To whom shall we go?

A sermon at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid, Ohio, one week after the fall of Kabul, the earthquake in Haiti, and in the midst of hurricane season and extended pandemic surge. In the gospel, many disciples find Jesus’ teaching hard to follow and turn away, but when Jesus asks the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “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.” (John 6:69)

Featured image: Kings Palace, Kabul, by Casimiri at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There is a hurricane heading into New England. To the west and across the ocean, wildfires are burning. To our south, earthquake has devastated people’s lives and homes, and left them without shelter from the next storm. All around us there are signs of pandemic disease and a pandemic of anger as we try to navigate our way out of trouble that seems to have us firmly by the ankles.

It is in the moment of crisis that we are challenged to stay with Jesus, or to turn aside to some other saviour. 

I am with Peter. I know of no better way to live than in the shadow of the Cross and the hope of Resurrection, in the story of God’s love, and of our redemption. However imperfectly, if I can follow Jesus, if I can hear him, if I can abide in him, and let him take root in me, then I may not avoid the storms that surround us all, but I will not be altogether sunk by them.

The way of the Cross is a way of hope, because it is forged in love, because it is forged in God. To whom else should we turn for eternal life?

Eternal life is not mere survival, in this life or the next. It is not mere endurance, the defeat of time and mortality. Eternal life is our share in the image of God in which we are created. It is the flourishing of the life of Christ within us; he who became human so that we might see the fullness of humanity, the potential for our partnership with God, in this life as well as in whatever comes next.

The way of Jesus, the way of the Cross, which is the way of love, of selflessness, of obstinate faithfulness, defiant forgiveness; which is the uncompromising love of God: this is the way of eternal life that leads to Resurrection, now and in the age to come.

We have grown up used to seeing Christianity as we practice it as the respectable and popular, the politically astute and advantageous choice. But the way of Jesus is not always the most acceptable path, and the choices of the gospel do not always favour those whom society elevates.

There were other days when Jesus’ teaching and preaching led to him losing followers instead of making them.

When he told the rich man to sell his possessions and distribute them among the poor, he lost a potentially powerful patron.

When he turned over the tables of the money changers, he lost a whole parcel of patience from those who set the exchange rate.

When he healed some and disturbed the sabbath peace of others, he made the neighbours grumble and murmur that he was not following proper procedure, nor observing the rules.

What do you think they said when he told us to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute?

When he raised the dead, they planned to kill him.

At the moment of crisis, we need to ask whether we are still following Christ, or turning aside to other idols: militancy and Mammon, the saviour complexes of the west or the authoritarian pretensions of theocracy. A civil religion, in which might makes right, respectability is next to godliness, and success is measured by each individual and not by the measure of grace and hope that is spread across creation, to dignify each and every person made in the image of God. 

We have seen terrible things this past week. We have seen the desperation of people whose lives have been altogether changed in an instant. We have witnessed the destruction of homes and lives by earthquake, of lives and futures by war and by its complicated and devastating repercussions. We have heard the anger of those who feel betrayed by its ending, and we have absorbed the grief and fear of those whom we have abandoned in the end. We who have grown up as women and girls know in our bones, in the depths of our bodies and souls how badly this will go for them.

We are in a moment of crisis, and soon it will come home, and we will be asked to consider where our allegiances lie: whether we will embody the love and sacrifice of Christ, or turn aside to our own interests, more strategic measures. Whether we are prepared to welcome with open arms and open pockets refugees from war and terror. Whether we will ration the bread and the fish, or trust that we have enough to share, and baskets left over, if only we will listen to Jesus. Whether we will walk with them in love.

And, in the weeks and months to come, we may be well asked to make further sacrifices to further the health and safety of our children, and their families, and their teachers and caregivers; of our healthcare workers, so that they can continue to care for our whole community. Will we stand upon our own rights and freedoms, or choose the way of Christ, the way of love, the way which gives way?

You know that in another gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats: those who have sought out and served Jesus in every person they have seen and known, who have shared the mercy of God with everyone they could; and those who withheld it, and in doing so, denied the humanity of Christ, the image of God within those they could have honoured.

We know the call of Christ upon us. The question is, every time, do we still want to follow?

Others may, but I do not know another way that leads to eternal life, in this life and the next. I do know that if I abide in him, however imperfectly, he will stay with me, for he is faithful, and merciful, and his love endures for ever.


About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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