The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
I would like to begin the message with the words of the alternate Old Testament reading this morning from Joshua 24:1,2a,14-15.
24 1Joshua summoned all the people of Israel to Shechem, along with their elders, leaders, judges, and officers. So they came and presented themselves to God. 2 Joshua said to the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 14 “Honor the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua spoke words of commitment, “As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord”. And Peter echoed these words to our Lord Jesus Christ, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life. We believe them, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”
Let us pray together: O God our Father, you have always held to your commitment to bind us together in your love and compassion toward us. Help us to maintain our commitment to serve you and your Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Strengthen our fellowship with each other as we live our faith in you, your Son, and your Spirit. Amen.
There was a beggar who was found sitting at the doorstep of a baker. As the baker unlocked the shop door to enter, the beggar looked up and said, “I want bread.” “How wise you are,” the baker assured him. “Bread is what you need. And you have come to the right bakery.” So he ushered the beggar into the bakery shop front, and pulled his cookbook down from his shelf and began to tell the beggar all he knew about bread. He spoke of flour and wheat, of grain and barley. The baker’s knowledge impressed even himself as he cited the measurements and recipe. When he looked up, he was surprised to see that the beggar wasn’t so impressed. “I just want bread,” he pleaded. “How wise you are.” The baker applauded his choice. “Follow me, and I’ll show you our bakery.” Down the hallowed halls he guided him, pausing to point out the rooms where the dough is prepared and the ovens where the bread is baked.
“No one has such facilities. We have bread for every need. But here is the best part,” as the baker led him back to the front door of the bakery. “What I have to say next is very important,” the baker told him as they stood just outside the bakery. “Up and down this street you will find other bakeries. But take heed; they don’t serve the true bread. I know of one who adds two spoons of salt rather than one. I know of another whose oven is three degrees too hot. They may call it bread,” the baker warned, “but it’s not according to the recipe book.” The beggar turned and began walking away, shaking his head. “Don’t you want bread?” the baker asked him. He stopped, looked back, and shrugged, “I guess I just lost my appetite.” The baker shook his head and returned to his office. “What a shame,” he said to himself. “The world just isn’t hungry for true bread anymore.”
(From a sermon by Douglas Phillips, I Am The Bread Of Life, 1/25/2010)
Jesus spoke with authority when he said, “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” For us, we seek to witness Jesus Christ, Saviour to all, rather than just keep telling others about Jesus, until they lose their appetite. We do that by living our faith with our attitudes, words and actions in line with the love of Christ. And yet, at this time in his ministry among us, Christ Jesus began to share the hard truths of his journey to the cross, his resurrection, and his return to his rightful place at the center of God’s Kingdom. Most of this was shared most vividly with his intimate Apostles. But certainly, Jesus was calling his followers to understand their new relationship with God, initiated when he entered humanity and became one of us. By this time, Jesus had gathered three groups of followers. The casual followers who met Jesus as he travelled, seeking healing, blessings, and comforting words. Other Disciples followed Jesus wherever he went, with a level of commitment to him and his ministry among them. Also there were the treasured Apostles, whom Jesus chose to carry on his message of Good News after he fulfilled his mission among us.
As we discovered in the Gospel today, many of his followers could not accept the hard truths of faith in a crucified Savior. Even among his disciples, some said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?” Then it ‘appears’ from the Gospel that Jesus became unsure of even his Apostles. He says, “Are you going to leave, too?” I am convinced that Jesus didn’t say this out of a sense of insecurity. Instead, he said this to bring an awareness to the Apostles. To strengthen them against the criticism of the casual followers who were abandoning Christ Jesus. Many of the critics of the hard truths of the Saviour would one day turn against the Apostles too. ‘Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life. We believe them, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” I’m sure those words would have brought a smile to our Lord. But rebellion against the hard words of God didn’t begin with Christ Jesus.
