A Sermon by The Rev’d Adrian Stephens
John 6:68-69 “68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
For the past several weeks we have been listening to the gospel according to John as Jesus encourages, teaches, and promises, that those people who believe in him will have eternal life. This week he extends that to include the instruction to eat the bread and wine which will become his body and blood. Jesus is our spiritual food. Jesus is the one who feeds our soul, and in this way increases our faith.
The symbolism of the Body and Blood of Christ is firmly bound to our understanding of Sacrament, we may well recall from our Confirmation classes that a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace. The bread and the wine of the sacrament of Holy Communion are the outward and visible sign of the grace we receive in the Body and Blood of our Lord.
We could enter into debates regarding Consubstantiation and Transubstantiation. But we will dodge that. It is enough that we believe that our Lord Jesus is present in the Sacrament of Holy Communion in a very special way. The acknowledgement of that sacrament as being Christ present within and among us is enough.
It is fundamentally this teaching that the disciples found to be too difficult. It is this teaching that caused many who followed Jesus to turn away. For the crowd of disciples there was an unwritten expectation. They had enjoyed the miraculous presentation of food for the multitude. They were expecting a Messiah who would throw off the yoke of the Romans. They were expecting a Messiah who would lead them into a great political battle, and they would win. It is a dream doomed to failure. What they wanted was food without work, and freedom to do as they pleased. Jesus calls them into another battle, a different battle.
The battle into which Jesus would lead them is outlined by Paul in the reading from the Ephesians. There is no battlefield with swords and spears. There is no super warrior who will destroy the Romans. The real enemy is found in the spiritual realm. The real enemy is the one who will distort truth; the real enemy will be found in the evil of this world; the real enemy is “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
When the crowd abandoned Jesus because the teaching was too hard, and Jesus asked the twelve whether they wanted to go away as well. It is Peter who speaks up. “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy one of God.”
Paul has also come to believe that Jesus is the Holy one of God and he encourages everyone to enter fully into the life that is ours in Christ. He acknowledges that the temptations of the devil will be great. Last week Peter offered the metaphor of Egypt being an image of our past life. It is a life to which we might want to return. This is a very real temptation. It is a temptation, not only to the people in the wilderness, it is also a temptation for us. To come to follow Christ we may well have put aside thoughts, behaviour and activities that did not fit with a Godly life. There are times when we might like to return to that life, knowing that it is not the life that God has prepared for us.
When Paul instructs us to put on the whole armour of God it is for a special reason. It is so that we can stand before the wiles of the devil. It is so that we can reject evil. We have promised to do this, or at least our Godparents may have promised this for us, that we would reject all that is evil.
Paul teaches that first and foremost we are to stand for truth. We are to fasten the belt of truth as the very first part of putting on our spiritual armour. I recall a politician a few years ago speaking of core promises and non-core promises. In other places we are encouraged to stand for the truth, even if it means standing alone. No doubt this is far too often the case.
The problem of not telling the truth is that we are stuck with having to remember fiction, and to maintain the fiction we will be forced to be ever more and more creative. We will come unravelled when we cannot recall the lie that we told, nor the fabricated evidence around it.
Truth is that quality which identifies us as disciples of Jesus. This is not to say that people who do not believe in Jesus cannot tell the truth. It would be very silly to say that. For us as disciples of Jesus truth becomes our way of life. As my father would constantly remind me, “Always tell the truth regardless of the consequences.”
We follow the command for truth with the breastplate of righteousness. This protection offered by God will be plenty for us to stand against the attacks of the evil forces. Righteousness is that quality which will see us striving to defend the weak and the to feed the hungry. Righteousness will be seen when we identify evil and defend others from it. Righteousness is that quality which will see us unswayed in our belief, and determined to obey the fundamental commandments of our Lord. Love God and love our neighbour. In righteousness we defend the persecuted.
In faith we are to proclaim the gospel of peace. This is not only that elusive and apparently impossible peace between nations. It is the peace which is in our heart. It is the peace which will endeavour to bring comfort and courage to the people around us. We may not be able to bring peace to the world, but we can bring -peace into our relationships. We bring peace by loving our partner and our children. We can bring peace by opening our hearts in love for others. Our homes are not places to be used for domestic violence or abuse. Rather we are to strive for our homes to become our safe haven; our nest; our place of security; and our place of a peaceful confidence that will allow us to be ourselves.
The shield of faith is a protection that we ask God to place before us. If our shield is the presence and the guidance of our Lord and God, we will be strong enough to withstand any attack and any temptation. Shields are the part of the armour that will deflect attacks away from us. God is our shield from all that is evil. We are to remember to pick that shield up daily and always hold it before us.
Some of us talk about putting up walls around us to protect us from people who have caused us harm in the past. This in itself is an indicator that trust broken is almost impossible to repair. These walls that we build around us are in a sense the shield of faith. God will teach us to protect ourselves and God will protect us when we call upon God.
The helmet of salvation is our confidence that in God, through the sacrifice of Jesus, we are children of God. This means that regardless of what might happen in our day by day lives we know that in life and in death we are siblings of Jesus and we will, at the right time, be raised to eternal life in the kingdom of God.
Finally we take up the sword of the Spirit. Up until now we have been a little passive, and defensive. The sword is the only object that could be identified as a weapon. And the weapon is the Word of God. Now regardless of whether we see the Word of God as being the scripture, or indeed, Jesus, we are to move forward as if in battle to bring others to know and to believe in the promises of our Lord and God. The sword, the word of God, is the weapon for spreading the message of salvation in Christ.
With our truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Holy Spirit, we are to be the people of God. We are to pray; we are to keep alert, and we are to persevere.
Above all, if our Lord should ask us whether we also want to go away, our answer must be that of Peter. “, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”