We have come to believe and know.....
The Fourteenth Sunday
Proper 16 - Year B
… 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.”
Do you remember “One Way - Jesus” T shirts? Did you ever own one? I might have, back in the day.
If not, I owned other equally enthusiastic proclamations of my new found Christian faith. I certainly had friends who wore those T shirts emblazoned with a hand with a single finger pointing to the sky and the words “One Way” and “Jesus” written around it.
We were converts on a narrow road. It said more about us, though, than it did about Jesus.
The 1970’s were an interesting decade of spiritual enterprise on the west coast of North America – incense sticks, patchouli oil, LSD, Maharishis and blacklight posters. The West Coast was full of hippies, even long after hippiedom had begun to wane elsewhere. Some hippies became Jesus People. Some Jesus People fell away from the Christian tradition completely. Some of them moved into rigorous Baptist or Pentecostal churches. Some of those Jesus People gravitated to traditional churches in time and developed a love of historic liturgy and a more nuanced approach to the outside world. There are now bishops in the Anglican tradition who, if persuaded, might dig around in their boxes of old photos and find one of some long-haired teenager, or young adult, sitting around with his chums on a Vancouver or Seattle park bench in 1974 and wearing a “one way - Jesus” T shirt.
One way. One thing to do. One road in or out. One tool in the toolbox. One answer to any question.
You’d do your level best to avoid being in a situation like that. If one of your adult children were to phone you and say “Dad, I’m in a situation where there appears to be only one thing I can do” you’d later grumble (out loud or to yourself) that this was clearly a result of bad planning. In a perfect world we keep our options open: right or left, basic or enhanced, paper or plastic, manual or automatic. We sit back. We choose.
If the religious offering is one of ideas, then yes. You pick and choose. You bash ideas around. The Gospel is proclaimed in a marketplace, cheek to jowl with other ideas about divinity and morality. Christian preaching can, and has been over the years, threatening and manipulative – this must be both resisted and repented of. We deny men and women the integrity of choosing. Christian "belonging" has often, at the same time, been a matter of following in the footsteps of clan or family. No choice is ever made.
The treasure in the Gospel message is not the path taken by men and women and their proud ownership of that bit of trail but what God has offered which is, in fact, God and his Kingdom. The leading edge of what God is doing is the offering of a person, who is, in real terms, God’s own self. Our Gospel reading this afternoon ends with the smallest subset of Jesus’ hearers – his own twelve disciples - who have not drifted away when the words of Jesus became difficult.
The person of Jesus – their road.
The Body and Blood of Christ – their nourishment.
His death and resurrection – their future.
There is much here to question and much to be troubled about but they remain persuaded. Their certainty is not that of a newcomer and their presence beside him is no family tradition. Jesus can see the struggle on their faces and so he asks them a question which points to the ever-open exit door.
“Do you also wish to go away?” he asks. And yet they remain.
“We have come to believe” they say.
There is no easy answer. The disciples have struggled and that struggle has been answered positively by experience.
You men and women here this afternoon deserve the very same space. Use it well.