Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost—Year B—August 26, 2012
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Did you hear it? I just read what we just sang.
Look at what you just sang on page 83. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Look at verse 68 of John 6, the Gospel excerpt I just read. “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Did you know that this part of the liturgy, the Gospel acclamation, has a Biblical basis?
Have you ever thought about what you are actually saying as you sing this week after week?
When I was a kid, I always thought that we were asking Jesus who we should go tell these words of eternal life to, now that we have heard them ourselves. I know we sing them before we hear the gospel, but I think it is the word choice “shall” instead of “can” that threw me off.
The music to which this verse is set is so joyful, but the question has a very different tone in John. Simon Peter is not asking where he and the other disciples are supposed to go next. He is basically saying they have nowhere else to go.
Over the last five Sundays, we have read from the 6th chapter of John, the Bread Chapter. We have heard Jesus tell the crowds that he is the bread of life that provides eternal life to all who partake. We have heard him try to explain that his flesh is the bread and his blood the wine. We have heard first the crowds, then the Jews, and now some of his disciples not understand what he is trying to say. We have sat with them, at times in the midst of the mystery of the gospel, confused, questioning, trying to understand.
Some of them have given up on Jesus and trying to understand his over-their-heads metaphor about bread and eternal life. But thankfully you all have stuck with me on this five-week journey even though “this teaching is difficult” and we have wondered at times “who can accept it?”
This is where Simon Peter speaks from…this confusion, uncertainty, and loneliness as more and more people give up on Jesus and his teachings.
At this point, “many of [Jesus’] disciples turned back,” so Jesus asks the twelve who remain: “Do you also wish to go away?”
Simon Peter answers: “Lord, to whom can we go?” There is no one and nothing else that offers what you offer. There is no one and nothing else on earth that promises eternal life. “We have come to believe that you are the Holy One of God.” We need to look no further. Nothing else compares to what you represent and embody.
Simon Peter is not asking for his next assignment, he is simply proclaiming the gospel in its simplest form.
He is not asking where he should go to serve God, but he is proclaiming that he serves the Holy One of God alone.
He is not asking where he should march in his armor, but he is simply stating that he recognizes that he has the protection of the armor of God. Truth, Righteousness, the Gospel of Peace, Faith, Salvation, and the Spirit are all present in the man standing right in front of him.
He is not asking to whom he should share the words of eternal life with next, but he is saying that “a message [has been revealed to him] to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.”
Peter does not have it all figured out. We know this because we know the rest of the story. We know that he will later get scared and end up denying and deserting Jesus, but right now he is sure that Jesus is the Holy one of God, and that is enough.
Peter knows that no other gods, not the gods of Egypt, not the gods of the Amorites, not the gods of materialism or gossip or fame or lust or sports, can provide anyone with eternal life. Only God can…and does!
And on top of that good news, there is more. There is nothing that we can do to earn it. We can never be good enough to deserve this eternal life. It is a pure gift from God. We are saved by grace though faith. And that faith can’t even be learned or earned or grown or developed, that too is a pure gift of the Holy Spirit.
It is like Martin Luther says in his explanation to the Third Article of the Creed: “I believe that I cannot believe.” We cannot do it on our own. God does all the work for us and gives us the gift out of pure love and grace.
Jesus’ question and Peter’s answer are replayed every time a Christian is asked “Why do you go to worship week after week?” and they answer: “Where else could I go? It is there that I hear the best news of week! Jesus is the Holy One of God. The Holy Spirit works faith in me. And God forgives me all my sins and grants me eternal life.
So just in case you did not hear me before, or did not believe or accept it at the time, let me retell you the best news of the week, the best news you will ever hear, the good news that you cannot get from any source but the one true God: God forgives you and loves you, even when you don’t understand all God’s teachings. Jesus came to earth to die and rise again so that YOU may have eternal life. Amen.