“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent”. John 17:3
Is eternal life what church is about? When we come on a Sunday morning, is it in joyful confidence that there is nothing in the world that can get us down? Or do we come with all the thoughts that have been annoying us all week? Sadly, I think I bring lots of the annoying stuff to church with me and probably add to the annoyances that people listening already have.
‘Now this is eternal life’, says Jesus in the Gospel reading:
Eternal life—eternal life— we have the best; the most attractive; the most wonderful; the most fantastic; the most excellent thing in the entire world to offer to people—why would anyone worry about annoying things? In fact, if the church ahs such good news, why aren’t churches so full that we have to build more? If this is what it’s all about, then there is nothing to fear, there is nothing to worry about. If the church is, as Jesus says, about eternal life, then there is nothing that can get us down, nothing that can beat us.
But we know that we lose sight of what Jesus says, we let all the other stuff so pile up in our minds that we can hardly see Jesus at all. The American Catholic writer, Judy Esway remembers a moment from the days of her Catholic childhood, that strikes me with force each time I read it
“As a child I had a beautiful, simple faith. But it faded as I got older. There is one especially vivid memory I have of a time when I was still young. I must have been in third or fourth grade. I was sitting in church during Mass, and something struck me as being strange. I looked around at all the people. They had the most serious, deadpan looks on their faces, yet the words they were speaking were so full of power. In drab, monotone voices they were saying,
“And he will come again.”
I looked around thinking, who’s going to come again? Are they talking about Jesus?
“And we will see him face to face.” I started to get a bit excited. We’re going to see Jesus face to face?
“And the dead will rise.” The dead will rise? You mean we won’t have to stay dead? This was good news. This was fantastic news. Why weren’t these people smiling? Why weren’t they happy?
Finally I heard them say, “And we will live forever.” Well, this was really the clincher. We’re going to live forever? Why weren’t they dancing in the aisles? Why weren’t they clapping and shouting if they were going to live forever? On that sad day it dawned on me: these people must not believe what they are saying. And so I stopped believing it too.”
Judy Esway would say that Jesus’ words to us this morning are the clincher, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent”. If we believe then we have the promise of eternal life, and if we really believe, then there can be no more important thing in the world.
We have the best piece of good news in all the world, but we have to ask whether we really believe it ourselves.
Does the church really believe the things it says? If we are the sort of churches that Jesus intended, then we will grow and be filled with new life because people will realize that these people really believe the words on the page. If we’re not being the people he intended, then our efforts will be pointless. There used to be a text from Psalm 127 on the wall at school, ’Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain that build it’.
Maybe we labour in vain because our hearts are not in what we say .
“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent”
We have the best thing anyone can offer, without it, there is nothing that we can do; with it, and confident in our faith, there is nothing we cannot do.