Sermon for Sunday 22 August 2021
“Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
What is the difference between wanting and needing?
Our readings this morning speak in one way or another about need – in particular our need of God.
In the Book of Joshua we hear of Israel turning again to the Lord and promising to serve him, for they know they have no other God but the Lord and that they need him.
And in our gospel reading, after Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist, many wish to turn away from him. But Peter tells Jesus, “Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” He knows his need of Jesus.
I think in many ways the whole of the Christian life could be boiled down to those words of Peter in which he confesses his need of Jesus. Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.
At the heart of faith in Christ is quite simply the fact that we need him. He made us and has redeemed us by his blood. He loves us and wants to pour his Spirit into our hearts so that we might have everlasting life with him.
And even when we have difficulties with our faith: when things don’t make sense; or we are ground down by the problems of life, sometimes the only thing we can muster is to say, “Lord who else could I go to? Things don’t make much sense at the minute, but I know somehow you have the words of eternal life.”
But when we talk about our need of God, we’re talking about an altogether different sort of need from the kind the world so often imagines when it uses that word.
For we live in a world in which huge advertising industries exist to persuade us we have need of all sorts of different things. But all the advertising of our secular world really does is produce a passing sense of envy.
When I’m tempted by an advert for a new suit, or a flashy car – or an ebay listing for a particularly nice 19th chasuble – all the advertisers are actually doing is tapping into my own greed. They tell me my quality of life would be better if I bought this or had that. I’d be healthier if I ate this or drank that. I’d be more beautiful is I wore this, or possessed that. But all along, they’re only after one thing – my money. The sense of need they create is fleeting, and is simply a projection of my own envy and insecurity.
But the need we have of God is very different. We have a need for God, for the very simple reason that he created us and is the end to which our life is moving. He created us in love and knows and cherishes each of us here. We will always be restless until we find our home in him.
St Bernard of Clairvaux put this mystery very well when he said in his commentary on the Song of Songs, “For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him.” Our need of God is our need to know we are loved.
So what can we do to make sure we don’t forget this precious insight? One thing which will always keep us aware of our need of God is keeping focussed on Jesus. He is the human face of the God we need. Our gospel reading today lays out very clearly for us one of the most important places we are guaranteed to meet him – the Mass.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died, but the one who eats this bread will live for ever.”
The Mass reveals both our need of God, and the way in which Christ is the only one who can fulfil that desire. The Mass is the place where our true identity as sons and daughters of God is revealed, and we are fed – not in a way that simply quenches a passing earthly thirst, but in a way that draws us to our ultimate goal – the God who made us.
The Mass is the place where we see nothing less than what it means to be human. Created in God’s image, and loved by God, the place we are fed by the only one who can truly fulfil our desires, and the only one to whom we will one day return – the God who is the source of love itself.
Fr Peter Anthony