Sermon 23 Aug 2015
Joshua 24. 1-2a, 14-18, John 6.56-59
A book I used to love reading to my children and now also enjoy reading to my grandchildren is ‘Would you rather?’ by John Burningham. In it he faces us with impossible choices. ‘Would you rather be made to eat spider stew, slug dumplings, mashed worms or drink snail squash? Or perhaps, even worse, ‘Would you rather jump in the nettles for £5, swallow a dead frog for £10 or stay all night in a creepy house for £50?….?’ The book closes with a lovely get out clause – ‘..or would you rather just go to sleep in your own bed?’
Our bible readings today are about choices. Having finally reached the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership the people of Israel are faced with choices about how they will lead their lives there. How far will they adapt to the customs of the Hittites, Jebusites, Girgashites and all those other tribes – people living a settled, agricultural life rather than the nomadic path they have been following for the past 40 years? This big question surfaces again and again in the Old Testament – how do we live as God’s people here (wherever that is – Egypt, Babylon, Canaan)? If we adapt, settle, and learn the way of life in this new country will we still be faithful to all we have experienced and learned about God during our wanderings in the wilderness? If you have come to live in the UK from another part of the world you will be familiar with this kind of dilemma. What do I hold on to? What do I leave behind?
In our gospel reading Jesus’ 12 disciples find themselves faced with a choice – do they continue following him or not? Others have already left, having found some of his teaching just too difficult. So he asks them, ‘Do you want to leave?’ How will they respond?
The choices can seem very stark – either you do this, or you do that. More often, perhaps, they are nuanced – it’s not really clear which path to follow. Whatever they are there comes a point when we have to make a choice. We may wish that someone would say to us as to the child at the end of the story – or would rather just go to sleep in your own bed?! But ignoring the choice is in itself a choice. We can’t escape.
There are probably as many ways of making a choice as there are human beings, but I want to suggest that the key element in the choices we make is in what could be called our inner compass.
During their time in the desert the Israelites inner compass changed from that of slaves to that of a people who had entered a covenant with God. They were no longer defined by the Egyptians, but by God himself as his chosen people. The 12 disciples were likewise experiencing a change in identity from fishermen, tax collectors etc to that of Jesus’ closest friends. Their inner compass, like that of those ancestors of theirs, was changing. They were hearing things, seeing things, as they followed Jesus that were reorienting their lives. What they most wanted in life was changing. So the choices they made were changing too.
We’re in that situation too. As we follow Christ we are committing ourselves to a process of change and growth. Inevitably we are faced with choices.
I invite people to think of any choices facing them at present and then share with a neighbour.
Our inner compass colours how we see these choices and then how we respond. Richard was encouraging us last week to trust – that message from Brother Roger of Taize – and we can trust the growth of our inner compass to God; it’s in his hands. As we do so he offers many promptings on ways in which we might help it become ever more attuned to him. For me promptings sometimes come in the form of stories. I want to tell you a story which was a recent prompting to me about how to nourish my inner compass. This is a story from the American Indians. It was told to me as a story from the Cherokees. It’s probably well known, but I hadn’t heard it before. A young Cherokee was receiving wisdom from one of the older men in the tribe; ‘Listen, son, there are 2 wolves fighting inside each of us. One is bent on devouring us – taking away whatever gives joy and purpose to our lives; sometimes this wolf comes as anger or self pity or fear, or greed, tearing away at our hearts. The other wolf wants us to flourish, to dwell at one with ourselves and with this land; this wolf comes as thankfulness, wonder, courage, trust, bringing ease to our hearts and minds. The 2 wolves are constantly at war with each other’. The young Cherokee looked worried. ‘Which one will win?’ He asked. The older man looked at him thoughtfully, ‘The one you feed’, he replied.
Casting your mind back to the choice you were just considering, which wolves might be around for you? Which one do you find yourself feeding?
It’s no coincidence that the gospel readings over the past few weeks have all been about food – feeding 5,000, Jesus as the Bread of Life, eating Christ’s body and drinking his blood. The old proverb ‘you are what you eat’ is largely true. Our sacraments, especially the Eucharist, as Richard Harwood pointed out the week before last are there to nourish our good wolf. Christ’s words – our scriptures – also feed the good wolf; as Peter says to Jesus in our gospel to day when faced with the option of leaving Jesus, ‘To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’.
Let’s be hungry for our scriptures and our Holy Communion (Eucharist) so that when we face those choices, ‘would you rather…?’ we respond from an inner compass that is being shaped by a living faith.