Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Joshua 24. 1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34. 15-22; Ephesians 6. 10-20; John 6. 56-69 (view all)
One of the most terrifying days of my life so far was the day when Evie, my daughter was born. Amy, my wife, had been in labour for over 24 hours and nothing was happening, so the doctors decided that she needed to have a C-section. So Amy was taken to be prepared for theatre, and I was taken to a little plastic booth where I was told to scrub up and given surgical scrubs to wear. I was told to sort myself out and then, when they were ready to operate, someone would come and take me to the theatre.
I can’t have been waiting longer than twenty minutes, but it seemed like hours. In that little cubicle, sorting myself out, thinking through what was about to happen and worrying about the worst that could happen. About halfway through that time, I don’t know how or why, there was a real sense of peace that came over me. And by the time I was taken to theatre, there was just an overwhelming sense that God was with us, and that everything would be okay.
And of course, everything was, and we have a wonderful five year old girl to show for it now.
This morning’s readings are all about the decision of faith, whether it’s the Israelites choosing whether to continue to serve the Lord their God, or Jesus’ challenging question to his disciples, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’.
What does it mean to choose to follow Jesus and serve God with our lives? And how can we ensure we’ve made that decision for the right reasons, with the right foundation?
Our gospel reading today completes John chapter 6, which we’ve been following over the last five weeks. Today’s reading follows directly on from Jesus’ controversial teaching last week, that ‘those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them… the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’
For many of the crowd who have gathered these words are difficult to understand, but also for Jesus’ disciples as well. These are not necessarily the twelve, but the group of many people who had begun to follow Jesus in order to hear his teaching.
In response, Jesus isn’t apologetic, he simply replies that ‘the words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.’ He challenges those who would be his disciples to choose — will they follow Jesus, will they put their entire trust in him, or not?
In our Old Testament reading, the people of Israel are faced with a similar challenge from Joshua. For Joshua, it’s not enough for the Israelites to follow God, Yahweh, half-heartedly, or to go along all the while keeping their eyes open for a better option.
Thankfully, when push comes to shove, ultimately they choose Yahweh. Rightly they realise that he is they one who has been with them through thick and thin, who has brought them freedom from slavery, who has guided them through the wilderness towers the promised land.
As they respond to Joshua:
…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… Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.
In our world today, we are presented with an abundance of choices — who to follow, what philosophy or theology to live by. For the people of Israel, though, the proof is in the pudding. We can trust God because he is the one who has stuck with us, who has fought for us, who has brought us peace that nothing, and no one, else could bring.
For them, their philosophy, their theology is more than just propositions, more than just a list of beliefs. It’s about a relationship with the one who met them when they were enslaved and brought them to freedom.
And when others are deserting Jesus, Simon Peter’s response on behalf of the twelve is similar. Jesus has chosen them, called them from their fishing boats, and is beginning to show them a new way of life. So Peter’s reply is instinctive:
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.
I wonder, this morning: Will we choose to put our faith in the God who has stuck with us through thick and thin, highs and lows, joys and sorrows? Will we, like Paul in today’s epistle, ask for boldness to witness to the incredible good news of God’s love?
How can we, as God’s people placed by him in this community, present our faith not just as a set of beliefs, but an invitation into relationship with the one who gives us life?
In his famous biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., entitled Pilgrimage to the Mountaintop, Harvard Sitkoff talks about one particular key night in the Dr King’s life. He is at home with his family, and in the middle of the night he’s awoken by two voices. He has to make a choice which to listen to.
The first is an angry voice on the phone threatening him, ‘If you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’ll get you and your family.’
The second is very different. As he sits trying to decide what to do, he hears the gentle voice of God, reassuring him. And it says this:
Stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.
Later, in a speech, Dr King said that God’s voice brought to mind the great gospel hymn, promising “never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No, never alone. No, never alone. He promised to never leave me, never to leave me alone”.
And three days later, his house was bombed. But Dr King stood and addressed the crowd on the foot of his front steps, more determined than ever to make a non-violent stand for justice and equality for all, motivated by his deep faith and personal relationship with God.
Jesus calls us to trust him in response to his love for us and his presence in our lives through the good times and the bad. May we this morning, hear the word of life and receive the bread of life, rejoicing in God’s presence with us and emboldened to witness to the good news of his love.
who called your Church to bear witness
that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself:
help us to proclaim the good news of your love,
that all who hear it may be drawn to you;
through him who was lifted up on the cross,
and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.