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Kicking and Screaming

August 08, 2021
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this eleventh Sunday after Pentecost comes from our Gospel text, especially where John records Jesus’s words, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

Many of you recognize the name Clive Staples Lewis, author of the beloved Chronicles of Narnia series. Many probably also recognize him as the profound writer of theological and philosophical works as Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man, both of which I highly recommend. But did you know that C. S. Lewis was, in his early life, an atheist? Oh, he’d gone to church as a child, but when he was nine years old, his mother, with whom he was very close, died from cancer. Disenchanted and jaded, it didn’t help when his father (likely broken from the loss of his wife) sent him to boarding school; it was at one of those schools that Lewis abandoned the Christian faith given him in baptism in favor of atheism, coming to believe in the meaninglessness of life and unyielding despair.

However, through the influence of classic Christian authors like McDonald and Chesterton, and personal friends at Oxford like Tolkien and Neville, his arguments against the faith were dismantled, one by one. The more he fought against the existence of God, the more he became convinced of His existence. On a bus ride in 1929, he had the sense that he was holding something at bay, or shutting something out; he claims to have, in that moment, submitted himself to God, though reflecting upon himself as a dejected and reluctant convert. In his words, Lewis came back to Christianity “kicking and screaming.” Now, we may chuckle a little at that imagery – if you’re me, it evokes a picture of Lewis having a temper-tantrum – but I have no reason to doubt just how very true it was for Clive. I say that because it was the case for all of us, and Jesus says as much in our Gospel lesson.

This section we’re focusing on in John 6 falls right in the middle of the “Living Bread discourse,” which we first heard about last week in Pr. French’s sermon. To recap, we heard how Jesus saw right through the pious-sounding questions from the crowd, telling them, “you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves …” and that they ought “not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life ….” When they ask what work they must do, Jesus answers that it is to “believe in him whom [God] has sent.” Unsatisfied with this answer, the crowd demands a sign to show Jesus is greater than Moses, who gave Israel food in the desert—never mind the miraculous feeding they’d just experienced the day before. Jesus reminds them that it was YHWH, not Moses, who gave the miraculous food in the wilderness. But there is another type of bread, “the true bread of heaven … the bread of God,” which “is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” When the crowds ask Him to give them such bread always (again, likely with the hope to fill their tummies, not their souls), Jesus tells them the truth: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

Those were the last words we heard last week, and the first we heard this week. One would think Jesus would then elaborate on what He means by so strange a phrase, but He doesn’t. Instead, He calls out their blatant unbelief. “But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.” All the miracles, all the signs, all the teachings that He had done in their midst, and they still were focused on the sign and not the One performing it. They persisted in their lack of faith, so even when Jesus gave them incredible (albeit puzzling) Gospel promises when He said, “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,” they couldn’t believe it. They thought they knew everything about Him – His parentage, His job, His family and circumstances – and yet, He was claiming to be something more than man, when He called Himself “the bread of life.” And they didn’t like it. And they grumbled about Him.

Jesus, however, knows what they’re thinking, because He is something more than man. As He did centuries before with the cantankerous Israelites in the wilderness, He calls into question this crowd’s grumbling. He tells them, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.”

It is somewhat lost in the translation, but the Greek word translated as “draws” … is a bit more forceful than that. It carries more a connotation of being dragged, hauled, pulled. It’s a word choice that John makes, painting an image of the Father … dragging reluctant converts, who’d rather stew in their unbelief than trust His Word and promise. It was true of that crowd of Jewish disciples standing before Jesus, it was the same of C. S. Lewis, and … it was, at one point or another, the same of us.

It would do us all well not to think more highly of ourselves just because the gift of faith has taken root in our hearts. It would do us all well to remember that we were, at one time or another, spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. C. S. Lewis wasn’t the only reluctant convert to the faith; we all were, even if we were baptized as little babies. We were all dragged, kicking and screaming, out of our beloved death and sin and rot. That’s where the Old Adam wanted to stay … but that’s not where the God of universe wanted us to stay.

That’s really the remarkable thing in our text: that these grumbling, complaining whiners (and none of us are any better) were so beloved by the Creator of all things, that He didn’t want us to persist in our love affair with sin and death. His is a love so radical, that He would, Himself, take on human flesh … and die a horrific, vicarious, sacrificial death. His is the love that says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” His flesh … was beaten, bruised, bloodied, and killed … all out of love for you, that you may partake of His sacrifice and live.

Because of original sin, man naturally resists God. We cannot choose to come to faith in Christ Jesus; God has to drag us, kicking and screaming, out of our unbelief. But He does it. He gives us the gift of faith, unites us with Christ Jesus’s death and resurrection in baptism, feeds us with the true and living bread of heaven in the Lord’s Supper, and promises life eternal with the same Lord who will, on the Last Day, raise those who belong to Him. What works of God can we do? None, not even choose Him; but thanks be to God that He chose us, and dragged us, kicking and screaming, out of darkness into His marvelous light. 

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: John 6:35-51