Deciding Who We'll Serve

"This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" - John 6

"...Put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve...  - Joshua 24

Dear friends-

I will always regret that I didn't have a better experience with math and science in school. It recently occurred to me that I was fine with math until it started including letters; in my compartmentalized brain of the time, numbers were for math and letters were for languages and history. Mixing the two - the wacky world of variables and unknowns - pretty much stumped me.

And then there was the chemistry teacher who announced on the first day of class, "There are three words I do not want to hear in this class: 'I don't understand.'" It's possible that he elaborated on that statement and clarified his point, but I stopped listening immediately. My resulting grade reflected an unwavering commitment to that inattention.

Sometimes, Jesus sounds a little bit impatient with his disciples; kind of like that chemistry teacher whose offhand remark set me on a course away from the natural sciences. Yes, I could have changed that course,  but I didn't - at least not in school. And I do regret that.

(By the way, I've always wondered about those who say they have "no regrets." MY reaction to this declaration is a combination of awe, jealousy, and outright disbelief. I want to reply by saying, "Really? You've managed to make your way through life without doing anything dumb, thoughtless, unkind, or disastrous? Wow." I think of my regrets as the guard rails on the meandering road of my life.)

But back to Jesus - and to Joshua (which might actually have been the name by which Jesus was known in his living days.) Both of them were giving their people some difficult counsel. Joshua is telling his rag-tag band, the Israelites, that it's time to fish or cut bait. Time to decide which God - or gods - they will serve. These people are about to settle into their Promised Land, and it seems reasonable to ask that they oblige the God who promised it to them. Yet, their history is deeply woven into the history of all the people of the lands known then as Canaan. This is an unknown new path for the Hebrew people, and we might fairly guess that the guard rails for such a path had not yet been invented.

And Jesus? In John's Gospel, he's finishing up - finally! - his long discourse on "the Bread of Life." The disciples are having a hard time understanding what he is talking about, especially as he concludes by saying - several times - that unless they eat the flesh of his body and drink his blood, "you have no life in you."

These words were likely as shocking - revolting, maybe? - to those who heard him as they probably are to us. Thank God for the idea of metaphor, even if it's a grim metaphor. Seems to me that both Jesus and Joshua are telling their people that they need to make God's promises and challenges a real part of their very selves. If they simply tune out because they don't understand, they are missing the heart, the glory, and the hope that comes with this deeply intimate relationship with God.

Maybe that's what my chemistry teacher was trying, quite clumsily, I'll say, to tell me. Maybe he wanted me to listen to the "spirit of chemistry", instead of wallowing lost in the at-first bewildering facts and equations.

I should have listened better - or longer. I might have found a beautiful mystery. And had one less thing to regret.

But there's still time to repair that regret. This is almost always true. Pablo Neruda once wrote, "As always, it is early."

But not too early. We worship at 10 AM. You have plenty of time. And you will be so warmly welcome.

Sabbath blessings-