13th Sunday after Pentecost

First Reading: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

1Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2aAnd Joshua said to all the people, 14“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, 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.”
  16Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

Psalm: Psalm 34:15-22

15The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous,
  and God’s ears are open to their cry.
16The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
  to erase the remembrance of them from the earth.
17The righteous cry, and the Lord hears them
  and delivers them from all their troubles.
18The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
  and saves those whose spirits are crushed. 
19Many are the troubles of the righteous,
  but the Lord delivers them from every one.
20God will keep safe all their bones;
  not one of them shall be broken.
21Evil will bring death to the wicked
  and those who hate the righteous will be punished.
22O Lord, you redeem the life of your servants,
  and those who put their trust in you will not be punished.

Second Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20

10Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
  18Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Gospel: John 6:56-69

 [Jesus said,] 56“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This 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.” 59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
  60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But 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. 65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
  66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Children’s Sermon

         Turn to your neighbor and share where one of your favorite “retreat” spots.  Now share who might be a person you would go see if you needed advice.  Let us pray.

Prayer:  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.

SERMON

“Lord, to whom can we go?

You have the words of eternal life. 

69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

We sing these words from our Gospel today and they sound familiar.  They are sung as our Gospel Acclamation in Worship Setting 6, during Lent.  So let us ponder them today in light of the accompanying readings.  What do they mean to us as we sing them?

         The disciples have been following Jesus back and forth across the sea of Galilee.   Jesus fed the 5,000 with bread, similar to God sending manna to the Israelites in the wilderness when they grumbled to Moses.  There is a strong parallel between the wilderness experience and our assigned texts. These past weeks we keep returning to this theme of “manna in the wilderness” and Jesus as the bread of life. Jesus tries to explain what he is saying to the crowds who grumble.  Perhaps to make this real, let us pause and remember a time we grumbled this week.  Was it over having to wait for something?  Was it the price of something?  Was it because a beloved forgot to remember us?  Yup, we are not that different from the Israelites in the wilderness or the Jews traipsing around after Jesus.

“Lord, to whom can we go?

In our first reading Joshua is getting ready to retire.  He is 110 years old.  He stood at the side of Moses and was taught.  He was there on Mt. Sinai at the giving of the Ten Commandments.  He took over after Moses and led the people across the Jordon into the adventure of the Promised Land.  He fought the battle of Jericho.  A lot happened in his lifetime!  The whole journey was lived not as a happy-ever-after story but as a struggle with the tendency to grumble and the temptation to idolatry.  Remember the Golden Calf?

         If we were to draw a timeline of the major social events in many of our life times, we might see a similar picture.  Most of us were born after the traumas of World War II but remember words like Korean War, Vietnam War, and Desert Storm.  We grieve at the news reports today about Afghanistan.  I remember life before day long TV, before streaming, before credit cards AND when phone numbers started with letters – no area codes.  We have lived through the invention of microwaves, hybrid cars, and airplane travel as a common blessing.  Yes, we have seen a lot and in all truth, grumbled a lot as we have learned to master all the change.  I suspect more than once we have wondered where God is in all this and more than once cried over the events in our lives.

         Joshua stands in-front of his people and challenges them,

         “14“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in   faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond     the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15Now if you are unwilling         to serve the Lord, 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.”

Jesus turns to his disciples today as they struggle to understand what he is talking about when he says they must eat his body and drink his blood.  He  asks them, “Do you also wish to go away?”  I listen to the news reports each evening and fear atrocities will unfold in Afghanistan, wonder who I know will be next to get Covid, wonder if I will be able to age gracefully or what burden I will be asked to carry and I hear that little voice on my shoulder whispering, “Where is God in all this?” and of course, the question, “Do you also wish to go away?”

