Life Belongs to God (Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost)

Sermon Reflections and More August 19, 2018

Sermon and Children’s Message on YouTube


Sermon Notes from Pastor Steve …

This week, I’m heading out on vacation. And especially before I leave on an overseas trip, I make photocopies of my passport and stuff that’s in my wallet. And I stash those copies in my backpack so that I have records just in case anything gets lost or stolen.

But I notice something when I make copies that I almost never pay attention to. When I make copies, I turn the cards and the Driver’s license over and I make copies of the back side as well as the front. And there, on the back, in really small type, is the reminder that these things which I think of as “mine” really aren’t mine. They belong to the bank, or the State of MD, or to the State Department. And in fact, these groups can take these things back from me at their discretion even though these things have MY name and MY picture on them, and that (theoretically!) only I can use them …

But all those things are written in small type where most of us don’t see them very often, because like most of us, I don’t like to be reminded that things I think of as “mine” really aren’t mine…

And I thought about that this week, because as we’ve been reading through the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus has been talking about being the “bread of life.” And the things that John records Jesus as saying begin to morph from talking about bread to talking about flesh. And then flesh and blood. And then eating Jesus’ flesh and blood. And as that happens, people get more and more grossed out. They wonder what the heck Jesus means. And they get more and more offended by the language.

Clearly, some of this revolves around the image of eating flesh and drinking blood. That’s especially true because consuming the blood of anything was forbidden by kosher laws. Blood, it was believed, contained the life of the animal. And life belonged to God, so you couldn’t consume it… (which is why the blood was always offered in sacrifice, and why things that are kosher can’t contain blood…)

So when Jesus moves into talking about eating flesh and drinking blood, he’s using language that’s frankly gross. He’s defying a basic tenant of accepted religious protocol. But he’s also saying something else that people really didn’t want to hear: they didn’t like being reminded that life – especially their lives – really didn’t belong to them.

All life – the life of animals offered in sacrifice as well as the lives of the people listening to Jesus – belongs to God. It comes from God. It’s a gift from God. And it isn’t anyone’s natural possession that they can hold onto and keep forever by their own power.

So if you want life, says Jesus – real life that goes on forever – it’s a gift that comes from outside yourself, just as the food and drink that sustain life have to come from outside of yourself. So when Jesus says that you have “no life” unless you eat his flesh and drink his blood, he’s using the image of blood as the bearer of life, and saying that if you have life, it’s because it comes from outside of you.

And the point is this: life is not a natural possession of human beings, but a gift from God himself. Like your credit card or your Driver’s license or your Passport, it may be in your possession, and stamped with your name. It may be yours to use and you may get yourself into trouble if you use it unwisely. But in the end, it’s not yours. It’s God’s…

And I suspect at least part of the resistance to what Jesus was saying was the natural human resistance to being reminded that our lives are not our own personal possession, but instead are the result of a continual gift from God.

God wants you to have this gift of life. God wants you to use it. And God wants you to keep it forever.

But it’s still a gift that comes from outside ourselves, which Jesus calls us to receive again and again each day.

And in so doing Jesus calls us to see life not as “mine” in the sense of “my stuff,” but rather as:
a gift to be celebrated and used (not a possession to be locked in a safe; that is, it’s supposed to be spent on things that give meaning and purpose…)
an opportunity to use for somebody besides myself… (Jesus ties the gift of life to sacrifice, which is really about sharing and using your life for something bigger than yourself…)
something I have, not by chance, but because God wants me to have it and to receive it anew each day… (which is supposed to give us perspective in the midst of chaotic and scary moments in life … )
And even though it ticked some people off, it’s actually good news to remember that “our lives” really don’t belong to us. For when Jesus reminds us that our lives don’t belong to us, he reminds us that we live not by chance, but because God wants us to live. When Jesus reminds us that our lives don’t belong to us, he shows us that God has more in store for us than we would have been able to imagine otherwise. And when Jesus reminds us that our lives don’t belong to us, he teaches us that eternal life is actually possible, because the same God who gave us life in the first place is strong enough to keep giving us life forever.