Read first:  John 6:66-70

Simon Sez -lessons from the life of Peter:  #2 To whom shall we go?

Today we will be taking a further look at Simon Peter and what we might learn from what “Simon Sez.”   Our focus this day is on the situation as we find it developing in the last section of the sixth chapter of John’s gospel – and it doesn’t take long to understand that things are starting to get quite serious.  Jesus has begun to lay out for those who would follow him, that this path is not just a walk in the park – that there are some very serious things about the Kingdom of God that these followers must face.

As Jesus talks with those who are gathered around him – John calls them disciples – they are really the crowd who has been following him from place to place – amazed by his healing – intrigued by his messages – but now that things have gotten serious – now that Jesus has begun to demand certain things of them, they have begun to disappear.  “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.” (vs. 66)

We are told that Jesus then turns around in the midst of this, looks at the twelve and inquires, “Do you want to go way as well?”  What about you – do you want to leave also – or are you willing to make the commitment to walk through what is necessary to enjoy the full joy of the Kingdom of God?  And that’s when we hear Peter respond on behalf of the twelve with the words we are going to focus on for a few minutes.  His reply on behalf of the twelve is a question that should set us to pondering, for Simon sez:  “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…”   

Lord, to whom shall we go?  That is a question that we often ask in the midst of our lives – Simon’s question – to whom shall we go?  There are lots of different times and places in which we ask the question – but there are three in particular that I would like to look at with you this morning.

The first is this – we tend to ask the question when we are in a time of despair – when we have a deep-seated need for hope.  In those times when life has become so overwhelming – we wonder – sometimes even aloud – if we are going to be able to survive it.  In the midst of those times we seek companionship and yet as important as human words are – we know they are not enough.  When a hug – or the touch of a hand – mean so much – and yet which alone are not sufficient.  In the midst of those times when we ache – because we know that deep in the midst of our soul – that there is something more – that we are made for something greater.  In those times when even empathy and sympathy just don’t cut it – this is when the question, to whom shall we go? – comes crying out of our hearts.  People answer the question in a variety of ways.

Some answer it by turning to drugs – prescription drugs or illegal drugs – to dull the pain, to blur away things – or to alcohol – so they can create a kind of stupor and not really have to deal with it all.

Some folks are able to psychologically stir up an emotional numbness that allow them to carry out the tasks of life – while being desensitized to the reality of life.

In these times Simon Peter’s question calls out – Lord, Lord, to whom shall we go?   And then we hear Simon’s answer to his own question.  The question itself is almost a rhetorical one – for he then immediately completes his thought, looking right at Jesus he continues with the words, “For you have the words of eternal life?”

In the Old Testament – in the book of Psalms – there is a Psalm that really touches on this – Psalm 121 which reads like this:

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

The setting of this Psalm was worship – the picture is of a person coming out of the temple in Jerusalem who had just been to worship – and his heart is heavy with the burdens of life – but as he leaves he remembers the God of his people.  And he looks to the hills – though the translation “hills” is really a bit soft here – it should be the word “mountain” for he looks and sees in his mind’s eye – not the hills on the horizon – but the Mountain of God Almighty – the one who spoke to Moses out of the bush – there high on Mt. Sinai.

That is where my help comes from he realizes.  From the Maker of heaven and earth – this is the One who is on my side.  You see the promise – I will be with you – he realizes – and we need to realize as well – is not just for Abraham or Moses or Joshua – for all the “heroes” of the faith – but that promise – I will be with you – is for the ordinary believer too!  It is for you and for me – and not just in times of great call or great danger – but also in the midst of every day.

We need to be reminded in such times of despair – that it is God who sends that peace that is beyond human understanding – that peace that will keep our hearts and minds – even when we would otherwise find ourselves walking the road to despair.  Peter’s question is answered in our time of despair – when we struggle with no hope – it is God alone who can bring that hope.

I remember well not quite a decade ago when an act of evil was carried out on the campus of Virginia Tech.  It impacted not only a few isolated families – but thousands upon thousands upon thousands – not only those in Blacksburg, Virginia – but all over the country and around the world.  That Monday in April 2007 was a day of shock – and concern – that touched our family as well.  Just a few months earlier our son had graduated from VT and he still had many friends still on campus.  Phone calls were made – prayers lifted – time spent waiting to hear news.  It was wonderful to see how people acted with concern for families connected to VT.  On the day after I had been to Florence, SC, for a meeting at the Presbytery office.  On the way home I was listening on the radio to the convocation service that afternoon on the campus when I pulled up at a stop light near the campus of Francis Marion University.  A car pulled up beside me at the red light – he must have noticed the VT sticker on the back of my van – he honked his horn – I looked over at him – and he gave me the thumbs up sign – I nodded and gave him the sign in return.  As the light turned green and we started our separate ways – I began to cry – right there on Route 76 – feeling so deeply the loss and despair of those families – and I thought – how will they get through it.

That Thursday afternoon I pulled into my driveway and a car that had been following me down the street pulled in behind me.  She had seen the VT sticker on the car – and our VT flag flying on the house – and she stopped to talk to me.  She is a Professor of English at Coastal Carolina – her daughter is in charge of the Aquatics program at VT – and one of those killed was one of her lifeguards.  She was driving down our street headed to the house of another VT family to stop and check on them.  But she needed to talk – to share both her pain and her support with another connected to the VT family.  We talked for maybe 10 minutes – and off she went – we didn’t even exchange names – but right then – right there – names really didn’t matter.

