Friday, 21 August 2015

You have the words of eternal life!

“The words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”

Life is such a perplexing thing. 

If you are anything like me there will have been times in your life and maybe even constantly when you have asked:

“What is it all about?”
“What is the meaning of life?”
“What is the purpose of my existence?”

These are not new questions; these are age old philosophical and religious conundrums.  They are also incredibly personal and perplexing questions.  They are about validating who we are and what we are doing – justifying our existence.

As Jesus conversed with the people of his day in the synagogue at Capernaum about issues of the meaning of life he makes the claim that those who eat of his flesh will live.

He claims that through his connection with God, the one whom he called his Father, he offers spirit and life. It is spirit and it is life that comes to us as a gift.

From the beginning of John’s gospel John has sought to help his audience to understand that Jesus is the eternal Word of God through whom all things came into being and who, in sharing in our existence, affirms the life that we have received as a gift.  We do not have to validate or justify ourselves we are simply invited to live as we were created to live.

It might seem strange then to think that though Jesus offers this spirit and this life many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.  They stopped trusting in what Jesus was saying.

Ironically, it also makes sense that people turn away from Jesus’ message – for when it comes to these fundamental questions about life and its meaning Jesus shifts the ownership of the question from our control into God’s hands.

It is God who offers spirit and life. 

It is God who offers us meaning in our existence.

This is a difficult teaching precisely because it locates the origins and the destination of our existence and the meaning of life beyond you or me. 

It is also a difficult teaching because following Jesus and trusting his teaching does not automatically mean that we have all the answers and complete understanding. In fact far from it!

Many turned away because of the difficulty of Jesus words and there no doubt the obscurity of them.  When Jesus asked his closest followers whether they too wanted to go Peter responds with great words of hope:

“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.”

“You have the words of eternal life.”

Not all the answers, not just a promise of pie in the sky when we die, but the words of spirit and life are the words of eternal life – life lived knowing the Father and the one whom he sent.

It heartens me to know that even though Peter makes this grand claim he too denied Jesus when confronted by Jesus suffering and death, he turned aside.

Yet Jesus’ resurrection overcomes Peter’s doubts and inspires his faith.  Jesus’ resurrection says to us that though we may not understand, though we may turn aside, though we might struggle to follow: God is offering to us hope.

Hope in the face a complex and perplexing world.

Hope that might just allow us to say with Peter:

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

It is indeed a perplexing world and I want to share some random reflections about the world in which we live.

During the week 7 Australians were arrested suspected of going to join the group ISIS.  The war in the Middle East is a disturbing one.  The violence is horrific.  This last week a scholar of the ancient world was beheaded and hung from the ruins he had spent his life studying and restoring.  Millions of people have fled across the borders.

This year 124 000 refugees have made the shores of Greece.  Refugees like this man and his family.  People trying to escape the horrors of war!  Millions are still on the borders in refugee camps.  Meanwhile in Australia we continue to promote a policy of offshore detention which incarcerates refugees indefinitely whilst our Government hides what is occurring in those camps from us.

As distant as we might feel from such inhumanity of war and suffering our knowledge of these events and the complex issues that lie behind them can be debilitating.

And so confronted by these issues we ask:

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

During my time away I listened to the news and watched the debate around marriage continue to unfold in our parliament.  The issue of allowing people of the same gender to have rights around marriage for some people is clear cut – for some it is simply wrong, for others its is imply the right thing to do. Yet, for many it is a more complex issue – an issue of compassion and justice sitting alongside a commitment to traditional values.  There certainly a great deal of vitriol around the debate.

Yet for me one of the perplexing issues is that one of the reasons it has been opposed is because of the value of the institution of marriage.  The description of marriage in the Uniting Church wedding service speaks of marriage helping to shape society.  Despite this ideal there is a certain naivety about how we value marriage as a society. Fewer people are marrying and the divorce rate in Australia is still significant. Last week there was a leak of information from a website called Ashley Maddison which is website with the invitation “Life is short have an affair”.  Around 80% of people who marry live together before marriage.

The state of relationships and how we value and respect each other as human beings is at issue in all of this. All of us understand that intimate relationships can be rocky and difficult.

So we well we might ask as we contemplate these difficult moral and ethical issues:

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Being sick gives you a lot of time to think, probably too much time!  As I reflected about my life and where I am think I am heading it also made me think about your lives as well. 

Each one of us here has issues that perplex us and confront us as we struggle to make sense of things.  Some of us are unwell, some are beset by loneliness, some feel and are a long way from home, many of us wonder what the future will bring – we all have our personal hopes and fears and dreams and nightmares.  The complexity of our lives can weigh heavily upon us.

So whether it is the global issues, the moral issues of our time or even our personal struggles that swamp us the message of our faith is ‘spirit and life’.

We may now know all the answers but we stand with Peter and say:

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

You know one of the things I most value about this congregation is our diversity and the constancy of change that we experience.  These things both challenge and enrich us.

In the years I have been here we have had people ranging in age from the very young, from infancy, through to people who have lived for almost a century.  Some of us have more conservative beliefs whilst others might be considered more liberal or progressive in their views. Some of us grew up in the Uniting Church, or its forebears, whilst others have come from different traditions.  In the 4 years since I came here we have probably had people from over 20 countries visit with us and become members with us, if only for a short time. We are a diverse bunch and sometimes we don’t always see eye to eye but we come together because I think in the face of our diversity and the complexity of how we live we trust in God.

We come together and we say to one another:

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

We listen. We look. We hope. We pray.

And Jesus reminds us to live for he says:

“The words I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”

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