Summary: A sermon on the implications of Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus and ours.
Sermon for 11 Pent Yr B, 24/08/2003
Based on Jn 6:56-69
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
One day a few years ago, I went into the local paint store to get some keys for the church cut. The storekeeper told me the following story. A woman came into the store and asked the storekeeper to cut her a key. After she paid for the new key, the woman went home to try it out. She came back to the store four times without successfully getting a new key to open her door. The fourth time, the storekeeper told her that he was stumped; there was nothing else he could do to make a key fit her door. The woman replied: "O well, the original, master key doesn’t open the door either!"
Life is like that too. If we become disciples of false teachers or masters, we shall end up getting lost and travelling down dangerous, destructive, evil roads. However, if we become disciples of Jesus, our true Master, he shall lead us out of our lostness and down roads of righteousness, goodness and love.
In today’s gospel, we learn of how, after listening to Jesus teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, many of his disciples found his words difficult to the extent where they could no longer be Jesus’ disciples. Jesus was teaching them about the sacrament of Holy Communion; of eating and drinking his flesh and blood. To many, this was going too far. How could they, being faithful Jews, participate in the most offensive act of cannibalism? Such a teaching went beyond sound reasoning and common understanding. However, Jesus was not teaching or advocating that his disciples practice cannibalism. Rather, he was speaking of living in relationship with him as God’s Holy One who would open the door to the Father. He was their true Master Key; he would be able to open the door and bring them into the Father’s kingdom.
As this gospel story unfolds, the people (who were disciples, we are told) are abandoning Jesus left, right and centre, so he asks the twelve disciples if they too wished to go away from him. Peter, being the spokesperson for the other disciples then responds with this confession, which we sing in our liturgy before the reading of the Gospel: "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."
One wonders, how could Peter and the other eleven (with Judas being the exception) remain with Jesus and make this confession, while, on the other hand many others, who were also his disciples, abandoned him? Well, apart from the deep mysteries of God’s predestination--which we will not get into here--the main reason seems to be that the ones who left placed their own understanding; their own knowing; over and above faith; of being able and willing to trust in Jesus even if they did not completely understand his teachings.
Men (and women) have come to God, not as chemists to bread curious to analyze it; they have come as hungry (women and) men, needing to eat if they would live. And they have found life glorified by faith in him.
A jury of philosophers might analyze the wood-work and the metals of an organ, and guess from form and material what it is, but we still should need for our assurance a musician. When (s)he sweeps the keys in harmony we know that it is an organ. So when the philosophers have debated the pros and cons of argument concerning faith, Jesus plays the Gospel. His life is the Christian affirmations done into character. And multitudes of folk, living out the implications of the faith, have found the likeness of the Master growing in them. Weighty confirmation of the Gospel’s truth arrives when its meaning is translated into life; the world will not soon reject the New Testament in this edition—bound in a (hu)man. 1
So it was with Peter and his companions; so it is with us too; that faith and believing take precedent over and prior to knowledge and understanding. We do not know and understand in order to have faith and believe. Rather, it is the other way round, we have faith and believe in order to know and understand. This is born out in the words of Peter’s confession as well, when he says: “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Belief comes first, then the knowing. This truth is born out further as we read the whole story of Christ and his disciples in the gospels. Overall, we notice that it is not until AFTER Christ’s resurrection that the disciples really knew and understood what Jesus was talking about before he died and predicted his Passion and resurrection. So it is with us too, we believe and have faith in Jesus long before we completely know and understand him. In fact, our knowledge and understanding of him is always growing and maturing as we take practical steps of faith in our daily living.