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.” John 6:68-69
In the last few weeks, these verses have come up in my life a few times. Hans Beier had chosen these verses for the sermon text at his own funeral. Pastor Christian Straeuli used these verses for the devotion at his father’s 60th birthday.
At the beginning of May Bishop Reinstorf and missionary, Peter Weber will be travelling to Malawi. They will be spending ten days together with pastors and students of the Lutheran Church in Malawi, assisting them with the theological training in their church. Mission director Roger Zieger and I will also be travelling in those days, this time to Namibia. We will be meeting with Lutheran Christians in the Caprivi Strip, who had been refugees in the Dukwi Refugee camp in Botswana some years back. After two years of lockdown, these are the first mission trips that the MLC will be undertaking again in the southern African region. “Lord, to whom shall we go?”
These verses taken from the Gospel of St. John are from the “Bread of Life” chapter. Jesus had fed the multitudes with just a few loaves of bread and some fish. No real surprise that they wanted to make him king. But Jesus does not allow himself to be “captured” by the crowds and he leads the people to an ever deeper understanding of the concept of the bread of life. It was offensive for the Jews, that Jesus dared to compare himself to Moses, but it seemed obscene that he offered his own body to be eaten. That is why many chose to leave him, probably disappointed that they had invested time and hope in him. Much of what Jesus had said and done sounded really great, but it would seem that the complete “package” was too much to accept. Jesus then asked his disciples, whether they too would like to leave. Peter answered with the verses quoted above, that they had seen too much and had come to realise, that they could no longer just leave Christ behind. Remarkably, not too far in the future, they would leave Christ isolated and alone, when they fled out of fear, disappointment and grief. But most of them would return at a later stage, and they would see and recognise Jesus Christ as the risen Lord. He would call Peter back into the discipleship and give him the task to take care of Christ’s flock.
Since then, throughout history, this call to discipleship has been going out to the people. No matter in what phase of life we stand, Jesus has relevant words of eternal life. That is why it is worth it staying around Jesus even beyond death and the grave. But he does not only have good words for us at the end of our lives, but even in the middle, when things are busy and hectic. We do not want to miss his Word, his presence or his kindness in our lives. This realisation, that we – at no point in our lives – want to be without Christ, explains why we Christians persevere in the missionary task of the church. When we ourselves know and recognise, what gives us support and hope in this and the future world, then we do not want to deny this to anyone else. And we will definitely not proclaim any other hope or any other gospel, than the one that we ourselves have come to trust and believe in. We are responding with these mission trips by the MLC to requests from churches and Christians that are requesting help and support in their theological training to better give account of the hope that is in us. In Mozambique and in Malawi the hunger for God’s Word is quite remarkable.
Our own situation, on the other hand, is characterised more and more by a secular world view. Basically that means that we need God and the Bible less and less to explain and understand our world. The real danger is that we might think that we no longer need God. From this neglect arises a departure from God. Perhaps this is not so much the result of actually being angry about Jesus, as the people in John 6 were, but rather because he has been ignored. It is a real challenge for us Christians living in a secular world, that the message, the hope in Christ Jesus, needs to be translated into our context, so that people can understand its relevance. For that to happen, it would seem to be a good idea, if we ourselves were sure about what it means that Christ has words of eternal life, so that we do not look for help or solutions anywhere else, except from Christ. Then, in a step of contextualization, we express in our lives the faith and trust we have in Christ, so that we become credible witnesses of God’s love to the people around us.