I am terribly sorry for what I’m about to say. I do not mean to hurt your feelings, I promise. But I have to tell you-we are weird.
Normal people would spend a morning like this in bed, or in an air conditioned café with a fresh copy of the Sunday New York Times. We should be curled up on a couch, puzzling over the crossword puzzle with an iced latte in our hand. Instead we’re in this overheated sanctuary seated in hard wooden pews. We’re wearing our least comfortable clothes: stockings, ties, suit jackets and high heels. When I’m done with this sermon, we are all going to say the same words we’ve said the last thousand Sundays, all together in a chant. After that, we are going to partake of a tiny cracker and some port-before noon!
How weird are we?
Well, we are almost as weird as the disciples.
And we’re not anywhere close to being as weird as Jesus.
In today’s gospel lesson, we have finally reached the end of the Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John.
So far, the Bread of Life discourse has been lovely. The image of Jesus as spiritual nourishment is a cozy, comforting one. In my last sermon, I talked about Jesus’ coming to us as bread as his way to embrace us. But in today’s passage, Jesus veers off into a very uncomfortable, weird direction.
The word for eating in the New Testament is usually esthio. Esthio is a nice, polite word. Esthio is how the Israelites ate the manna in the desert. Esthio is how the crowd of 5,000 ate the miraculous loaves and fishes. But when Jesus tells the crowd that those who eat his flesh will abide in him, he does not use the word esthio. No, Jesus uses the word trogo. Trogo is an awful word. Trogo means to chomp, to gnaw, to munch, to crunch. Trogo is how you eat fried chicken or what a dog does to a bone. When someone is trogo eating you can hear their teeth click and their tongue squish. Trogo is disgusting.
Trogo is an offensive word, and here trogo is paired with an offensive act-eating human flesh.
I get the sense Jesus is messing with the disciples here. He’s pushing their buttons and making them uncomfortable. Jesus is reminding them that he is not ethereal. Jesus is not abstract. Jesus, the Son of God, is right in front of them, shockingly, in the flesh.
Can you imagine the disciples’ reaction? I bet they started looking down at their hands at first, and then maybe they started stealing glances at each other. Eventually maybe they start talking quietly with each other and looking at Jesus out of the corner of their eyes. I bet they started to wonder what they had gotten themselves into. Who was this weirdo they were following? Eventually they just flat out confront Jesus. Some brave representative says, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Which is a rather polite way of telling Jesus he is a freak show.
Jesus has his audience right where he wants them. They are seriously uneasy. Jesus wants to reorient his disciple’s point of view, but before he can do that he needs to disorient them, he needs to get them off balance.
And boy, are the disciples off balance! They are probably still shuddering at the image of gnawing, chewing, crunching on human flesh, when suddenly Jesus redirects the conversation.
Jesus asks the disciples, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.”
The disciples are still over here, worried about cannibalism while Jesus is over here schooling them in what really matters. He’s telling them that, in this instance, the flesh is not important. Jesus is saying that what he has been talking about all along how the spirit gives life.
Jesus is reminding the disciples that they have no idea who he really is. Jesus is telling them that if they are upset now, they would really freak out when they saw him in the fullness of his divinity. Jesus calls them out for not believing in his divinity. Jesus reorients them.
Many of the disciples, though, cannot get past being disoriented. They cannot get past Jesus’ weirdness. And so, they leave. We never hear what happens to these disciples who left. We don’t know if they changed their minds and came back. We don’t know if they went back to their families. We don’t know what they thought when they heard about Jesus’ resurrection. All we know is that Jesus made them too uncomfortable, so they left.
Jesus turns to the twelve disciples who have been his closest allies and asks them, “Do you also wish to go away?’
Now, these twelve disciples may be as weirded out as their compatriots who left, but they are also convinced of Jesus’ divinity. Peter says, “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.” Peter speaks for the twelve and expresses why they are so drawn to him, why they cannot leave his side. Jesus is the Holy One, Jesus is different from anyone they had ever met. They may not fully understand what it means that Jesus is God, but they feel something in their gut. They have an inkling, so they stay with Jesus, even though he’s weird.
We Christians do a lot of weird things. We have a lot of weird symbols and rituals and music. Your priests wear weird clothes. We have these weird weekly gatherings we call church.
The God we worship is weird. He calls us to be together in ways that are too intimate, too different from the cultural norm. He calls us to move beyond what is comfortable and into what is risky. He calls us into real relationship, into honestly looking at our lives and confronting the parts of ourselves that don’t live up to our ideals. He calls us to work through problems together rather than going on cable tv and screaming at each other from a safe distance. He calls us to love the unlovable, serve even though we are powerful, have faith even when life seems hopeless.
We join with the twelve disciples in worshiping Jesus for the very same reason they did. We may not understand Jesus. We may think he is weird sometimes, but we also know he has the words for eternal life. We know that what Jesus says and did and does makes sense in a way nothing in this world does.
We gather together and engage in all our weird rituals, because nothing normal quite gets at the feeling we want to convey to God. We gather together and worship weirdly, because we are weird. We are broken and whole, ugly and beautiful, sinful and filled with goodness. We know that worshiping Jesus does something in us that we cannot explain, but that is absolutely real.
We worship Jesus, we follow Jesus, because we don’t want to miss anything. We want to be there for the healing, for the joy, for the peace that only he can bring us.
We follow Jesus because we know he loves us. And that may be the weirdest, most wonderful part of all.