To Whom Can We Go?
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

August 26, 2012


1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43
John 6:56-69

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

In John’s Gospel, we start to see what happens when people who like to hang around with Jesus start to hit teachings with which they are less comfortable. Okay, Lord, I got that whole pray and give thanks, but you want me to forgive my neighbor, pray for my enemy, bless those who curse me? Are you sure?

People start to rub up against the difficulties of living a life of compassion and service and faithfulness, and they start to remember that they have something back home that needs tending to.

Today’s story is both about communion and about living as Jesus lived. But all this talk in John’s Gospel of the need for eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood got people upset. There were charges of cannibalism and vampirism against the early church. It was especially difficult with the prohibition of eating the blood of anything within the Jewish dietary laws. Taken at face value, such teachings sound like abominations.

But Jesus was speaking in code. Every group has their own code language. You know you are inside the group if you get the code. If I say 312 is signal 7, most of you will look at me funny. But if you are inside the Fire Department, you know that the mini-pumper driven by the shift captain is back in service. If I say “86 tomatoes,” It sounds like we are four short of 90 tomatoes. If you have worked in a restaurant, you know it means that we are out of tomatoes. Every group, business and club has language that separates insiders from outsiders.

This is true of the church. Many times our language sounds ancient or archaic. We speak of sacraments, Eucharist, baptism, grace, sanctification, justification, ordination, atonement, paraments, acolytes and that’s before we even get to the strange language of the Bible. It can be a stumbling block for many within the church who have not grown up with such language.

The language of the church can all too often get in the way of the message of the church. John’s Gospel is rich with symbolism and evocative imagery. This depth can make the Gospel distant from our ordinary ways of seeing things. This distance is both good and bad. Good because it draws us out of the ordinary, out of the mundane, out of the usual and expected. Bad because it can be a stumbling block to understanding what the Good News is saying.

The language we have today in John’s Gospel about eating flesh is not about cannibalism. It is Bible code for both coming to the table and receiving communion, with all of the memories and stories of God’s saving acts that it brings with it; and for living as Jesus lived, faithful to the God of love, the God who saves, the God who heals and makes whole, the God who makes all things new. The God Jesus referred to as Abba, papa, daddy. It is language about reconnecting with God through remembrance of Jesus, of taking in what Jesus gives, of seeking the presence of the eternal and the spiritual in the most mundane and bodily of acts: eating and drinking.

And a lot of people seem to get turned off by Jesus’ language, the strangeness of this idea. They turn around and head back home. And Jesus looks at the twelve and says, “You leaving, too?”

Simon Peter answers on their behalf:

Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life;
and we have believed, and have come to know,
that you are the Holy One of God.

How many other places have we turned to try and find the answers to those questions at the center of our hearts? Where else have we looked for life and been disappointed at what we have found?

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have what we need.

In Solomon’s dedication of the Temple, his prayer admits that no building, no structure, can hold or contain the God of creation and covenant. So he asks for God to hear the prayers lifted up in this place where God’s name dwells. And then he goes further. When the foreigner comes, when the outsider, when the stranger comes to pray, hear their prayers too.

God is not contained by the church. God is not restricted by our theologies or our thoughts of God. God is not limited by our limitations.

And yet in God’s freedom, God has promised to hear our prayers, to walk with us through the valleys of deepest darkness, to call us into better living and better service, to love us even when, especially when, we feel most unlovable.

Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life;
and we have believed, and have come to know,
that you are the Holy One of God.

Maybe we do not believe perfectly. But even in our imperfect faith, God works in us and others by the Holy Spirit. Even in the messiness of our lives, God’s forgiveness and grace shine through. Even in our stuttering and stammering prayers, God intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

In as plain of language as possible, we gather around the table this morning, to receive what Jesus gives: New Life. We do so remembering how God has saved us. We do so celebrating Christ’s life within us and among us. We do so out of thankfulness.

Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life;
and we have believed, and have come to know,
that you are the Holy One of God.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.