Year B — Proper 16 (The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for August 26, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43
It is a magnificent occasion when Solomon and the team bring the ark of the covenant to its “resting place” in the new temple. Lots of flash, music, fire and smoke — kind of like the opening/closing ceremonies of the Olympics, I guess, only without British pop legends.

Lots of striking impressions here — the temple was one impressive structure for its day, and the ark is one of the most famous religious relics in history. (Just look at all the people who chased Indiana Jones around the world to get it!)

But the verse that “strikes” me most in my consideration for this week is v. 27: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!”

Solomon prays one of the most important theological concepts in all of scripture — no matter how grand our efforts to construct a “home” for God, God can never and will never be contained by our imaginings. 

Psalm 84
Where are “the courts of the Lord, ” exactly? If one day there is better than a thousand anywhere else, I’d kind of like to try it out!

The dwelling place of God, ultimately, is with God’s people. (Cross reference the great twenty-first chapter of Revelation.) Wherever God decides to take up residence, that is the place of royalty — the rule and reign of God that the New Testament names basileia.

God’s presence is not dependent on any place, though dedicated worship spaces are among the most inspiring locations throughout the world. Ultimately, it is trust in God that builds a sanctuary in our lives.

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
“Pants on fire!”

The children of Israel meant well on this day, when Joshua encouraged them to choose which gods they were going to serve. “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD…!”

But they did. And so do we. We turn our backs on God fairly regularly, I imagine. 

Why God is so patient and long-suffering with our paltry efforts to be faithful, I’ll never know. But God is faithful. Lord, give me a heart and a commitment  like Joshua’s! 

Psalm 34:15-22
We make prayer awfully hard sometimes, don’t we?

As if God can’t hear us, or is not watching us. This psalm makes it abundantly clear that God is neither deaf nor blind. In fact, God is quite eagerly awaiting the opportunity to reach out and “rescue” us. 

What kind of mess are you currently in that could use a little redemption and rescue? God is waiting, watching, AND listening for your prayer!

Ephesians 6:10-20
It’s all there for us: the whole armor of God. God never offers us half of what we need in order to stand in God’s strength. It is up to us to put it on, however. God is not a squire, expected to dress us for battle. Make a little effort, will you?

John 6:56-69    
Well, you knew this day was coming. Rubber will meet road. Pedal will be applied to metal. Few will fish, while many will cut bait.

Jesus puts it all out there for his disciples: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood truly abide in me.”

It was not a popular thing to say. (In case you missed it, Dr. Chilton had an excellent treatment of the cultural abrasiveness of this statement in last week’s sermon, here.)

After the brilliant success with the feeding of the 5,000…we are now left with the abandonment of the masses. Jesus turns to see that the crowds are gone. Nobody, but nobody is following him now.

To his closest disciples: “Do you want to leave, too?”

Peter’s classic response: “We’ve got nowhere else to go.” 

(Well, I kind of merged his statement with Zack Mayo’s in An Officer and a Gentleman, but you get the idea!)

In the age of “I’m Spiritual But I’m Not Religious” — what does it mean to choose to follow Christ in the extreme? Where do we find our “words of life” today? 

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

As best I remember we received two weekly and two monthly periodicals in my childhood home. Weekly we got Life magazine and the Grit newspaper; monthly The Progressive Farmer and Decision.
Decision was the newsletter of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; the title referred to the need for everyone to “make a decision for Christ.” We attended an evangelical church where
every service, even funerals, included an “altar call;” an invitation to “accept Jesus as your personal savior.”
Many of us are pretty uncomfortable with this sort of “decision theology.” I suspect that’s partly out of theological conviction and partly out of a bit of class consciousness. One of my friends in North Carolina says that “Lutherans would rather be sinful than tacky. God will forgive your sins; your neighbors will never forgive your tackiness.” What is true of Lutherans is, I suspect, equally true of other mainline Christians.
But in both Joshua and John’s gospel we are confronted with issues of decision, of choice, of invitations to accept or reject God’s call on your life.
In Joshua we find the Hebrew people in the promised land, but many are beginning to have second thoughts, they have discovered that although God has given them this land there is still much work to be done, there are obstacles to be overcome, there are already people living here.
What are we to do?
Joshua lays out for the people a history of God’s saving acts beginning with the calling of Abram and Sarai and moving through their liberation from Egypt, their wandering in the wilderness, etc. Joshua reminds the people of their sacred history, of how God has seen them through, God has provided, God has made a way. Then he says,
24:15 – “Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Choose this day. Decide. As Bob Dylan said in the song, “You gotta serve somebody.” Who’s it going to be?
In our Gospel lesson Jesus’ ministry has come to a turning point. For the last month we have been reading and preaching about the 6th chapter of John. In this chapter we have seen Jesus preaching to large crowds, feeding the five thousand, being followed about by crowds of people from here to there. His moment has arrived. The people are at his beck and call, he has them in the palm of his hand, and then . . . .
Jesus would have flunked Church Growth, Mega-church Ministries 101. Instead of soft-pedaling and making it easy and telling them that if they follow him their spouses will love them, their children will become docile and obedient and all their business plans will work out; Jesus does a stupid thing – he tells them the truth.
He tells them “I am not just another Rabbi, a faith healing miracle man. I am the Son of God. I am the Bread of Life, I am the Christ.”
And the people say, “Whoa, this is heavy. This is; this is weird. This is hard. This is leading somewhere I’m not sure I want to go.”
It has become clear to the people who have been following Jesus around, listening to him talk, watching him heal people, and eating at his overflowing table; that to follow Jesus from here on out would be to go against their own culture. It would make them religious and social outcasts. They are being asked to “choose this day,” and they do. They choose to go away, in droves. This is too hard, too difficult for them.
Jesus turns to his closest companions, the chosen ones and gives them the choice as well, “Do you also wish to go away?” And Peter, as usual, speaks the words of faith, “Lord to whom can we go, you have the words of eternal life.”
In both Joshua and John, we have situations in which people are asked to choose, but they are not invited to choose blindly, like picking a door on The Price is Right. They are invited to put their personal future into the hands of the one who has been there for them in the past.
“Choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house we will serve the LORD.”
“LORD, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
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; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 317)

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