Sermon – August 27, 2006

How do you choose?

I believe and have mentioned to you in other contexts, I think, that none of us who have crossed the threshold into this church today, none of us who have made a confession of Christ, none of us who have turned to him in circumstances troubling or encouraging, has done this on our own.  But, that the Holy Spirit has called us into the church, into the address of God, into the presence of God and that God continues to play out God’s promises through Christ, to find a way for us to know him and to understand his love for us.  I believe that the Holy Spirit does that work.  So you and I, if you accept that, have been called here today, invited to come by the Holy Spirit, accumulated through our life in the church or as a prompting to show up in worship today.

But that’s only the beginning.  We are called into the presence of God, into fellowship with Christ, for a purpose, that we might better know him.  We come in here and the Word works on us to that end, begins to form us and enlighten us, to challenge and convict us, to make known God’s forgiving grace, to strengthen us in faith.

That word we encounter here is sometimes difficult, as the disciples exclaimed in the midst of Jesus’ teaching, and we wonder with them who can accept this, who can understand this, who can receive this?   The disciples said it out loud and we, if we’re truthful, will make the same confession.  It’s hard for us, this resurrection, that the one who has died is risen and the we, too, shall rise.  God’s unmerited grace is hard for us sometimes, God’s word of love and inclusion, that “God so loved the world that he gave his only son.”  It’s hard that God would do this for us . . . listen, some of have the type of resumes that under the most cursory review would exempt us from his favor.   This is hard, we want to earn our way, prove to God our worthiness.     We cannot be called into the presence of Christ without being called into discipleship.  This is sometimes hard, that we would learn from and listen to our elders, to our leaders, to our parents, to our pastors, and then teach what we know.  Making a proclamation of Christ in your life, witnessing to the grace of God in your life is sometimes hard because of the choices we must make.  The sharing of our resources, giving to the church and the ministries of the church, giving up our time and means, sharing our gifts, is hard because of the choices it causes us to make.   Even the ministry of worship is sometimes difficult. . . . We’re just going to hear the same old thing.   You will by the way.   Good heavens, isn’t it hard to forgive as the word calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven.  In troubled times, isn’t it hard to speak hope, not to give into the cynicism and anger and hatred and frustration with seemly intractable problems, isn’t it hard sometimes to seek the peace the word calls us to seek when that peace seems so distant.   This teaching is difficult, who can accept it?

Well friends, Jesus answers that question on the front end.  “No one comes to me unless it is granted by the Father.”   Jesus has gone to a lot of trouble, it seems to me, to make clear that it has been granted by the Father that you and I would stand before Jesus to hear his word, to receive his grace, to be equipped to answer the call.

Jesus, understanding this our hesitation, challenges us and he challenged the disciples.   It was too much for some folks, and they drew away and no longer followed.  So he says, “Do you also wish to go away?”  I wonder how that question is posed . . .  with hopefulness for an answer, “yes, we’ll stay.”  With challenge, “I dare you to leave.”   With sadness, “Please don’t leave me.”   “Do you also wish to go away?”   No,  I think it was an earnest question as he stood before them as evidence of God’s grace.   He stands before them not without a history.  This is not a question posed in a vacuum.  Here is the one who has been teaching and healing and feeding and bringing hope, and promising his very self.  Even now he does not strip them of their freedom.  You may choose to receive the fullness of my promise or you may choose to go another way.

Peter answers the question like a good disciple, answering the question with a question.    “Lord, to whom shall we go?”  And here Peter gets it, gets in the implication of what Jesus offers.  Even as they struggle with the difficulty, Peter gets the depth of the invitation.

Let me translate that for you.  “Are you kidding me?   Leave you?  Go away?  Turn back? Fail you?  Flee to darkness? Squander this?  Give up hope?  Lord to whom shall we go.   No one makes these promises, bears these gifts, issues this pure challenge, claims us so completely, cleanses us so utterly.    That is what is in the invitation to say.   Peter is Richard Gere in an Officer and a Gentleman.  Remember the movie?  As he is challenged to leave the Navy and abandon his dreams, he cries out through his pain and tears, “I have no place else to go!”   That is Peter’s confession.  Are you kidding me?   We have nowhere else to go, not for these things, not for you.

The same choice that is before the disciples is before each of us each day.  Will you follow?  Will you stay?  Will you receive the fullness of this invitation?  Will you receive these gifts?   Now, don’t get me wrong.  This is not the “I found Jesus” decision theology.   He has already found us, claimed us. We never made the first choice, Jesus has already given himself for us and now asks us, will you stay or will you go?

He has been with the disciples for some time now and knows them well as he knowl, and his question to them is full of empathy.    I know the temptation to leave, I’ve seen it in your brothers and sisters, I know your doubt and your fear.  I know these things, so know this.   Know all this that is behind this question.  I will not be moved, I will not change, I will not give up on you, I will not forsake you.  Here is something you should know before you choose . . .  I offer myself to you, with all your failures and your foibles, with your equivocating and vanity, with your resistance to the challenging and preference for the simple and familiar, I give myself to you.   Now, I ask if you will stay.

And Peter says, where would we go.  We have come to believe and to know that none can extend this pure promise, that you are the word of eternal life, and life free from the fear of God’s failure.  We have come to believe that what we are to know of God, we see in you, that you are the bread of life.

Jesus poses the question, not limiting our freedom, the question of all the implications of his self-giving, of his life sustaining promise of eternal life.

How do you choose?  Will you give yourself to him and in turn to your brothers and sisters in him.  Do you also wish to go away, or will you follow again today.  He has called you here to receive his word, to receive his gift of life, to give you the living bread.

How do you choose? 

Say it with me if you believe it, “Lord to whom shall we go.   You have the words of eternal life.  Lord to whom shall we go.   You have the words of eternal life.”    Alleluia