Has anyone ever asked you if you were saved? How would you answer?
This morning's Gospel has a lot to say about salvation and what it is to be saved. This month on Sundays we’re reading through the 6th Chapter of St. John's Gospel, a chapter that ends with Peter's famous summary: Lord, to whom shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.
Salvation, eternal life, is a gift, a promise and a choice - three headings gathering up the teaching of St. John Chapter 6 - so we'll take them one by one!
Looking over the whole Chapter we see a tremendous emphasis on the wonder and mystery of the gift of Jesus.
The chapter starts with a tale of miraculous feeding. Five thousand are fed - an image of overflowing, wondrous grace.
Then Jesus begins to make many points about this sign, bringing out not just the meaning of that lunch in Tiberias but the ultimate meaning of all things - and how we can enter into that.
The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world he says in the passage we read this morning, v33.
The multiplication of the loaves represents the abundance of life-giving grace that has come to the earth.
Who is the bread of God? He answers in the passage we will hear next week, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever. v51.
What a gift! To live for ever! Always we are longing, we human beings. We long for security, for love, for identity, for purpose and reason for life - and here it is, all of that for which we long, offered at last - through the great mystery of Jesus, God come to earth, lifting earthbound beings to live with him for ever!
To be saved is to welcome the gift of Jesus, the Bread of Heaven. The passage on the Heavenly Bread interprets and brings out the full meaning of the gift we welcome in this service week by week.
Can there be a passage in the Bible which speaks more strongly about the need to participate in the Eucharist than verse 53 of St. John Chapter 6: 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.
Salvation is about welcoming Jesus - and what he has done by the separating of his body and blood in sacrifice. It is a gift given for us in the coming to earth, dying and rising of Jesus. You can't be saved, says Jesus, by contemplating your navel, by the vague religiosity of crystals and New Age, or even by our efforts for justice and peace, admirable as they are - but by welcoming the gift of Christ into our souls
Salvation is presented there as a gift - and also, secondly as a promise.
You have the words of eternal life says Peter at the end of the chapter. He is confirming his understanding of the earlier teaching where Jesus makes it clear that when we welcome him we also inherit a promise, the promise of eternal life: Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life
When someone asks you if you are saved they are really touching on whether you feel sure that your life will not be lost when you die.
Are you sure? Do you know that you have eternal life?
I remember someone rather surprisingly asking a holy and thoughtful priest whether he believed in God. There was a long pause. Finally the wise old man replied - I'm not sure, but I'm sure of this - that God believes in me. Those humble, thoughtful words back away from arrogant certainty and they reach powerfully into our spirits.
We may lack belief but that doesn't stop God believing in us. We may be unworthy of salvation - but that does not stop God promising it! If I know I am saved it is because God has promised it to believers and I believe God - I trust God to keep his word to me - the key is knowing the promise.
Evangelism is about spreading good news, which means letting people know about the gift and the promises of God so that they can choose for themselves to believe - which brings us onto the last heading.
At the end of this sixth chapter of St John’s Gospel we read in v60 that many of the followers of Jesus said, "This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it? And they choose to leave Jesus. He then says to the Twelve later in the passage: What about you, do you want to go away too?
When we contemplate the mystery of Christ we should be profoundly moved, awed by the generosity of God in sending his Son to save us and then giving us the choice of whether we accept him or not. This is awesome - for us to be given a choice. Awesome, but also perilous for us to be so honoured with freedom to choose in a matter affecting our eternal welfare. There is a further mystery of how God himself seems to make a hidden choice of those who do respond positively to him, so that our choice of God is almost pre-empted by his choice of us.
What a wonder and a mystery - the choices of God! We are saved by choice not by chance. No one has a right to heaven. You may think you're as good as the next person - but what does that matter when we are talking about having eternal life with God? Who are we, so full of deceit and inadequacy, made of the dust of the earth, full of frailty, to be worthy of God in his holiness?
Only by God's gift and his promise - and our choice of him.
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.
To whom can we go? There is one giver of salvation who gives us today his flesh and blood as life to our spirit!
You have the words of eternal life You, Jesus, Bread of Life, promise us through our communion with you a quality of life that is in its nature unending.
And we believe Given such a gift and such a promise the choice is ours, to live not by chance but by a definite choice, a choice for Jesus our Saviour, to whom be glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.