Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 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. John 6:68-69a
When I was a little girl I tended to be more than a little bit hardheaded and willful. I am sure that comes as a big surprise to those of you who know me well. (That’s a joke of course.) Anyway, being an emotional child as well I would occasionally get my feelings hurt over one thing or another and after working up a good mad I would announce to my mother that I had decided to run away. I would pack a couple of books, pencils and a pad of paper in a small snap top lard bucket and take off out the back door. Every time Mama would say as I was leaving…”Remember, if you get hungry you can come home.” Slamming the screen door I would take off up the orchard hill at a run. Invariably I always made it no further than the cow path at the edge of the garden before my mad would start to wear off and I would begin to rethink my decision.
At that point I would always make my way to my thinking place…a big limestone rock sticking out of a hill that made a perfect seat with a view of the surrounding countryside. As I compared the good and bad possibilities of a life on the road my child’s mind would always come back to one powerful truth. Everything and everyone I loved was back at home….my family….my animals and my books. Where else would I go to find the very things I was leaving? So, I would sit until I thought it might be mealtime and I would make my way home. Mama would never mention my little spell and life would go on just as it always did.
When we get older it can be more difficult to figure out what we need to be content with our lives. Some people never come to any sort of peace but spend their years moving from one place to another…from one job to another…from one relationship to another trying to feed a hunger they cannot define. We can even do the same thing in our search for a church home.
Our consumer culture has invaded every aspect of our lives…even the spiritual and we shop for churches and worshiping communities like we shop for material goods. We look for worship that is entertaining or novel and for a community of believers that is just like us. We want to belong but rather than invest the energy in getting to know the other people in the pews we look for indicators that the folks have similar tastes and beliefs. If we find ourselves in conflict or discover that there are things with which we disagree it is easier to go on down the road and find another church than to compromise or even discuss the things that don’t quite suit.
What are we really looking for?…in life?…in church? While we do and should come into the Body of Christ expecting acceptance and a safe place to explore our faith and learn about God I don’t think we are to be too comfortable. We should be excited and energized… challenged to be our better selves and to put our talents to making the world a better place. If our Churches ask nothing of us then we become passive worshippers rather than people seeking an intimate relationship with the Divine and a deeper communion with the Creation.
In our Gospel lesson for today Jesus is continuing his teaching on the spiritual communion we have with him and with God through his blessed body and blood. I think the writer of the Gospel of John spends so much time with this topic because it was and continues to be so difficult to comprehend. The disciples who heard Jesus describe himself as the “bread of heaven” as food to be consumed by those who believe in him, had a visceral response to his words. They were shocked and disgusted by what he was implying. This makes sense if we remember that the Law of Moses was about behavior…it was to be understood and obeyed literally. While of course the Hebrew Scriptures are filled with wonderful metaphor and symbol that help the faithful fathom the incomprehensible nature of God, instructions for how to be acceptable to God were rooted in behavior….what one did as opposed to what one thought. Action indicated belief. In light of this they understood Jesus’ words literally and the concept of eating and drinking his body and blood was not only abhorrent but literally forbidden under the Law.
Jesus used the language of consumption because nothing so clearly demonstrates the absolute need we have for the Real Presence. Jesus knew that his time was short and in the days after his Resurrection and Ascension when he was no longer physically present, the Blessed Sacrament of Holy Communion…the holy Body and Blood would be the means for ongoing intimate relationship with the risen Christ. In the Sacrament the community of believers would be fed the food that their spirits needed for life and health. In the sharing of the sacred meal of the Body of Christ individuals would become members of that same Body in communion with God and with one another. In that sacred communal relationship the suffering of one believer would be shared by all and in like manner the joy of one would become the joy of all.
But all of this would be inconceivable to those first disciples until after Jesus’ death and Resurrection. When he was with them and trying to teach these lessons they were just too difficult to understand and too disturbing to think about. We read that many of those who heard him became offended and left. Jesus asks the remaining disciples…the twelve…”Do you also wish to go away?” Peter, always quick to speak his mind said what they were all probably thinking…”Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter knew, as did the others, that Jesus had what they needed. Having heard his truth and having come to believe that he was who he said he was they could no longer go back to the life they had known. Having seen the Lord they could no longer “not see.” They may not have been certain about Jesus’ true identity as the Incarnate God but they knew he was the “Holy One”…the one for whom their people had waited for thousands of years. He may not have been what they were expecting but once they believed that he was indeed from God they were convinced that he had what they needed to feed their souls.
Life doesn’t always turn out the way we think it will in fact it usually does not. Sometimes things happen that cause us to doubt that God is active in our lives and perhaps to question whether or not we might have taken a wrong path. While I do believe that God acts in our lives I cannot tell you how or to what extent. I don’t think that there is necessarily a master plan of some sort that we are expected to follow. God does not want an army of automatons acting without choice or free will or responding out of fear of punishment. I believe that God through Jesus Christ wants a loving relationship with us…one where we seek divine guidance and assistance but also trusting in the powers of reason with which we are blessed as well as the good people who come into our lives to walk with us…to teach and advise us as we need.
Our relationship with the risen Lord can and will supply all that we need for health of the spirit and will enrich our emotional and physical lives as well. But that doesn’t mean that there will not be trials and troubles. Life in this world is not without strife and suffering but in our relationship with God in Jesus Christ we can find patience to bear the burdens that must be borne… the strength to overcome those obstacles that stand in the way of living a full life in Christ and an internal peace in the midst of unavoidable conflict.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he tells us to “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.”…to prepare ourselves for spiritual conflict by putting on the “whole armor of God” and whenever we pray to “pray in the Spirit”. There is every indication that if we are faithfully attempting to follow the will of God we will find opposition that we must fight against. God wants us to be strong and faithful… not comfortable and complacent.
Sometimes the enemy we will be fighting in spiritual warfare will be our very selves…the proud, selfish, greedy, needy self that gets in the way of living out our call to humble service to Christ and in Christ. Through prayer and study…through the assistance of other faithful brothers and sisters we can rely on the Holy Spirit to help us overcome even our own worst nature. And in those moments that we fail…and we will have those moments….we have the promise of forgiveness if we truly repent. Always we can begin again…reborn in the ongoing grace of our baptism. …refreshed in the grace ever present in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.
It is a good thing to seek after God and to seek a community of believers that allows one to live fully into a new life in Christ. But do not become so enamored of the search that you cannot recognize when you have found the way home. Remember to occasionally find your way to your thinking place and consider all that you have in your life both emotionally and spiritually. Sometimes everything we need is right where we are…we just have to recognize it…to accept it and to nurture it.
When I was a child whenever I decided to run away from home thinking that something different had to be better than what I had the love of my family and the beauty and peace of those trees and green hills would call me back and remind me that all I needed was right there. Now all this time later, having spent many years in many places seeking to serve God I have carried the love of my family and the memory of that green place with me. I feel that sense of homecoming whenever I stand at this Altar or gather in this community. In Christ I have found the love of family…a sense of place….and an increasing awareness that God is always with me and wherever God is …is home.