Gospel: John 6:56-69 [Jesus said,] 56“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.  60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”  66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

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Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Through the years, I’ve watched as congregations have gotten smaller, with fewer people gathering for worship, fewer givers responsible for rising expenses, and smaller families expanding into spaces once crowded by prolific multi-generational enthusiasts.

Yet, this is the first time in the years as this text has arisen that I’ve picked up on the question that sparks Peter’s response that we often use in our acclamation, “Lord, to whom should we go?  You have the words of eternal life!” 

Jesus had seen many of his followers turn away, no longer going about with him.  So he asks the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”

Every church has people who decide to go away for one reason or another.  Some leave after suffering very traumatic experiences, enduring the abuses of people caught in the evils of depravity.  Many of the cover-ups of these kinds of abuses are now being exposed, and the exposing pales next to the thoughts of what so many have endured for so many years…  Some people leave when they experience the judgment of others, undeserved or not.  We like to believe that most people are nice, especially in church gatherings, so the snide comments and outright accusations become even more hurtful than when they come from people we expect to be abrasive.

Some of us in this room have been accusatory and judgmental.  Some of us have been too silent when we’ve heard those words spoken by others, even when those other have been people we don’t necessarily consider to be friends.  Sometimes we remain silent in hopes that the conflicts will just go away, so we don’t have to worry about them.

Jesus’ words were offensive to the Jews, because drinking blood of any kind was against their laws.  Eating the flesh of people was also prohibited.  How could he say, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them”?

We teach the mystical mingling of Jesus’ body and blood with the bread and the wine, so our feasting according to his command is more miracle than it is cannibalism!  But the Jews did not realize that as they heard Jesus speaking about his followers eating him.  Therefore, many of them turned back, and no longer went about with him.

Some people who have gone away from Concordia have done so because they moved to different cities, and it is no longer feasible to worship with us on Sunday mornings.  Those are not the ones we’re most concerned about today, even though we do hope they are hearing God’s good news and celebrating God’s gifts in their lives.  Today, I’d like us to be concerned about those who have gone away because they believe one or more of us have been unloving, or even mean.  How do we invite people to worship again with us, when they no longer trust us to proclaim the Gospel, when they have come to expect judgment and hatred instead of mercy and love?

I’ll let us all think about that, but I’d like to shift gears a bit and get to the question itself that Jesus asked the Twelve.  Jesus said, “Do you also wish to go away?

It might seem silly for me to ask that question of all the people gathered here this morning, because it must be obvious that everyone who is here has already chosen not to go away! J

The hard part of the question, however, is that if we choose not to go away, if we choose to stay, we have work to do.  We’re not yet half-way to our first third of repairs for the organ.  Our offerings don’t quite cover our budgeted expenses, even if we don’t count building repair needs.  And our worship participation?  Last week we counted 37…

We did, however, have people come to our National Night Out gathering.  We have outdoor worship and a picnic planned for September 16, with hopes that the weather will be conducive.  Walking gatherings are in the planning stages and Youth and Family is preparing for Sunday School.  Our projection project is moving along and our council has begun calling to advertise our fall kick-off on the sixteenth.

The Twelve were faced with a difficult journey.  They risked death with Jesus as he traveled to Bethany and Jerusalem.  They risked being ostracized by the rest of the people with their eating and drinking of the sacrament. 

Our journey will also have difficulties.  We may find ourselves apologizing for past behaviors we’d rather not acknowledge even happened, or things that were the faults of others more than ourselves.  We may find that something we did was hurtful, even though we never intended it to be so.

On the other hand, maybe we do know our own fault in some instances, and can attempt to open a door with a sincere encounter with a person we’ve turned away.

If we truly wish to continue to follow Jesus here at Concordia, if we truly wish not to go away, then we need also to do the hard work of reaching out and reaching in.  We need to be loving and sincere, even with those who hold differing views on the issues of the day.

A colleague of mine posted an article a couple days ago reporting that “Many Churchgoers want Sunday Morning Segregated… by Politics”!  However, it was a majority only for protestants under the age of 50, and not a strong majority even then.  It was also what I’d consider a very small study of only about 1000 people who attend services at least once a month.  I learned at one congregation I served that the people of the congregation segregated themselves by sitting on opposite sides of the congregation.  I’m not sure which sat on the left or the right but I know of at least one person who was unaware of this particularity, and moved from one side to the other, confusing everyone else!

Do you wish to go away, or can you stay, and help us to proclaim God’s mercy and grace?  Can you do the hard work of standing firm when things are difficult, of loving those who are hurting, and of sacrificing for the good of this mission?

There are, after all, other churches (even here in Superior) that also proclaim Jesus Christ.  We don’t need to be like Peter, saying there is nowhere else to go. 

That, however, is precisely why we need to decide how we will proceed, how hard we want to work to proclaim the good news in this place, and at this time.

Jesus gives himself for us, to the death.  How will we respond?  In Jesus’ name.  Amen