Saturday, August 22, 2015

Choose this day whom you will serve…

Joshua 24: 1-2a, 14-18; Ephesians 6: 10-20; John 6: 56-69

Today is the last day we spend on the Bread of Life discourse in John. It seems like we’ve been talking about bread forever, and I even missed the first two weeks because I was in Michigan. Yet, each week, there are new teachings to explore, faith to renew, challenges to accept.
Today, all the readings fit together under the theme of “Choose this day whom you will serve…”
It starts with Joshua. At the end of his life, he wants to be sure the work God has done among them is remembered and observed. He addresses the gathered Israelite people, “Choose this day whom you will serve.”
He asks them if they will serve the other gods in the region, the gods their ancestors followed, and whom some of them also followed. Or if they will revere and follow and obey only the Lord.
Their response is, “We would be foolish to follow any other god, for it is the Lord who has done such great things for us and for our ancestors. The Lord made us a people, brought our ancestors out of slavery and has protected us as we moved into this new land. Of course we will choose the Lord as our God.”   
… Jesus asks the disciples and followers to choose as well. By now, the discourse, or sermon, or lecture, on bread has moved into the synagogue. There is a mixed group of listeners, those who believe in him, those who are checking him out, those who are curious on-lookers, those who want to see more miracles, and those who refuse to believe. Some of those present have been following him for quite a while, and have been thought of as disciples.
To all of them, he explains the meaning of the miracle of eating and drinking the Bread of Life. It is like manna that their ancestors ate in that it was also sent by God. But all of those ancestors died. Jesus’ bread, the Bread of Life, grants eternal life to all who partake of it. Those who eat the Bread of Life will live forever.
His listeners were puzzled. “What does he mean, “Live forever?’ I don’t get it!” Jesus’ response is a challenge. “What would you say if you saw the Son of Man – meaning himself – ascending back to heaven?” The listeners realize that Jesus is equating himself with God, and many of them want nothing more to do with him. “Now you’ve gone too far! We’re outta here!”
Jesus asks the Twelve, “What about you? Will you leave too?” Peter – who never puts his foot in his mouth in John’s gospel – is quick to respond, “Where else can we go? You are the one who leads us to eternal life. We choose to follow you.”
… When we look at the Letter to the Ephesians, we encounter this wonderful description of what it means to make a choice to follow Jesus. Using the image of standard military gear of the infantry, the author gives each item a spiritual purpose. Arm yourselves with truth, righteousness, peace, salvation, faith, and the Word of God and you are prepared to face anything the world gives you.
We note that all the armor except the sword is defensive. It also protects only the front of the soldier. This armor is used on soldiers in the phalanx – a mass of soldiers – so other soldiers protect their backs. Even two soldiers can defend each other well with only front armor because they stand back to back. Soldiers are more powerful in a group.
When we choose to follow Jesus, we are stronger, more faithful believers when we are part of a group. We are all available to each other as armor, as encouragement, as listening ears, as food for body and spirit.
… This fall, I’m teaching a class in early Church history for the Diaconia program. In order to teach, I need to reread the textbook. As I read, I discovered this wonderful use of this Gospel text by a man named Ignatius of Antioch. He was born in Syria in about the year 50, 20 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. It appears that he was appointed by Peter to be the third bishop of Antioch.
Around the year 100, there were persecutions of Christians, and Ignatius was headed to Rome for trial and execution. A plot was developing to rescue him, and save him from the wild beasts that would destroy him. However, he felt he was called to martyrdom, and wrote a letter to those who would stop the Romans from killing him.
 I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. … Ignatius chose to follow Jesus to the death, with the hope of a much greater reward.
… A lot of stuff shows up on Facebook that I prefer to ignore, but there are also lots of wonderful stories that show up there. There is the almost daily opportunity to band together to pray, at least once, for a sick child or adult. The simple comment “praying” is encouraging to the family, and a blessing as they remember that so many people are praying for their loved one. Prayer is something we do individually and as a community, even if that community is “virtual”, present only online. It is a simple thing, but a powerful one, to choose to pray.
… Last Friday evening, Mike and I were at a Kiwanis event that took place at the ARC Nature Coast in Spring Hill. ARC is an organization that helps people of all ages with intellectual and developmental difficulties. They have wonderful educational building which is also a meeting facility. I noticed this statement on the wall about choosing to work together in community. “Anything significant, anything worthwhile, can’t be done alone. It takes a team committed to a common vision.” We can try to do things alone, but we can accomplish so much more when we choose to work together.
… We are rarely called to give up our lives because of our faith, but we are always called to make choices that demonstrate our faith.
We choose to show up on Sundays to worship God.
We choose to study the scriptures together to learn more about God.
We choose to give generously of what God has first given us.
We choose to serve God by serving those in need.
We choose to pray, asking God to help those in pain and suffering of any kind.
These are choices we make as individuals, but which we express in community with others. We choose to be Lutheran Christians, to fill shoeboxes, to support the food pantry, to give a struggling family a nice Christmas, to care for the widows and children in our midst, and so forth.

Please pray with me. Lord, we choose to follow you, and we choose to follow you together, in community with each other. Guide us as we seek to do your will, your way, into eternal life with you by our side. Amen