Fr. Philip Sang: Trusting by Faith

Sermon delivered on Trinity 12B, August 23, 2015, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: 1 Kings 8.1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84.1-12; Ephesians 6.10-20; John 6.56-69.

May the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be acceptable to your oh Lord our rock and our Redeemer, in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit Amen.

In today’s gospel, we learn of how, after listening to Jesus teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, many of his disciples found his words difficult to the extent where they could no longer be Jesus’ disciples. Jesus was teaching them about the sacrament of Holy Communion; of eating and drinking his flesh and blood. To many, this was going too far. How could they, being faithful Jews, participate in the most offensive act of cannibalism? Such a teaching went beyond sound reasoning and common understanding. However, Jesus was not teaching or advocating that his disciples practice cannibalism. Rather, he was speaking of living in relationship with him as God’s Holy One who would open the door to the Father. He was their true Master Key; he would be able to open the door and bring them into the Father’s kingdom.

As this gospel story unfolds, the people, who were disciples, we are told, are abandoning Jesus, so he asks the twelve disciples if they too wished to go away from him. Peter, being the spokesperson for the other disciples then responds with this confession, “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.”

One wonders, how could Peter and the other eleven, of course with Judas being the exception, remain with Jesus and make this confession, while, on the other hand many others, who were also his disciples, abandoned him? Well, apart from the deep mysteries of God, the main reason seems to be that the ones who left placed their own understanding; their own knowing; over and above faith; of being able and willing to trust in Jesus even if they did not completely understand his teachings.

Men and women have come to God, not to find prove to bread or curious to analyze it; they have come as hungry people, needing to eat if they would live. And they have found life glorified by faith in him. It was with Peter and his companions as it is with us too; that faith and believing take precedent over and prior to knowledge and understanding. We do not know and understand in order to have faith and believe. Rather, it is the other way round, we have faith and believe in order to know and understand. This we see in the words of Peter’s confession as well, when he says: “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Belief comes first, then the knowing. This truth is born out further as we read the whole story of Christ and his disciples in the gospels. Overall, we notice that it is not until after Christ’s resurrection that the disciples really knew and understood what Jesus was talking about before he died and predicted his Passion and resurrection. So it is with us too, we believe and have faith in Jesus long before we completely know and understand him. In fact, our knowledge and understanding of him is always growing and maturing as we take practical steps of faith in our daily living.

Another reality and truth to which Peter’s confession points us is the importance of commitment to Christ. Here we have people giving up their commitment to Jesus. In this context, when the going gets tough we see the tough gets going, it is Peter and his companions who stay put and remain committed to Jesus.

By following Jesus and being committed to him like Peter and his companions, we are able to make our life count. A committed life can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary this happens by us investing our time, talents, gifts and resources to work for the good of one another and for all. When we are committed to Jesus, we can leave a legacy of faith, a legacy of hope and a legacy of love for others that will last not only a lifetime, but into all eternity. Peter’s confession then reminds us all that by being committed to Christ our lives can make a tremendous difference in the church and in the world. Of course that is what we stand for; saved by God to make a difference for God

Most of us who have “fallen in love” with someone often say things like: “she/he is the only one for me;” or “she/he is the best man/woman in the whole wide world.” For us, the love relationship that we are involved in is so intense that there is no room for any other person to meet our needs or share our life with than that particular person whom we love.

So it was with Peter and his companions, when he made his confession to Christ. Notice the words he employs to communicate this exclusive loyalty and love towards Jesus: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” The question here might be translated something like this: “Jesus, you alone are the only one for us; there is no one in the whole wide world like you; you are the best; you are the greatest; you are number one!” Then Peter adds: “You have the words of Eternal life.” In other words, Jesus in his person now is the word become flesh, living and dwelling among us. His flesh present word along with the words that he spoke gives life. It is difficult to understand, how is this so? Well, it is this way because of the content in his word: his incarnate word-become-flesh and his spoken word both are life-giving because they are full to overflowing with promises. Promises like: “your sins are forgiven, I am with you always till the end of time, I love you, you are a precious member of my family, you are created in the very image of God, in me you are given everything you need to live an abundant life, I accept you unconditionally, I love you so much that I have suffered and died for you, I am the Holy One of God who through my resurrection, have defeated the powers of sin, death, and evil, and can save you and offer you eternal life.”

Peter and his companions trusted and later came to know that such words of Jesus were full-to-overflowing with promises that no other human being could live up to or match or improve upon. That is why they could go to no one else but Jesus. So it is with us too. Yes, at times we face many tests and hardships in life. Yes, at times we pray and pray; yet it seems to no avail and we feel that God doesn’t answer us. Yes, at times we are tempted to turn away from Jesus and go looking for “better things.” However, our God does not reject us or punish us for all of this. Instead, God hears us through Jesus and he invites us back from our wonder-lust, back to him. So we too, like the twelve, are invited to stay with him; he will give us all and so much more that we need to live a life of abundance, since there is no one else who can ever take his place.

Paul writing to the church of Ephesus and to us today warns that there will be struggle against the evil one and he encourages the church to be strong in the Lord and put on the spiritual armor of God to be able to stand against the methods of Satan. The struggle is not physical in nature but spiritual. Thus Paul mentions the spiritual weapons that we ought to have to face the battle, gird your waist with truth, put on breastplate of righteousness, gospel of peace, and shield of faith; As somebody puts it, the head of a Baptist, the heart of an Anglican, and the feet of a Pentecostal.  These are required to quench the flaming arrows of the evil one. The presence of these weapons in our lives means the presence of Jesus in our lives. People of God our strength is not in ourselves but in the Lord.

The psalmist has perfectly described the true meaning of putting one’s trust in the Lord. Putting our trust in the Lord is not simply confessing that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God or is the Lord of our life. We truly trust in the Lord when our desire is to be in the presence of the Lord above all else. We would rather serve God and worship God than enjoy the comforts of life. We must desire to ever sing God’s praises. When our hearts are on the highway to God, we will go through the valley of wailing, but enduring from strength to strength. God is our shield who hears our prayers and helps us through our difficult times. But we need to truly put our trust in the Lord. It is time to stop making excuses that we think justify us before God. Give God your time and full effort and you will find these things to be worth the effort.

Solomon and Israelites understood what it means to trust in the Lord and the presence of the Lord among them. The psalmist understood how blessed it is to trust in the Lord, Paul acknowledged trusting in the Lord who is the source of the strength to fight the enemy, the disciples resolved to trust and stick to the Lord who has life and none other. It is my prayer today that we will make a resolution to trust in the Lord Jesus who is our life and all in all. To Him be all Glory forever and ever

In the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.