What Christ asks of us terrifies us, but so does not being in God’s love; so we trust that our transformation is in the hands of the One who died and rose for us, the One who loves us forever.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 21, year B
texts: John 6:56-69; Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Let’s praise Peter for once.
As always, he speaks for us, looks like us. He’s often our bumbling foil; laughing at him helps us laugh at ourselves. Today he is a gift. Today Peter names our deep, abiding fear so we can look at it ourselves.
So far, religious leaders have rejected Jesus. Many of the crowds he fed have left him, with no repeat performance coming. Today actual disciples leave him. These are people who “went about with him.” Who’d left family and home and followed him as master. That’s who’s leaving now.
Peter’s scared. You don’t want to be the last one on a sinking ship, and now friends are sneaking off. He’s scared of what Jesus is teaching, as they are. They left because Jesus’ teaching got difficult, unacceptable. Peter and the twelve had to have thought the same.
But Peter knows Jesus. He knows, somehow, he is God’s Holy One. And, thank God, he says, “where else can we go? You’ve got the words of eternal life.”
We can’t dodge this crisis. Jesus won’t let us.
Today we have to give up the sugary-sweet picture of Jesus the good teacher, who says nice things we can memorize or put on pillows, who has some good ideas. Today he crosses a line.
It was bound to happen, given that he will end up at the cross, condemned. It begins here. Jesus puts before his disciples two paths.
On one path we believe Jesus is the Son of God, who, in dying and rising, gives his flesh and blood for the world, gives eternal, transforming life. On the other, we think Jesus is out of his mind, believing himself to be something he cannot be.
There’s no middle path to take.
We can’t separate Jesus the teacher from Jesus the Savior, he’s one Christ, one Lord.
For the Hebrews, body and blood together meant the totality of the person. Jesus says he must be completely taken in, believed, swallowed. We can’t take him apart into believable pieces and hard parts we’re going to ignore.
Jesus makes it very hard for some to keep following him when he forces us to face that he is offering himself, completely, for our transformation. Because that will mean changes we might be unwilling to accept.
That’s what’s so difficult. We’d like to stay the same, to keep all we are.
But it doesn’t appear that’s an option.
When I led youth groups at Christikon, the Lutheran mountain camp in Montana, the first night the guides would put the trail packs out for each group and have them put all of the things they’d brought onto the packs. Then they’d shock the kids by tossing aside everything that wasn’t coming. Deodorant, shampoo, extra shirts and extra underwear, flip-flops, hair dryers. The kids were stunned at what they couldn’t take along for this journey into the wilderness.
That’s a tiny bit of the fear we have when we realize what following Jesus means we’re letting go of.
Our self-centeredness will have to be left at the side of the road. Our easy irritation at some people has to go. Our low self-esteem and sense of worthlessness can’t stay in our bags. Our prejudices and biases can’t be kept, even in the smallest amount. Our desire for material things at the expense of others has no place. Our need to have things our own way, or our fearful inability to ask for what we need from others, will be set aside. When we take Christ into us for our life journey with him, we let go of a lot.
And that’s difficult to accept. We’re like Joshua’s people, swearing to serve God and keeping our idols packed in our suitcases. Just in case.
So Jesus’ question to the twelve has to be ours: will we stay? Or will we go?
If only we could come to Jesus, get a promise of life in heaven after we die, feel encouraged for the next week, and that would be it, we’d be fine. If we could keep him at arm’s length from the rest, that would be good.
But Jesus insists on offering us eternal life, the very life of the Triune God. There’s no way that won’t change us. We are not who we were made to be; we will be changed fully into the image of God that was ours at the creation.
We don’t have an option of Jesus Lite. Only the life of God poured into our hearts and lives, filling us with the Spirit and transforming us into Christ for the world.
If that’s so, we have to be with Peter. If this is what Jesus can do, where else can we go?
We’ve lived enough to know that what the world offers doesn’t satisfy us. Being allowed to be ou selfish and self-centered, getting whatever we want, seeking things that promise to change our lives for the better, none of this really fills us. Advertisers can sell all they want, the culture can tell us all it can, but in the quiet of our hearts and the dark of the night we know we need more. No product or service or lifestyle or chemical or self-help or anything else answers our need.
But we do know Christ Jesus is the Holy One of God. We know that in his death and resurrection all things are being made new, and even death is powerless. We know he makes it possible for us to be with God. He embodies God’s love for us.
We might not be ready for the changes the Spirit is going to make. We might be frightened that we’re called out of our comfort zones and habits and ruts into new paths with scary challenges.
But we know no one else we can trust like our Lord Jesus. We’ve never heard anything close to the promise of life he gives us and the world. So where else can we go?
Christ Jesus is where we find life. That’s all we know. But it’s enough.
Today Peter still has no answers to his fears. No idea what his life will look like if he continues to follow. He’s still very afraid.
But he knows this is God’s Holy One, and this is where he has to be. This is where we have to be.
Having no answers, we turn to the One we know is God’s answer to this world’s pain. Having nowhere else that offers us real life, we turn to the One who will fill us with God’s life, and give us purpose and joy in our journey. Fearing change, we turn to the One who is life and love, and trust that changing into Christ, into that One, will be grace, even if it’s not easy.
Lord, you have the words of eternal life. There’s nowhere else we can go. Nowhere else we want to go.
In the name of Jesus. Amen