every nook and cranny of our entire being -- or more correctly flowing through every tiny capillary in every cell in our body. We can talk about Jesus being in our little toe or even in our ear lobe. Wherever the chewed bread and drunk wine has gone, Jesus is there.”
So, we who sit in darkness, arms folded, eyes closed are exposed and brought into the light of God’s glory. Wherever our stable stand may be, Jesus says, “I am the living bread from heaven.” We who are captive to our past are rescued by living bread meant to open the future to us. Open your eyes, brothers and sisters: uncross your arms, stand up, and breathe in the fresh air of eternal life. Trust in the scandalous gift of Jesus, friends; taste and see that God is good. Amen.