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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Filling the Hole

This is the message given in the United Methodist churches of the Wheatland Parish on Sunday, June 18, 2017.  The Bible verses used are John 6:53-69.

            Our reading for today picks up on our reading from two weeks ago, the last time I preached, so we’re going to start with a quick review of what we talked about then.  Jesus said that the way to eternal life is through belief in him. That was not a popular thing for him to say at the time.  It got Jesus into a lot of trouble with the Pharisees to say that he was the divine son and that belief in him was the way to eternal life.
            It still can get us into trouble to say that.  For one thing, it can sound arrogant or judgmental to say that.  It can sound like we think we’re better than everyone else when we say that belief in Jesus is the way to eternal life.  It is, as some of the disciples said, a hard teaching.
            It’s a hard teaching for another reason, too.  A lot of us--probably most of us--know people who don’t believe in Jesus as their Savior.  Some of them are in our families.  Some of them are our friends.  We don’t like to think of them not having eternal life.  That’s especially true if we think of them as good people, people who treat others well, and try to help others and mind their own business otherwise.  We’d like to say that if you’re a good person, that’s good enough.  We don’t want to think of people like that, people we care about, not having eternal life.
            That’s what makes this a hard teaching.  We want to come up with a way around this, but Jesus did not give us one.  We either accept what Jesus said or we don’t.  We either accept that Jesus is the way to eternal life or we don’t.  Those are the only choices we get.
            As you heard, many people in Jesus’ time chose not to accept it.  Verse sixty-six says, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”  Now, understand, when it says “many of his disciples”, we’re not talking about the twelve.  We’re not talking about Peter and James and John and the rest.  They were still there, but by this time Jesus had a lot of other people following him, too.  There was a crowd of people around Jesus a lot of the time by this point.  And when Jesus said this about how he was the way to eternal life, many of them turned away from him.  
            The Twelve were still there.  But they were not saying much.  Finally, Jesus asks them, “You do not want to leave, too, do you?”  And Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”
            “Lord, to whom shall we go?”  Or, Peter could also have said, “To what shall we go?”  And that’s what I want to talk about for the rest of this message.
            Everybody, every human being, is looking for something.  We want something to give our life meaning.  We want something to give our life purpose.  We want something to be passionate about, to be enthusiastic about.  It’s like we’ve got this hole in our lives, in our hearts, in our souls, and we’re looking for something, anything that will fill that hole.
            We look for that in all kinds of things.  Some of them can be destructive or harmful, to ourselves and others.  Things like drugs or alcohol or sexual encounters or material goods or all kinds of other things.  We sometimes look to things like that to fill the hole in our lives.
Sometimes, but not always.  In fact, a lot of times, we look to good things, or at least neutral things, to fill it.  Because again, what we’re looking for is something that will give our lives meaning and purpose.  And so we look to fill that hole in ways we think might do that.
Sometimes we look to our work to fill that hole.  Sometimes we look to caring for our family.  Sometimes we look to a hobby that we really like.  Sometimes we look to volunteering in our community or even at the church.  We’re hoping that, through those things, we can find meaning and purpose in our lives.  We’re hoping that, somehow, if we do enough of those things, that hole in our lives, in our hearts, in our souls, will somehow be filled.
Have you done that?  I have.  I’ve used all kinds of things to try to fill that hole.  Music.  Baseball.  Years ago, when I lived in Pierre, I used the Pierre Players theater group to try to fill that hole in my life.  There are other things, too.  And I suspect that, if you think about it, you can think of things you’ve used to fill that hole, too.
But none of those things ever quite work, do they?  They help.  They make us feel better, for a while.  But they never quite fill that hole.  Because that hole is a God-shaped hole.  And the only thing that can really, finally fill the hole is God, through belief in the divine Son Jesus Christ.
And so, we come back to the question Peter asked, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”  We come back to that because we’ve tried going other places.  We’ve tried going to other things.  We’ve tried going to other people.  And none of them worked.  Again, that’s not to say that those other places, other things, other people we went to were bad.  They may have been good.  But they were not sufficient.  They were not enough.  They could not fill the hole.  They were the wrong size and the wrong shape.  The only things that can fill the hole are the word of God and the love of God.  The only thing that can truly, adequately, completely fill the hole is faith in Jesus Christ.  Nothing else.
That’s why it’s not enough just to be a good person.  Don’t get me wrong, we should try to be good people.  But it’s not enough.  Jesus calls us to more than that.  Our Christian faith calls us to more than that.
There’s a quote that was floating around facebook for a while.  You still see it sometimes.  It’s often attributed to the rapper Eminem, although it seems to be unclear whether it originated with him.  Anyway, what it says is, “I don't care if you're black, white, straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian, short, tall, fat, skinny, rich or poor. If you're nice to me, I'll be nice to you. Simple as that.”
I’ve seen a lot of people post that.  And it sounds good.  It’s something a good person would say, right?  Those are not bad words.  But they’re not enough.  They are not the words of eternal life.
Jesus has the words of eternal life.  Jesus’ words did not say “if you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you.”  Jesus said we get no credit for that whatsoever.  Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.”
Here’s what Jesus said.  Jesus said love your enemies.  Jesus said do good to those who hate you.  Jesus said bless those who curse you.  Jesus said pray for those who mistreat you.  There’s no “if you’re nice to me I’ll be nice to you” there.  Jesus says if you hate me, I’ll still love you.  Jesus said if you curse me, I’ll still be nice to you.  And Jesus told us to do that same thing.  Those are the words of eternal life.
And when we hear those words, a lot of us say the same thing people said in our Bible reading for today.  “This is a hard teaching.  Who can accept it?”  A lot of Jesus’ teachings are hard teachings.  We feel like we cannot do them.  We feel like we really don’t want to do them.  We don’t want to accept them.  And on hearing them, a lot of us are tempted to turn back and no longer follow Jesus.
But when we’re tempted to turn back, we’re again faced with the same problem Peter was faced with.  We still have that God-shaped hole in our lives.  And there’s nothing else we can fill it with.  We’ve tried and we’ve failed.  And no matter how tempting it is to try again we know, deep down, that we’ll fail again.  And so we say, as Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Jesus gives us a lot of hard teachings.  We struggle with them sometimes.  We struggle with doing what Jesus told us to do.  And sometimes we fail.  And sometimes we’re tempted to give up.  
Don’t give up.  Yes, you’ll struggle sometimes, and yes, you’ll fail sometimes.  I struggle and fail, too.  But don’t give up.  Because, just like Peter, we have come to believe and to know that Jesus is the Holy One of God.  Faith in him is the only thing that will fill that God-shaped hole.  Because he, and no one else, has the words of eternal life.

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