(A Lection Reflection on Joshua 24 and John 6)
Choices. We all face them. This sandwich or that one? This house or that apartment? This job or the other? Get married or stay single?
And even though we know that almost every choice opens one door and closes another, we continue to persist in trying to have our cake and eat it too. We “keep our options open,” we figure the angles, we walk down the middle of the road, we don’t choose sides. We try to have it all.
And the church? Sometimes the church is the worst offender of all.
We are so anxious to gain new members, and keep the members we have, that we soften up the message and ease up on the call. Or, we are so tired of fire and brimstone that we go way far the other way. Or, we think Love is the message, and we preach loving so lovingly that the very air is rose-colored.
I get it. Really, I do. I’ve heard enough “goin’ to hell” messages to last me a lifetime. And in today’s world, the more Love the better, as far as I’m concerned.
But today’s lections make us face an uncomfortable truth, a truth that we have to be honest about, a truth that we must teach, and preach, and appropriate for ourselves:
Sometimes, you have to choose. It will be clear, it will be important … and you won’t be able to avoid it.
We know the passages. Joshua calling together the children of Israel, and putting the choice squarely in front of them.
Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.
“Choose you this day whom you will serve.” The voice of the prophet rings clear; every person present surely heard it. Every one there knew what it meant — serve the Lord and don’t serve the gods of the people around us. These weren’t just internal decisions, decisions of the heart and head; this was a call to swear off one set of practices and adopt a different set of practices. Your choice is going to be obvious to everyone around you. Here’s your choice … now choose.
The Gospel passage is a little more subtle. In John 6, Jesus is leading his followers down an increasingly difficult path. They have gone from physical bread, to talking about manna, to Jesus telling them they have to eat his flesh and drink his blood. When they balk at that — and to be honest, if you were hearing that for the first time you’d think it was pretty gross, too — he takes it to another level, talking about ascending back to where he came from, and using the “my Father” language.
At that point, some of his followers became his ex-followers. In their minds and hearts, I’m sure they felt both disappointment in Jesus and justification for leaving. “I thought he was the Messiah, but he’s just crazy. Talked about giving us his flesh to eat! Guy’s a nut case.”
And here we come to the choice, the moment of crisis. The mood has turned, people are bailing on the movement, it’s looking grim. If you’re one of the twelve, what do you do? Do you leave, or do you stay? Jesus puts it to them directly: “Are you also going to leave?”
In my mind, I imagine the scene. Jesus puts the question, and waits. There is silence. People stand quietly, arms folded, looking at the ground, thinking. No one says anything.
Then Peter, good old Peter, breaks the silence, and says something both poignant and decisive. “Rabbi, to whom can we go? YOU have the words of life.”
And the decision is made. The die is cast. We don’t understand all you say, Jesus, but somewhere deep inside us, we know that you and your words are life, are ζωή.
For every follower of Christ, this time must come. This moment when you have to decide, when you have to choose. There is a Way, and that way is not always congruent with the world’s way. We may not always understand, but our soul will know: choose the way that feels like ζωή. Choose the Life.