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Sermon and Liturgy For Ordinary 20 - Proper 15 - Year B
John 6:56-69
"A Discipleship Dropout"
- by Peter K. Perry -

READING:  John 6:56-69
SERMON :  "A Discipleship Dropout"

    From time to time we write and preach narrative sermons.  We believe 
    that narrative sermons are extremely effective ways of communicating 
    the gospel. Most of what we write is done in the first person.  We also
    find it difficult to locate strong narrative sermons - despite the 
    large number of books that have been written in recent years on this 
    art.   However, from time to time, a gem will appear in one of the
    preaching list-servers found on the Internet.  

    The following sermon is a first person narrative sermon based on the 
    Gospel text, John 6:56-69, for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time.
    It was prepared and delivered by Rev. Peter. K. Perry, 
    (pkperry@CABLEONE.NET). for Sunday, August 27 , 2000 and is published 
    here by permission of the author.  Peter, serves Prescott United 
    Methodist Church in Prescott, Arizona.

                         "A DISCIPLESHIP DROPOUT"
                            by Peter K. Perry

[John 6:66] Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer
went about with him.

Good morning.  My name is not really important, but I am in the Bible. 
Jesus talks about me.  Sure I wish that I had a name that you would
recognize, but you know what they say...  "You made the bed, now sleep in
it!"  Maybe if I had done things differently back then, I would be right up
there with Peter and John.  Hey, maybe I could have written a Gospel like
Matthew, Mark and Luke!  But that was not to be.  Who could have known?
Who would have believed?  It was a crazy time.  I was younger.  I was
curious, but not committed.

I first met him at a wedding in Cana.  You've heard of it, I am sure. 
Cana is my hometown.  It was a big wedding... a couple of important
families.   Just about the whole town was there.  Everyone was having a
good time.  There was music.  Love was in the air.  Then they ran out of
wine.  Can you imagine? Well, the party was about to break up when Jesus
came and provided more wine.  It was the best wine I've ever tasted, before
or since.  Some say it was a miracle.  Others say Jesus just knew where to
ind it.  The steward, however, swears that he filled those flasks with
water, but when Jesus poured them, it was wine that filled the glasses.  nd
so the party continued.

Oh, Jesus knew how to party all right!  Not like those stuffy priests in
Jerusalem or those barefoot doomsayers down by the Jordan.  I think that is
what first got my attention.  Jesus knew how to have a good time.  When he
talked about God, it wasn't usually heavy, oppressive stuff.  It was fun.
He could tell a great story.  He could make you laugh.  He could make you
cry.  It felt good to be around him.  He was the life of the party.

Jesus soon left, but word came back to Cana of his adventures.  He went to
Jerusalem for the Passover and if you believe the stories, he really put
the priests in their places.  He overturned the tables of the moneychangers
and drove all of the sacrificial animals out of the Temple plaza.  "Don't
turn my house into marketplace!" he said.  Our local rabbi was calling
Jesus a rabble-rouser, a trouble-maker, but when I heard that story I
thought to myself, "Hey, this is my kind of religion!"

Then came word that Jesus had gone to Samaria and was preaching there!  
The purists were absolutely offended.  The rabbi in Cana even preached a
sermon about it.  I can still hear his pompous voice to this day.   "We
must keep our faith pure!" he shouted.  "We are the chosen people, God's
elect!  Why, telling the Samaritans about God is like dressing a dog in
fine linens." Well, he should know the rabbi had the finest linens in the
entire town!  I kind of the liked the idea myself.  Seems to me, the
prophets had been telling us for years that God was God of us all, of the
Jews, of the Samaritans, even of the Romans.

Then one day, there was a shout in the street.  Some of the young boys were
announcing that Jesus was coming back to Cana.  I put down my work and went
down to the synagogue, figuring that was where he was heading.  Sure
enough, half the town was there.  There was even one of the king's
officers.  He asked Jesus to come with him to Capernaum to heal his son,
who was sick and nearing death.  Jesus told him to go home.  "Go home," he
said, "and you will find your son well."  So the officer left, and Jesus
taught the crowds. The next day, the officer sent word by messenger, that
his son's fever had broken at the precise time that Jesus had assured him
that his son would live.

Hard to believe, I know.  But I decided that there had been just too many
coincidences with this Jesus.  Miracles, new teachings.  Work was slow, and
I was looking forward to a road trip, so when Jesus left Cana a few days
later, I went with him.

