Do You Also Wish To Go Away?

by Anne Grizzle. This sermon is based on John 6:56-69 and I Kings 8:22-30, 41-43

When my son Ben was twelve years old, I took him with me on a missions trip to Bolivia. When we arrived in Cochabamba, the group that had arrived a few days before us was about to head up to the Quechua Village of Aramasi high in the Andes for an overnight visit. I did not want to miss that but my son Ben, who had saved his nickels and dimes to buy balls for the orphaned children of Amistad Mission’s Children’s Village in the city insisted on staying and going to see the children. The director, ChiChi Galindo, whom I had gotten to know from her visiting supporters in the US, told me to go ahead and she would look after Ben. So off I went to the Quechua village while Ben went with her to visit the children. As I was drifting off to sleep under amazing stars in the black, black night of Aramasi, I suddenly was struck with worry. I realized Ben was a really picky eater, and I had left him with no instructions in the hands of Bolivian friends. What if he hated me and missions because he had nothing he would be comfortable eating in this strange new country? When we returned and I saw Ben, I cautiously looked to see what attitude he had approaching me. He seemed happy enough and told me he had actually spent the night not at the retreat house but in the children’s village itself since he wanted to be with the kids. I smiled and said that was great and then tentatively asked, “and what did you eat?” Oh, he said slowly. “At dinner last night, they put me at the head of the table in Casa Amanecer and they served me a bowl of soup with some big strange brown thing in it. I thought, I could never eat that! But then I looked at the ten eager faces watching me to see how I liked what they had offered me. I realized I had to eat it because they had shared their best with me.” He paused and said, “it was okay” and went on to tell me all his adventures playing, falling down, going to the clinic, and becoming great buddies with Amistad children. He would get me back however, by telling his version of the story of his mother taking him to Bolivia where she went off with the Indians and left him in an orphanage.

That moment with a soup bowl and ten orphan faces staring at him was a turning point for Ben. He had to decide if he would continue to be a picky eater or dig into the dish set before him. Our gospel lesson for today is about a turning point for the disciples of Jesus, and whether they will eat what Jesus has set before them. The turning point comes shortly after Jesus has taken the five loaves and two fishes to feed the 5000. When the Jews asked for yet another sign Jesus says, I am the bread that came down from heaven….Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life , and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” What a radical, crazy calling that must have seemed on that day.

Jews know that life is in the blood, which is why they were forbidden to eat the blood of animals. They know Jesus is declaring his divinity, having come down from heaven, but Jesus is also beginning to reveal his call to endure suffering. This is not just fun and games, seeing food multiplied and people healed. This is a call to enter into sacrificial following of a Messiah who may walk toward tough times and expect those who love him to do the same. This is the place in the gospel where easy believing ends and radical discipleship begins. Jesus looked at his disciples then and looks at us today asking, “Do you also wish to go away?”

We all have had or will face crucial turning points in our faith journey. I wonder what your own turning point has been, or perhaps you are here today right in the middle of a turning point of faith, a time when it might seem hard to follow Jesus and easier to turn away. Many of us had relatively easy entry into church life, if we were baptized as infants and brought up in the church. Confirmation is designed to be a turning point, a time for a young adult to make their own decision about the baptismal vows made by their parents. I wonder when you were confirmed if it was a time of true wrestling with faith and Jesus’ call to eat his body and drink his blood unto eternal life? When my sons entered confirmation class, I told them it really was their decision, not mine – two decided yes and one no. I wonder if you had any sense of Jesus asking you, “Do you also wish to go away?” I wonder if you had tasted clearly enough of Jesus to reply “Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

For most young adults, college and leaving home is another turning point. No longer is going to church the thing to do, in fact staying up late partying Saturday night is what is more expected. As we make our own way as adults, most of us have to ask ourselves if we really believe what our parents taught us. You may have heard it said, “God has no grandchildren,” meaning we each have to ultimately make a faith decision for ourselves. We have the opportunity to choose with our feet to answer Jesus’s question, “Do you also wish to go away?” But there is something exhilarating when we do make that decision and choose to follow the harder way on our own. I recall in graduate school in New York City how quiet it was on the streets Sunday morning going to church. I knew those who were not sleeping or

reading the New York Times but worshipping God were indeed peculiar people.

We might grow up or start out as picky eaters of faith, coming into church when we like, taking the parts of love and teachings that suit us. But we all hit turning points. Maybe we hear Jesus’ command to love not just our neighbors but our enemies, and that seems too hard when we have a real enemy. Maybe we hit suffering. The person we hoped to marry does not show up or once married the prince becomes a frog – or perhaps we are the one who makes faithful marriage difficult. Children will not appear at our command, or if they do they will not obey our every command. Their health or ours will be threatened. Jobs will fail. Friends may betray us. The world explodes around us or across the globe. People we love die. Maybe some of us are today in the midst of a turning point. Maybe some of us are at a point where Jesus is not offering a miraculous multiplying of food but instead inviting us to follow him by trusting that he is with us through all the confusion and waters that threaten to overwhelm us including death itself.

In our reading from I Kings 8, Solomon cries out several times in several prayers to God, “O hear in heaven your dwelling place.” Jesus radically declares he is the bread that came down from heaven to dwell WITH his people and now through our eating his flesh and blood promises to dwell IN his people. Jesus is offering an intimacy never before known with God. The promise Jesus gives is as radical as the eating he invites. He says, “what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? hinting at his ascension and then our own eventual rising as well. Simon Peter, knowing there is no other way even if this way is hard, says Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” When my twin sister died, I felt a bit untethered in my faith, yet I too wondered, “To whom else shall I go?” Jesus alone promises that even when the flesh dies, the spirit lives on.

The big brown blob floating in Ben’s soup at the Amistad Children’s Village did not look inviting. But the precious hunk of meat around the bone that was reserved for him gave him energy for his running around that day. And as he put it in his mouth, the faces of joy on the children made him realize he had entered into a new level of shared life with those who had so little but had Jesus. If you are at a turning point, or the next time you are at a turning point, called to hard faithfulness or radical love or missionary service, having a hard time following when miracles do not appear and suffering is in your face, imagine faces around your table. The face in front of you is Jesus but all around are the children of God who are in this race with you both on this side and the other side, hoping you will choose to keep walking in faith which is the way of the spirit and of life.

Before you come to the altar today and take the bread which is the body of Christ and drink the wine which is the blood of Christ, ponder Jesus’ question, “Do you also wish to go away?” Make your lifted hands and heart your own reply “Lord to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” And Jesus promises through that body and blood indeed to keep us in everlasting life.