Hebrew Scripture Reading: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Then 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. And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors--Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor--lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.
"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. Now 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."
Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for 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; and 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."
Gospel Reading: John 6:56-69
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." He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you?” Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But 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. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father."
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
Sermon: “Yes or No? Stay or Go”
Let me start with a short prayer. You pray for my speaking and I’ll pray for your hearing. God, I pray that You will give me the right words to say. Then I will speak boldly when I reveal the mystery of the Good News. I pray that despite what I say today, that these people hear your words. Amen
In these Old Testament and the New Testament scriptures, a decision is demanded. Using a current idiom, I’d call these as “Come to Jesus meetings.” They were said with love but there is a clear ultimatum in both stories. Yes or no? Stay or go?
Come to Jesus Meeting is an apt name for these because Jesus demanded a clear commitment. He called many people. He called fishermen, tax collectors, tradesmen, revolutionaries, religious leaders, lawyers, and many more. Some dropped what they were doing and followed. He called some who turned away sadly. Some turned away angry. Some said things like, “I’ll follow, but first let me go … (whatever excuse they offered)” Jesus made it clear that those who said things like, had made their choice.
We are going to be traveling around through time a little bit so … If we get into our scriptural time-machine, we can go back almost three thousand years to the time after Moses had died and Joshua had led the children of Israel into the Promised Land. Just relax and breathe in and out normally. This will only take a second. Really, this time machine is the safest way to travel.
As we arrive, things have just, finally, settled down after the fighting. The land was promised by God and He assured the victories. However, he required the people to fight the battles. I’m pretty sure that there is a good sermon right there.
However, we have arrived after the battles were won, the cities and territories established, the crops and vineyards were planted and the people were beginning to enjoy this land flowing with milk and honey. Smell that nice fresh air, we don’t have anything like that back in the twenty first century!
Joshua is now over one hundred years old. He looks pretty spry for a guy his age! He is the last of the generation who first came to the boarder of the Promised Land. The generation that refused to follow God’s command to enter the land. They were afraid of the people who lived there because they were bigger and stronger. The spies who went in, came back with the report that even though it was indeed a land flowing with milk and honey, the cities were large and well fortified. And the people were so big that the spies said that “we were like grasshoppers to them.”
They let their fear rule them rather than their faith. Now I’m sure that there’s a sermon in that! Their refusal to follow God’s command is the reason that they wandered in the dessert for forty years. They had been unfaithful, so God led them around the dessert until that whole generation (with the exception of Moses, Caleb and Joshua) had died. Because of their unfaithfulness, they were not allowed into the land that God had promised. And not only were they not allowed in, but their children and grandchildren had to delay entering the Promised Land for forty years! I think there’s another sermon there too!
But, Joshua, now an old man, has just called all the leaders of all the tribes together and has a message for them. He lays it all on the line by telling them, “Before God called Abraham he had followed other gods. The descendants of Abraham, after settling in Egypt, had also turned and followed false gods.” Joshua is letting them know that, as a people, they have not always been faithful followers of the one true God.
Joshua now reminds the people that they are heirs of the covenant that God had made with Abraham. God said, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you, I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Here is their “Come to Jesus Meeting” as Joshua tells the people to make a choice, a commitment, a reaffirmation of the covenant between his people and God. At the same time he makes it clear that his choice now is and ever will be, “Me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
The people responded, “What are you talking about? We would not / could not abandon the Lord to serve other gods. After all the Lord our God brought us and our ancestors out of slavery in Egypt. Do you remember how He did these spectacular signs right before our eyes. He even guarded us wherever we went, especially as we passed through other nations. The Lord forced out all the people ahead of us, including the Amorites who lived in this land. We, too, will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”
They may have been children when they fled Egypt or they may have been born during the forty years in the wilderness, but they had grown up with God literally leading them as a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night! They had seen water gush from a rock in the dessert. God fed them bread from heaven and meat to eat. They were there when the tabernacle was created and God spoke from above the Ark of the Covenant. They had seen the power of God when he gave them victory over their enemies.
