Sermons

Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18Psalm 34:15-22Ephesians 6:10-20John 6:56-69

 

Jesus concludes his (very) long teaching on the Bread of Life.  Today is the fifth and final week we will hear a part of this discourse.  

 

As Jesus finishes teaching, many of his students have reached a breaking point.   They had followed where he led, and the numbers following were steadily growing, but this was too much.

 

“This teaching is difficult?  Who can accept it?”

 

Jesus responds to their struggle.  He does not assure them it isn’t as difficult as they are imagining it.  And he doesn’t back peddle. In fact, he doubles down.

 

“if this is too difficult,”  he tells them, “there is more to know that will definitely be too much for you.”

 

Many in the crowd leave.  Jesus turns to the 12 and asks them if they want to leave as well.

 

“To whom will we go?”  they respond. Note that their response isn’t, “yes, Jesus, we’re totally on board and we fully understand everything you are saying.”  They continue to follow Jesus because, in other words, what choice do they have.

 

Like a good parable, it is tempting to wonder who we are in this story.  Are we the disciples who turned back, or one of the faithful 12 who remained?

 

I know I have been both.  Sometimes on the same day.

 

There are lots of reasons to be a part of the crowd who turns away.  And really only one reason to stay. “What choice do I have?”

 

When we hear the crowd suggest that what Jesus is asking them to accept is “too much much to bear,” perhaps we hear the echoes of those who have left the church because there was something they felt was too much to bear.  Maybe you hear the echoes of your own struggles with the church that, at one time or another, were too much to bear.

 

Maybe it was a church teaching, something in the Creed, or the miracle stories.  Perhaps it was a church policy, or a church failing that led you or someone you know to say, “it is too much to bear.”

 

If you live in this part of the world in 2018, chances are you have someone in your life for whom the church, and therefore God, became too much to bear.  And, chances are, you know someone who, if they knew you were here this morning, listening to ancient scripture and participating in ancient ritual, talking of bread that gives eternal life, they would ask you why it isn’t too much for you to bear.  

 

And I wonder what your answer might be.

 

Having left the church in my early 20’s and returning, somewhat begrudgingly in my 30’s, I know my answer.

 

My answer isn’t, “because I now believe everything, 100%, all the time, every day.”  And it isn’t, “because the church is perfect, and it always feels good to be part of the larger church.”

 

It certainly isn’t “because God spoke to me and I have a personal relationship with Jesus that is rock steady.”

 

My answer is much closer to the tentative, less than enthusiastic answer from Simon Peter.   Why do I stay? What choice do I have?

 

I stay because I haven’t been able to find anything else that holds the promise of Life that God offers in Jesus and has been made known to me in communities like this one throughout my life.

 

Is it sometimes too much to bear?  Absolutely. But what choice do I have?

 

There is much written about church decline over the last ten years.  Much of the speculation about the causes of the decline has to do with the choices people have to get the same thing they were getting from church.

 

Now there are lots of choices for your Sunday morning.  Not just sports practices and brunches, but exercise classes, hikes and long walks on the beach.

 

And there are even choices offered for your relationship with God.  Every day, we are offered opportunities to buy or earn Eternal Life for which we long, but which remains elusive.

 

For those of us in this part of the world, who have more means and more access to more stuff than most of the world, it can take quite a bit to get us to a point in our lives where we are forced to ask about our relationships with God, “what choice do I have.”  

 

We most often get these stories from our sisters and brother in recovery.  After hitting “rock bottom” their relationship with God as a higher power transforms from a relationship of convenience to one of necessity.  

 

They keep showing up because they know what choice they have, and they, one day at a time, are making the choice for Eternal Life.

 

Travel to a developing country, however, and a relationship with God born of necessity is all around you, everywhere you look.

 

When you are poor and living off the land, your relationship with God looks much more like the 12 who continue to follow, despite the difficulty.

 

This summer, while in Guatemala, my family and I visited the indigenous village of Santiago.  As we entered the church, we could hear the sounds of people having a conversation. As we made our way to the front of the sanctuary we could see that the conversation we were hearing was not between parishioners, but between parishioners and God.  Kneeling before large statues of various saints they pleaded with God.

 

One was an older man.  He was with a young child, perhaps his grandson.  As his grandson paced behind him, appearing a bit bored and ready to go, this older man was on his knees, pleading with God.  

 

Though I couldn’t make out what he was saying, there was no mistaking his urgency or his sincerity.  I sat and watched this man pray, longing for a small measure of his faith.

 

I imagine if I asked him how he managed to have the faith he had, given all the many struggles he faced in life, I imagine he might have said, “what choice do I have?”

 

Last Sunday after church, I met a woman who had lived her life as a Buddhist.  Faced with a grave illness and difficult recovery, one of her health care providers in China suggested she “give it all over to God.”

 

She asked her provider, “is it that easy, just give it all to God?”

 

The she looked at me and, with a look of sheer joy on her face, she said, “And so I did.  And it was!”

 

Our brief conversation on the Aspinwall Ave steps left me so overwhelmed, I had to sit on the steps for a minute to absorb what I just heard.

 

And I imagine that, if I asked her how she managed to have so much faith, how it was so easy for her to do what remains so hard for me to practice, I imagine she might answer, “what choice do I have?”

 

The truth is, each of us is faced with the same choices every day.  Perhaps it takes something traumatic to help us face that we need more than the world offers us, but every day we are given a chance to choose.

 

What God asks of us is not always easy.  To “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God,” as the prophet Micah reminds us can be more than we can bear.  But what choice do we have?

 

To navigate the Creeds, or the Polity or the frailty and imperfections of the church can be more than we can bear.  But what choice do we have?

 

There is a sign I was given for my most recent birthday from this morning’s reading from Joshua.  On a small piece of wood it reads, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

 

I’ve never really liked seeing it on a plaque on a house as I’ve entered.  It seemed a little judgy to me. Like saying, “hey visitor, we don’t know about you, but here we serve God.”

 

After sitting with these readings, and with the question of what choice I have in my relationship with God, and in how I choose to live out my faith, I saw this sentence of scripture in a new light.  I realized it was not meant to describe the people in the house to those who might enter.

It was meant to remind those in the house of the choice they had as they left the house into the world.

 

I realized that it was not meant to be descriptive, but proscriptive. Meant to remind us of the choices we have everytime we enter the world and inviting us, even when it is hard, to choose to serve God.

 

It is the same choice each of us are given with each day we are given to live.

 

Sometimes, choosing to follow God is too much;  to much to believe, too much to do, too much to ask of us.  Too much to bear.

 

Jesus invites us to follow with a promise of Eternal Life if we do.

 

What choice do we have?

 

AMEN.  

 

© 2018 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

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