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Sunday, 23 August 2015

You have the words of eternal life

This service was a little different to usual, since it was August and many people, including the music leader and the older young people, were away.  And we don't have Sunday School in August.  So I laminated the "I am" sayings and put six of them round the church, and got members of the congregation to find them and hold them up when relevant....




“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

“To whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
It was Peter who said it. A great many people who might have liked to have been followers of Jesus have given up – they found what Jesus was saying just simply too much to swallow. Literally! And then, when Jesus asks Peter and the others if they are going to disappear, too, Peter says “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life!”

Peter is a pretty terrific person all round. He does have his moments, and he gets it wrong a lot of the time, but he goes on because, whatever else happens, he knows that Jesus is the Holy One of God.

I don't know whether Jesus really knows that he is, or if he's just beginning to think so, or what. But in John's Gospel we have those seven great sayings beginning “I am”, that we've just sung about. And I want us to think about these a bit this morning, because I think some of these “I Am” sayings are, to us, the words of eternal life.

You see, even though Jesus might not have been totally aware of it when he was saying it, what he was doing, on one level, was declaring himself to be divine. I expect you know the story of Moses and the burning bush, where a voice speaks to Moses out of the bush, which was burning up but didn't burn away. And it told him to get Pharoah to let the Israelite slaves go. And Moses said, “Well, who shall I say sent me?” and the voice said “I Am has sent you”. And Jesus, apparently used exactly the same wording. Now I don't know how fully he was aware of this, but certainly on one level this is what he was saying.

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I am the Bread of Life

Let's start with the one this chapter of John's Gospel has been expounding for the last month. I expect you have heard several sermons on it over the past few weeks, so I won't add much, except to remind you that his first hearers reacted very differently to the way we do when we hear those words. At first they said, “Oh rubbish, we know this man, he's Joseph the Carpenter's son, we know his Mum, too – how can he say he is the bread that comes down from heaven? Don't be silly!”

And then Jesus expounds a bit on it: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” And he goes on like that, and this is when most people decide he's either being totally gross, or else he's talking nonsense, and go away. Peter and the other disciples may not have understood what Jesus was talking about – after all, it doesn't go into words very well, does it? All the same, they knew that the needed to go on following Jesus: “Lord, to whom else should we go? For you have the words of eternal life.”

Now then, who can remember another “I am” saying of Jesus? We just sang them in the hymn there now. And round the Church you will find some laminated sheets with the sayings on them. Will someone go and find one of them, and bring it to me, please? One of you younger ones?

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I am the Light of the World

I am the Light of the World.” And in fact Jesus added that and said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

Here in London it doesn't really ever get totally dark, does it? There are so many streetlights and so on that it is even quite difficult to see the stars, always assuming it doesn't rain. But when we're in the country, it can be quite different. I remember one Christmas when we were going to midnight service at my sister's church in Norfolk, and we had to park the car in a field next to the church. So there were no streetlights or anything, and we had to turn the torches on on our phones so that we could see what we were treading in!

That's the thing, isn't it. Light, however feeble, is always stronger than darkness. Think of the rare occasions when we have power cuts – if you go and find a tea-light or similar candle, it doesn't produce much light, but you can still see enough not to bump into the furniture. And the same here – if you follow Jesus, there will always be light enough to see your way ahead in life, even if it's only one tiny step.
Lord, to whom else should we go? For you have the words of eternal life.”

---oo0oo---

I am the Gate for the Sheep

I am the Gate for the sheep”. This one's a bit weird, isn't it? Whatever can he mean?

I don't think it's quite within living memory these days, but time was, on the Sussex Downs and elsewhere, the shepherd lived with his sheep for weeks on end. He had a little hut that was like a tiny caravan where he could sleep and store food and so on. During the day, the sheep roamed fairly freely on the Downs, but at night, the shepherd would build an enclosure from hurdles, and “fold” as it was called, the sheep in there. They would move the fold each night, so that the sheep weren't subjected to mounds of manure. These folds were closed in with a final hurdle, but in the middle east, the shepherd himself would lie down in the gap so that wolves and stray dogs and thieves and so on couldn't get in. And the wolves and stray dogs and thieves and so on knew that, and would sometimes jump over the walls of the fold. Jesus riffs on this: “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Lord, to whom else should we go? For you have the words of eternal life.”

---oo0oo---

I am the good shepherd

This is the more familiar of the two “sheep” sayings, isn't it? Actually, it happens in the next paragraph in John 10.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.”

I know my own, and my own know me.” I think I may have told you before that my brother and his wife are shepherds, and when they go into the field where the sheep are, the sheep know who they are and either carry on with their own lives, or else, if they are hungry, start demanding food NOW! But if Robert or I, or anybody else they don't know, goes into that field, they run away, bleating ferociously.

Jesus also points out that a hired shepherd might run away if a wolf comes, because they aren't his sheep, so naturally he'd rather save his own skin than that of the sheep, but Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will lay down his life for the sheep, if necessary.

Lord, to whom else should we go? For you have the words of eternal life.”

---oo0oo---

I am the Resurrection and the Life

I am the Resurrection and the Life”. This, of course, comes in that lovely story where Jesus' friend Lazarus has died, and his sisters Martha and Mary are grieving for him. Jesus, weeping himself, says that Lazarus will rise again. And Martha says: “‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’”

Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

Do you believe this?

Lord, to whom else should we go? For you have the words of eternal life.”

---oo0oo---

I am the way, and the truth, and the life

I am the way, and the truth, and the life”. Here, Jesus is talking to his disciples only, not to the crowds. He has reminded them that he is going to prepare a place for them in his Father's house. But Thomas says, “Well, how are we going to know the way?” and that is when Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

So it is through Jesus, and Jesus alone, that we can know God as Father, that we can know ourselves beloved children of God.

Lord, to whom else should we go? For you have the words of eternal life.”

---oo0oo---

I am the true vine.

I am the true vine”. Jesus is speaking to his disciples again, here. And this time, it's a two-way thing. First of all, he says he is the vine, and his Father is the vine-grower. “He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”

And then Jesus goes on to explain: “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.”

So this “I am” is a two way one, pointing up to the Father and down to us. We can do nothing unless we “abide” in Jesus. I don't know about you, but that always makes me feel that we have to strive and struggle to stay in Jesus, but if you think of branches on a fruit tree, they don't do any such thing! They just stay where they are put, perhaps swaying a bit if it's windy, but otherwise just relaxing, knowing that the trunk of the tree is holding them tight so that they will bear fruit in due season. As, I expect, will we.

Lord, to whom else should we go? For you have the words of eternal life.”

---oo0oo---
And that's it. The seven great sayings of Jesus.

Lord, to whom else should we go? For you have the words of eternal life.” Amen.



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