Josh. 24: 1-2a, 14-16  As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Eph. 6: 10-20  Put on whole armor of God.

John 6: 56-69   Lord to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.

“Lord to Whom Shall we Go?”  “In it for the long haul”

        Youth speaker Wayne Rice tells a story about the Sydney Swans of the Australian Rules Football league.  Australian Rules Football isn’t like our football but it does have lots of running, kicking, tackling without pads.  It’s the most successful sport in terms of TV viewership in Australia. 

      Evidently, there was an exception to the league for many years.  The Sydney Swans.  They were kind of the loveable losers.  For years they had the worst record of any team in the league.  That meant that they had the worst attendance and played in front of a lot of empty seats.  We’ve experienced that with some of our own local teams.  Everybody loves a winner but when you start losing…

     And then came the time that a new coach arrived and a few new players, and they started winning!  It wasn’t long before the laughingstock became a powerhouse.  And as you can guess, the stands began to fill.  People started coming out of the woodwork in support.   It became almost impossible to get a ticket. 

         One Sunday, the Swans were playing a rival team in front of a packed house.  The TV camera zoomed in on the crowd and then it stopped and focused on one man cheering and waving with a sign that read, “I was here when nobody else was!”

        In today’s lesson it’s like Jesus was dealing with fair weather fans.  He began to share the challenges and cost of following him.  He preached difficult words.  And the people were starting to get a little disenchanted.  They wanted to follow a winner. They wanted him to step in and be a political force and to establish his kingdom in the world, but they weren’t in it for the long haul.  One by one they started to drift away.

        Even some of his closest followers seemed to lose their enthusiasm.  John writes, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”   Jesus asked his 12 most faithful, “Do you want to leave too?”  And good old Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

        Don’t you love Peter?  In this story, he is in it for the long haul.  Oh he would have his doubts, he would deny, he would question, he was like us.  But he stuck with Jesus.  Who else could he turn to?  Sometimes we ask the same question.  Often it’s especially when we’re at our lowest points.  “Where else can I go?” 

       Every month I go over to Oak Ridge Manor for a short devotion and communion service with some of the residents.  Last month I used this lesson and just wanted to thank them for how faithful they were.  I thought I’d ask them to tell a story about some of their earliest faith memories, how it was that they had been taught and nurtured in a way that they still wanted to learn and grow and celebrate communion.   Interestingly, several of them had no memory or almost negative memories of parents leading them or guiding them in faith.  One said, her parents never went to church but her mother did drop her off.  Another didn’t start thinking about faith until she was older and started to read the Bible on her own.  Now somehow, I give credit to the Holy Spirit, each of them had a faith journey that brought them to celebrate communion each month.  What’s your story? How is it that you’re still here? Or for you new folks or visitors, How is it that you’re here in the first place?  Thanks for being here!

        Life is a marathon.  It’s no easier for Christians than anyone else.  We each have our own stumbling blocks to our faith journey.   Life is not easy.  Where do we go?  To whom do we turn?  What are some of the stumbling blocks and obstacles to faith for you?

      Pastor Ed Marquart writes about the different stumbling blocks that can make us question and doubt.  He writes about little rocks in the path: Allergies, flu, stomach ache, job stress, bad grades, car breaks down, AC stops running. 

        Sometimes there are boulders in life.  Terrible disasters, floods, fires, falling bridges, plane crashes, cancer, broken hip.  Sometimes there are emotional rocks, divorce, unemployment, loss.  Sometimes these Rocks and Boulders and Emotional rocks lead to Spiritual stumbling blocks. 

-We say things like, “God doesn’t care about my life.”

-“Where was God when…?”

-“I have a hard time believing…”

       I’ve been in this business 33 years now, and there are still things that Jesus says that bother me.  Words in the Bible that make me uncomfortable and challenge me.  I think I have more questions now than when I first began my ministry.  But that’s ok.  At the end of the day I can still say, “That’s a tough teaching Lord, I’ll have to think some more about that.  But until I get to heaven, like Peter I ask, “Lord to whom shall I go?”

        This is for some a tough time to be a member of a church.  Like the disciples many are questioning why they are here.  Should they stay in for the long haul or just leave.   There was a sad article last month in the Star Tribune about the numbers of people leaving the church and churches closing.  There was a follow up last week about fewer numbers entering ministry but yet the exciting changes and opportunities that Seminaries are responding with.

        We’re blessed here at Our Saviour’s by your presence.  We say thanks for your faithfulness and forgiveness and fortitude.  You know that there are no perfect churches.  We’re not a perfect church with perfect people, but you are here.  In spite of stumbling blocks to faith and the questions you have, you are here.

       Barbara Brown Taylor writes about how sometimes people do look for the perfect community of faith, she says that she hears it all the time…”If my church votes the wrong way on this issue, I’m leaving,” or, “I can’t belong to a church that would fund a project like that!” Or, “I don’t go to church any more.  I couldn’t take anymore of the 1. Hypocrisy 2. sexism 3. liberals 4. conservatives 5. fundraising 6. lousy preaching 7. fill in the blank.”

      Now I have to say we (I) don’t actually hear much of that kind of talk.  You may be thinking it but you don’t say it…or maybe you say it to Pr. Lloyd.  But like BBTaylor concludes, “Wherever people are people, there will always be things that offend.  Some of them are things we should pursue until we get some agreement on them, others we should probably leave alone.  There are people in this world just as sincere as we are, who do not see things our way.  We need each other.  Wherever God is God, there will always be things that offend.”

       There will be things like todays lesson where we like the disciples say, “This is a difficult teaching.” In those days, thank you for your faithfulness.  Thank you for how you are called and led by the Spirit.  Thank you for responding and affirming as Peter, “Lord to whom shall we go?”  “You have the words of eternal life.”