Sunday, August 9, 2009

Desperation of the Gospel

painting by El Greco - "Tears of St. Peter"

“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘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.”

Even though Jesus heals the sick, raises the dead, feeds the 5000, and walks on water, many of the disciples still turn around and walk away. By today’s standards of preaching, Jesus was not always a blockbuster hit. He did not always fill up the pews. He did not always preach a message that appealed to those hearing. After he tells his followers that he is the bread of life that has come down from heaven they actually become frustrated, so much so that they actually walk away. They say, “Jesus this is a hard saying! Who will listen?”

Following Jesus, as a disciple, is not marked by constant devotion and confidence. Following Jesus in everyday life is not marked by constant spiritual enthusiasm. Being a Christian is by no means an unwavering journey, but more so a lifetime of spiritual drama – times of temptation and desperation. We see this in the lives of all the disciples, and certainly Peter. And our own lives bear witness to this.

Peter’s confession to our Lord here is not an especially romantic expression of devotion. After Jesus offers His Word, meal, and drink of eternal life to the disciples, our Lord sensing the tension in Peter - seeing the torn and confused look on his face, gently asks him, “Peter Do you want to go away as well?” As the cool breeze of the Galilean sea wafts across the shores of Capernaum he is in a desperate crisis. Peter’s knees shake and he likely feels the world as he knows it slipping out from underneath him.

Dearest Christians, can you imagine the feelings of Peter’s situation – this drama of faith – hearing the incredible promises of God from the Holy one of God – God’s Son - Jesus. Here is Peter stammering about, somewhat confused, and frustrated. Many of those whom Peter knows that have been following Jesus have turned away and left. Many you know have walked away. And here it is you and Jesus. We are tempted maybe to follow the world, turn around, and walk away – to go back to a more familiar way of living – without the hard sayings of Jesus. However, we know, in desperation that we have nowhere else to truly go. Jesus our Lord and God is what matters more than anything else.

And here is Jesus tenderly and lovingly inviting Peter to stay close. Yet Jesus is not attractive that we should highly esteem him, He is a man sticken, smitten, and afflicted. He is the neighborhood carpenter – known as the son of Mary and Joseph. God comes so close to Peter. God made man in Jesus comes so close to the disciples that it causes an offense – so much so that many of his disciples – it was the 72 at this time – actually turn and walk away!

This is the loveliness of our Lord that he comes among us, stooping down in such an amazing way. Peter with a heavy heart, eyes of desperation and cracking voice pours out his confession, “Lord, where else can we go? There is no one else to save us. There is no one else to help. Only you Lord can forgive sin. There is nowhere else to go. You have the Words of eternal life. We believe. We know you. You are the Holy One of God.”

This rather somber, desperate confession of Peter, truly becomes are own confession. For like Peter - for true help – for faith – for life itself we have no one else to flee too. The president of the United States cannot forgive the sin of the world and feed us the bread of heaven. He cannot repair a broken world ravaged by sin, murder, and spiritual decay. We cannot receive eternal life through celebrities or movie stars. Self-help books cannot finally ease our heartache and heal our wounds. Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil, as well-intentioned as they may be, cannot give us the heavenly word and promise of forgiveness and eternal life. We all naturally flock to many other things, people, and places that we think can offer us peace, security, and healing. However, when we have exhausted all our hopes, we will come up empty again and again and again.

Dear Christians, only God can feed us. We will never come up empty in God’s great mercy. We can never expect too much from him. We can never ask for too much when we pray in His name. We can never exhaust his grace. Before the foundation of the world, God so desperately desired us that he formed us with His own hands and breathed His own very breath of life into our lungs. When He looks down from heaven and beholds us in desperation, we must know that God himself is so desperate for our love that He willingly goes to die a bloody death so that he may win us back and claim our love.

Jesus speaks to us “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever…As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me.” And in our hearts we may say “Jesus, this is a hard saying, who will listen to it?”

We cannot by our own reason or strength listen to or believe in Jesus Christ. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, the work of God himself who opens our ears and opens our lips – opens the lips of Peter – to cry out – to sing out – to pray “Lord to whom else shall we go. It is you Lord, only you that can help me.”

And help He does. He gives us the faith to believe and by the desperation and agony of the cross raises us up to live – to live in the newness of life that only the Gospel can bring. The Lord forgives his church for ever doubting or walking away, and turns us around again and again, to say “stay with me…do not go…I have the Words of eternal life.” Sunday after Sunday He carries us back to this place so that we may hold each other up on the rock of Peter’s confession. Lord to whom else shall we go? We go to Jesus again and again so that we may love one another as he has loved us. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Michael,

    That is a beautiful sermon. You have learned to preach about faith without using the word, as Walther advises. It is much more natural for us to rely on an idea of faith, that is, something within us, rather than on one that is longs for the words that come from God. But the former is an idol, and God is in the idol-smashing-business, so that we love and trust only Him.

    You do great work. Keep it up.


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