First Reading Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Psalm Psalm 34:15-22
Second Reading Ephesians 6:10-20
Gospel John 6:56-69
“The righteous cry, and the Lord hears them and delivers them from all their troubles.”
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
We have moved through the Bread of Life discourse and heard the Good News of bread come down from heaven, flesh given to the world, a perpetual banquet offered so that none will be hungry or thirsty, and those that partake of this bread will live forever. Yet in the face of this gift from God, we also hear complaining. How will you feed all these people? We don’t have the resources. We have heard the people ask greedily and selfishly demand, “Give us this bread always!” We have experienced disbelief. How can this ordinary, local boy Jesus say, “I am the bread that came down from heaven?” It seems to be human nature to question and complain.
Old Testament leaders and prophets almost always question and resist their call, looking for excuses, or suggesting God must have called the wrong person for the job. After resistance, Moses accepted his call to lead God’s people out of Egypt, then they started complaining. God must have chosen Moses specifically for his patience and ability to put up with the whining Israelites. In the conquest for the promised land, Joshua endured resistance and complaining. In his farewell discourse, Joshua gathers the people and makes one last appeal. All the attempts to follow other gods have failed. There is only one God, and the people must be wholly devoted to Yahweh. Joshua warns and proclaims, “If you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve ... but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
The people placate. In an almost rehearsed, polished response, they offer the minimum statement of faith, “We will also serve the Lord, for he is our God.” But they did not. They continued to question, resist, wander to false gods, and complain. We are no different today. In response to “how are you doing?” people often reply “Can’t complain.” But we do complain ... about everything. We complain about family, friends, money, work, politics, church, even God. Usually the only result of our whining and moaning and complaining is to share our misery with others. Today Jesus offers an alternative to complaining, and Paul offers a new response to our challenges.
Jesus offers prophetic words that refer to and contain the Lord’s supper, and proclaims that the Word became flesh in order to save the world. What he receives from his disciples in return is complaining. These words are difficult, hard to accept, hard to consume and digest. What will it take to inspire faith? “What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to God, where he was before?” Would that do it? What will it take for belief?
Jesus proclaims we cannot listen with our human ears, but must listen with the Spirit. Jesus’ words are Spirit and life, but not all will believe. There is a crisis created in these words of Jesus ... a crisis of choice, faith, and response. Many disciples hear the words, then and now, and cannot accept them. Many disciples turn back, go away, and reject Jesus. These disciples fail because they measure Jesus’ words with human expectation. Jesus suggests the way of the flesh, the limitation of human understanding, is of no avail. The disciples have witnessed the miracle of the loaves and fish, Jesus walking on water to meet them, and heard the discourse on the true bread from heaven. For some, all of this is not enough.
Jesus questions the twelve, the hand picked, the chosen ... “do you also wish to go away?” Underlying this question is the suggestion that it’s gonna get harder before it gets easier. Are you in? Are you in for the right reasons? Are you in for the long haul?Jesus chose the twelve, just as he invites each of us, yet God has a larger design; each believer is free to choose to accept or reject the gift. Hard choices are part of the continual, transformative process of salvation. The flesh must choose the Spirit.
Peter speaks up, ever the spokesperson of the twelve, and answers for all, “You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Believe and know! In Greek these are expressed in perfect tense, describing a faith that began at some time in the past and continues to be associated with Jesus. Peter often speaks out, occasionally missing the mark, and when he does Jesus calls him on it. Finally, Peter gets it right! Peter expresses a clear understanding of Jesus’ origin, consecrated by God and sent into the world from God. Peter offers his unconditional openness to the Word of God. The ultimate answer to all our questions and whining and complaining is faith. Our salvation through Jesus Christ, and the faith through which we accept it, is a gift. Thus a choice is made, a decision not to turn away, but to walk forward with Christ. This decision draws us together as a community of faith. It is our commitment to follow Christ alongside others that makes us the people of God.
Walking together in faith is not always a cake walk. It can be confusing, confounding, and there will be complaining. Paul encourages us with a passionate appeal, as one might make before battle, using the language of battle, to prepare us for mission and spiritual engagement. Our strength is in the Lord and in his power, and we access this through faith. Faith is not merely a go-to in times of trouble, though it often seems so. A fireman was teaching a kindergarten class what to do in case of a fire. “He said, “First, check the doorknob to see if it is hot. Then, drop to your knees. Does anybody know why you fall to your knees?” One of the little tykes spoke up, “Sure, to start praying to God to get us out of this mess!”
Paul encourages us to put on faith as armor, to stand against and rise above affliction and temptation. We are to put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, take up the shield of faith, wear a helmet of salvation, and wield the sword of the Spirit. As for shoes, Paul was no fashionista. Put on your feet whatever is necessary to proclaim the gospel of peace. Faith allows us to overcome complaining, to instead “pray in the Spirit at all times” so that our whole life is a prayer and supplication to God. We are challenged to accept the gift of salvation, and live into the gift of new life daily. If we are constantly rejoicing in our life in Christ, wearing the gifts and power of the Spirit, and loving God and others with all our heart, we will have neither the urge, nor the need, to complain. Amen.