“An Offer We Can’t Refuse”
Pentecost 13B (Lect. 21)
August 26, 2012
Star Trek Deep Space Nine (DS9), a spin-off from the original series, revolves around life on a space station designated DS9. DS9 is placed next to a wormhole allowing passage from on quadrant of the galaxy to another. Cmdr. Benjamin Sisko, in charge of DS9, was contacted by alien beings inhabiting the wormhole. These beings exist out of our usual space-time continuum, having no bodies or sense of past, present, or future and they show themselves to Sisko in the guise of people he knows. They do so to quiz him about his “corporeal, linear existence,” something they don’t understand. As Sisko tries to tell them about past, present, and future, he has flashbacks of the death of his wife, who died at the hands of a powerful enemy and for whom he is still grieving. At one point, one of the beings trying to understand the concept of time asks Sisko, “Why do you choose to live there?” Sisko, in his intense grief, chooses to live in the past, which is not a good place for him to choose to live.
In chapter 6 of John’s gospel, Jesus is talking to people who are not only choosing to live in the past, but who are also fearful about their future. So, Jesus tries to help them choose life now. For many of them, there is something about Jesus’ offer as the Bread of Life that is hard to swallow, perhaps even offensive. They cannot see clearly any longer what it is that had attracted them to Jesus in the first place. These are not the occasional hangers-on or cranky religious leaders who are looking for ways to trap Jesus. These are people who have been following Jesus for quite some time, but for some reason they just don’t get it any more. Perhaps Jesus’ graphic description about munching his flesh slurping his blood was too much for them. For whatever reason, they left.
We who follow Jesus a couple of millennia later ought not to be too harsh on our first century cousins. Which of us, at one time or another, hasn’t wondered whether we have believed in vain?
Even if we haven’t totally walked away, how many of us have doubted God’s promises to us? How many of us have drifted away from regular worship, reading the Bible, or daily prayer? How many of us have slowed down in serving others or decreased our level of giving? As I have mentioned before, that’s a huge part of my story, turning my back on God.
How many of us are stuck in some romantic notion of the past like the disciples, or full of regret and grief like Sisko. For that matter, how many are so anxious about the future we forget to live for today? Yet, here we are, full of fear and anxiety, still gathering around Word and Sacrament. Why is that? I think that it’s because, like Peter, who speaks for the disciples and us, Jesus makes us an offer we can’t refuse: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”
Of course, we know that some people do refuse the offer Jesus makes, either actively or passively. But, what about Peter and the rest of twelve, not to mention those of us who stumble in here each week? How are we different? Are we brighter, smarter, or more faithful than those who walk away? The sketchy stories of the first apostles and the unfaithfulness of our own lives dispel that idea quite quickly.
David Lose says that the difference between those who walk away and those who stay is that, like Peter, we know where to look. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Then Lose quotes Martin Luther, “[God] is present everywhere, but does not wish that you grope for him everywhere. Grope rather where the Word is, and there you will lay hold of [God] in the right way" (LW 36:342). Isn’t that a wonderful image, “grope for the Word?” Knowing and believing that Jesus gives us words of life is so compelling that we grope for the Word.
Jesus comes and asks us some hard questions today. “Where do you go for sustenance or answers and is it really a life-giving place?” Or, as Joshua says, “Choose this day who you will serve.” Yet Jesus also comes with a gracious invitation, an offer that we dare not refuse. Not only does Jesus offer us a way of life that is not bound by the past or anxious about the future, Jesus offers his very self, abundant life not only at some future time, but right now as well. Lord, to whom shall we go? As for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord. Amen.