Aug. 27, 2018 Choose this Day Whom You Will Serve
Choose this day whom you will serve.
Joshua speaks these words to the people of God gathered at Shechem. He had gathered all the tribes of Israel for the covenant renewal ceremony. Today we’d call it a Tent Revival Meeting- one of those gatherings where “we pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone goes” in this case- to the valley of Shechem- still revered today as a holy place.
His words to the assembly are part of his farewell address and he begins naturally enough by reciting their salvation history. Joshua speaks on behalf of Yahweh, their God, to remind the people of all that God has done for them.
“It is the Lord our God who brought us up out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went and among all the peoples whom we passed…”
Now that he has their attention- Joshua, military leader turned revival preacher- brings it on home- Now therefore, revere the LORD, serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness, put away all other gods…
CHOOSE THIS DAY WHOM YOU WILL SERVE
Put away all other gods, Joshua exhorts. All other gods- those lower case gods-Joshua knew them, the tribes of Israel knew them, we know them. You see, those tribes of Israel lived in uncertain times – Times of political unrest, famine, one unholy civil war after another. And all around them their neighbors watched, ready to pounce upon anything that suggested that their God- this Yahweh was not as powerful as they proclaimed.
In fact, their neighbors were more than willing to supply substitutes:
Here pack these idols in your saddle bags so when you travel these treacherous roads, you’ll be protected. Carry this one in your pocket as long as your child is sick. Bury this one outside your tent- it can’t hurt, it might help. But false gods don’t have to be carved from wood or stone. False gods, false idols are all those things which we are so sorely tempted to put our trust in.
There’s something so reassuring about being able to hold something tangible in my hands- it takes the edge off having to choose this day-choose this very moment is more like it-having to choose right now, whom I will trust and serve.
Just like those Israelites, when fear or anxiety or despair start creeping up the back of my neck, I appreciate having some absolutes, something I can hold onto. The trouble is, like those Israelites, it’s tricky deciphering just whose absolute I’m choosing to serve. So Joshua’s language, “Choose this day” is critical.
The discipline of choosing each day requires my vulnerability and openness to God. There’s nothing particularly righteous or spiritual about being on auto-pilot. As tempting as it is to begin thinking and acting as if I’ve got this choosing and serving business down to a fine science-God Almighty up and does what God Almighty gets to do-and that is to BE GOD ALMIGHTY. And that is absolutely the Truth.
In the gospel of John, those who follow Jesus struggle with the same tensions. And, notice, this time it happens to his disciples, not those who are out to get Jesus, but his disciples, his faithful followers-those who’ve seen him feed thousands with a handful of food, who’ve watched as he turned jugs of water into fine wine for the wedding feast, and who’ve looked on as he healed a man who’d been crippled for 38 years.
Having witnessed these things,they begin thinking they have him figured out… until Jesus says,
“I AM the bread which came down from heaven…
the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
When many of his disciples hear this, John tells us, they respond,
“This teaching is difficult! Who can accept it?”
Jesus aware of their complaints, asks them pointblank:
Does this offend you?
And according to John, some of his disciples, some of his disciples answered with their feet.They turned back and no longer went about with him. Imagine Jesus watching those whom he loves as they storm off or simply drift away.
So Jesus turns and asks the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”
Hear the echo? “Choose this day whom you will serve.”
Jesus’ question, Does this offend you? gives each of his followers something to chew on. In fact this whole idea of chewing was part of their perceived offense. It’s absolutely “in-your-face” language from One with whom they had lived and moved and had their being.
This conversation is part of a much larger one from John’s gospel..The last few Sundays we’ve heard quite a bit from it. Remember-Jesus has just said:
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.”
Now the crowds to whom Jesus speaks would have known that eating someone’s flesh was a hostile action. In fact, “eater of flesh” was a title for the devil. And the people would have known that drinking blood was a horrendous act prohibited by God’s law. So his listeners hear Jesus’ words as gruesome and offensive. It’s no wonder the first Christians were accused of engaging in cannibilism! And the speculation over his words did not end in the first century.
For over 2000 years, Christians have pondered the possibilties behind:Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life. Volumes have been written, arguments - even battles fought over the “real meaning” of Jesus’ scandalous words. When reading the NT, it is unrealistic to think of only two groups, Jews and Christians. Just as Judaism contained different groups- the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, so the early church consisted of communities that understood the gospel according to the traditions received, usually finding their identity in an apostle or an outstanding leader.
At times this practice became divisive. So divisive for the church in Corinth, that Paul writes an entire letter to the conflict-riddled community there beseeching them to remember “We are God’s servants, working together; you are Gods field, God’s building”.
Hear the echo: Choose this day whom you will serve.
By the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, battles were still being waged over these offensive words of Jesus.
By then of course it was not so much what Jesus said that was the trigger but why he had said it and what did it really mean for his followers? Do you realize that the people of God killed one another in bloody battles and upon burning stakes because they were so cock-sure, so absolutely convinced they had Jesus and his words figured out?!
So how very compelling then to recall that in the midst of this 16th century quagmire, John Calvin declared: Rather than understand the Eucharist, he said, "Rather than understand the Eucharist, I’d rather experience it.”
Do you hear the echo? Choose this day whom you will serve.
If I choose not to go away even when I do not understand,
If I choose to show up, warts and all, at the Lord’s Table,
If I choose to remember the grace of God, then I am saying to God Almighty-You get to be God Almighty. I choose to love and serve you.
It’s mighty tempting to think that those who choose differently than I do are choosing false gods- filling their pockets with useless idols. But just about the time I think I’ve figured it all out, set myself on auto-pilot, full-speed ahead… I discover like those who gathered at Shechem and those who recoiled from Jesus’ graphic language, I discover that the only absolute is choosing this day to serve the Lord.
As much as I’d like to decide and be done with it---that doesn’t seem to be what God Almighty has in mind for us. The discipline of choosing each day requires our vulnerability and openness to God. God- who promises to be present with us in all that we say and do. The covenant renewal ceremony at Shechem and receiving our Lord’s Body and Blood are God’s tangible, hands-on gifts to us.
Both begin by reciting our salvation history, Both feed us with God’s promise and both require us to choose this day whom we will serve.
It is humbling to recall that for over 2000 years, Christians have gathered at the Lord’s Table expecting the abundance of God’s grace to be present in this meal. So we gather today expecting God to be present in this meal which has been celebrated in every corner of the world- in tin cups, and silver chalices, around campfires and in prison chapels,with fanfare and glorious music---and in the hush of intensive care.
All because the God of Grace and the God of Glory seeks His people and their presence with Him.
ALL so that we may leave this table to go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Choose this day whom you will serve.
Choose this day whom you will serve.
As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.
8/26/2018 - Proper 16 - Year B - The Reverend Anne Bridgers