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Pentecost 14B Sermon
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Ephesians 6:10-20;
John 6: 56-69
August
26, 2018

 

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John 6:56-69

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This 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.’ He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, ‘Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But 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. And he said, ‘For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.’
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, 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.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

Since this is the last of five weeks in a row where our Gospel reading is from John 6, it seems appropriate to wrap things up with the help of our other two scripture texts, especially since this theme runs all through them: What difference does it make that you believe in Jesus as God’s only son, the Lord and savior of the world? It is one thing to remember, believe and celebrate the many gifts that God gives us freely out of fatherly love for us – Jesus our bread of life, eternal life, being raised on the last day, to name the ones highlighted in John 6. After we once again are reminded of these gifts, what is our response? We Lutherans are good at understanding how we cannot on our own earn or deserve eternal life; sometimes, though, we don’t quite make past what God does to what we are called to do – how we are called to respond to these wonderful, generous gifts. All three of our readings speak from a perspective someone trying to express in easy to understand, concise language what it means to believe in God and Jesus Christ for their day-to-day living.

In our first lesson, Joshua has led the people of Yahweh back to the city of Shechem – a place of importance for them. This is a place where their past and their future meet. It is a place where long ago, God had appeared to Abram and promised a land for him and his ancestors. Earlier in Joshua’s book, God had designated Shechem as a city of refuge – a haven in the midst of violence and revenge. Now, as Joshua nears the end of his life, he gathers the people there in that place to remind them of what God has done for their ancestors (that is what is found in verses 2b through 13 that we omitted) and to ask them if they will continue to believe in God. He says, “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua is encouraging the people that he has led into the promised-land so faithfully that belief is choosing to serve and worship the God that has so gracefully and lovingly accompanied them and their ancestors, providing safety, security and all that they have needed for their journey. It is more than a life where you remember the good old days; it is a life where the days of old and the days of a promised future meet in the lives of God’s people then and there.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes belief in terms of our wardrobe: “Put on the whole armor of God.” It is an interesting analogy, since soldiers of the Lord are soldiers of the gospel of peace. But the battle in which we are engaged is a cosmic battle, not ones like our men and women face in places like Afghanistan and other war-torn spots in the world. The battle-clothes for soldiers of the Lord – those who believe in Jesus – have to do with truth and faith; they stand for righteousness, salvation and whatever makes us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Believing in Jesus as our Lord is akin to completely clothing ourselves in garments which identify us as God’s own people. This means not only being of one mind with Jesus, but it also means that we live and act and speak according to the clothes that we wear.
Paul challenges us to ask, “What does a person’s life look like, who wears these things?” He also encourages us to remember how important it is to go about every day of our lives cognizant of the presence of things like faith and truth, because there is a cosmic side to even the most mundane moment of life. It is as if Satan’s arrows are constantly being shot at us, and if we are without the proper armor of belief in Jesus, then we risk falling prey to those other gods that Joshua was speaking about as he encouraged the Israelites to choose the Lord. In those days, he was speaking of Baal, Marduk, Astarte and other gods of the Canaanites – idols and images that the people desired to appease in order to have wealth, children, crops and military victory. In our day and age, those gods come in the guise of wealth, popularity and success; athletic prowess, looks and fame. From the young girl who stepped for the first time into middle school last Thursday to the Freshmen who will step for the first time on the field at the horseshoe next Saturday, belief in Jesus as Lord takes the whole armor of God so that they can remember the constant battle that is going on between the forces of the evil one and of God. There is more going on than we can see with the naked eye – there is a constant battle between wearing the gospel armor and putting on the clothes suited for other kinds of warfare. And so, Paul encourages all believers to focus everything that we wear on what helps us defend ourselves against the forces that oppose God, and spread the gospel of peace.
Finally, in the end of the 6th chapter of John, Jesus talks about believing in him as savior when it is difficult to do so. If you think that you can convince someone with a deep quote, meaningful story or Facebook posting that Jesus is Lord of all, you only need to look at these verses from our Gospel reading to see how unlikely that is. Jesus himself wasn’t always successful at convincing people that they should believe in him as their Lord! Is it important to express our belief to others in order to argue with our neighbors and give good defense to what we believe, or is it more important to express our belief with trust and confidence in order to explain why I have no other choice but to trust God with my entire life – to whom shall we go? Jesus alone has the words of eternal life. Obviously, I focus more on the latter; it is much more effective evangelism to testify to your own trust in God than to convince someone else that they need to trust in God more. It is much more effective evangelism to share the confidence that you have in God’s mercy in your life than to argue that someone else should be confident in that mercy. It is even more effective evangelism to express honest doubt and questions about God’s presence than to profess that these things are not allowed in a relationship with God.

Brothers and sisters, as celebrate and remember all that God has done for us, we are also called to live out our response to the love that God first showed to us in his son, Jesus Christ. Sure there are decisions every day about who it is that we serve; certainly we are concerned with what clothes we put on in our spiritual struggles. Of course we defend our faith by going on the offense and testifying to what God has done in our lives. And on top of all of these things, we return to the time when our heads got a little wet at this font or one like it – even if we were too young to remember it – and ask ourselves if we had to do it over, would we say, “yes, I desire to be baptized.” Gathering and hearing these scripture each week is a Shechem-like experience for all of us – because everything that God has done for us in our past meets that which God promises for our future right here, in a present that is lived with gratitude and trust in Jesus as our Lord. May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.