Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sunday's Sermon: You Can Quit

A guy joins a monastery and takes a vow of silence. He's allowed to say two words every seven years. After the first seven years, the elders bring him in and ask for his two words. "Bed hard," he says. They nod and get him a new mattress. Seven more years pass. They bring him back in and ask for his two words. He clears his throat and says, "Bad food." They nod and send him away. The next day, they give him different food.

Seven more years pass. They bring him in for his two words. "I quit," he says. "That's not surprising," the elders say. "You've done nothing but complain since you got here."

I think we can all appreciate the little bit of humor in that joke especially since it pokes fun at one of our honored traditions in our country. If you watch sports, which I know several of you here this morning do, you will see a recurring theme over and over again. It’s been ingrained in our psyches for some time. It was placed there by a man by the name of Vince Lombardi. Those of you who recognize the name know he was the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers who led them to victory in the first two Super Bowls. Among the numerous quotes he left the sports world, perhaps his most famous one is, "Quitters never win, and winners never quit."

Most athletes have run across this quote at some period of time. Coaches use it for motivation; however, I have begun to wonder why they always seem to use it when you are on your last leg, at the end of your strength, with little energy or stamina to move on. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to use it at the very beginning to charge you up? Who knows? But what I do know is that even now, with my sports career a far distant memory in my rear view mirror, the quote still haunts me.

"Quitters never win, and winners never quit." Now, the statement no longer applies to my days of playing football or basketball or running track. Instead, I now apply it to many other things in life. Perhaps you do too. Perhaps you this quote runs through your head whenever you face a challenge. Perhaps this quote runs through your head when you’ve had a rough day at work–or several days or weeks of roughness. Perhaps it runs through your head whenever you’ve had a difficult time with your family or your spouse. Perhaps it runs through your head whenever you’ve volunteered for a particularly challenging venture. Things get tough. They may get tougher. You are ready to quit. You are ready to throw in the towel. But you think back to Vince Lombardi, and you put one foot in front of the other. You don’t know how you are going to do it, but you choose to keep going. "Winners never quit."

But not everyone is a winner. We know that in life. There are winners, and there are losers. There are those
who continue to move on, and there are those who simply cannot meet the challenge. There are those who simply will not venture forth when things get too uncomfortable. There are those who believe they have nothing more to offer, nothing more to achieve, nothing more within them to give, and so they walk away. They quit. It becomes too much to handle.

In our Gospel lesson this morning, a whole host of people quit Jesus. Discipleship became too much of a challenge. You see, Jesus had offered a very difficult teaching to them. Right before the passage we just read, Jesus said that in order to receive eternal life, one had to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood. Such a teaching was not readily welcomed. It was rather revolting to think about and comprehend. Remember, Jesus had not instituted the Lord’s Supper at this point. Folks had no idea He was talking about this important meal for Christians. They had no idea He was talking about the bread and wine of Holy Communion to be shared at the Last Supper and subsequent times the Church gathered for this meal. They had no clue about this. They only had Jesus’ words, "You must eat of my flesh and drink of my blood."

How could a person do this? How could a person resort to eating human flesh and drinking human blood?
This was revolting. Disgusting. Nasty. It went against every grain in most folks’ bodies. Only one who was seriously demented would say such a thing and then actually do it. ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ many began to say.

But, we are told, Jesus, doesn’t backtrack. Jesus doesn’t bend. Jesus doesn’t make the teaching more palatable by softening his rhetoric. We are told that "being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, [He] said to them, ‘Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.’ 65And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’ After hearing this, one by one, those who had once followed Jesus turned away. One by one, they turned their backs. One by one they walked away. One by one, they quit.

And Jesus let them go. He didn’t chase after them. He didn’t ask them why they were leaving. He didn’t try to reason with them and beg them to stay. They made their choice. Jesus let them have it.
But Jesus then turned to those who were left. He wanted to see where they stood. He said, "Do you also wish to go away?"

There it was. The choice. Jesus was giving His disciples a way out. They didn’t have to follow His teachings. They didn’t have to take His yoke upon them. They didn’t have to worry about all those crazy teachings like turning the other cheek and giving up their possessions and seeking the kingdom of God without worry. They could walk away and leave Jesus’ comment, "take up your cross and follow me" behind. They didn’t have to follow His responsibilities. They could quit. It’s was their choice. It would be much, much easier.

But no one moved. No one left. Those closest to Jesus stayed. St. Peter put it into words, "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."

Quitting would have been easier for the disciples, but quitters never win, and winners never quit. It was true then, and it is true now.

For you see, you also have the option to quit Christianity. You have the option to walk away from your membership in the Church. You are not required to stay.

I mean, think about it: quitting would make for an easier life. No more responsibilities. No more church attendance. No more having to give money to the church and charity. You can do with it as you please. No more promises of passing faith down to another generation. No more worries about lying or cheating or treating your neighbor with respect and dignity. You can do what you want when you want it.
But at what cost? Even though you were to get all of these things, would it be worth walking away from the Holy One of God and eternal life? Would walking away actually be winning? "Quitters never win, and winners never quit." The choice is yours. Amen.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

I hope you don't mind if I comment. I certainly don't mean to be critical -- I know you are working very hard and are completely sincere. However, I think I have something to say that may be helpful.

We all know that the division between Catholics and Lutherans has to do with Faith and Works, and all of the issues of Medieval Catholicism clashing with modern times. This is why I am surprised at your last paragraph:
"Even though you were to get all of these things, would it be worth walking away from the Holy One of God and eternal life?"

This is what most catholics, most people, believed in Medieval times -- and -- as you know from your experience as a pastor -- believe now.

All this talk about "Saved by Faith Alone" has not made it into the brains of most Christians. We still believe that we have to attend church regularly, drop our envelope in the collection plate, and say our little prayers -- or we will not, as you said, have eternal life.

Why, oh why, with this so obvious, do you want to remain separate?

And one other thing: John 6. The disciples just couldn't take the messiness of the Real Presence. Isn't this what happened to Luther? Transubstantiation vs. Consubstantiation? And then a large number of disciples went away -- just like in the Reformation?

Oh well, maybe this is useless, but I will keep trying.