Isaiah 60, John 6:51-69 : Where shall we go?

This sermon was delivered at Evensong at St Mary’s Diss on the 15th of September 2019. It was the third of three sermons preached that day.

May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Rector doesn’t know it but tonight he’s had a lucky escape. You see when I was first starting to prepare for tonight’s sermon I went and checked the lectionary for the readings. Now the lectionary is a tad confusing in the way it presents the services. You have the principal service, which provides the readings for the Eucharistic service. Then there’s the third service, which contains the readings for morning prayer, and then the second service, the readings for evening prayer. But they’re simply titled, Principal, third and second. As such I mistakenly looked at the third service for today for which the reading was that most cinematic of passages, Revelation 12:1-12. The second half of which describes the heavenly war between St Michael and his angels against the great dragon Satan.

It’s a magnificent passage, full of drama and excitement. However, the Rector will be pleased to hear that I noticed my mistake in time and so tonight there shall be no mention of angels whatsoever. If, though, I’ve piqued your curiosity then do come along to the 8am Eucharist on the feast of St Michael and All Angels the 29th of September where I shall be presiding and preaching on this very passage.

The portions of the scriptures which we have heard tonight are still dramatic passages in their own right.

In Isaiah 60 we are confronted with the prophetic victory of the Lord. Though the world be wrapped in the darkness of sin, the glory of the Lord shall arise upon his people; endowing upon them his own glory and making them to be a kingdom of light, of holiness in the midst of a dark world. Like moths to a flame, the nations shall gather and kings shall come to the brightness of this holy dawn.

There’s an ongoing sense of prophetic vision: our eyes shall open and be radiant, the glory of the Lord shall thrill our hearts and make us rejoice! God himself shall come and make a sacrifice with Gold and Frankincense by which his house, his kingdom, his church shall be made acceptable and glorified with his own glorious presence. Despite the attacks of the enemy, the Lord shall extend his favour and have mercy upon us. We see this image of a strong city, the gates to which are always open; a sign of confidence and peace for closed gates are a defensive fortification against enemies, and yet the Lord shall have been victorious over them leaving us nothing to fear.

This theme of victorious glory is twofold; the first is that our salvation glorifies God, while the second is that God himself is the one who saves us and thus is the source of our glory. The Church, living as the light filled kingdom of glory is so because of God and for the sake of God. Thus all things depend upon the God who has saved us and the Lord will be our everlasting light and glory. 

The chapter concludes with the promise of God:
Your people shall all be righteous, they shall possess the land for ever. They are the shoot that I planted, the work of my hands, so that I might be glorified. The least of them shall become a clan, the smallest one a mighty nation. I am the Lord; in its time, I will accomplish it quickly.

Wow. What a prophecy! What an encouragement to us. We shall by the Grace of God be his glory in the midst of the world.

The question which stands before us, then, is this:

Do we believe this?
Do we trust in him?
And, if so, do we live like this?

These are challenging questions which demand a response from us. Not least, we have to ask if we have seen this happen or if we hold that it shall happen sometime in the future? 

I would suggest that our portion from John 6 can help us reflect on these questions.

For here we encounter God himself standing in the midst of a crowd, a crowd of people who have recently been the five thousand fed from a handful of bread and fishes. When pressed further about this feeding and what he means when he talks about eternal bread, Jesus responds: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

This was shocking, prompting the Jews to break out into arguments amongst themselves. Hearing their confusion, Jesus doesn’t backtrack or dilute his message but doubles down. “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day.” 

The jews were baffled. Even Jesus’ own disciples were confused, saying: “This teaching is difficult, who can accept it?” Jesus asks them if they’re offended by this? If they are, how could they handle the Son of Man as he truly is in all his glory?

We read that because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

Does the Gospel offend us?
Do we find it too difficult to trust in Jesus?

We have something of an advantage in that we have the benefit of hindsight and looking back now we can see the impact and grasp at the significance of his death upon the cross, and of his resurrection; conquering death, sin and darkness forever.

Even so, are we offended by the Gospel reality of jesus and the demands it makes upon us to lay down our egos and self-righteousness in order to follow him, and to receive his glory by the presence of the Holy Spirit of life within us?

Jesus adds a final question to the twelve, a question which by extension is asked also of us: 

Do you also wish to go away?

Can you imagine the scene? Jesus turns away from the crowds which are bickering amongst themselves and turns to look at us. His face seems tinged by sadness. You’re trying to process what he’s being saying wondering what to make of it all. He catches your eye and says to you: Do you also want to go away?

Unsure of what to say, someone to your right chimes in: Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.

Does your heart stir? Do you feel like rejoicing?

Jesus turns his face around our small group, making eye contact with us one by one before looking back at you. As you look into his calm, wise eyes which seem to possess a holy confidence the tinge of sadness fades and we find ourselves smiling back at him as he nods slightly in acknowledgement.

Perhaps as we head out into the week which lies ahead of us we shall remember as an echo his promise in Isaiah:

I will make you majestic for ever, a joy from age to age and you shall know that I, the Lord, am your Saviour and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.

And we shall reply: Lord, you have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.

Amen.

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