Of all the words said – I think I appreciated the words of President Bush at the convocation the most.  He quoted Romans 12:21 – “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  But to do that we must have the right words – and it reminds us once again of the importance of what Simon sez:  Lord, to whom shall we go?  You alone have the words of eternal life…  Those are the words we need to hear in time of despair – in time of loss – when we need words of hope.  In such times our prayers need to be that others might hear Peter’s words to Jesus that day so long ago – and that they might take them as their own.  Lord, to whom shall we go?  You alone have the words of eternal life.

A second time when many of us find ourselves asking Peter’s question is when we are filled with guilt.  Simon’s question is asked again:  Lord, to whom shall we go?

Guilt has an amazingly powerful affect in our lives.  You no doubt realize that there are two kinds of guilt.  There is real guilt – and there is manufactured guilt.  There are those who literally manufacture guilt – sometimes for the purpose of controlling others.

Many parents and children for instance, live in a relationship that is focused not so much on love – but rather on manufactured kind of guilt.   How many adults are there – and I’m not only talking about adults who are 22 or 32 or even necessarily 42 – adults who will never do a certain thing because – they would feel so terribly guilty because their mother or father – who may be long gone – would never ever have approved.  Often, it isn’t really a question of whether some action is something that God would approve or disapprove – it is instead a manufactured guilt – a kind of guilt that controls us.

Real guilt is that guilt that grips us once we have come to understand that we are meant to have a right relationship with God and others.  And real guilt grabs us when we see plainly how our actions have broken those relationships.

This leads some to repentance – to God – to forgiveness – to renewal – to being set on the right way once again – but there are others who try to hide from their guilt – who try to pretend that it just doesn’t exist – who absolutely refuse to deal with it – but that way of living doesn’t really work.  It is not satisfying – it simply eats away at us – at the relationships of life – further destroying them.

Leslie Weatherhead in his book, “Psychology, Religion and Healing,” tells about an interesting case that involved a woman and her husband who had come to see him for counseling.  He wrote,  “Another most fascinating case I was able to remedy concerned a young married woman who lived in the country (and this is written shortly after WWII) and who developed a rash across her chest when she went shopping in the town.  The strange feature about this was that it was not every shopping expedition into town that produced the rash – just some.  They had tried many ointments, all kinds of salves, but nothing would heal this rash.  To make a long story very short – it emerged that she only developed the rash if while shopping in the town she saw a certain kind of motor car.  Without the why of it coming into consciousness at all, to see a certain type of car reminded the unconscious – in which of course all of our memories are stored – of a moral incident which happened with a married man in the back of a similar car while her own husband was fighting overseas.  The guilt was repressed but had its revenge in the unsightly rash – making a person who would not face up to and accept the fact of a stained life – bear instead the stigma of a stained body.  In the midst of her counseling she promised to give up her immoral relationships – and she was able to realize the fact of the forgiveness of God and of her husband who was told the whole story by his wife and readily forgave her.  They reaffirmed their marriage vows together in my presence and that stubborn rash disappeared and has never returned.”

All it took was the sight of a car – for the unconscious part of her mind to remind her of her guilt.  In the Book of Isaiah, God says to us, “Come let us reason together – let us sit down and work this thing out – though your sins are like scarlet – they shall be as white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18)  That is God’s desire for us – not to walk through life overwhelmed with guilt – but to feel and to know His forgiveness.  Jesus said, “Come to me you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)   There is rest for those upon whom guilt is taking its toll.

“Lord, to whom shall we go…?”  If it is guilt that pursues you – the place  you need to go is to be found in the merciful and loving forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

The third place where we sometimes ask this question is when we are at a cross road in life – when we are seeking direction for our living.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?” 

My favorite story dealing with this is found in the 10th chapter of Mark’s gospel – it is the story often referred to as that involving “the Rich Young Ruler.”  Here we read of a young man who is doing his very best to find direction in life and who one day comes before Jesus and as he does so he falls on his knees before him.  He has come to talk to Jesus about life – and about where it is that he should be headed.  Jesus listened to him speak – and then asks him some rather focused questions – he hears the young man’s reply and the Scripture says that Jesus looked at him and loved him.  One translation puts it this way, saying that Jesus’ heart warmed toward him.

Jesus looked down at him – he saw something wonderful in this man.  And then Jesus gave him the words that the young man needed to hear – he said, You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.

You see the young man’s life was focused on the wrong things – it was time for him to make a turn at this cross road – he need to rearrange things a bit – to put life into its proper order.  Come,  follow me,  Jesus said as the ultimate answer to the question that Peter asks – the question the young man asked – and to the questions that we ask when we are seeking direction in life.

That is where we find the ultimate answer – Come, follow me – for where I take you – that’s where you need to go.

These are but three of the many occasions when Simon Peter’s question is a part of our experience.  Fascinating though – the answer is always the same – you have the words of eternal life – where else can we go.

There are some very well-known words in Matthew 7:24-25  where Jesus says, …everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock – and the rain came down and the winds blew and beat against that house – yet it did not fall – because it had its foundation on the rock.

We need to be asking this “Simon Sez” question while life is calm – before the storms come – that way life is solid when they hit and you know the direction in which to walk.  Ask Simon’s question – each morning when you get up – write it on your bathroom mirror – better yet, put it on the refrigerator – you’re not awake enough first thing in the morning to read something on the bathroom mirror.

Put it someplace – Lord, to whom shall we go?  to remind you each and every day of the need to refocus and rearrange – and never forget the answer that goes with the question – For you have the words of eternal life… — that you might remember that Jesus Christ alone can  handle the despair – the guilt – the directions in life.  Wherever it is that you need to go – whatever it is that would cause you to cry out this question – the answer is to look to him.