Having witnessed all of these things, it seems only natural that they would choose to follow God! Right? I mean, who would be stupid enough to not choose God when you had witnessed all of that? Makes sense, right?
But hang on a moment, get back in the time machine. We are going to go back in time another fifty to sixty years. We are going to see how faithful their, Fathers, Mothers, Grandparents were.
See, that didn’t take long! We have arrived safely at the base of Mount Sinai and you’ll notice that it is covered in a dense cloud. That cloud is an avatar of God, a symbolic representation of His Holy Self. Don’t get too close. Sinful man cannot come into the presence of Holy God and live.
We have arrived about three and a half months after they fled from Egypt. If these folks look a little “shell shocked” remember they have just lived through the ten plagues of Egypt:
They have just recently seen the Red sea parted so that they could walk through it on dry land. As soon as they had reached this side of the Red Sea, it closed over the pursuing Egyptians.
Moses has told them to wash their clothing so that they can be ritually clean while he consecrates them to God. Look, there he goes up the mountain where he will receive the ten commandments from God.
Now look what the people are doing in his absence. They have melted their golden jewelry and created a golden calf to worship! Listen! Do you hear what they are saying? The are praising this man-made idol and are giving it the credit for bringing them out of Egypt. It has been less than four months from captivity and they have already abandoned God!
Yep! These people were that forgetful, ungrateful, and easily swayed. You can almost hear them asking, “What has God done for me today?”
Wait! Wait! I see that look in some of your eyes. A little light bulb just lit up over your heads. But don’t start searching your own soul or examining your own relationship with God … not yet! I have a few more illustration to make before you do that. No peeking ahead!
Okay, let’s get in our time-machine and travel ahead about six hundred years to the time when Jesus walked the earth as a man. Everybody ready? Remember to keep your hands inside your seats until we have come to a complete stop.
There! We have arrived to about thirty-two years after Jesus was born. Everybody okay, nobody dizzy? Great!
If look a little over there to the right of the synagogue you’ll see Jesus in discussion with his disciples. Or more correctly, the apostles, the twelve core members of his followers. Jesus has had hundreds and hundreds of disciples following him. They have crowded so close that several times he was forced into a boat. They have followed him up a mountain. They even followed him to his home and crowded in so close that his family was fearful. At one point, some men tore the roof from his home to bring a sick friend to him. They’ve pressed in so close to him that when he stopped and asked, “Who touched me?” his disciples responded, in disbelief that he had asked that question, it seemed to them that everyone had touched him. In fact, I found a source that says there are around thirty-four scriptures that mention the crowds coming to Jesus. While it is true that some of those may be duplicated between the four gospels, that still is a lot of crowding.
These disciples followed him for various reasons but mostly because of the signs that he preformed. They had seem him heal the sick, the leprous the blind, the lame and even raise the dead. He had turned water to wine, feed thousands of people on a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish.
Some followed because they believed that he would be the next king of Israel and free them from the Roman occupation.
Some followed because of the way he taught with such power and authority.
Some came because the parables that he told engaged them and caused them to think in ways that they had never considered.
A few followed because they wanted to trap him into saying or doing something that would turn the people away from him and also stand up in a trial.
And some … some followed because they believed he was sent from God.
As we see Jesus today, people are walking away. The message he gave today in the synagogue in Capernaum had caused a division. The theme of Jesus being the Bread of Life and the Living Water were ones that he had used many times before. Today the sermon was a little more graphic and it upset people. “Eat my flesh and drink my blood,” was too hard of a lesson to learn.
Jesus tells them that the flesh is nothing … the spirit is everything. If you remember back in the book of Genesis; God created man from the dust of the ground. And then breathe the breath of life, literally the Spirit of Life into him. Without the spirit, Man is just a pile of dust.
