8/26/2018 Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost. The text for today’s sermon is taken from today’s First Reading (Joshua 24: 1-2a, 14-18) and the Gospel of Saint John 6:56-59.
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
You’ll notice that the First Reading selected for today includes a gap in scripture. I’ll refer you back to the Celebrate for a moment: observe the citation at the top of the First Reading: Joshua 24: 1-2a, 14-18. Perhaps for brevity on this gorgeous summer Sunday, the lectionary that we use cuts right to the chase and delivers Joshua’s punchline in concise format: “Choose whom you will serve, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
What’s left out by the glossing over of verses 2-13 are a history of darkness, deliverance, destruction and gifts that precedes this new choice. It avoids God’s first-person account of what He has done for the people of Israel and given to the present generation. This missing passage offers God’s version of the story from their origins with their ancestor Abram to Moses and the utter destruction of Egypt, conquest, and ultimately deliverance to a land where they are living. A land where they eat grapes and olives from vines and trees that they did not plant. But to arrive at their destination in true freedom and integrity, the people must tell their own story and declare their own allegiance. The preamble to this reading today highlights the word covenant. “In the Near East, covenant means agreement or alliance. It describes relationships and is the primary word used to characterize the relationship between God and Israel. By delivering Israel, God has already begun the relationship. Joshua calls upon the people to respond.” Will these people seal their covenant with the Lord?
Many years ago, when I was much younger, I had a colleague that I worked with in one of my first jobs out of college. He was older, wiser and more experienced than me, and became somewhat of a mentor that helped me to navigate the pathways, pitfalls and politics of the profession that I had chosen. He applied sound logic to decisions, was a kind leader, and always did the right thing when making decisions: he had a strong moral compass and was a good role model for me as a developing professional and manager. He was born in Britain and emigrated to America as a child. Technically Episcopalian I suppose, he somehow ended up somewhere between atheist and agnostic in his faith formation. Now, I’ve been your vacation preacher for some time now, and the topic came up over casual group conversation one day around the water cooler as I was nervously preparing mentally for one of my first sermons. My colleague expressed his support for my faith, although he confessed that he did not understand it. He did not impose upon any other person’s beliefs, but his spirituality was a somewhat less structured methodology than what we build upon as Christians. His description of the divine was loose, undefined, but yet open-minded: that there is some kind of higher power running the show that we cannot know or begin to understand, and that this life is but a roller coaster ride that we all share until we get off and move onto the next thing, whatever that is. When I was younger, this framework that he used did not make much sense to me. In fact, I would often think of him on Good Fridays during the bidding prayers, when we “pray for those that do not believe in God.”
The Reverend Curtis Farr tells the story of a visit the Holy Land, complete with a trip to Cana, the place where Jesus is said to have turned water into wine for the wedding feast. At the gift shop, you may even encounter vials of what is labeled as “Cana Wedding Wine,” although I’m not sure I would be bold enough to try it. A tourist that ventured to sample this wine asked the theologian guiding their tour, “Is this wine from the time of Jesus?” To everyone’s surprise, the guide answered, “Yes, in fact, this wine is from the time of Jesus Christ because now is the time of Jesus Christ. He is not dead, he is risen!” It’s one thing to hear these words repeated in the midst of a Eucharistic prayer or during an opening acclamation during the Easter season; it is quite another to hear these words in ordinary conversation, and it is something else entirely to think about our lives through our practice of consuming bread and wine during Holy Communion, but that is precisely what we do when we share together in the body and blood of Jesus Christ: we reaffirm our new covenant with God.
Joshua called upon the people to respond in the First Reading today: “Choose whom you will serve, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” How do we respond to God’s covenant? God renews the covenant through the eucharist: also known as the new covenant in Jesus Christ. Many years have passed since I first heard the roller coaster story from my colleague, who has been enjoying retirement for the better part of a decade. Earlier this year, I ran into him, and while we were catching up about life and the joys of his retirement and so on, as part of this seemingly ordinary conversation he shared with me something extraordinary: that he had recently found God through Jesus Christ. When our worship concludes today, I will travel to his new church to bear witness to his baptism where he will be sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. And we will break bread together for the first time at the Lord’s table, renewing the covenant as we in this congregation do here in this sacred place, every week.
What I have come to understand about my colleague’s roller coaster methodology was that it was but another allegory for life itself through the grace of God: we are the body incarnate, flesh with spirit. The message of the Gospel today is clear: we must appreciate how God has infused creation (including each and every one of us) with the Spirit. By living our lives through the body and blood of Jesus Christ, we might begin to see those with different beliefs as gifts from the God that created them, whether they know it yet or not. This is the way that Jesus lives: as if everyone possesses something special that was worth getting to know and worth connecting with on a truly human level. God’s covenant is with all of us: all of us in this room today. All of us that have been part of his church since baptism. All of us that are being baptized today. Or two weeks from today. And all of us that haven’t, and perhaps have yet to discover what it truly means to be one of God’s people. “Choose whom you will serve, but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Now is the time of Jesus Christ through the new covenant made with God. He is not dead, he is risen! [He is risen indeed!] Alleluia!
And may the Peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.