(September 10th, 2006)
“To Whom Shall We Go?”
Today we conclude our series of readings from John 6, in which Jesus expounds on his role as the Bread of Life. But now something strange happens. Some of those who had been listening to him and following him decide they just can’t take it. His teaching is too hard to accept. And they desert him. Many, we are told, turned back and no longer followed him.
I have to admit that as a preacher, it’s nice to know that even Jesus’ sermons weren’t always what we might call “well received”. It’s a reminder to be faithful to the word, and leave the results to God. Let’s meditate today on the reaction of the crowd and of Jesus’ disciples, and answer the pivotal question, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”
Not everything about Christianity is easy to swallow. There are always those “hard teachings”. As a pastor, I am often challenged to explain those things that people don’t like or don’t understand. There are lots of “hard teachings” about our faith, and some people struggle with some more than others.
Does the Bible really say that only men may serve as pastors? Why does your church practice closed communion? How or how much money should I give in my offerings? Hard teachings. And I don’t think it’s any accident that today’s Epistle is the one where Paul says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord”.
And yet as important as these things are, they are not the hard teaching that Jesus was speaking about. None of these caused Jesus’ followers to stumble and forsake him. It was his teaching concerning himself, his role, and his work for them. The idea that he was the only source of life. That he was sent from heaven and that no one could come to the Father or have eternal life without him, Jesus.
Today this is a hard teaching too. The idea that there is only one way. And that way is Jesus. It’s hard for us Americans because our culture and society repeat the lies that “all roads lead to God” and that “we all worship the same God” and that doctrinal differences don’t matter, as long as you have “the basics”. But Jesus doesn’t call people to generic faith in a generic God. This is his scandal.
He is exclusive. Only he gives life. There is no other. Not the Greek gods or the Roman gods. Not Allah or Mohammed. Not even Moses and Elijah. Only Jesus saves. You can’t just “be good”. You can’t just “try hard”. You can’t just “believe in yourself”. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, you have no life in you.” He says. He alone, Jesus, is the savior.
But that doesn’t stop people, even believers, from trying to go elsewhere. From turning away from the Lord and turning in sinful directions.
Would we turn to another religion? We may not think so, but the influences are all around us. From new age to secular humanism to false teaching Christians, I’ve heard many good Lutherans deceived at times by the winds of false teaching. Does this happen because we are negligent in our study? Does it happen because we are attracted to easy teachings, and challenged by hard teachings? To whom shall we go? Where shall we turn?
Shall we go to Hedonism? An unthinking pursuit of our own pleasure? Living for the moment, for our stomach, for our urges? To whom shall we go? Where shall we turn for comfort?
To Science? Modern medicine is amazing, but it has its limits. Technology promises much but cannot save us from death. Science cannot free us from guilt, or restore our spiritual brokenness. Where shall we turn? To whom shall we go?
To Ourselves? “Believe in yourself” we are told, “Learn to love yourself”. But ourselves are the problem. We make our own misery. We are our own worst enemies. And we certainly don’t have the answers. Where shall we turn?
Shall we rely on the Flesh, or on the Spirit? To whom shall we go?
I love Peter’s answer here. It’s one of his shining moments. “You have the words of eternal life.” YES! Peter was listening! We recall and repeat these very words of Peter often when we are about to hear Jesus’ “Words of eternal life” written in the Holy Gospel reading.
For where Jesus speaks, there are the words of eternal life. NO one else has those words. Nowhere else can we find them.
Not another religion. Not in living for the moment. Not in science. Not in ourselves. Only Jesus has the words, those precious words, of eternal life.
“I forgive you your sins”. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”. Those precious words, “This is my Body, This is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins”. The words of eternal life, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” “I am the resurrection and the life” “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And he who lives and believes in me will never die”.
In Jesus Christ, we have the words of eternal life. Words that can be found or heard nowhere else, from no one else but him. He alone died for the sins of the world, and rose to give hope for eternal life. He alone can always be trusted in everything he says, never deceiving, never equivocating, never revoking his promises. Always there with his word of Gospel – that life-giving treasure to our ears and music to our heart.
This too is a hard teaching. That we get to live forever, simply by believing the words of a man who lived far away and long ago. That someone we’ve never seen, never met, but only heard of – has promised us something we can’t imagine. It’s hard to believe. Faith is not easy.
And it would be impossible. We, too, would turn like the crowd away from Jesus – were we not enabled by the Father. Were we not granted faith by His Spirit. We turn away in little ways every time we sin. Every time we turn somewhere else for hope, comfort, or well-being. But the Spirit keeps calling us back – to repentance and faith. He keeps turning us back, so that we do not forsake Jesus too. So that we too believe and know that Jesus is the Holy One of God. The one who has the words of eternal life.
Lord, to whom shall we go? No where else. No one else but you, Lord Jesus. Amen.