Choose this day whom you will serve, who and what you will listen to, and what path you will set out on. After weeks of exploring the image of Jesus as the Bread of Life and experiencing it as an invitation to life, to fulfillment, to abundance (which it surely is) now we are asked a more difficult question that demands more of us. And although we find it a difficult teaching like Peter we cry “But Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (RCL John 6:56-69; Joshua 24:1-2,14-18; Psalm 34:15-22; Ephesians 6:10-20.)
The exploration of Jesus as the Bread of Life began with being fed freely, having our appetite sated if for only a short time, and then we found ourselves – as did our ancestors – hearing that we were being offered bread that would satisfy us in so many more ways. Many of us would have found comfort and encouragement in the many ancient and multilayered associations of truth and compassion, justice and abundance, comfort now and eternal belonging. Then slowly as we have unpacked the story it has become a little more, and then even more, unsettling and provocative as it has become apparent that what we are offered for our consumption will, indeed must, consume us. Like those first curious hungry onlookers and truth seekers we are eager to be fed, to consume blessings and unmerited grace but are unsettled if not offended by the news that in the process we shall be consumed. This is the inside out, upside down logic and grace of the good news brought to us by Jesus the Bread of Life, the Gate, the Word, the Way.
We are told that many turned back at this point, that they found the teaching too confusing and/or demanding. Even the disciples struggled. And if we are honest, if we like a good life and a predictable successful life, if we like our religion predictable and comforting, then we too are probably struggling. So why did Peter and generations of us since reach the conclusion (it always sounds desperate and/or a bit reluctant to me) that there is no where else to go?
Firstly because Jesus was the Son, the fully human realised manifestation, of the Living God. He was, and is, the real deal, the closest we get to seeing God (although other ways of perceiving God most certainly exist in creation and I believe in other traditional wisdoms). So where would Peter or we go if not to Jesus? Many of us will have tried or at least thought about other traditions including religions, self help psychology, the pursuit of love and happiness. Many of which will have brought us some wisdom and satisfaction. But many of us remain hungry, restless, seeking.
Jesus is also the Way. His life and his teachings show us a way to live and experience the kingdom of God here and now. Jesus, the manifestation of the Living God, calls us by name to “Come and see, come and eat and drink, come and taste that the Lord is good.” Faith is not so much a set of beliefs and orthodox ideas about Jesus and God as it is a journey of letting go and growing into relationship with the Living God and one another. Jesus is the great teacher of this Way of living and learning. As Son he showed us how to pray, to obey, to live into his fullness including his suffering love that spilled over in his last actions and words of forgiving and scorchingly generous love. As teacher and friend he showed his disciples and fellow companions on the way how to journey with desire, faith and hope through and beyond conventional religion to heart and mind and soul consuming commitment to union with the Living God.
And Jesus was and is the Beloved Word made visible who sought out those who did not think themselves included in the feast of life and love, much less beloved by God (and this includes many of us). Jesus brought the love of God to bear in the out of the way, the disregarded parts of the world and the self. Jesus called the unimportant to be his disciples and companions. Jesus healed the left behind and invisible and restored them to full membership in the community. Jesus desires not only the polite and successful aspects of our self but our all.
No wonder Peter declared “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Yet Peter never disagreed with the assessment that it was a difficult teaching and he certainly would find that it was a difficult path that ultimately cost him his life. Most of those early disciples did become martyrs for the cause. And while we will probably not be asked for our physical lives in that way we will be challenged to give up and to give over so many aspects of life if we continue on the Way, if we follow Jesus any distance. Our ego – our opinions of our selves and others, our allegiances and priorities, our belongings and our separateness, all will be challenged and needed to be surrendered to a bigger kingdom vision than our own. Some aspects will be a relief to be rid of, others much less so. Are we not just a little or a lot committed to our reasons, including excuses, for being less than we are? The Way that we are called to is a way of surrender as much as it is a way of learning of acquiring – even acquiring wisdom. The Way Jesus invites us on is a way that has us become ourselves by serving others.
The journey we are invited on is not easy and yet it is for the feint hearted, for the weak and the lost. The psalm reminds us that God is especially near to those who are broken hearted and crushed in spirit. It is the way for the humble more than for the warrior, the way for the desperate more than for the self satisfied, a way for the hungry more than the well fed. God bless our hunger with the Bread that consumes us. God quench our thirst for life with the Wine of your ever present love.
Even so, come Lord Jesus, lead us to hunger and thirst for you.
At the moment I am on my annual pilgrimage into red dirt country in the heart of Australia. Please feel free to come and see and share the journey @companyontheway as I will post photos as internet access allows. Blessings, Reverend Sue