Sermon for August 22, 2021

Hi. I’m wondering how you are this morning. We’ve been living in strange times for quite a while now. Had hoped it would be over soon. I am longing for the days when we can gather again for fellowship and community, so- Perhaps like me you are fed up with pandemic living. I know that some of us ventured out this summer on low risk visits, but things still are not as open as we’d like. It’s frustrating, and now, this morning of all mornings, we are presented with the question: “Decide then. Who will you serve?” I don’t know about you, but for myself, some days I can’t get it together enough to even think about serving myself – never mind anyone else. Some days I’m good, cresting the wave of optimism, but on the down days, I find it very easy to identify with the people Israel as they try to settle into a new life. Living in times of upheaval and anxiety consumes so much energy, there often is nothing left. Many of us have felt exhausted during this pandemic, and that is pretty normal, I’m told– it takes a lot to hold everything together, so be gentle with yourself, and be gentle with each other.

Perhaps there is hope in the lines of the psalm we shared this morning:

The Lord is near to the broken hearted,

and saves the crushed in spirit.

We turn to the first reading – Joshua is the first book of the history of the people Israel in their new land. It begins with Joshua following the Lord’s command and leading the people into the new land. Enemies are done away with, and finally at the end of this book, which is the part we just heard, Joshua gathers the people again and encourages them to put away false idols. He urges them to dedicate themselves to the God who freed them and provides for them according to God’s covenant.

There is lots of proof that God is with them, that God smiles upon these people and cares for them. It would seem kind of silly but they needed Joshua to remind them to be faithful in return, and not be distracted by other things. What reminders do we need to hear?

How can we recognize the idols in our life which distract us from trusting God?

We turn to the second reading: The letter to the Ephesians is believed to have been a general letter, sent first to the Ephesians, and then passed on to other churches – including our church today.

The writer of the letter clearly outlines how to defend ourselves from falling into the way of following other idols. We are to put – on  – truth, and Put on righteousness. Be willing to proclaim the gospel, wear our faith and salvation and the Holy Spirit.

Some people like this type of instruction, because it tells us what to do. I don’t know about you, but I really do not have a clue how to put on righteousness or faith!

I know that the history of Christian people putting on their version of righteousness resulted in some terrible actions and has excluded many people from their circle…. so I’m sceptical about deciding what salvation is, and how to go about being what might look righteous.

Terms like ‘helmet and sword and shield’ are also confusing and this passage about military armour is usually misunderstood. It has been seen as permission to be aggressive and violent.

But the armour is a metaphor or symbol for the things God provides to protect us from that aggressive and violent evil. God provides our faith, and our righteousness. because

 The Lord is near to the broken hearted,

and saves the crushed in spirit.

Looking at this a bit deeper, Biblical scholar Matt Skinner points out that the writer quite cleverly takes a well-known symbol – the dress of a Roman soldier – the same attire as worn by those who crucified Jesus. Then the writer flips the use of that clothing, making it the symbolic dress of those who love Jesus, and strive to serve God. Instead of being used in war, the armour protects the goodness inherent in followers of Jesus through the love of God.

So, it seems that this passage helps us figure out what we are supposed to do. But, no. that is not the complete story.

We return to the first reading from Joshua:  Biblical scholars suggest that we look at the next two verses of Joshua – The people have just declared in (V 16-18) that YES! Of course they will serve the Lord, and then Joshua says in verse 19 – the verse after our text ended this morning – and I will read it – verse 19 “But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God”

This scripture passage acknowledges that we are incapable of sin free living. It is impossible for us not to sin. We probably know that, even as we try our best. Even as we are lifted up by the Holy Spirit, we recognize that on our own we easily succumb to the fiery darts of the devil.

Our only hope is in “the Lord (who) is near to the broken hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.”

So now we get to the heart of the teaching for today: the text from John 6:

Jesus offers himself to us as the source for a full life now and forever. Today we are invited to think about the responses from the crowd as Jesus offers the way, the truth and the life. This crowd which began as 5000 men, plus women and children. These are the people who were fed on the bank of the sea of Galilea. This crown has grown smaller as people leave in disbelief; as people are disheartened and complaining; and as people outright reject Jesus. The crowd is now only the twelve, and one of them is acknowledged by jesus as a betrayer. They leave because they have a tough time trying to get their heads around the fullness of life that Jesus is offering.

And that is where we are today. We also sway between doubt and belief; between complaint and praise; between neglect and devotion ….because we can’t do it on our own. We need Jesus, the bread of life, the nourishment for our heart and soul. We need Jesus to fill us just as bread and buns and biscuits fill us.

We need to spend time developing a deep relationship with this Son of Man, consuming his teachings, reading and worshiping together, praying together and praying silently alone  – when we rise, when we rest, when we are joy filed and when we are exhausted from pandemic living. We need to rest in a deep relationship with the Lord who does the work for us, filling us with love and hope.

The Lord is near to the broken hearted,

and saves the crushed in spirit.

Trust this and pray for a loving relationship with Christ. Ask for strength and pleasure in serving this Lord, the bread of life, and may it be so!

Amen

Published by paulandapolloswork

pastor for South Grey Bruce Lutheran Parish.

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