Jesus isn't easy.
Oh, here he goes again, right? Sure, but it’s another one of those “we need to be reminded, constantly” kind of things. So, I’ll say it again, Jesus isn’t easy.
Jesus is loving and caring, kind and forgiving, comforting and hopeful. But easy? No. To follow the way of Jesus, to live out the profoundly simple message to "love one another as I have loved you" is full of complications and challenges in our very human world.
According to John, Jesus lost followers because of his teaching about being the Bread of Life. Remember how Jesus tells people he is the Bread of Life? Not with just a "it's kinda like this," Jesus is adamant that we must literally consume him because "whoever eats me will live because of me" (John 6:57). You can just imagine people turning away thinking "wow, this guy's really lost it." John recounts how "because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him" (John 6:66). No one wants to be a cannibal and drink your blood, Jesus, especially people who believe "you shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off" (Leviticus 17:14).
But, of course, that's not really the hard part for us. The hard part is understanding Jesus means that to live - to truly live - is more than behaviour and to live the life of Jesus isn't just about how you act or what you say, but how you live. To be Jesus is to live from your heart and mind and body, to quite literally live out what you have taken in, and that is Jesus. I've said this before, I think, and lots of others have, too. And it's not about achieving a perfection that's beyond us, it's about doing the best we can, as we can.
And, sometimes, that's not easy. Sometimes, we won't like it (really?). Sometimes, we'll doubt (gasp!). Sometimes, we'll want to just walk away (no!). As C.S. Lewis wrote, "if you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
Jesus wants us to know (and I mean really know) that we are loved by God and we should love others, especially those that are hardest to love. That's not easy.
Jesus wants us to know (and I mean really know) that God cares for us and is with us, in times of sorrow as well as joy, adversity as well as prosperity, just, well, all times. And we should be there for others, too, especially those who are hardest to care for. That's not easy.
Jesus wants us to know (and I mean really know) that God's grace is for all, that we are all forgiven and welcome by God, and we should show grace to all and find forgiveness for even those that it's hardest to forgive. That's not easy.
Jesus wants us to know (and I mean really know) that God is about what’s true and right for all of creation and we should seek that always so that we might live in right relationship with each other and all creation, even with those who are the hardest to live with, even when we struggle to live with the earth. That's not easy.
But it is worth it. Peter knows why.
That piece of the story in John, that I mentioned above, concludes with many of the people who'd been following Jesus just walking away in disbelief. So Jesus asks the twelve disciples, "do you also wish to go away?" I imagine there was some shuffling of feet, a few doubtful looks and a sigh or two before Peter says "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" (John 6:69). The way of Jesus is life giving.
I was going to leave it there, but I can't. I need to go back to that quote from C.S. Lewis for a moment. "Religion" isn't just God or the Spirit and it isn't just our faith or belief, it's the structure, the system, the institution, even, that we human beings create around our faith to give it order and a certain common expression which we might share together. There are many religions and many expressions of faith. If they follow the way of God, however we might know that God, they will surely also present the same challenges that Jesus wants us to know (and I mean really know) are part of life. That's not easy and, as churches often experience, people will often walk away. Is that because the the church has lost it's way? We certainly have some history of that. Is it because the way is hard? We have some history of that, too. But discerning that, I think, is best done by engagement, not departure. These are words of a parting prayer I've used for a number of years and, to be honest I'm not sure of the source and there's a few variations, but it is still true:
The way is long, let us go together.
The way is difficult, let us help each other.
The way is joyful, let us share it.
The way is Jesus, let us follow.
The way is open before us, let us go.