Proper 16, B
I read a story this week about a Duke University fraternity hazing prank. The frat brothers kidnapped a pledge, confiscated his clothes and dressed him in only Duke Blue Devils mascot costume. They drove him out into the NC countryside and left him there. The young man began the slow walk back, trudging along in his horns, and pointy ears and goatee. An hour or so into his trek, he heard the welcome sound of prayer and singing and recognized a country church in the midst of a revival meeting. Hmmm, he thought, “Church people are good people. Surely someone will give me a ride back to Duke.” Full of hope, he strode confidently across the parking lot, blue cape fluttering behind him and burst in the front door. The preacher stopped his preaching mid-sentence…and stared. The entire congregation turned en masse to look at what the preacher was looking at. And they stared. Suddenly, the preacher dove out the window. Other folk began to run and dive out windows too, until there was only one person left staring: One poor old woman, too old to run and too frail to dive out the window. She sat alone in the church. The devil stood between her and the church’s only door. “She began to sidle down the aisle while talking in a soft voice, “Mr. Devil, my husband, bless his heart, was a deacon in this church for almost 40 years, one of my sons is a missionary, and my daughter is married to a pastor, and I was president of the Women’s Missionary Society for 20 years, but I just want you to know—I been on your side all along!” (paraphrased from Delmer Chilton, Living Lutheran, August, 2018)
And Joshua said to the people, …if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose 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.
Bob Dylan laid out more or the less the same choices in his song “Gonna have to serve somebody”, but it spent far more time on the pop charts: “Well it may be the devil” Dylan sang, “or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
Jesus isn’t going to make the pop charts in today’s lessons. People are tuning out in droves, heading down off the mountainside, back home where food and healing and miracles may be scarce, but at least things make sense. Bread of life, indeed. Eat my flesh – I don’t think so. It’s been fun, Jesus, but I think we’re done here.
The crowds gone, most of the followers gone – in one of those few vulnerable sounding moments that remind you that Jesus took on human flesh, human frailty, Jesus asks the 12, ““Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answers for the disciples, but doesn’t answer yes or no. He can’t. That beautiful, vulnerable question has become irrelevant.
The first sermon I ever preached was on this text. I shared then that although I’ve never been fond of Physics. (Too much math for me) occasionally a theory seems to catch the imagination and worm its way into the more accessible parts of life. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle says that the closer you try to watch particles in motion, the more you change what they do, making them impossible to measure precisely. In different forms (minus all those pesky equations), the theory appears in other disciplines as the Observer Effect. Psychologists, anthropologists and sociologists recognize that they can’t watch something without changing the thing that they are observing. The closer we watch, the more things change. If an anthropologist watches a village from a distance, the villagers may shift routines a little, just because they know someone is watching. If that researcher lives with a family in the village, every interaction will be changed. (We don’t talk so much about the observer being changed by what they see, but that happens too.)
Simon Peter and the others have been living with Jesus, observing Jesus, feasting on his words, his actions, his spirit, his bread. They have changed. “Lord, to whom can we go? … We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” They cannot unsee what they have seen, unknow what they have known.
Sara Miles, a left wing, lesbian journalist raised as an atheist found herself walking into St Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco one winter morning. She wrote later that it made no earthly sense for her to be there. She had never heard a Gospel lesson, never prayed the Lord’s prayer and had no interest in becoming a Christian, or as she thought of it “a religious nut.” Drawn on impulse by a reporter’s curiosity, she went into the church.
“I walked in, took a chair, and tried not to catch anyone’s eye. . . . Then a man and a woman … stood and began chanting in harmony. There was no organ, no choir, no pulpit; just the unadorned voices of the people. . . . I sang too. It crossed my mind that this was ridiculous. We sat down and stood up, sang and sat down, waited and listened and stood up and sang, and it was all pretty peaceful and sort of interesting. “Jesus invites everyone to his table,” the woman announced, and we started moving up in a stately dance to the table in the rotunda. . . .
And there was more singing and standing, and someone was putting a piece of fresh, crumbly bread in my hands, saying “the body of Christ,” and handing me the goblet of sweet wine, saying “the blood of Christ,” and then something outrageous and terrifying happened. Jesus happened to me. . . . And I knew God, named Christ or Jesus, was real”  . .
We have some choices to make.
We can eat the bread and fish, then head back down the mountainside, keep Jesus at a distance, try to unknow the mystery we have known, push aside the hunger deep within, and serve self interest.
Or we can let Jesus happen to us. We can eat of the bread of life, allow Jesus to draw near, drawing near to Him in turn, know Him as the Holy one of God, serve Him, love neighbor and enemy, allow the transformation of Christ within.