A Sermon on Reason & Faith

John 6: 35, 41-51

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.
T.E. Lawrence, the archaeologist, writer, and diplomat who was later immortalized in the movie, “Lawrence of Arabia” was a close personal friend of Thomas Hardy, the poet. In the days when Lawrence was serving as an aircraftsman in the Royal Air Force he sometimes used to visit Hardy and his wife while wearing his uniform. It so happened that on one occasion his visit coincided with a visit from the Mayoress of Dorchester, a lofty, regal person. The Mayoress was bitterly offended that she had to engage in a social capacity with this lowly serviceman, not knowing who he was. Speaking in French, as to secretly communicate with Mrs. Hardy she said, “never in all my born days had I had to sit down to tea with a private soldier!”
No one said anything;
until T.E. Lawrence said in perfect French: “I beg your pardon, Madame, but can I be of any use as an interpreter? Mrs. Hardy knows no French.”
A snobby and rude woman had made a shattering mistake because she judged by externals- by her interpretation of appearance, by worldly standards.
That is what the Jews did in this morning’s Gospel passage.
They kept murmuring about Jesus because He said: “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” They kept saying “is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” Based on their perspective and their worldly standards, it was inconceivable that this man could be what he claimed to be. It defied reason.
It is all the more amusing that their professed knowledge of what is true- that they knew of his father and mother – in itself was wrong. As Jesus’ earthly father might have been Joseph, his real father, of coruse, was the Father in heaven.
Sometimes our “knowledge” inhibits us.
Especially in matters of faith.
In external and worldly matters, by all means, let reason be the judge.
When you’re calculating P&L’s for your business, most definitely use reason.
When you are wrestling with a complicated problem, by all means, use reason.
Reason most definitely has its place. Please don’t misunderstand me.
But in heavenly matters, and matters of faith, it might behoove you to cast reason aside.
Because reason, my friends, will never get us to faith.
Think about it:
Reason is not at work when we consider the transformative work of the sacraments. It just doesn’t make logical sense! Jesus Christ being fully present in the bread, in the wine. There is nothing “reasonable” about it.
Reason comes up short when we contemplate God in 3 persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Reason fails us when we consider the central tenets of our faith:
A man born of a virgin, who suffered death and was buried. And bodily rose again. A man fully human, fully divine, who on the cross took on the punishment for sin we deserved but transformed that into righteousness.
How on earth can that be? It just doesn’t. make. Logical. Sense.
This often happens in matters of faith.
In the Letter to the Hebrews we cling to the words, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
Faith is unreasonable! It defies logic!
So how then can we arrive at this faith? How can we overcome our earthly training and ways of being so that we might have this faith?
Jesus offers us an answer in this passage when he tells us “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me” (6:44)
It’s not really our choice at all. The Father draws us to him.
Interestingly, the original word used here for “being drawn” is the Greek word, helkuein. And it almost always implies some kind of resistance. It was the same word Jesus used for drawing the heavily laden nets to shore in John 21. It’s the word used in Acts to describe Paul and Silas being dragged before the magistrates in Phillipi.
We are drawn by the Father, but often not without some resistance. And that resistance is often as a result of our reason. Even Mary asked the Angel Gabriel, “How can this be?” Reason suggests that a virgin can’t be pregnant with God’s Son.
Reason cannot accept the fact that Christ came from heaven and is God’s Son, that He is the celestial bread and yet has a father and mother on earth.
But again I tell you, in matters of faith we often must jettison reason to fully embrace the life we are promised.
Luther wrote, “If our God were to present us with sensible doctrines- doctrines which our reason could comprehend- none of us would be saved; we would all be lost”
He continued with his customary, straight-forward style,
“If Christ did say it, then we should cling to it, whether it harmonizes with reason or not, and no matter how it may sound.”
Now, this could lead us to an overly literal reading of Scripture. I’m certainly not advocating for that. But is it possible we occasionally overthink some of the matters of faith, especially when it pertains to Scripture?
Is it possible we say to ourselves, “well, that most certainly cannot be true because it makes no sense at all! I don’t like how that sounds so therefore I’m dismissing it altogether!”
I know there are a lot of areas where I wrestle with that same instinct.
But truth is truth, whether it seems reasonable or not.
As famed writer Flannery O’Connor once said, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
Yet it’s become almost fashionable to pick and choose which doctrines we believe, or to tweak them so to be more palatable for our modern sensibilities.
Paul warns against this instinct in his letter to Timothy when he says, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2Tim 4:3)
Sometimes our reason, our desires, conflict with matters of faith.
But there is good news!
We needn’t’ worry about this. We have a great teacher!
Jesus says in the passage, “All will be taught by God”, quoting Isaiah 54:13 “all your children shall be taught by the Lord and great shall be their prosperity”
We are taught by the Father. But how can this be, really? How does this happen?
In his commentary, Luther explains, “The Father draws us to the Son by His mouth, His doctrine, and His Word.”
We learn by studying the Scriptures. We learn by listening to God’s Word preached. We learn through the teachings of the Church.
This is not to dismiss the discerning work of the Spirit. There is most certainly a role for the Spirit. A big role! Seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit is essential. But I maintain that there can be an overemphasis in spiritual discernment that can be quite risky.
Much in the world today elevates spiritual discernment and spirituality. And in and of itself that is a good thing.
But if your spiritual discernment conflicts with the Word of God, I encourage you to proceed with caution. Wrestle with it in prayer. Engage a trusted fellow believer. In the history of the church, spiritual discernment was never an individual enterprise. It was always in a group of believers. So don’t go rogue!
As the body of Christ, rooted in God’s Word, we hold each other accountable, supporting one another, and guiding one another especially in matters of faith.
This is the nourishment Jesus promises.
The bread of life. Which came down from heaven.
What sustains you, what nourishes you is Christ. Nothing else has this power. And it’s offered to you freely. Other things are wonderful- the love of friends, family, the joys of success and accomplishment. Material possessions are nice, too. But they are not life.
Jesus promises, “This is the truth I tell you—whoever believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life.”
And it’s given for you.
It might defy reason. But it is most certainly true.
So again I borrow Luther’s words:
“Believe it and away with your presumption! Do not rationalize and reason it out! Close your eyes! Put down your cup! Quit grumbling! Believe the Word which Christ submits to you, namely, that He came from heaven, that is, that He is God’s Son, revealed to the world, born of Mary… conceived by the Holy Spirit.”
Believe these words. Let them into your heart.
Because they are the words of eternal life.
Reasonable? Probably not.
But true? You bet.