         With Peter, whom we know will fail, we say, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

         Joshua offers the people choices. Consider the gods of the people surrounding them.  We too could look at the “gods” people worship today.  Is wealth a god worth chasing?  Perhaps the rich will not mind being taxed more to help the poor and perhaps economic equality will be reached but will it bring happiness and wisdom.  I doubt it.  Is talent of Hollywood a god we wish to chase?  As far as I can tell our stars age, fame passes, and the critiques are … critical.  Perhaps we would like to chase the god of health.  Well, folks, as far as I can tell, none of us will outrun the biological clock of aging forever.  We look around at the gods this world offers, even the gods of other religions, and it is easy to despair at the options.

         Joshua challenges the people to remember their history.  It is possible to remember all the valleys we have passed through and see the bad. Or it is possible to look and see the hand of the Lord guiding and protecting us along the way.  The Psalmist reminds us that “5The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and God’s ears are open to their cry.”

         To whom shall we go today?  To the gods of this world or to the God who sees and hears, whose arm is not short and who never slumbers or sleeps?  Each day we choose who our gods are.

“Lord, to whom can we go?

You have the words of eternal life.” 


“Words of eternal life.”  Our second reading is from Ephesians and clearly acknowledges that we live in a broken world facing challenges that are far beyond us.

         12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but        against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers    of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the       heavenly places. 

The enemy is not our spouse, our neighbor, our parent, our boss, our old car or even the government.  We are indeed experiencing reality as it was not meant to be. But that does not mean that another future is not forming.  The kingdom of the world will be replaced by the kingdom of heaven one day.  We need the words of eternal life to stay focused on the God we follow.  Ephesians admonishes us to strap on the belt of truth and use the sword of the Spirit that is the word of God.  What are some of those words?

  • The Lord is my Shepherd…he walks with me through the valley of the shadow of death
  • Nothing can separate us from the love of God, neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation.
  • “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” say the Lord God, “who is and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

I do not know what “word of eternal life” has encouraged you.  Let’s turn to your neighbor and share a verse that has been helpful to you. Mine is my confirmation verse, Isaiah 41:10, “ So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”   Please share.

“Lord, to whom can we go?

You have the words of eternal life. 

69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

         My theory has always been that the Old Testament, or first, reading presents the problem that will be tackled on that Sunday.  Joshua is challenging the people to choose which god they are going to follow.  Will it be the gods of Egypt, their past, or the gods of the people surrounding them, their future, or will it be the God who has led them through the wilderness?  Next comes the reading from the Psalms.  We often read that responsively because we as the congregation are joining together to speak our thoughts about the challenge.  The New Testament, or second, reading is the explanation of how the early church understood the teachings of Jesus on the topic.  We stand for the Gospel as that is always the words of Jesus speaking into our lives that Sunday.

         Today we start with the challenge, we must choose which God we will follow.  Jesus says that following means “eating his body and drinking his blood,” a difficult teaching.  The early church heard it as putting on the armor of God.  That’s the overview.  I want to go back to the Psalm for today as it shares what “we have come to believe and know” is true about “the Holy One of God.”  You might reopen your bulletins and review with me.

  • Verse 15:  God sees us and hears us because we stand in Christ’s righteousness not our own good deeds.
  • Verse 16:  God opposes evil and it will be erased.  God will restore justice.  
  • Verse 17:  God not only hears our cries but he acts, perhaps not as we wish but always for our best.  His desire is to deliver us.
  • Verse 18:  During those times when we are too broken to pray, when we are overwhelmed with doubts, when we forget who we are, he remembers us and draws near.   
  • Verse 19, 20:  We will have troubles but God walks through them with us.
  • Verse 21, 22:  Death is the end of the wicked but we can look forward to eternal life.  We are redeemed.

Like the disciples we probably don’t really understand what this eating and drinking Jesus is talking means.  Jesus is God, not us, and so that always puts our faith, not in the driver’s seat but in a position of needing to trust that God will do what is best because he sees the big picture and has our best at heart.  God speaks and we trust.  Where else can we go?  Jesus has the words of eternal life and he is the Holy One of God.  He goes with us into this week.  He is there in Afghanistan.  He is with people struggling with Covid.  He is with those in chaos from environmental extremes and he is even with our government.  I don’t understand but I do believe.  14“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness.”  Amen!

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