August 23, 2015
First Lutheran Church
LORD, TO WHOM SHALL WE GO?
Every so often in the news there are stories about people who claim to be Christ returned. A few years ago a man in Florida made such a claim. He taught that prayer is unnecessary and that God desires everyone be wealthy. He is clearly charismatic because he has persuaded many people, and they have made him extremely wealthy. It is an old story, people claiming to God or God’s spokesperson or the bearer of the truth. Their personal charm is hypnotic and they convince folks that they will change their lives forever if you follow them, oh, and here is how you make your checks out.
I was curious and did a Google search about outrageous claims and was astounded at what turned up. There is a claim for everything out there. Are you lonely? Whiten your teeth or change your hair color to attract a mate. That is an absurd claim, but it is at least cheap. But there are also people who will take all the money you want to give them. Need personal transformation? Buy my book and attend my seminars and you will have it. It seems to me that the safest way to navigate through all this is to keep a tight grasp on my bank account and not believe anyone. How on God’s green earth do we know what the Truth is?
This is our final reading from chapter six of John, a profound chapter that sets forth Jesus as the bread of life. Jesus makes the incredible claim that he is sufficient manna for human life to sustain itself, but the people do not understand him.
Many who had been dazzled by Jesus when he fed them are now bewildered with words about the bread of life. But Jesus, rather than backing off pushed harder, leading them to say, This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it? Jesus pressed the issue still harder, Does this offend you? The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. The words were offensive to them because they equated life with full bellies, not esoteric concepts like the Bread of Life, and many of them turned their backs on Jesus.
Jesus asked the Twelve whether they, too, wanted to leave him. If everyone else is offended, are you not also wondering about me? But they had a different answer. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. This is not to say that the disciples had figured Jesus out. In fact, they will frequently question and misunderstand him in the time ahead. But they had come to see something in him, to believe and know that Jesus is the Holy One of God, although they haven’t yet worked that one out yet either. For the Twelve, it was the one thing that made them stay. The folks who left were the ones unwilling to struggle with it.
It was in the resurrection that things began to slowly come together for them, As they remembered his words and deeds, as the Holy Spirit accompanied them as they preached the Gospel, they began to distill and refine a comprehension of the amazing work of God through Jesus’ death and resurrection. This was the Truth that they learned from following Jesus, that they knew was found nowhere else.
In the preface to her book Amazing Grace, A Vocabulary of Faith, Kathleen Norris tells of a young woman who questioned her concerning the real value of these words of faith. I don’t mean to be offensive, her questioner said, but I just don’t understand how you can get so much comfort from a religion whose language does so much harm. Ms. Norris understood the question all too well, for she had been distanced from faith and its vocabulary for many years. She writes that it came to her that the problem lay in the word comfort. She continued, I said that I didn’t think it was comfort I was seeking, or comfort that I’d found. As far as I’m concerned, this religion has saved my life, my husband’s life, and our marriage. So it’s not comfort that I’m talking about but salvation. This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?
Peter would probably agree with her inspired response. The words of life do bring comfort sometimes. Bu, at other times, they are hard. They challenge and confuse us, they confront and offend us, they scare and terrify us. Yet all of these things are designed to lead us to salvation, if we are willing to follow down the difficult path. Then the words of Jesus take on dimensions of eternal life, for even when they are not comforting words, they are saving words. They contain the Truth that only Jesus brings. In the days when we least understand life and sense an awful emptiness in its midst, we can only say, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life! We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God. And the saving Word enfolds us in his arms.
It is remarkable that John called those who walked away from Jesus disciples. Obviously they were not just folks who showed up at Christmas and Easter. These folks were committed to Jesus, at least until things got hard and demanding beyond their understanding. But Jesus knew what he was asking of them. He knew what the cost would be. He knew that what he was saying offended them. He knew that human life is harsh and demanding. They had a choice to make, to keep faith with him or walk away and die, the same choice he gives to us. Only Jesus has the Truth, the words of eternal life. There is no one else to whom we can go. To God be the glory. Amen.