Monday, August 3, 2015

Missing Verses (Again)

I'm having one of those weeks when I read and reread the gospel lesson for the coming Sunday multiple times but still get no where with it. No pithy insight. No heart-rending truth. Not even a handhold to which I can cling. I'm getting nothing.

We're about halfway through the Bread of Life discourse in John 6. We've had the feeding of the 5,000 sandwiched together with the walking on the water. We've had the part about food that does not perish, which gave me a reason to focus on faith vs. works. Next week, we'll read about Jesus' flesh being food for the world. And finally we'll hear Jesus take that difficult teaching straight to his disciples. But this week, in the middle, we've got a mess.

The gospel appointed for Sunday is John 6:35, 41-45. Verse 35 is the "I am the bread of life" statement by Jesus. Verses 41-45 sort of follow from that but without any clear connection. Here are the various themes I'm picking up in those verses:
  • How can Jesus be from heaven if we know his earthly parents?
  • No one can understand Jesus unless God induces that faith.
  • Those whom God draws to Jesus will be raised up on the last day.
  • Those who truly study God's word will discover Jesus as God's son.
  • No one has seen the Father except the Son who is co-eternal with him.
  • Eternal life comes to those who believe.
  • Unlike the Israelites in the wilderness who ate manna, those who eat of the bread of life will not die.
  • The bread of life that Jesus is speaking about is actually his flesh.
Seriously. All of that is in there. Go read it. How in the world is a preacher supposed to preach on the text? I could tell a funny story and talk about bread and how good Jesus is and essentially ignore the text itself, but that's not good exegetical homiletical practice. The answer, I suggest, is in recovering the missing verses--36 through 40.
 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:35-40 ESV)
Now the "Father draws them to me" bit makes more sense. Now the "come down from heaven" bit makes more sense. Now the "raise him up" bit makes more sense. Now the "believes and has eternal life" bit makes more sense. Now the preacher can tackle the text and preach on it.

After reading and rereading the lesson for Sunday and getting no where, I went back and read all of John 6 again. It was very helpful, and I highly recommend it. When I read it all together, it comes across as a coherent whole. Breaking it up the way we do makes it difficult to preach. Hearing it in a larger chunk makes it easier to understand. That's why I plan to add vv. 36-40 to Sunday's gospel lesson.

Now that I have that part figured out, I need to think about a sermon... More tomorrow.

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