SERMON FOR THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2017
LORD, TO WHOM SHALL WE GO? John 6:66-69
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Jesus might have felt a little like you might feel right now. You had a meeting yesterday that gave you and opportunity to decide what you want to do and what you are able to do about the future of this congregation. As you know it is my belief that the best way for you to make those decisions is if you make them without me. It has been a privilege to get to know the people of St. John and to serve our Lord together with you. There is no point in wondering what could have been different, what we could have done, who could have done things better. All that is as they say water under the bridge. What will the future bring? I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t know what directions you have received, what assistance you have been given, what paths you have chosen to go. I will not be a part of whatever the future holds. That saddens me because I have hoped and prayed that we would be able to leave St. John with a clear and firm hold on the future. It’s difficult to leave people I have come to know and love under the best of circumstances. It is harder when the circumstances are not what you or I would want them to be.
That kind of a situation allows us to focus on what really matters to the people of St. John. It is what Jesus knew really mattered to his own disciples under circumstances that much have been very hard for Jesus to see. Still, Jesus was used to this kind of thing. He came to do what all people need and he finished the work but countless people didn’t want what he had to give them. You do and I pray you always will. LORD, TO WHOM SHALL WE GO? To anyone but Jesus – Never! To any Word but God’s – Never!
1. To set the background for this we need to go back to one of Jesus’ best known miracles. He fed 5,000 men plus women and children and all he had to give them he got from a boy’s lunch. After that he had spent time by himself to pray. After that he had walked on the water of a stormy Sea of Galilee, calmed the storm and gone with his disciples to the other side. As you might expect there were already people there waiting for him. Jesus knew what they were waiting for. They had been fed and now they were hungry again. It’s like that, isn’t it. You eat a big meal but it only satisfies you for a little while. Than you need more. Jesus had not come to provide food. He had come to be food not for the bodies but for the souls of these people and all people. In one of his seven “I am” statements that John records Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” What he meant, of course, was that he is the One who provides what people need for a real life that is not just limited to a certain number of years on earth but for eternity. When he told the people that they needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood he was simply telling them that they needed to believe in him and the sacrifice he would make. Many people didn’t understand. Many people wouldn’t understand.
Can you hear the sadness in Jesus’ question to his own disciples? Many had left him and would not come back. Jesus asks, “Will you also go away?” You can almost hear Jesus voice quiver with sadness. He was expecting them to say no. “You don’t want to leave too, do you?” The answer he receive as usual spoken by Peter was simple and definite. “LORD, TO WHOM SHAL WE GO?” It is my prayer that as decisions are made about the future of this congregation that has served the Lord for over four decades, the answer comes back the same. You need to understand that correctly. The question goes beyond the uncertainties of you are dealing with right now. The fact is that you can go anywhere you want to go. You can worship in a home, in a new church location, in a park, or in a cathedral but it all comes down to the fact that there is no one else to go to but Jesus. Jesus is not limited to one place or another. Jesus is wherever two or three are gathered together.
It's easy to get distracted by things that don’t really matter. I remember talking to a lady one time encouraging her to come to church. Her excuse for not coming was that she didn’t like the way the ushers brought the offering plates to the from. Another man said that he would come to church when the city put in sidewalks between his house and the church. He only lived a block away. Maybe you can think of some things that really don’t matter except for the fact that they can blind us from what really matters – Jesus. Have there been ideas, disagreements, situations that did nothing but cloud what really matters? Of course there have been. People do that. That’s why there is no place to go but to Jesus. Jesus listens to people who are ready to admit that the words and actions have not always been pleasing to him. But he paid for them. He paid for them not so that we can go on doing the same thing but so that we can learn not from our own sins, but from Jesus’ forgiveness for them. LORD, TO WHOM SHALL WE GO? To anyone but Jesus – Never! To any Word but God’s – Never.
2. Jesus is the only Savior from sin there is. People who don’t trust Jesus don’t have anything or anyone to trust to give forgiveness and eternal life. You know that. You have probably known it for years. You know about Jesus’ perfect life, his innocent death, and his resurrection victory. You know it and you believe it. How do you know it? The chances are the your answer will come back with a name, a person who told you about Jesus. That person may have been in your own family. It may have been a Sunday School teacher. It may have been a pastor, maybe one of St. John’s pastors over the years. When someone asks you how you know about Jesus it’s only natural that a person’s name would come to mind. As natural as that answer may be it is missing one central ingredient. All of those people have one thing in common and that is the one thing that really matters. You can only get to know Jesus from the Word of God, the Bible.
That would make it very simple to know what to do as you go forward in your life in Christ. All you need to do is find a place and people who teach the Word of God. But there is a problem. The people who walked away from Jesus were people who knew the Bible too. The people who taught them the Word of God knew it better than any of us ever will. Sadly they knew the words, the stories, the history, and the importance of the Bible but they left one thing out. They left Jesus out of it. That’s why Jesus told them to search the Scriptures because they are they which testify of him. The whole Bible is the story of God’s love for the world that is proved in the Gift of his own Son, Jesus. If you take Jesus out of the Bible as the teachers of these people usually did there is nothing left but a lot of laws and demands that God makes on people who can’t keep them.
People have come up with countless ideas about who God is and what God wants. People who claim to preach the Bible and accept it as the Word of God often pick and choose the parts they want to teach and believe and the parts they don’t. So how do you know if you are hearing the Word of God as God wants you to hear it? Look for Jesus. The Bible is the story of Jesus whom people have ignored and ridiculed for centuries. Jesus was put to death by his own people. But with all of that Jesus has still been doing what he said he would do. He rules and directs all things in the interest of his Church. Jesus is still giving what he promised to give as our Prophet, our Priest, and our King. He gives forgiveness, comfort, peace, joy in the face of sorrow, victory in the face of apparent defeat and a certain hope that finds its culmination in the glory of his eternal presence. “Will you also go away?” LORD, TO WHOM SHALL WE GO? YOU HAVE THE WORDS OF ETERNAL LIFE.