I’d like you to try a little exercise with me…just to kind of get our bodies into this Gospel text, to physically orient ourselves to the “words of eternal life”.
I’d like you to close your eyes and take a deep breath. [pause] Now I want you to pretend that the world in which we live is all behind you, literally. It’s behind your back. You’d have to turn your head to look at it. All the good and beautiful things about the world in which we live, are back there, behind you. And all the ugly, broken things are back there too. I want you to think particularly about the things back there in the world that promise you a better life, a longer life, a more rich life. (IKEA: “Bring new life to your home.”) All the things that lure you and perhaps give you temporary joy, but joy that quickly fades…if you’re really honest. We talked earlier this month about such things – for some it’s food, temporary joy but joy that quickly fades, for some it’s other substances, maybe drink, for some it could be a relationship that’s really not so healthy, temporary joy but quickly fading. For some of us it’s a compulsive habit, like shopping or collecting or checking FB or email around the clock. For some of us it’s thrill seeking, for some it’s watching football or baseball – or television shows, or acquiring the latest gadget...Whatever it is for you, it’s “back there”. Now keeping your eyes closed turn back, literally, as if you’re looking over your right shoulder at it. With your eyes closed, turn your head as if you’re looking over your right shoulder at those things “back there” that pull at you, entice you, sometimes even successfully seduce you. Do you see it?! Really stretch your neck, physically turning toward those things behind you. (If it hurts too much, uncoil and look over your left shoulder, or turn your whole torso…)
Now come back forward and open your eyes…and look at the cross, look at the bible, look at the altar. Now close your eyes and look back again. Now open your eyes and look at the cross, the book the altar. Do that a few times…almost like you’re loosening up before a work out. [pause] OK…
I don’t know how this made you feel, but maybe it’s a little something like Peter in our Gospel text. “L, to whom shall we go?” I tried this in my office earlier, looking back and forth, and I don’t know about you, but a few things happened to me:
1) stretched my neck looking back at the world,
2) got dizzy -- (interesting, metaphorically),
3) preferred looking forward with my eyes open
We, like Peter, are always standing at a split in the road. We could go this way [point at cross], eyes open looking to the cross, or we could go back that way [pointing to door]. And making this choice can be kind of uncomfortable, like a stretch to the neck; it can be dizzying. But like Peter, we know that ultimately eyes open looking to the cross is the way to go. As Peter said, “Lord, what other way is there really? As I look back there, I know everything else comes up short. Lord, to whom else, to what else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…not the IKEA catalogue, not the thrills, or the food, or the entertainment, or the work or the leisure. You have the words of eternal life.” [pause]
Now, our reading from Ephesians helps us sort all this out a little more: Because this might sound—this standing with a split in the road (“Do I go this way or that?”)—like I’m getting dangerously close to, what’s called, “decision theology”. Ever heard of “decision theology”? This is one of the things that sets Lutherans and some other protestants apart from our other Christian sisters and brothers (this is so important): we don’t make a choice to “accept Jesus Christ”, God always comes to us first…!
[Preach it!] This place where I’m inviting you to stand with this exercise, this is not deciding to accept Jesus while rejecting the world. God’s already claimed you…“sorry”. God knew you in your mother’s womb and loved you way back then and has loved and accepted you ever since, called you by name, held you close. We might run from it or reject it, but that doesn’t change God’s mind. There’s no decision you can make about God’s loving, saving and forgiving you. You have no say in it…AMEN? Solid Lutheran theology is not “your decision” theology. Luther: “I cannot by my own understanding or strength (Kraft- force, power, might, agency, fortitude) believe in my Lord Jesus Christ or come to him. But the Holy Spirit calls me through the gospel, enlightens me with her gifts, sanctifies me in the one true faith…just as she does to the whole Christian church and keeps it with Jesus in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins, mine and those of all my sisters and brothers!”
OK? So we’re not invited to make a choice about accepting Jesus here. We are invited to go into the world, “armed” to borrow from Ephesians’ imagery, with the truth about what gives eternal life – not all that “stuff” back there. But rather the words, the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus. That’s what we confess here, this day and every day!
That that stuff back there doesn’t save us. Jesus does. So we as people of God, even while we live “in the world” don’t put our trust in the stuff of the world: IKEA doesn’t bring new life into my home, the stories and songs of God and God’s people do! Should be a tagline on the bible or on our hymnals: “Bring new life into your home.” We live in the world, we love the world, but we don’t put our trust in the stuff of the world, in the armor and the weapons of the world, in the empty promises and vain empires of the world. We who Christ has loved from the beginning are protected are armed only by the truth of the Gospel.
|(interesting picture and great book!)|
And fed, by the bread of heaven, which fills us with the true life of God, which nourishes and sustains us for faithful living out there…out there behind you. We’re not better than anyone: we’re wearing the shoes of peace and humility. We’re not violent, we’re carrying the sword of the Word, not the sword of conquest or might. We’re armed only in that we’re covered by God. It is a direct counter to the literal armaments of the Roman armies. It makes no sense to them. “How could you protected by just God? You need a real weapon,” the Roman soldiers would scoff. But we know the truth, we believe, and we trust in God alone.
And so we turn now and go back into the world, full of beauty and pain, and we live our lives. But always keeping the cross before us – it’s ultimately not the cross or the world. Christ’s cross is in the world. And we see it! We see Christ in the world’s pain. This is the life of the Christ-ian, the way of the cross, the way of Christ, which is in the world. There’s nowhere else to go. “You, Lord, have the words of eternal life. Cover us with that word, gracious Christ. Fill us with that bread, loving God. And help us to proclaim this good word boldly in all our thoughts, words and deeds.”