It matters if we choose God. It matters even more that God chooses us.
Every once in a while, one of you extends to me the privilege of coming into your home. People’s homes are fascinating places. Each one has its own unique way of expressing how God dwells there, how Jesus abides there, as he says in the Gospel lesson for today, how Jesus lives, moves from room to room and person to person in that place.
Some homes have whole walls of pictures of family. Often, it will be the wall that runs up along the staircase. Aunts and uncles, cousins and nieces and nephews, parents and grandparents and great grandparents run up along the stairwell.
Other homes have works of art, prints from the great painters of the world, or paintings handed down from mother or grandfather.
Usually there is a cross placed somewhere high up, and Bible passages in frames. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” “Rejoice in the Lord, again, I say rejoice.” One of the passages we read in our psalm last week: “Seek peace and pursue it.” Or, from our old testament lesson: “Choose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua stands at the end of his life, giving his farewell speech. The Hebrew conquest of ancient Palestine was completed many years ago. The idols burned. But Joshua knows that Idols tend to stay around. There are always idols.
Luther said that a god, or an idol is anything we fear, love and trust above all else. What do you fear? What do you trust,, what do you cling to when everything around you fades?
An idol can be a brutal thing. It claims to be able to provide a happy home life, health in our bodies, prosperity in business, victory in warfare, power in our nation. But an idol does not love us. It requires payment. “You do something for me, I do something for you. You sacrifice some animals to me, I make your crops grow. You sacrifice a human being to me, I give victory to your army. Somebody’s got to die, after all. You give up one of your children to me, I give you even more. You cut yourself, I send rain.”
Not so different from idols nowadays. Appearances, both personal and societal require us to sacrifice a lot of time and money: God to have that right skin tone. Got to have that right kind of car.
Today’s idols often require human sacrifice, that we let people die. For example, gold gets discovered in the black hills of South Dakota, which were sacred to the Lakota people, a place where the Lakota people are supposed to be safe. Well, they’re not safe anymore. Somebody’s gotta die.
Our careers sometimes require that we give up opportunities to spend time with our children.
We cut ourselves. Sometimes we cut ourselves because our souls hurt so much we have to let it out through our bodies. Sometimes we cut ourselves because we feel so numb we want to make ourselves feel something, anything, even pain. Sometimes we hate ourselves so much we feel like we have to punish ourselves.
Are you willing to seek help if you are cutting? Are you willing to swallow your pride and find a workable AA chapter if you are drinking too much. And you know if you are drinking too much. Don’t lie.
Are you willing to see the world as God sees it. God, who demands justice for all people, of every nationality and history, who requires integrity of all people, of every nationality and history.
Are you willing to give up some success in your career in order to spend time with your family?
Choose you this day whom you will serve.
The disciples in the Gospel lesson for today make a hard choice. Oh, it hasn’t been so bad up till now. Some people got mad because Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Some people got mad because Jesus called on God as Father. They thought Jesus was claiming to be equal to God. I’m not sure that’s exactly what he was saying.
But look at all the miracles Jesus has done. Turned water into win at Cana in Galilee. Made a man able to walk who hadn’t been able to walk for decades. Just yesterday, he fed five thousand people. They liked that, came back for more bread today.
Jesus says “I am the bread from heaven.” That’s fine, too. “Bread from heaven” to Jesus’ people would have meant the manna that fell from heaven when they were wandering in the wilderness, this rag-tag band of newly escaped slaves who had no other hope but God, had to depend utterly on God. God fed them.
Yes, Jesus, the bread of heaven. Surely Jesus feeds us with his teachings. Surely, Jesus touches our souls with his healing. Bread of heaven, fine. The problem comes when Jesus says “You have to eat my flesh. You have to drink my blood.”
Now those teachings are no longer some nice set of precepts that we aspire to. That healing is a nice way of looking at things. NO. Now, we eat Jesus flesh and drink his blood.
The teaching and the healing become a part of our bodies, our bones and ligaments and sinews and muscle and blood and skin. “Surely, Jesus, you don’t mean that we are to be your hands working in the world? Yes, that’s exactly what he means. This is what we mean when we give the bread at communion and say “This is the body of Christ, given for you.” Remember what Paul calls us, the church, the Body of Christ.
“Surely, Jesus you don’t mean that our speech is to be your speech in the world.” Yes, that’s exactly what he means. It’s what we mean when we say “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” Remember what Jesus says at the resurrection? “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Surely, Jesus this does not mean we are to follow you to the cross, we are to die for the justice and healing and freedom and hope of all people? Yes. That’s exactly what he means.
A hard choice. A lot of people leave.
“Choose you this day.” Funny thing about this Old Testament passage about Joshua. People do choose. They say “We choose the Lord.” Joshua says “You’re gonna fail.” They say, “No, no, we choose the Lord.”
And they do. They serve the Lord for many years. It matters what we choose.
But soon after this passage comes the book of Judges, which is the repetitive story about how the people of Israel do not serve the Lord, but turn to idols.
Then the Aramaeans or somebody conquers them, they cry out to the Lord. The Lord lifts up some charismatic figure like Gideon or Deborah or somebody. They throw out the oppressors, then serve the Lord for forty or so years, two generations, till they turn to idols again. The Philistines take them over. God raises another judge to throw them out. Then another forty years of living God’s justice and integrity.
In other words, it matters what we choose. It matters a lot. What we choose this day can bless decades, generations of people after us. What we choose can curse generations of people after us. It matters what we choose.
But it matters even more what God chooses. Look at the book of Judges. God chooses to discipline and save and forgive God’s people again and again and again and again. Even though they turn away, God confronts them with relentless, relentless, relentless grace.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus turns to his remaining disciples. He says “Are you going to go away as well?” Peter, who later on will deny Jesus three times, and still later after that, will be accepted back into Jesus’ community, says “Where will we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
I’ve spoken before about the Greek word used here, “Logos,” in addition to “word,” it also indicates “meaning, purpose, story, language, way of looking at the world.”
“You have the meaning of eternal life, the purpose of eternal life, the story, the language, the way of looking at the world, of eternal life.” And you choose us.
One of the most remarkable moments that sometimes happens when I visit people comes when we pray together in their home. Now, it becomes particularly clear that Jesus is a part of our bodies, our relationships, these places where we sleep, and eat, and cry and laugh and argue, and forgive, and love. Jesus abides with us. He is a part of our bodies, our lives, our home.