Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 22, 2021
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.
“Lord, to whom can we go?” Peter asked, rhetorically. Where else can we turn? Who else can we trust? Who else is there that can save us but you?
“Lord, to whom can we go?” These are such poignant words. They point to the futility of looking to the world for the kind of salvation that only God can provide. Should we go to Herod? To Pilate? To Caesar Augustus? Should we go to one of our factions, our political parties? If so, which one? The Pharisees? The Sadducees? The Zealots?
“Lord, to whom can we go?” It was a question asked in response to a question. After Jesus taught in the synagogue in Capernaum that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood abide in him and he in them, that he was the Bread from Heaven sent from the living Father, and that the one who eats of this bread will live forever, many of those at worship that day said, “This is hard to accept,” and they walked away. And so Jesus looked to the ones he had called, he looked to the twelve, and said, “Do you also wish to go away?”
And Peter replied, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
“Lord, to whom can we go?” I can’t help but hear in Peter’s rhetorical question a bit of the futility and frustration so many are feeling in our own time. We are living in a time of widespread loss of trust in our leaders and our institutions. Whether it is the handling of the pandemic or the running of our schools or the struggling economy or our cartoonishly stupid political climate or the disastrous debacle unfolding in Afghanistan, there is a sense of futility and frustration among so many that seems close to boiling over.
Some of this, no doubt, is fueled by misinformation and conspiracy theories that spread like wildfire across the internet, but some of it the result of actual incompetence. Some of it is the result of confusing messaging laced with political hackery. Some of it is the result of terrible decision making.
“Lord, to whom can we go?” Because nobody down here seems to have anything figured out! All the grown-ups seem to have gone AWOL!
We are awash in information but severely lacking in wisdom.
People sometimes come to worship expecting to hear advice about what to do. People sometimes come to worship hoping to hear a little cheerleading for their position or party, and maybe a little dunking on their opponents. People sometimes come to worship expecting a prescription for fixing all the worlds ills. This is not unlike what the people at the synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus was preaching wanted. They wanted a Bread King. They wanted someone who would rout the Romans and give them more fish sandwiches. And when they got something else, something they didn’t expect, something they found hard to accept, they left.
This still happens, of course. It happens right here. It happens on both ends of the political spectrum, whether the far right or the woke left. In these past couple of highly charged years, I’ve had people on both ends of that widening spectrum tell me they were leaving because they weren’t hearing what they wanted to hear at church. As someone who is a bit of a people-pleaser this is always deeply painful to me, but I’m reminded by this passage that it isn’t uncommon for people to walk away when they don’t get the kind of savior they expect.
“Do you also wish to go away?” Jesus asked the disciples. To which blessed Peter replied, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Peter recognized, at least for the moment, that Jesus was offering something far greater than what a Bread King would offer. He was offering the Bread of life. As Jesus said, “Whoever eats of this bread” – the bread that is him, the bread that is his Body – “will live forever.”
Peter recognized, at least for the moment, that Jesus was offering something far greater than a rout of the Romans. Jesus was coming to defeat far greater enemies. He was coming to rout sin, death, and the devil. He was coming to destroy anything and everything that stands between us and God, so that we would have eternal life – a life with God that begins now and continues forever.
Jesus had come bring what no other authority on earth could ever provide. He came to bring peace with God. He came to bring the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of his flesh and blood on the cross. He came to bring eternal life to all those who have been drawn to him by the Father. He came to be our crucified and risen savior.
“Lord, to whom can we go?” This rhetorical question of Peter’s has echoed across the centuries in the church’s liturgy. We sing these very words in the Gospel Acclamation week after week, making them our own. We sing them so that our ears are poised to the words Christ Jesus has for us, the words of eternal life.
As we gather for worship today, our Lord Jesus continues to offer us these words of eternal life. He says to us, “Your sin is forgiven.” He says, “My peace be with you.” He says, “This is my body, given for you, my blood shed for you.” He says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them,” and “the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
And so even in this time when there are so many feelings of futility and frustration, we can have confidence and peace, trusting that the calamities we endure will not have the last word.
In this time when there is such a widespread loss of trust, we find a word that is clear and true, a word we can cling to.
In this time of so much cynicism and anger and retreating into various enclaves we are freed by Christ and moved by his Spirit to serve our neighbors in patience and in love, sharing this gospel and humbly doing some earthly good in whatever manner might be within our reach.
In this time when there is so much division, we can remain united in the only true source of hope the world has ever had.
“Lord, to whom can we go?”
Only you, Jesus. Only you. You have the words of eternal life.
Alleluia, and amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church