Trinity 13 – “To whom can we go?”

Sunday 26 August 2018-08-22

Trinity 13

Josh 24:1-2a, 14-18; John 6:56-69

May I speak this morning in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I still remember the first television set my parents got when I was about 5 or 6, which they rented from Radio Rentals.  It was a beige veneered box and the channel buttons were great big things which you had to press in to turn over the channel.

That TV must have been future-proofed because it had four channel buttons, but there were only three channels to choose from.  BBC1, BBC2 and ITV.   And, when you were a young child in the early 1970s there wasn’t much to watch on the telly – I remember encountering the test card quite a lot on BBC2 and children’s television programmes lasted from about 4 to 6 in the afternoon – when the 6 o’clock news came on, that was it.

And then, on the 2 November 1982, a veritable revolution took place when Channel 4 was launched.  At last that fourth button had a purpose although, sadly, that beige TV did not last long enough to see the day.  So much for future proofing.  I was in my early days of secondary school then, and Channel 4 did seem like a revolution – it had irreverent comedies like Five Go Mad in Dorset and black and white French films which always promised to be saucy, but never were.

For those who could afford fancy satellite dishes Sky TV came along in 1990, but took a long time to get established, and for those with regular TVs Channel Five came along in 1997.  That four button TV had definitely now had its day.

So how many channels are there to choose from today?

I’ve no idea.  My Sky box goes up to 999, but that doesn’t include all the things available on Netflix, Amazon, the BBC on demand services, Now TV, Virgin entertainment, the many film streaming services and so on.  And, of course, you don’t even need to TV to access this stuff – many will simply stream onto iPads and phones.

In the course of my lifetime we have gone from almost no choice in television to virtually infinite choice about what we watch, where and how.

And the same applies to music – rather than listening to whatever the radio station chooses to play it is now possible to stream virtually every track in the world for a modest monthly fee.  In relation to food one can now order almost any cuisine via an app and have it Deliverood to your door, if you want to meet someone new you can just swipe left or right on a dating app (don’t worry I haven’t been doing that), if you want to visit a foreign city you can have the choice of thousands of rooms via Airbnb.

The choices available in so many areas of our life now seem endless.

And if that is true for these consumer items it is also true of faith.  Gone are the days when other religions were merely exotic rumours from far off lands.  It is now perfectly possible to go onto the internet and learn about any faith or spiritual practice under the sun, to take up that practice and put it down again as you see fit.  I quite enjoy all the colour and the noise and the food of Hinduism but I decided against being a Hindu priest as the weddings take three days.

Although the sheer proliferation of choice in every area of life is a quite modern phenomena, actually God has always allowed his people choice, because it is only a freely chosen relationship with God that is a real relationship.  One could say that choice started with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and is to be found throughout the story of the people of God – Abraham and his son Isaac, Noah and his call to build the ark, the calling of prophets like Samuel in the temple.  God never forces, but always allows people to choose.  Of course, choice carries risk.  The risk that people will make the wrong choice for the wrong reason, that they will eat the fruit rather than trust the promises of God.  But God takes that risk with us because people without choices are merely slaves and God seeks to set his people free from slavery.

And it is to those freed slaves whom Joshua addresses in our first reading.  Moses led these people out into the wilderness and, after 40 years of wandering, Moses died before crossing over in the promised land.  Joshua, the new leader of the Israelites gathers his people together and tells them that they need to make a choice about who they are going to worship, and they seem to have three main options:

  1. They can hark back to the good old days of slavery and worship the Egyptian gods – Isis and Osiris and so forth. This is to enshrine the past, to worship the nostalgia of their parent’s generation, forgetting the slavery which accompanied their Egyptian way of life;
  2. Alternatively they can ‘go native’ and worship the local gods of the Amorites and the other tribes who land they had conquered. These were the local gods for local people; or
  3. The third option is to worship Yahweh – the God who was their God before the days of slavery in Egypt, the one who brought them out of that slavery, the one who fed them manna from heaven whilst journeying in the wilderness and the one who brought them back to the promised land.

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, yes was the historic and ancestral God of the Israelites, but this was not about worshipping nostalgia – because this was the same God who had been before them day and night in the desert.  And whilst this land was the promised land, Yahweh was no local God, rather he was the maker of heaven and earth.

Joshua does not compel the people what to believe, but he does tell them that they need to make a choice, and he says that he, and all his household will serve the Lord, and the people of Israel follow his example and commit themselves to God.

And it is clear from our Gospel reading that, without compulsion, Jesus also tells us that we need to make a choice.  This reading from John is the continuation from last week’s reading about Jesus’ flesh being real food and his blood being real drink, and that we need to partake of that flesh and blood to have his life, his eternal life, within us.  But this is a hard teaching to understand, a hard choice to make, and we are told today that many of his followers turned away from following him because of this teaching.

Did Jesus rush after them and seek to make his teaching easier in order to win these people back?  No, not only because the teaching was deeply true and could not be made any easier, but because we have a choice whether to follow or not to follow, and God doesn’t offer us fake news to try and win our choice, he offers us good news and continues to let us decide.

So many people desert Jesus because they find this teaching difficult.  But the twelve remain and Jesus offers them an explicit choice:

“Do you also wish to go away?”

Simon Peter, although not always the most eloquent, has a wonderful response:

“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.”

Although the choice is real, Peter expresses the understanding that when you know who is speaking to you, when you know what is really on offer, eternal life in all its abundance then, then actually the choice is easy.  Yahweh who made heaven and earth is so much greater than local deities made of wood and stone and Jesus Christ, his son, has the words of eternal life and makes us partakers of that life when we choose to partake of him in both word and sacrament.

To be a follower of Jesus is not the same as making a choice between television channels, or between items on a menu or a playlist.  To choose to follow Jesus, although not always easy, is to choose life over death, is to choose the words of eternal life over the babble of endless consumerism and it is to be joined into the body of Christ, who is the Holy One of God.

Choose Jesus, choose life.