Scripture tells us that Joshua spoke to the people, “destroy the idols among you, and turn your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “We will serve the LORD our God. We will obey him alone.” (Joshua 24:23–24 NLT)
And they did, at least for a time. The Bible tells us, ‘The people of Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him—those who had personally experienced all that the LORD had done for Israel.’
(Joshua 24:31 NLT)
At the point when Joshua brought the people together, they had experienced a significant past. Times of trusting and following God. But also times of forsaking their trust and following false gods. The people faced an exciting future. Nestled in the land that God had promised to Abraham. Called to great tasks of clearing this land of idols and distractions, to subdue the peoples that occupied the land, and to establish God’s laws as their laws. But at the point when Joshua brought the people together, there was an even more important focus than the past or the future. It was the present. Joshua spoke for God when he said, “choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.”
I am reminded that there is no tomorrow or yesterday with God. God is always the present with those who trust Him, and in our time and place, those who have faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is present today. Here. With us. In every moment of our lives, we face the challenge “Choose today whom you will serve.” That doesn’t mean that every day will be easy, meaningful, or purpose-filled. But it does mean that we can choose to trust God in the hard decisions of our lives. To let God lead us. To let the Holy Spirit strengthen our witness of Christ Jesus with the fruit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. So that we can witness Christ Jesus, and not just talk about our Saviour like the Baker describing bread instead of sharing that bread to the beggar. Of course, that also doesn’t mean that every one will accept and celebrate the choice we make to trust God in the hard decisions of life. We are seeing this in the news and the culture today. But, like Joshua, we are encouraged to serve the Lord. To set our hearts and minds to worship God our Father, to live in the grace of our Saviour, God the Son, and to follow the leading of our conscience that is led by the Holy Spirit to stand up for Christ Jesus and for the Word of God. And like Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, we call out to God our Father, as the glory of the Lord fills our heart, as it did ‘the house of the Lord’ back then. O Lord our God, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, “keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart.”
God gathers His chosen people today just as He gathered the Israelites. Just as Jesus gathered His disciples around him during His earthly ministry. God gathers us today around the sacred person of Jesus Christ, around the vital and living word of God, around the holy sacraments, and around the fellowship of believers. Jesus said, “That is what I meant when I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father brings them to me.”
We are drawn to our Lord Jesus Christ, by what we hear and accept in the Scriptures, what we see and discern in the life of Jesus Christ, what we experience in the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, and what we are led to recognise in the presence of God’s Holy Spirit. We can accept and trust God in the way he extends his grace to us, and we can give thanks that God is part of our lives, every day, in every moment, as we confess with Peter, “Lord, to whom would we go? You alone have the words that give eternal life. We believe them, and we know you are the Holy One of God.” And we can follow in the footsteps of those who joined with Joshua proclaiming, “we, too, will serve the Lord, for he alone is our God.” Even with the best motivations, sincere faith will always be tested. Our God is always in the present moments of our lives to help us if we let him. In order to stand firm in our faith, we gird ourselves with the spiritual armour that the Holy Spirit provides, and we engage with evil in the world. Paul reminds us to ‘Put on all of God’s armor so that “we” will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the Devil.’
We can look at our confession of faith, … at the Lord’s prayer, … at the ten commandments, … and at our sharing in the body and blood of Jesus Christ .. as our armour against deception. And we all put on the armour of God as we celebrate our Christianity, live our faith, and share in the fellowship of Jesus Christ in our worship. Even protected by the armour of God, and covered over with the blood of Jesus, we will still be tempted and our faith will be challenged. It is inevitable that we will fall to temptation from time to time. When we do, we can call upon our Saviour Jesus Christ to be in the moments of our weakness, in the moments of our strength, and in the moments of our humble confession and repentance. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world. And He is the very personal sacrifice for our very personal and individual failure to meet our pledge to God. We can take heart that we have a God worth serving, a Saviour worth following and a Holy Spirit worth listening to. Even as we endure the slings and arrows of a culture that stands against the hard truths of God.
My hope is that in all we say and do, the grace and peace of God will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN
Rev. David Thompson.