To Whom Shall We Go?
August 27, 2006
Montgomery United Methodist Church
John 6: 56-69
Good morning! First, let me thank you for inviting me to worship and share the Word of God with you today. You have been most welcoming.
I am glad to be here today to hear the words of life read from the scriptures and to meditate upon the statements made by Jesus and Peter in today’s Gospel reading. Today’s gospel presents us with the problems of faith and commitment, as well as the question of what it means to be a Christian.
Hear again the first part of today’s gospel reading. Jesus says this:
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before? The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”
And then John records for us that from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him... The really difficult part of our faith as followers of Christ lies in our coming to grips with the claims that Jesus makes about Himself – His claims about how He not only points to God and God’s love for us, but that in Him and through Him the life that God wants to give us is conveyed to us.
There are many seekers after truth who recognize Jesus as a great teacher, even as a great miracle worker – but who cannot accept His claim – and the claim that the Apostles have ever made about Him – that He is the way, the truth, and the life. As with many of those who had followed Jesus around the land of Israel and Palestine 2000 years ago, the statement made by Jesus in today’s reading, in which He claims to give life to us through His body and His blood – that body and that blood which we hold up to all every time we gather before this table – is too hard for them.
Too hard for them to accept.
Too hard for them to believe.
Too hard for them to commit themselves to.
Speaking of commitment. Let me tell you a story.
At the Olympic Games in Paris in 1924 the sport of canoe racing was added to the list of international competitions. The favorite team in the four-man canoe race was the United States team. One member of that team was a young man by the name of Bill Havens.
As the time for the Olympics neared, it became clear that Bill’s wife would give birth to her first child about the time that Bill would be competing in the Paris Games. In 1924 there were no jet airliners from Paris to the United States, only slow-moving ocean-going ships. And so Bill found himself in a dilemma. Should he go to Paris and risk not being at his wife’s side when their first child was born? Or should he withdraw from the team and remain behind?
Bill’s wife insisted that he go to Paris. After, he had been working towards this for all these years. It was the culmination of a life-long dream.
Clearly, the decision was not easy for Bill to make.
Finally, after much soul searching, Bill decided to withdraw from the competition and remain behind with his wife so that he could be with her when their first child arrived. Bill considered being at her side a higher priority than going to Paris to fulfill a life-long dream.
To a make a long story short, the United States four-man canoe team won the gold medal at the Paris Olympics. And Bill’s wife was late in giving birth to her first child. She was so late that Bill could have competed in the event and returned home in time to be with her when she gave birth.
People said, “What a shame.” But Bill said that he had no regrets. After all, his commitment to his wife was more important then, and it still was now.
The story of Bill Havens is a story of how one man paid a high price to fulfill a commitment to someone he loved. In a sense, it is a story that illustrates the kind of commitment that God in Christ has to us – and it is certainly a story that illustrates how we should be committed to Him in return.
In the 6th chapter of the gospel of John we see people who leave Jesus because they wanted free food – a free lunch – and not some vague sounding spiritual food that would do nothing for their hungry stomachs. Others leave Jesus – because they can not believe that God would send spiritual food through a person as plain as Jesus – through someone they knew and had grown up with. To them – the spiritual could not be contained in the common – in the familiar – but must always be accompanied by smoke and fire and lightening and thunder and other grand displays.
Still others left Jesus because they understood exactly what He was saying and they did not want to get that close to Him... They wanted to run their own lives – rather than let God live and work through them. Like so many today – they did not want to give control of their lives over to God because they think that God, for some reason, might ask them to do something they don’t want to do...
Let me ask you. Have you left Christ? Are you present only in body to Him – but not in spirit? Are you committed to Him –or do other concerns take up most of your time and energy? Does your TV schedule preclude time for prayer? Does your love of baseball or some other sport take priority over taking some time for listening to God’s word?
Does your ambition prevent you from taking time to care for the family that God has given you to love? Do your judgments about others get in the way of your doing God’s will? That is – until you want something from Him? Until you are in danger and hope to be rescued? Jesus asks us for a commitment; He asks us to be faithful to Him as He is faithful to us – in the good times of lives – as well as in the bad.
In His asking Jesus does not compromise. He does not water down his message so that it will be easier for us. He does not go chasing after the people who walk away from Him as did the crowd at Capernaum. He does not change the truth so that His disciples will not leave Him. No, what Jesus does is proclaim what He came to proclaim, He comes to offer to us, as God has always offered us - a choice --
the choice to live with Him
or to live without Him and without the peace, the joy, and the strength that a relationship with Him offers.
In a statement made by the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches at San Antonio in 1989, the conference proclaims, “We cannot point to any other way to salvation than Jesus Christ; at the same time we cannot set limits to the saving power of God.” This statement is in line with the other thing that is said in today’s gospel reading, when after many of those who had followed Jesus left Him, Jesus says to the disciples who have remained with Him, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” And Simon Peter answers him, saying, “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.”
To whom shall we go?
We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.
You have the words of eternal life.
We as a Christian church are defined within this question and this assertion. We who are gathered here today are not simply the family of God; we are the church of Jesus Christ. It is Christ who defines us. It is Christ who makes us who we are.
As Peter says to Jesus when many of those who had followed Jesus fall away from Him because they find His claims to be too hard, “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.”
To whom shall we go?
There is a sequel to the story of Bill Havens.
The child eventually born to Bill and his wife was a boy, whom they named Frank. Twenty-eight years later, in 1952, Bill received a cablegram from Frank. It was sent from Helsinki, Finland, where the 1952 Olympics were being held. The cablegram read, “Dear Dad. Thanks for waiting around for me to be born. I’m coming home with the medal that is yours. Your loving son, Frank.” Frank Havens had won the gold medal in the canoe-racing event, a medal his father dad dreamed of winning, but never did.
There is a sequel to our acts of commitment as well, our commitment to one another, and our commitment to God.
When we stand firm, when we refuse to compromise, when we sacrifice for the sake of the promises we have made, for the sake of those to whom we have pledged our love, for the sake of our relationship to God, we reap the abundant harvest of righteousness – we reap a harvest of joy and peace that endures forever.
Those who confess that Jesus is the holy One of God, those who realize as Peter realized, that there is no one else to whom we can go, and who listen to the words of eternal life that Jesus speaks and walk in His way, will see His glory.
Blessed be God –day by day. Amen.
© 2006 Millie Grey