August 26, 2012 “ 13 Pentecost, Proper 16B
Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Do you also wish to go away?
Just a little while ago more than 5000 people crowded around Jesus and were part of a miracle. A few loaves of bread and a couple of fish are touched by Jesus and turned into a huge feast for the vast crowd. Now Jesus has been teaching that crowd that he is the bread of life, that his flesh and blood are the food and drink that will sustain them above and beyond any earthly food they may find. The crowd was excited and attentive during the miracle but now things have gotten confusing and boring and the crowd is breaking up. The event which began with more than 5000 people is now down to 12. And Jesus turns to the 12 and asks, Do you also wish to go away?
That same phenomenon gets acted out in our lives in various ways. Every spring we celebrate Easter. The huge crowd comes and witnesses the miracle. We are renewed in hope, humbled by grace, excited by the new life we see. But not too long afterwards, as summer arrives, we get a little bored and maybe a little confused and we go elsewhere looking for some excitement. There are trips to take, vacation homes to visit, opportunities to take advantage of. That miraculous feeding we wanted so much and received becomes a distant memory. We get a little bored and confused by all the talk about what the miraculous feeding means and we wander away. We can hang in there for the pizzazz but we have a hard time hanging in there for the ordinary. The big stuff attracts us but the little stuff requires a little too much work on our part so we drift away. We’re pretty good about taking what God provides for us. But when it comes to considering what might be required of us, it’s all just a little too difficult so we go looking for another show somewhere else.
Now I’m not trying to make you feel guilty. Well, maybe I am a little. But you’re here so that means something. You could be elsewhere looking for another excitement-fix but you’ve chosen to come here in an act of faith so I’m certainly not going to chide you. I’m not even really trying to chide those who aren’t here. I just think that part of our wiring as humans is that we are basically takers. We’ll take the excitement. We’ll take the big show. We’ll take the gifts. But ask us to do a little work, give something in return, and we resist. Our prayers often reveal that. How often we ask God to give us more of something we think we need. How rarely we pray, not my will but thy will be done. We’re usually busy trying to get God to do something for us. Seeking what God might want us to do is a stretch. What have you done for me lately?, is our default attitude toward God. If there’s a little dry period when things are boring or not going so well, we fear God has stopped working and we go looking for something better. Maybe we’re all just a little ADHD in our spiritual lives. If it’s not shiny, it’s hard for us to pay attention.
When the fireworks are over and the crowd starts leaving, God whispers to us, Do you also wish to go away? The real show is just starting. I have more to give you. I want you to follow me faithfully. Am I just entertainment for you? Are you just using me for your convenience?
Jesus gathers the 5000 together and graciously feeds them. Then he begins to teach them about their part in the on-going feast. God’s job is to feed and God just keeps on doing that. Our job is to eat, to actively feed on what God provides, to resist filling up on that which perishes. We’re given an active role in matters of faith but pretty often, when we hear that something is required of us, we’re off and running. We’re takers, that’s our nature. And God sends his Son to redeem us, to change us, to transform our self-centered lives into God-centered lives.
As Jesus begins to teach that he is the bread of life, the followers ask what they must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus says their job is to believe in him. He doesn’t tell them to go end world hunger, or establish world peace, or vote for a particular party, or take any particular moral stance. He tells them their job is to trust God, to believe that God is accomplishing his good purpose, to be faithful.
Joshua, in our Old Testament lesson, gathers all the people of Israel together and asks them to make a commitment. Choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. It must be a pretty good speech because all the people respond very positively. We also will serve the Lord. As the story continues beyond this passage, Joshua tells them that it won’t be as easy as they think. He recognizes that wiring of human beings, that we’re basically takers, and warns them that they will wander off after a while. It’s easy to hear a stirring speech and make a flashy little promise. It’s hard to commit, to follow over time.
Jesus says the same thing. God isn’t just looking for some emotion-filled pledge of allegiance from us. God wants the daily following, the believing, the trusting. God wants faithfulness in the dull and ordinary. He wants us to be faithful even as we fail to understand things in life.
So the point so far may be that God wants something from us that we’re not able to give. God wants faithfulness but we’re basically takers and our nature doesn’t really lend itself to what God asks of us.
But the bigger point is that God doesn’t just ask this of us only to sit back and see who can pull themselves out of the mire. God’s response to our continued unfaithfulness is to send his son Jesus Christ. God gives of himself so that we might be changed into his likeness. God loves us into loving him. Maybe you can see that in your own life. Probably you have been shown that there is a higher way that you aren’t quite capable of reaching. But maybe you can also tell that there has been growth, that your stubborn and prideful heart is softening and changing. Our own ongoing transformation is probably all the evidence we ever need of God’s abiding grace. You and I will continue to get bored and confused and wander off looking for something more immediately exciting. And God will continue to pursue us until we are inspired to be faithful. As we do the next right thing in our lives, we see that God is pulling us forward, that true holiness is revealed in those tiny and boring moments of life where we wonder what the meaning of life could be. You and I, self-centered takers that we are, God has chosen us to love. God is changing us.
And what is our job? Our job is to change and grow and be faithful. Our job is to resist that urge to run off looking for something more immediate. Our job is to choose the kingdom of God over the kingdom of ourselves. Every day God seeks to change us. Every day we are invited to change.
Do you also wish to go away? No you don’t. You want to follow. And by God’s grace we will follow.