I saw some really incredible things.  

I saw lame men walk.  I saw thousands of hungry people fed.  I saw signs
and wonders that I couldn't explain.   I wanted to spend time thinking
about it, but there was no time.  It didn't take me long to learn that life
with Jesus was not going to be one long party.   Jesus had work for us to
do.   We had to feed the hungry and care for the sick and teach the young
and comfort the old and dying.  Not everyone who asked for a miracle got
one.  Not every town we visited welcomed us.  The days were hot in the sun
and the nights cold.

Jesus was surrounded by disciples like me.  He taught the disciples and the
crowds of would-be disciples at every occasion.  We hung on every word he
spoke, trying to understand, trying to believe.  But his sayings were hard.
The way he talked, God expected so much of us.  It wasn't enough for Jesus
that we kept the law.  He really expected us to love each other.  And the
things he claimed.  I know why it troubled the rabbis.  It was almost as
though Jesus was saying that he was God himself.  Surely he claimed that
God had sent him, that God was in him.  And he said God could be in us,
too.  He said that if God was in us, we would live forever.  In order to
have in God us, in order live forever, we needed to eat God's flesh and
drink God's blood.  And then he said, "I am the bread of life."  He said,
"Eat my body and you won't be hungry again."  He said, "Drink my blood and
you won't be thirsty again."  Too weird!  He kept talking about sacrifice. 
His own, our own, God's own.

It was all very confusing.  Try as I might I couldn't understand what Jesus
was talking about.  So one night, as I drifted off to sleep, I decided that
it was time to get back to work, time to end this road trip and head home.
I left the next morning.  I guess you could me a Discipleship Drop Out.  I
wasn't alone.  There were others who like me, couldn't put all the pieces
together.  I mean, we liked Jesus and all of that.  Hey, we even believed,
at I think we did, that God had really and truly sent him.  But this
mystical stuff, this stuff sacrifice, we just couldn't wrap our minds
around that.  So we left.   And that's where I am mentioned in the Bible,
right there where it says, "Many of his disciples left him."

I went back to work, but I heard the stories about Jesus.  And then I heard
about that Friday when they crucified him.  How the soldiers mocked him.
How the disciples cried out for him.  How the people betrayed him.  How he
hung there, between two thieves, promising paradise as he died.  That
night, I prayed long and hard, my mind filled with the image of Jesus on a

"What a waste," I said to God.  "If you sent him, why did you let him die."
And suddenly, as if in answer to my question, the image in my mind changed
from Jesus on the cross to a lamb on the altar.  And all of the teachings
of Jesus about sacrifice came flooding back into my mind, and I began to
understand.  I began to understand that Jesus was himself a sacrifice.  It
was as though he had to die in order to live.  Life, death, sin, sacrifice,
and forgiveness, it was all wrapped up in Jesus.

Well, you know the rest of the story.  The cross could not defeat God.  The
grave could not hold Jesus.  As it turns out, Jesus was the life of the
party after all.  Like he said, in him was life that would never end.  I
still don't understand it all, but it makes more sense to me now, after
Easter, than it did before.  If we want to live, we need to share in this
sacrifice that is Jesus.

Oh, and about that discipleship drop out stuff.  I admit it.  I turned away
when the going got tough.  But I came back and that's OK.   Jesus knows
that it can hard to be a disciple.  But I know that it is hard not to be a
disciple.  I'm convinced that the sacrifice we are called to share as
disciples of Jesus is worth it.  And so now, I spend my time helping others
become disciples.  I teach the children.  I feed the hungry.  I reach out
to the sick and the lonely and the frightened.  I comfort the dying and the
mourning.  I seek justice and peace.  I don't always know what I am doing,
but I try to do what Jesus did.  I blew one chance at being a disciple.  I
won't ever make that mistake again.  Well, never say never!   But even if I
should wander for a time, I know that God, and God's people, will welcome
me back with open arms.

I finally figured it out.  It is not as hard as it seems.  God sent Jesus
to me, that he might live in me, and I might live in him.  Forever.   And
God sent Jesus for you too.  I think there's room for a few more disciples. 
Won 't you join me?

copyright - sermon by Rev. Peter K. Perry, 2000, 2003 
            page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2000, 2003
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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