Sermon for Sunday, August 23, 2015
John 6:56 – 69
Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
To truly appreciate this exchange between Jesus and Peter, taken from the middle of John’s gospel, it helps to look to both the beginning and the end of John’s gospel.
At the beginning of John’s gospel is the very first encounter between Jesus and his disciples. You may recall the story: Jesus is walking, and he notices Andrew and another disciple following. Jesus turned and… said to them, “What are you looking for?’ They said to him, “Rabbi… where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.
This first encounter between Jesus and his disciples in John 1 is curious because the disciples don’t answer Jesus’ question: “What are you looking for?” Jesus asks. “Rabbi… where are you staying?” they ask in return. They’re not able to put their finger on why they are following Jesus.
Fast forward to today’s lesson in chapter 6. Jesus has just told a larger group of disciples that, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them… whoever eats me will live because of me.”
Understandably, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”… [And] many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”
But when Jesus asked Peter if he, too, wanted to go away, “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
“Lord, to whom can we go?” Now, after having experienced Jesus for six chapters and having come to know him a bit, the disciples are able to express why they are following Jesus. And they express it in the negative: “Lord, to whom can we go?” “Who else is there?” they say, in effect. “We don’t know where else to go.”
Fast forward now to John 21, the last chapter. In the final scene of John’s Gospel, Peter and six others have fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus appears on the shore and tells them to cast the net to the right side of the boat, and when they do they catch so many fish that the net begins to break. Peter says, “It is the Lord,” and jumps into the water and swims to shore, where there is a charcoal fire and Jesus ready to serve them breakfast. During breakfast, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Simon, do you love me?” Each time, Peter responds, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
If at first the disciples couldn’t articulate why they were following Jesus; they then followed him because they didn’t have a better choice. (“Lord, to whom shall we go?”) Now, at the end of John’s Gospel, at least one of the disciples follows Jesus because he loves him. The trajectory of discipleship, then, in John’s gospel begins in a place of following without being able to articulate why, moves to a place of following because they know no better choice than Jesus, and ends with a disciple following Jesus because he loves Jesus.
There are many reasons why each of us follows Jesus. Maybe some of us follow, and we can’t articulate why; there’s just something about this Jesus. Maybe some of us follow because we don’t have a better answer; because through a process of elimination, we’ve discovered that nothing besides Jesus seems to work. Whatever the reason we follow, we’re here this morning; we’re following. That’s great! AND… there’s more. The “more” is that we could follow Jesus because we love him.
I wonder, why do you follow Jesus? Would you like to follow Jesus because you love him? If you do, it seems to me that the first step is to be open to how much Jesus loves you. For if we knew how much Jesus loves us, we could not but help loving him in return. Probably the best way to know how much Jesus loves us is to do what the disciples did: keep following. Keep following, even though we can’t quite articulate why. Keep following, even though sometimes “this teaching is difficult” and others stop following. Keep following, even though He goes to the cross. And then – once we’ve come to know him intimately, as did the disciples – we will not be able to help but love Him.