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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Let us pray…O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing to you, our rock and our redeemer. Amen
Grace and peace to you brothers and sisters in Christ.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Those words were written by Robert Frost in 1916 in his poem, The Road Not Taken. The message in this poem echoes that of our texts for today. Joshua stood with his people and asked them which god they were going to serve. He did not ask if they will serve God, but which god they would choose. He recognized that although there is only one true God, the world is full of other gods to serve. In ancient times, those gods may have been pagan gods or sculptures or, as the text points out, the god’s of their Father’s. Today there are other gods as well. Maybe we serve an addiction or we serve a specific cause or political affiliation. Causes and politics aren’t all bad, don’t get me wrong, but when we lose sight of God’s will in the midst of our work in the world, even when we are serving others, we can easily get off course. When we are so focused on things in this world that we lose sight of God and God’s presence in the world, we can get off course. We can find ourselves on the well beaten path, not the road less traveled. Joshua’s people declared that they would serve the Lord, their God. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” They outlined specific reasons why; the Lord delivered them from slavery, preserved them along their way, and drove out their enemies.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus turned around and the crowds were gone. The crowds had gathered to see who this Jesus was, to find out if he was for real. Jesus fed them and taught them. Jesus instructed them regarding faith in God, but when push came to shove, the majority of people bailed. From their perspective, Jesus was asking them to do something that went against everything they believed in. The book of Leviticus in the Old Testament outlined specific instructions for them and one of those instructions was to not come in contact with, let alone consume, blood. Jesus is telling them to eat his flesh and drink his blood. That was too much for them to bear. To consume blood would have made them outcasts in their society. “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?,” was their response to Jesus. And unlike Joshua’s people, the crowds surrounding Jesus could not affirm their faith, not recognizing that Jesus was truly God’s Son. So only the twelve remained.
When we consume bread and wine in communion in remembrance of Jesus, we are taking Jesus into our body, our life, and our soul. This is a gift. Jesus is the bread of life. Bread sustains life. It provides nourishment and sustenance. It contents a craving stomach. When Jesus refers to himself as the bread of life, he means all of this and more.
Paul, in our Ephesians text, helps us to understand this in more depth. He instructs us to put on the armor of God. God’s armor consists of the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, footgear that proclaims peace, the shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. Notice that the only weapon is the sword…the sword of the Spirit – which is the Word of God. Everything else listed is for protection. The only weapon we need is the Word of God. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God are armor for our lives. When we think of armor, we think of something tangible that can stop a bullet. It seems strange that Paul would use such a comparison when he is referring to Jesus, a peaceful King and Savior. But that is exactly his point. As confident as we are under the protection of body armor…that is how confident we need to be in the armor of God. God’s truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and Word are solid. They cannot be penetrated. They can be trusted. Armor takes some getting used to. If you only wear it when you really need it, it will certainly make an impression on your muscles. The body armor that the average soldier wears in a combat zone weighs about 40 pounds, maybe more. When you wear it day in and day out for several weeks or months, it becomes second nature…it becomes a part of you. But it takes consistency and habit for your body to adjust.
If you’re waiting for me to ask you, or challenge you, to make a choice between who you will serve, or ask you to put on the armor of God…I’m not going to. The reality of it is this. We are human. Our choices are not perfect and are soon forgotten. Our promises often lay broken like shattered glass. It’s okay for us to acknowledge what is truly in our hearts, what we are truly capable of. God already knows. But God can also see what I see. People who show up anyway, who sit patiently (or not so patiently) anyway, and who trust anyway…in the midst of wanting to serve God wholeheartedly and living in a world that makes it really challenging at times while being a real, bonafide, imperfect human being. Worship and prayer create consistency and habit for bearing God’s armor.
There is a choice to be made, but it is not ours and it has already been made. God has chosen us. Not just those of us inside these walls, but everyone out there also. God has chosen us to bear God’s armor in this world. God has created a place in each of us for us to be in relationship with God. And God, through Jesus, nourishes our bodies, our lives, and our souls with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and God’s Word…the bread of life…Jesus. We don’t always recognize these things in ourselves or others, but it’s there. We are all somewhere on the continuum of belief and unbelief, holding the two together in some kind of proportion. And we waver from doubts and unbelief to confidence and certainty and back again.
Maybe belief doesn’t have to be that complicated. Maybe we should think of it more in terms of whether or not we recognize who Jesus is. At the end of our Gospel reading, Judas was identified as the betrayer. He was not the betrayer because he turned Jesus over to the authorities, because in the Gospel of John Jesus turns himself over. Judas was the betrayer because he did not recognize Jesus for who Jesus claimed to be. Or maybe belief has to do with our willingness to enter into relationship with God. Whatever belief means to you, and however much belief you have right now, cling to it and rejoice in it. Remember, you are armored with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. God has equipped you to withstand a mighty force, whatever that may be in your life right now. God has chosen you and filled you with the bread of life. Given that amount of love and acceptance of us, we really have no choice but to trust God. We really have no choice but to try to live each day as God’s people. We really have no choice but to love our neighbor. God has done the rest.
O, God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us.