Sermon Text: John 6:60-69
Date: August 25 & 26, 2018
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
60When they heard it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching! Who can listen to it?”
61But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, asked them, “Does this cause you to stumble in your faith? 62What if you would see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63The Spirit is the one who gives life. The flesh does not help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning those who would not believe and the one who would betray him. 65He said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me, unless it is given to him by my Father.”
66After this, many of his disciples turned back and were not walking with him anymore. 67So Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”
68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
There’s No Place Like Home
I’ve heard it said that there is not greater feeling in life than to cancel plans. Now, that’s obviously a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s some truth to it, isn’t there? If you have plans to go out with friends for an evening and for whatever reason there’s need to reschedule those plans, there’s going to be a bit of disappointment, but there’s also going to be some joy in not having to get dressed up, or being able to be back into casual clothes and just hanging out with no schedule and no responsibilities for that evening. There’s just really no place like home.
One of my favorite parts about vacations is coming home. Being able to sleep in your own bed is wonderful after days or weeks away, isn’t it? Not that the vacation itself is bad or anything like that, but things are at least somewhat uncomfortable when you’re away from home. The bed and pillows aren’t quite right. The towels are weird. The food isn’t what you’re used to. No matter how much fun you’re having on vacation, there’s still part of you that looks forward to getting back home and even, shocking as it sounds, getting back into the routine of school or work or whatever.
In our Gospel this morning, we meet the crowd listening to Jesus’ teaching after the Feeding of the 5,000 for the last time. Jesus has fed them with the miracle bread and fish, and then taught them most of the next day to not be seeking after earthly food, but spiritual food. He wants them to pay more attention to the life to come than they do to this life. All the while he’s stressing that they need him for their eternal safety. They should be making him the priority in their lives because he alone saves for eternity. And he used that graphic picture of this need, saying that they needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood.
We saw an initial confusion about these matters in last week’s Gospel. Today, they just get worse. Our lesson picks up right where we left off last week. When they heard it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching! Who can listen to it?” It was difficult to process, and many considered just leaving. Why stand here and listen to this man? He seems a bit unhinged. What good is he to us?
Jesus continues to stress his eternal importance to the people listening to him, “What if you would see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? The Spirit is the one who gives life. The flesh does not help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” They had asked Jesus for a miracle before, but now he stresses that the miracle alone would not do anything. Would it help if they saw Jesus return to heaven? Not really. Faith didn’t come from seeing amazing things. Faith comes through the work of the Holy Spirit.
That’s where we are, too. You and I do not believe in Jesus as our Savior because we made a decision to do so. We do not believe in Jesus because we’ve poured so much work into studying the Bible and learning everything that Jesus said. You and I do not believe in Jesus as our Savior because we are just so much smarter than the other people living around us. You and I believe in Jesus because the Holy Spirit has used his Word, the waters of baptism, and the body and blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper to create and continue to maintain and even strengthen that faith. Our trust in Jesus as our Savior has nothing to do with you or with me; it has everything to do with God and with him alone!
Of course, there’s a large part of us that doesn’t like to hear that. We like to take at least some credit for things. That’s why notions of making a choice to follow Jesus or doing some work to pay for part of our sin-debt are so common today among many different branches of Christianity. Even today, we hear Jesus say these things and we think, “This is a hard teaching! Who can listen to it?” It is a continual fight to recognize that we are able to do nothing to help ourselves spiritually. We need Jesus’ perfect life to be credited to us in place of our sinful life. We need Jesus’ death to be credited as the punishment that our sins deserved. And we need the Holy Spirit to work trust in all that Jesus has done so that we benefit from it; without his work, nothing that Jesus has done will matter for us at all.
This notion didn’t sit well with many of the people who had been following Jesus. After this, many of his disciples turned back and were not walking with him anymore. For many of them, following Jesus was a nice vacation, but it was time to get back to the comfort of the familiar. They didn’t want a whole change in mindset. They were content thinking they could save themselves. It was clear that Jesus was going to stick with this teaching and didn’t appear ready to hand over any more free food any time soon, so the people moved on and went back to their homes and to life as usual.
That is a constant temptation for us too, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be easier to live like the rest of the world, without contemplating much of anything about eternity and just focused on the here and now? Wouldn’t it be easier and nicer to feel good about yourself and your acts of charity and goodwill toward other people and assume that God will be kind to you at the end of your life because of these things? Wouldn’t it be easier to just live chasing after your personal desires and pleasures and just put heaven and hell, sin and forgiveness, life and death out of your mind?
It might be easier or more comfortable, but it certainly isn’t wise. Jesus addresses the twelve disciples as many people are hitting the road, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Peter, ever the spokesman for the group, answers with words that cut right to the heart of the matter, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Following Jesus is not a vacation with an uncomfortable bed and unfamiliar surroundings. Jesus is home for now, and for eternity. Without Jesus, we have nothing to show for our lives. Without Jesus, we have hell as our eternal destination. Without Jesus, we may deceive ourselves into thinking things are fine when they’re really not.
But what do we have with Jesus? With Jesus we receive the words of eternal life—the assurance of our complete forgiveness because Jesus lived and died for us. With Jesus we are with the Holy One of God—the Holy One who saves us, who have not been holy. With Jesus, we are home, truly home, eternally home. Where else would we go? Where else would we want to go? There’s no place like home; nothing else is worth our time and attention.
So cherish the fact that the Holy Spirit has given you this home. You have the words of eternal life from your Savior. You know your sins are forgiven. You have heaven as your eternal certainty. Rejoice in these gifts. Rejoice in the true comfort that Jesus brings.
Thanks be to God that with Jesus, we are truly, eternally, home! There’s no other place like it! Amen.