Saturday, 25 August 2012

John 6: To whom can we go?

Peter Lockhart

“Lord to whom can we go?

You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe
and know that you are the holy one of God?”

Peter’s affirmation of faith declares that he understands that not only are Jesus words vital, they are the words of eternal life and that Jesus himself is the Holy one of God.

Whilst others turned their backs and made other choices Peter’s choice was to stay. He had seen enough, he had heard enough to know that this was where he belonged, with Jesus.

Could Peter and the disciples have made another choice? The answer is probably not. As John’s gospel unfolds we hear that the disciples have been chosen and drawn into their roles as followers by God.

Yet, it is plausible to say that they had many other options. Like the crowd maybe they could have rejected the claim that Jesus was the Messiah, Peter could have returned to his fishing nets or maybe even gone in a completely new direction.

But they stay. They stay believing that Jesus words are essential to their existence and that Jesus himself is unique in who is and what he offers.

These words of eternal life in Peter’s mind and in Jesus own description are not simply about what will happen to the disciples after they die but they are about how they are to live in the midst of their earthly existence, knowing God and the one whom God sent into the world, Jesus.

For Peter making the decision to stay with Jesus is making the decision to live and to live in response to God’s love.

As I contemplated this story during the week I was reminded of a conversation I had with an older minister when I was still a teacher and had begun considering becoming a minister.

His advice was basically this – if you are sure there is nothing else you want to do with your life, that there no other options then maybe you do have a call to ministry.

To me it sounded as if ministry was the last resort, as if following Jesus was the least among my options.

It may not have been intended that I heard it that way but for me on reflection it reduced both the ministry and the one who I believed was calling me into ministry, Jesus.

I don’t get that sense with Peter, following Jesus is not the last and least of his options – it is the only option because Jesus has the words of eternal life. Where else could he go?

Too often I think we reduce Jesus and the calling to be his followers from the prime place it should take. I have heard it said again and again that religion is a crutch. It is true that often it is in the midst of despair people turn to God.

And, numerous times I have heard older people reflect that if we had more suffering more people would come to church. I have even heard it said if we had another war more people would come to church.

Do we really think that we want the kind of suffering produced by a war so that we can have people in our pews? Do we really think that God needs such devastation to find believers?

God is not simply there as our last resort and we should not bank on people suffering to bring them to God and nor should we wish suffering upon anyone.

Jesus is the alpha and the omega; he is the beginning and the ending of all things. Peter realised this and was prepared to declare it – he longed for life.

The life that Peter was seeking was the eternal life of which Jesus was speaking. He was entering into the intimate space of relationship with God in and through Jesus.

The claim Jesus makes later in John 10 is that he has come to give people life and it abundantly and if we are his followers then as recipients of the promised abundant life and also the promise of eternal life then we should understand that what we have to share in our faith is not the last resort, it is not the poorer option, but that it is the centre of reality.

Unfortunately, in this age in which we live I think we have more than a little cultural cringe about being followers of Jesus and maybe we have lost sight of what the abundant life that Jesus was offering is really about. Maybe this is reflected in the idea that I should only ministry if I had crossed everything else off the list.

I often hear of the brokenness of people’s lives. With access to so much we are so often found to be unhappy, anxious, or depressed. Our culture which offers so much abundance and opportunity bit for many does not appear to be leading in to abundant lives.

Our communities have become less trusting. Our lives have become more enclosed and encased – isolated from one another we are lonely people in the midst of a crowd.

We are looking for more not realising how much we have. I heard Tim Costello, the head of World Vision on the Project lamenting the Australian mindset which continues to moan and complain about how tough we have it when we are living in a country with one of the highest standards of living and although there are some among our population who do struggle Tim Costello reminded me of just how tough it is in so many other places around the world.

On the other hand I come across many people who are entirely content in their existence. They earn good money, have nice things and are relatively happy. Often they see no necessity for being involved in the church, they live a good moral life and when they can spare the cash they can even be quite generous.

However, often the limits of their vision in generosity and the understanding of their own wealth can be disturbing.

What is life really all about? What is this abundant and eternal life that Jesus offers? Is it not life lived in relationship with God and each other, deep and caring, compassionate and loving?

This is what Jesus offers: life not defined by what we do or do not own, or what we have or have not achieved, but life defined by God’s love for us as we are. And life defined by God’s love for others as they are as well.

The words of eternal life that Jesus speaks are words which are difficult to hear, they challenge us with who is control and what is important. Yet they are also words that remind us to love God and to love one another because we have been loved. And, that in doing this we will find abundant life.

The world in which we live there is a plethora of options available to us – a consumerist culture, scientific world views, political agendas, philosophies, spiritualities and the list goes on. There are so many places to find answers to the questions that we are living but for those of us like Peter who have encountered Jesus despite all of the options we have found truth in Jesus, the Holy One of God who has the words of eternal life.

Let us live then as God’s children celebrating life by living it with God and with each other even though this teaching may be difficult.

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