Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 22 2021

Posted on August 24, 2021, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

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August 22, 2021

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-19
John 6:56-69

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Grace and peace to you from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Five weeks ago, the gospel reading told the event of Jesus feeding the five thousand. In the weeks between then and now, we’ve read how a sizeable number of people from that multitude have followed Jesus and demanded more signs from him as proof of who he says he is.

Last week, the rubber hit the road when Jesus told them what it really means to follow him and demanded a commitment from them. And his words are repeated in the first few verses we read today. Today, we’re reminded that the crowd of people that had been following Jesus decided it was too difficult to do what he asked of them. So they walked away and stopped believing.

The multitude that had been so impressed with Jesus is now down to the twelve he originally called and who would follow him all the way to the cross. We know they won’t do it perfectly, there’s fear and betrayal and abandonment coming. But in their gut, they know Jesus is the one. They trusted that Jesus is who he says he is, and because of that, who else would they follow?

The call to commit to follow God is echoed throughout scriptures. It began with God making a covenant with Abram and his family, and became a covenant between God and the Israelites in the Exodus story. [1]Our reading from Joshua is a call to the tribes of Israel to renewal of that covenant. But it isn’t a call to salvation, it’s a call to serve.

The Israelites had been told repeatedly that they were freed from service to Pharoah for service to God. So, before his death, Joshua retold their history and asks them how they’ll respond to God – the God who delivered them from slavery.

But through Joshua, God wasn’t asking for intellectual acceptance of the covenant; God was demanding a lifetime commitment, a willingness from the people to order their lives according to God’s law.

And, of course, they said, “we will serve the Lord!” What else would they say, right? But they were just as human as we are. The rest of their history proves that they weren’t able to fully live into that commitment. But they were still God’s people. Even though they couldn’t always choose God, God chose them and stuck with them and eventually came to them as Jesus.

And we know that in Jesus, living according to God’s law is about loving one another as God has loved us. That simplifies things in many ways, but the level of commitment it demands is still the same. And the core question we’re being asked this morning is, “Whose disciple will you show yourself to be?”

We all have demands and obligations in our lives. Some we’ve made for ourselves, and some have been put on us by others like friends, family, or work. [2]But what both of today’s readings ask us to remember is that our lives are driven by the commitments we’ve made.

If someone looked at the practices of our daily lives – the places to which we commit our money, the pursuits that command our time, the words that come from our mouths – which god would they think we serve?

As people of faith, we know that what we believe about God and Jesus informs the way we respond to what’s going on in our lives, communities, and the world.

Anymore, when a major event makes the news, it often seems to become the next thing that divides people. Instead of managing the crisis and seeking resolution, it gets argued about. People try to place blame and dodge responsibility and let someone else take care of it. But for us, the question, “whose disciple will you show yourselves to be?” guides our hearts and our decisions every time.

I’m old enough that I remember the Fall of Saigon. I don’t remember the details, but I remember it happening. What I also remember, though, is the way the church I was a part of became involved when the refugees started arriving.

I remember sitting on the couch in the apartment of the family we sponsored. I remember the emotion in the adults’ voices as they talked because they were so excited that they got to help in that way. Because that’s just what you do for people when they’re in crisis.

The refugees from Afghanistan are front-page news right now, and they need our help, but there are still refugees from Syria and many other countries who have been waiting for years to be permanently settled.

The nation of Haiti was devastated by another earthquake last weekend, and it was still recovering from the one a decade ago.

The pandemic continues to be a source of division among us.

Last year, the world erupted in protest when George Floyd was murdered. But racism in the US still hasn’t been dismantled and there’s still so much healing that needs to happen.

There is still a culture of hatred and fear against people of the LGBTQ+ community.

There are still people in detention centers on the US-Mexico border who are praying they’ll be allowed entry because it means safety and a new beginning.

For the first time since records began to be kept, there isn’t enough water in the Colorado River to meet the demands being placed on it in the Southwestern US. Lives and livelihoods, not to mention the plants, animals, and geography of that area, will be severely impacted.

People in our community, our neighborhood, are facing the possibility of eviction because they can’t continue to afford to live where they are.

We all have demands and obligations in our lives. If someone looked at the practices of our daily lives – the places to which we commit our money, the pursuits that command our time, the words that come from our mouths – which god would they think we serve?

There are plenty: wealth, spite, cynicism, power, rage, politics…. The commitment we make to serve the Lord, the answer to whose disciple we show ourselves to be, isn’t just a feeling or an idea; it’s a demand that hovers over every decision we make and every word we speak.

It’s a demand that doesn’t let us ignore or walk away from what’s going on around us. And if that sounds daunting, it is. The disciples who stopped believing in Jesus nailed it when they said, “This teaching is difficult.”

Answering the call to be Jesus’ disciple is one we make daily – and sometimes more than once a day, depending on what’s going on. But there’s no middle ground, we’re either in it or we’re not. And that’s hard.

But committing to serve Jesus changes our lives forever.

Committing to serve Jesus means choosing to be in relationship with him and the life he brings. It’s life that keeps us from feeling helpless in the face of everything that’s going on. It’s life that calls us to action, to connect and engage with the people and the world around us.

Committing to serve Jesus means committing to the life he brings to the world. It’s life that guides our hearts and our decisions and the words we speak. It’s life that calls us to work together to manage the crises people are in, and then seek lasting and equitable solutions and resolutions.

Committing to serve Jesus isn’t always easy. But the life he gives us is one we experience today. It’s life that assures us we are loved forever. And it’s life that we can’t get from anyone else. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] Section on Joshua reading from: https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/you-gotta-serve-somebody

[2] This section on commitment from: https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/you-gotta-serve-somebody