Joshua 24:15-27, Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served ...or the gods of the… land [in which] you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
John 6: 56-69, So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
Jesus and his disciples, and that one young boy fed a crowd of 5000 the day before. Don't let any of the crumbs go to waste, Jesus told them. They started with -- you remember -- 5 loaves and two fish. The disciples, always practical and pragmatic, wanted to send the crowds somewhere else for their meal -- it would take 6 months wages to feed them, Philip had calculated.
We've all been to meals like that -- we're Methodists, right? When the church was larger, or when we attended another church and went to that monthly pot-luck dinner. At first one, then three then a crowd showed up. Would there be enough food? Would it all be Kentucky Fried Chicken? Or is this the evening when only beans would show up? Whatever -- I've never been to a potluck when there hasn't been enough food. I've always suspected we come by our eating and providing naturally. Jesus blessed these 5 loaves and two fish and they fed the multitudes, with baskets of leftovers. I've never left a church dinner hungry.
The gospel of John tells us that after this feeding Jesus knew there were those in the crowd who wanted to take him by force -- to make him king. Sounds good to me -- keep the kingdom in food and many problems go away. But Jesus ducked them again, and withdrew, sending his disciples on by boat.
This same crowd caught up with them, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus had their number. "You're looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves."
Yea, these are the ones who wanted a king to keep their bellies full.
This was the story of their people. Moses brought them out of Egypt, and while they wondered in the desert, God provided manna for their nutrition. This Jesus provided bread for their stomachs, healing for their sick. The parallels were not lost on the educated in the crowd. This man, indeed, is the prophet.
But Jesus calls them up short. "You're looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves."
"Well, uh, what must we do to do the work of God?" They tried to save face, but perhaps they didn't know what they were asking.
Do we ever really know what we are asking?
When we look down at our sleeping children, and ask God to bless them, and guide them, and guide us to nurture them to become strong and courageous young people and productive adults -- Do we really want that for them, or do we really want them to grow to share our opinions and politics, to go into professions we think are socially acceptable, and to become the adults we wish we had become?
We want to know God, but do we really want to let God be God? Pat Robertson
recently launched a prayer offensive: He wants God to remove three of the Supreme Court justices so that the current administration can appoint three new Justices. Which three? "As long as the three conservatives stay on. There are six liberals, so it's up to the Lord."
Thy will, or My will....?
Jesus let them have it. Pulling no punches. I can almost see the looks on some of the faces in the crowd -- mouths open, aghast, wondering what in the world he is talking about.
"I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry." Ok, murmurs the crowd. Maybe we heard that wrong -- maybe he said "I have the bread...that sounds good -- never be hungry..." "Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
Boy, this is a program I can sign up with. Comes with him, believes in him -- all my wants and needs met. Yea, I can sign up with this one.
But some of those in the crowd -- the wise guys -- heard a little better:
"I am the bread that came down from heaven" They knew his parents were Mary and Joseph, so what was this Heaven stuff? What was he talking about? This did not jive with synagogue teaching, with "traditional" Judaism from the first century. But John's community -- and perhaps Jesus' audience -- caught the starkness of the words, and understood how offensive, and challenging, and how life-giving those words were -- those words are.
Jesus knew that some of them were complaining. His message didn't get any easier, he didn't make it any easier to swallow, nor he didn't stop.
"Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood will abide in me and me in them. Because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven – not like the manna our ancestors ate -- they ate and died -- whoever eats this bread -- whoever eats of me -- will have full life".
Ok, This was too much. Not only were some of the crowd complaining, but some of the disciples as well. The metaphor had gone too far. Observant Jews never ate any kind of blood -- it just wasn't done, and to use that kind of imagery -- even as imagery. Well, it was -- well -- blasphemous.
But there it was: Gnaw on me and live. That's what that word "eat" really means. Gnaw on me. You wanted a king, a prophet -- this is the kind of prophet I am. I am not about earthly kingdoms. I am not about old rules. I am the one who can satisfy the hunger of your soul. My being will take away the ache of your heart. You only have to receive.
But, receiving is hard. I often think the adage that it is "better to give than to receive" is truthfully that it is easier, too.
The people asked, "What can we do to perform the works of God?" Did the people really know what they were asking? Jesus didn't even answer that question: Following Jesus, as they learned, isn't about "performing the works of God."
But this was too much for some of the disciples. "Many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him."
Then Jesus asked the twelve "Do you also wish to go away?" There are times in scripture when I can imagine a tone of voice, a tenor of a conversation. Jesus taught hard things to the group that was in the synagogue that day in Capernaum. And some, who had followed him turned and went away.
Jesus turned to his first disciples. Gently? Weary? Disgusted? Disgruntled? All of those, perhaps "Do you also wish to go away?"
"To whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." These are the twelve.
Following Jesus is still risky and that reality still causes us to turn back. Following Jesus is still about gnawing on his Truth, wrestling with that Truth, and letting God be God. And even if we have turned back, Jesus is still there for us, ready to receive
The Gospel of Jesus is not about what we can perform for God. The Gospel is about what Jesus does for us. That He is with us. Believe and receive. We follow -- even though we don't follow perfectly, profitably, or with earthly success, but faithfully.
"Follow," Jesus says, "and I am there with you to the end of time."
 Christian Century, August 9, 2003, p. 13.
 Since I preached this sermon, I've been told that the form of this question in Greek is such that it is asked expecting a negative response: "You're not going away too, are you?"