We all face choices. Big, important choices or small, trivial choices – life’s full of them. Here’s a choice: [produce 2 boxes, ask volunteer to choose one, offer option to change their mind, open boxes to reveal contents]. Not a particularly difficult choice perhaps, and not one with particularly serious consequences.
But we all face bigger choices too: where to live, what work to do, how to spend our money, who to spend our time with. In short, choices about how we live. And when we face those choices, how do we choose? Perhaps we weigh up the options, gather more information, ask for advice… but in the end we have to choose.
In our first reading today, the leaders of the tribes of Israel faced a choice: should they follow God, or fall in with the local customs and worship false gods? Joshua faced that choice too, and he makes his decision clear: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” And by his choice, Joshua leads the rest of the people to choose to serve God as well.
But a decision to serve God isn’t always easy. In our gospel reading, Jesus gives his disciples a choice: do they, like others among his followers, want to go away, to stop following him? It might be understandable if they did. Jesus has just finished delivering what must have seemed at the time like some of his most shocking, bizarre and unfathomable teaching to date – those long “bread of life” passages we have been hearing over the last few weeks – and his disciples are, frankly, baffled. “This teaching is difficult,” they say, “who can accept it?” And yet they choose to stay. Why?
Because Jesus offers them something more than an easy ride, easy answers, cheap popularity or cheap grace. He offers the hope, the promise, the reality of eternal life, life in all its fullness, here and now, and in the world to come.
And that is what Jesus still offers to us today, offers to all people. So much more than we deserve, or than we ask for. Jesus holds out to us the words of eternal life, the bread of life, his own broken body, and says to us all: “come, follow me”. And we do. Millions do. People for whom following Jesus will be far more difficult or more costly than we in our cosy western church bubble can imagine.
That is why Christians in the camp at Calais – people who have experienced horrendous torture, violence and exploitation, unimaginable hardship and destitution, people who have seen others, supposedly respectable people, turn their backs on them and refuse to help, time and again – that is why these people, these followers of Jesus, these our brothers and sisters, have built a church. You might have seen it on Songs of Praise last Sunday. These people have nothing, and almost nobody is willing to lift a finger to help them. And yet they have built a church, a visible sign of God’s presence, of hope in that place of despair. Because they choose to follow Jesus, who offers no easy answers, no pat words of comfort, but rather the challenge of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls “costly grace”, which leads to eternal life.
And that challenge is for us too. Most of us will never face the sort of challenges endured by those migrants in Calais, but we do face choices. To turn a blind eye, or to take a long hard look at what’s really going on. To cross the road to help, or to pass by on the other side. To speak up for the voiceless, or keep silent for fear of making ourselves unpopular.
When I was a teenager, there was a fashion for wearing fabric wristbands with the initials WWJD printed on them – it stood for What Would Jesus Do? The wristbands have gone out of fashion, but the question never does. Take any choice you face, any difficult situation. What would Jesus do? Or perhaps more pertinently, but more challengingly – what does Jesus call you to do?
A friend of mine asked herself that question, or something like it, recently and it led her and a few others, including her teenage son, to drive to that migrant camp in Calais with a car full of sleeping bags and toiletries, and do what they could to help. A drop in the ocean, perhaps, but it was a choice informed by a lifetime of following Jesus, and a choice which looked beyond personal concerns – the “what ifs” or “what will people think” – to see the humanity, the image of God, in the other.
We are those people Jesus talks about in today’s gospel reading, those who eat his flesh and drink his blood, and in so doing abide in him. We are called to make choices which reflect that, which allow others to see and share the life that is in us because of our sharing in the body of Christ. Nobody said it would be easy. Jesus himself recognises that his teaching and his life has the potential to offend. But it also has the power – and it’s the only thing that does – to transform the whole world to the glory of God.
That we are called, at our baptism and in our participation in the Eucharist, to be part of that transformation is a great privilege and a great responsibility. May the Holy Spirit guide us all to make choices which reveal and reflect the awesome grace of God in Christ Jesus.