Jesus has just asked the inner twelve for their decision, Yes or no? Stay or go? Peter answers for them all. And I can just imagine Peter, in his load rough voice, answering. Not just answering but answering loud enough that his voice carries to those walking away. “Lord, who could we possible go to? Your words give eternal life. Besides, we believe … and more than believe … we know that you are the Holy One of God.”
You and I know from our perspective from the future that the crowds will once more assemble for him on Palm Sunday and we know that most will once again turn away at the trial and crucifixion. As we get back into our time machine, we see that those once crushing crowds are beginning to drift away leaving only those true believers to continue to faithfully follow.
This was a true, “Come to Jesus Meeting” and a large number of disciples walked away. In one way or another, Jesus had not met their expectation. Yep! People were still that way during Jesus’ time. They were still that forgetful, ungrateful, and easily swayed. “What has Jesus done for me today?”
Now hang on because the bumpiest part of this ride is about to start. We are returning to our own time. This is where we are going to be looking around us and inside us.
We are also inheritors of the covenant God first made with Abraham. We even have the advantage that a major part of that promise has already been fulfilled by the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. We now have the two thousand years of proof of things that they only hoped for. Certainly, it must be easier for our generation to live up to our end of the covenant. Right? We’ve done our job and taken the good news to every corner of the world. One third of the world’s population call themselves Christians.
If that is still true, someone explain this graph to me.
What is happening? This is how it appears to me … there are a lot of people who are Christian in name only. I could be wrong. … I’d like to be wrong. But what I’m seeing is people wrapping themselves in the name, Christian, as though it were a magic suit of armor.
Well I’ll tell you right now that it does not work that way. You can’t get by with just playing “dress up.” This is a war. If you want a suit of armor, you still have to put it on one piece at a time. I’ll tell you the same thing that Paul told the church in Ephesus,
“Put on all the armor that God supplies. In this way you can take a stand against the devil’s strategies. This is not a wrestling match against a human opponent. We are wrestling with rulers, authorities, the powers who govern this world of darkness, and spiritual forces that control evil in the heavenly world. For this reason, take up all the armor that God supplies. Then you will be able to take a stand during these evil days. Once you have overcome all obstacles, you will be able to stand your ground.
So then, take your stand! Fasten truth around your waist like a belt. Put on God’s approval as your breastplate. Put on your shoes so that you are ready to spread the Good News that gives peace. In addition to all these, take the Christian faith as your shield. With it you can put out all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Also take salvation as your helmet and God’s word as the sword that the Spirit supplies.
Pray in the Spirit in every situation. Use every kind of prayer and request there is. For the same reason be alert. Use every kind of effort and make every kind of request for all of God’s people.
Consider this your Come to Jesus Meeting. We are required … No! We are commanded to care for ourselves, each other, the widows, the orphans, the aliens in our land, and all of God’s children. Love them, feed them, shelter them, clothe them, heal them … but most of all … tell them the good news that Christ Jesus died that they might live. The flesh is nothing the Spirit is everything.
We’re just going to take another short journey, this time into the future. We’re not going to land, we’re not allowed. But we’re going to do a flyover just to see what is happening. Don’t blink ‘cause this’ll have to be really quick.
Look! All of humanity is here. Everyone who ever was or ever will be is here. Do you see? Every knee is bowing and every tongue crying out, “Jesus is Lord!” However, listen to his response. To some he is saying, “Well done you good and faithful servant!” Those are going into the light of eternal life. However, to others he is saying, “Depart from me you cursed, for you did not do as I commanded to love your neighbor as yourself!” and those are going into the outer darkness, a complete separation from God. Our time here is up we must now return to our own time.
I pray, Lord, don’t let this generation be forgetful, ungrateful, and easily swayed. Don’t let us ask, “What has Jesus done for me lately?” Let us, instead, ask, “What can I do for Jesus today?” I tell you, “Now is God’s acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation!” Have you made your choice? Yes or no? Stay or go?