“To Whom Can We Go?”
Meg Peery McLaughlin
July 25, 2021
Prayer of Illumination
We have come again,
hungry for life.
do what you do, we pray.
We are listening.
56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
A few weeks ago, at Folly Beach,
on an early morning walk,
I found a set of tracks
Two sets actually.
Now, friends, fear not:
this not a sermon opener about Jesus footsteps in the sand,
and there only being one set while Jesus carried me,
or a long groove where he drug my rear. (Though that story might check out.)
These were loggerhead sea turtle tracks.
You could see the direction of the flippers in each set of wide tracks,
how the mama walked up the beach to lay her clutch of eggs in the sand,
and how hours later, she made her way back to the ocean.
Did you know that female sea turtles
who swim thousands and thousands of miles each year,
always come back to the beach where they were born to lay their eggs?
Of all the beach joints in all the towns in all the world,
they choose to come back to where their own life began.
It’s called natal homing.
Science is so amazing.
Maybe the beach
or out to sea with the turtles
or at home reading Bill Nye the Science Guy
is where Simon Peter might have said he’d like to have gone before he finally said:
“O Lord, To whom can we go?
You have the words of eternal life.”
What would you say to Jesus’ question.
“Do you also wish to go away?”
It’s such a haunting one.
And if I am honest I’ll tell you I think about it every single day.
The Jesus way is not an easy way.
Jesus’ way trudges toward sacrifice and a stubborn insistence on generosity.
His way is the way of love which regrettably is for people I wish it weren’t.
Following Jesus means I cannot settle for the world as it is,
but must live toward the world as it should be.
So yes, sometimes I wish I could go away.
Like those other disciples in this story,
just turn back and no longer stay in the company of the Holy One of God.
Do you ever feel that way?
If you do, it’s safe to say that here.
How else are we supposed to be the church, if not authentically?
I’m not quite sure why Nancy ordered these, not sure what they were for.
They are squeezy Jesuses.
(That isn’t a phrase I ever thought I’d say while preaching, for the record).
And I can’t exactly remember who all from the staff was in the room
for the conversation, except for Kim.
I know what we were talking about though,
all the things we’ve been talking about for months on end:
details and decisions and deliberations about covid
safety and science
inclusion and inevitable missteps
should we keep this, cancel that
We ventured into
the pain of staff changes
and the purpose of the church in the midst of all the things
Normal day at the office, really, and I looked across at Kim
who was holding squeezy Jesus
And she had literally nearly ripped his head off.
All the intensity, integrity, innovation that is required of all of us
to live in a Christ-like manner right now
is sometimes more than we think we can take. We wish to go away.
In this story from John’s gospel,
Jesus’ followers want to escape all the talk about eating Jesus,
and I don’t blame them.
Eating is really what this whole chapter is about:
starting with Jesus feeding multitudes with the contents of a little boy’s lunch box,
and including one of Jesus 7 “I AM” statements.
Just before our story, Jesus says I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE.
And by the time we pick it up,
we are many verses into Jesus trying to explain what that means;
what it is for us to abide in him: to take in the bread of life into our very bodies.
And this teaching is too much for some people.
Too hard to comprehend. Too outrageous.
It IS a hard teaching. So many of them are.
Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5)
If you want to be my disciples, take up your cross, and follow me. (Mark 8)
Do not worry about tomorrow. (Matthew 6)
No one can serve two masters. You cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6)
Do these make you want to rip Jesus head off,
or swim out to sea? Do they offend?
If they don’t, I wonder if it’s because
we’ve been in churches that seek to smooth down the rough edges of the gospel .
But the gospel,
the good news of Jesus Christ,
with all its edges
all its challenges and comforts and curiosities and callings
is what brings us to life, is it not?
Which is why,
Peter’s answer resonates so strongly, I think.
“Lord, to whom can we go? YOU have the words of eternal life.
69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.
A confession of faith. A surrender to the mystery.
It’s not that he hasn’t thought about other options- he clearly has.
But because of what he has seen,
because of what he has come to believe and to know, he’s bound to stay.
He will continue in the Jesus way because the alternatives,
as enticing as they are,
don’t bring life abundant,
can’t bear the weight of the glory of God.
here you are,
after nearly a year and half after having been in this room,
sitting in these pews
—ready to clean the dust off of them for those who’ll be coming next week—
here you are,
donning your blue light glasses to spend time on a screen because this matters to you.
And not just today.
you who have been abiding with the Holy One,
you who have eaten the bread and partaken of the cup
at this table,
or driving through our parking lot,
you have enfleshed the good news
in these covid days:
you called your neighbors
and initiated new outreach efforts
you engaged in racial equity work
and led small groups
you practiced generosity
and prayed for the world
you used every ounce of intelligence, integrity and innovation you could muster
in all the arenas of your life outside of here
– ever seeking to follow in Jesus footsteps.
And I, I am so grateful to be on this way with you.
And for better or worse, on the Jesus way we are.
must have some kind of natal homing going on—
For to whom can we go?
We keep coming back to the one who gave us life.
To whom can we go?
We keep making tracks toward the one who saves our lives.
To whom can we go?
We keep nesting down in the presence of one
who has the words that make us come alive.
Thanks be to God.