Proper 16+B 23 August 2015 The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 Psalm 34:15-22
Ephesians 6:10-20 John 6:56-69
Chosen in Christ, Armed For the battle, Fed for the Journey.
I read a story a few years ago, of a missionary that recently returned to the U.S. after an extended tenure of service abroad who was asked—“What is the most difficult thing about readjusting to being back home?” His reply was—“the potato chip aisle”. “What do you mean?” he was asked. “Well, when I left, there were such limited choices: regular, ridges, or barbeque. There was a potato chip section—not an aisle. Now there are so many more choices: sour cream and onion, vinegar, old fashioned, low sodium, lite, cheese—I could not make a decision!” Our readings today confront us with serious choices we must make or live with the consequences of not choosing for not to choose is to choose!
Biblical religion is about choices. From Adam and Eve, every person studied with any depth in the Biblical record learns by choices, alters destiny by choices and even lives or dies by choices. Welcome to the human race. As it was is the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end AMEN! And still again, what do we clamor for? More…CHOICES!
But Jesus gives us just that: an abundance of choices but the venues are two: follow the Lord or follow the world, the flesh and the Devil. Today, Joshua gathers God's people together by their representative heads and asks them to choose. 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."
We live in a culture that challenges us each year, month, day--hour and minute to choose. Yes, many people, jobs and politicians challenge us to choose, but so does God! Jesus had a choice: he chose for us, to suffer, die and rise again for us. Choices for others best are rarely a negative thing, too many choices are for our wants and not as Joshua challenged, for the Lord!.
We may say to ourselves, "but that's so hard sometimes and there's so much pressure." Yes there is. Martin Luther said: we are at the same time, justified in Jesus Christ and sinners! Yes, I sin, you sin, we all sin. Most of the battles in life will engage both the old human selfish nature and the reborn Divine nature of the Spirit of God that dwells in us. But we are NOT ALONE!
The passage from Paul's letter to the Christians in Ephesus and the gospel of John give us strong helps toward winning the battle of choices. God helps, not those who help themselves as some heretic once said but God helps those who call upon his Name. God always answers prayer, just not how we always want him to answer.
Choices must be informed!! We are eternal beings our actions have eternal consequences! Our choices even now have very temporal consequences! We can choose our actions but we cannot choose the consequences of our actions. Let me repeat that. can choose our actions but we cannot choose the consequences of our actions. If there is one blind spot of our age—it seems to be this fact. People live as if there is no tomorrow to worry about.“I’ll deal with my soul later. I don’t have time for God now.”People live as though human beings are invulnerable—all mini supermen and superwomen no kryptonite around to bother. Since we seldom think of the consequences of our actions—we are all too often unwilling to accept them. We begin in childhood and graduate to the professional school of excuses. We too easily excuse and litigate our consequences/
I once heard someone say: “an excuse is a reason with a lie in the middle of it.!” Just from one sinner to another this morning, that's rather hard to beat as a definition. We are ambassadors for Christ, Paul wrote; you are the salt of the earth, Jesus said. Now we need every bit of God's armor of which Paul wrote. We are at a deepening crisis in this world for which Christ died. We are called to the challenge for which God called us in Christ. Look at Paul's words: " Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For 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. Therefore 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."
We are engaged in a spiritual war like none I have seen in my lifetime. The evening news is a horror show at times and people seem to be coming unglued. We need the Church to arise, we need one another, we need Christ and the Holy Spirit to help us, to increase our faith. Each day we must put on Spiritual armor and then move to the spiritual offense. What did Paul say? Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. Prayer is our offense. We must pray seeking God's help in our prayers.In the Message version of the Bible: the author translated Romans 8:26-28 like this: " Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good." Prayer is the weapon our enemy hates the most. That is why Paul wrote: "pray without ceasing." Choose to pray without ceasing. We have been called in Jesus Christ for such a time as this.
James Russell Lowell, a New England clergyman, opposing the war against Mexico, wrote these words that appeared in the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal:
Once to every man and nation, Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with false-hood, For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, 'Twixt that darkness and that light.Jesus gives us the energy, the food for this journey for His Kingdom. In John we read: "“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." But we must choose again and again to eat. When we abide in Jesus and he abides in us, then thing happen, change comes to us and to others.
However, I think we must renew our baptismal vows every day. Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept Him as your Savior? I do. Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? I do. Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord? I do. Why every day? I think we need to be reminded. Terry Fullam used to say we have amnesia when it comes to God. We forget who and whose we are. That is why God gave us one another: the Church; Spiritual armor: God's Truth and His Body and Blood: His food for the battle. Remember: we do not merely go to a church building that reminds us of who we are, we are the very church itself! This building reminds us of who we are! Like a family portrait gallery that many of us have, it reminds us of where we come from and whose we are!
One last thing I want to discuss: the collect. At the beginning of this Eucharist we prayed: "Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name;"
On the one hand in the last fifty or so years, I believe that God is trying to bring us together. On the other hand, we clearly have groups that are trying to pull us apart. It reminds me of the story of the two old New England Puritans, one who reputedly said to the other: "there is none so righteous as me and thee, and sometimes, I wonder about thee!"
I don't want to impugn motives or challenge sincerity, I merely ask that we continue to pray for the unity of the Church of Jesus Christ. I love to torment protestants by saying: "you know you are Catholic." They protest. No! What do you mean! I'm not a Catholic!" Then I explain that all you are born again in Christ are part of the church Catholic. Rome has not exclusive patent on the term. As the baptismal covenant reminds us in the words of Paul: "There is but One Body and One Spirit." We need our daily choices--to choose, our armor, to equip and our Holy Communion, to feed, to help us to fight the battle for love. It is now a time for the people of God to join for whatever we may yet encounter, in our culture, our nation and the world. Not an easy gospel. But the battle is the Lord's. He has already won it. We are part of the cleanup operation. The day of God's reign has already begun. Let us go forth in the Name of Christ to wage the war of LOVE! Alleluia!