Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
August 26, 2012, Pentecost XIII
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:15-22, Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
From the Book of Joshua:
“Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.”
From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:
Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.
And from the Gospel of St. John:
After many of his disciples no longer followed him, Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
I heard a story on the radio this past week that I feel is worth repeating. Dr. Albert Einstein was riding on a train. The conductor entered the car and started punching people’s tickets. The conductor came upon Dr. Einstein and asked to see his ticket. Dr. Einstein was in a tizzy, trying to find his ticket. He looked in his coat pockets, his pants, on his seat, in his bag and on the floor; no ticket. The conductor calmed him down and said, “don’t worry Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. You don’t need a ticket.” Dr. Einstein thanked the conductor for his kindness. So the conductor continued down the aisle, punching people’s tickets. He got to the back of the car and was about to go into the next car when he happened to look back and see Dr. Einstein on the floor, still looking for his ticket. So, the conductor went back to Dr. Einstein, put his hand on his shoulder and said, “Dr. Einstein, I know who you are, you don’t need a ticket.” Dr. Einstein responded, “I know who I am, but I don’t know where I am going.”
I don’t know if this story is true or not, but I am sure many of us can relate to a momentary loss of memory. Have you ever climbed up the stairs in your house and entered your bedroom only to ask yourself: now what did I come up here for? Now if I go upstairs for two items, let’s say a book and my wallet. I come downstairs only to realize I remembered only the book and not the wallet too. Then I say, “Oh sugar” and have to go back upstairs for my wallet. Unfortunately, a little memory loss from time to time is part of the aging process for some of us.
The important lesson to this story is Dr. Einstein saying, “I don’t know where I am going.” This could be a problem for many people, including Christians, if they don’t know where they are going after their life on earth is done.
In our Gospel reading this morning, we once again have a Communion theme. Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”
When Jesus called Himself “the Living Bread,” He was not claiming to be exactly like the manna the Jews’ forefathers ate in the wilderness. He was claiming to be even greater! The manna only sustained life for the Jews, but Jesus gives life to the whole world. The Jews ate manna daily and eventually died; but when you receive Jesus Christ within, you live forever. When God gave the manna, he gave only a gift; but when Jesus came, He gave Himself. There was no cost to God in sending the manna each day, but He gave His Son at great cost. The Jews had to eat the manna every day, but the sinner who trusts Christ once is given eternal life.
This is just another example in John’s Gospel of the people misunderstanding a spiritual truth by treating it literally. Being orthodox Jews, the listeners knew the divine prohibition against eating human flesh or drinking any kind of blood (Gen. 9:3-4; Lev. 17:10-16). All Jesus said was, “Just as you take food and drink within your body and it becomes a part of you, so you must receive me within your innermost being so that I can give you life.”
Our Lord’s teaching was not hard to understand but hard to accept once you understood it. The Jewish religious leaders both misunderstood His words and rejected them. They were “offended” by what He taught. They stumbled over the fact that He claimed to come down from heaven. They also stumbled over the idea that they had to eat His flesh and drink His blood in order to be saved. But if they stumbled over these two matters, what would they do if they saw Him ascend back into heaven? (John 6:62).
Jesus explained that His language was figurative and spiritual, not literal. There is no salvation in “flesh.” In fact, the New Testament has nothing good to say about “the flesh.”
How, then, do we “eat His flesh and drink His blood?” Through the Word. “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). “And the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Our Lord said the same thing: “He that heareth My word and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life” (John 5:24). The scribes who knew Jeremiah would have understood the concept of receiving God’s Word into one’s inner being. For Jeremiah said, “this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
Jesus further explained how the sinner can come to God: it is through the truth of the Word (John 6:44-45). The Father draws the sinner by His Word. It is through the Word that God draws people to the Saviour. The sinner hears, learns, and comes as the Father draws him. A mystery? Yes! A blessed reality? Yes! It is by the Word that we “see” God and receive the faith to come to Christ and trust Him (Rom. 10:17).
The result of this message was the loss of most of our Lord’s disciples. They went back to the old life, the old religion, and the old hopeless situation. Jesus Christ is “the way” (John 14:6), but they would not walk with Him.
When Jesus asked His 12 Apostles if they planned to desert Him too, it was Peter who spoke up and declared their faith. Where else could they go? “Thou hast the words of eternal life.” Peter got the message! He knew that Jesus was speaking about the Word and not about literal flesh and blood.
The preaching of the Word of God always leads to a sifting of the hearts of the listeners. God draws sinners to the Saviour through the power of truth, His Word. Those who reject the Word will reject the Saviour. Those who receive the Word will receive the Saviour and experience the new birth, eternal life.
It comes down to choices. Do you choose God or some other god or idol? Actually, anything that stands as a barrier between you and God could be viewed as worshiping a “god” or idol. It could be money and possessions; it could even be your spouse and family. God tested Abraham to see if he was willing to sacrifice his first born son, Isaac. When Abraham proved his faithfulness, God provided the sacrificial lamb instead. If you put God first in your life, everything else falls into place.
We live in a society, especially in New England, where Christianity or religion in general is viewed as not important. Sports practices are scheduled on Sunday mornings and there are no longer Blue Laws. Law suits have been filed against a growing number of cities, towns and schools that have traditionally offered prayers before an event. All it seems to take is one individual or organization to force their views on the general public. Christians and other religions have for the most part remained silent and allowed it to happen. Our founding fathers did not want the government to establish a state religion, but they certainly didn’t want a godless society either.
It seems no matter where we look in modern society, we see antagonism, division, and rebellion. Husbands and wives are divorcing each other; children are rebelling against their parents; and employers and employees are seeking for new ways to avoid strikes and keep the machinery of industry running productively. We have a government that actually is encouraging division and lawlessness. We have tried education, legislation, and every other approach, but nothing seems to work. St. Paul’s solution to the antagonism in the home and in society was regeneration – a new heart from God and a new submission to Christ and to one another. Paul indicated that this spiritual harmony begins in the lives of Christians who are submitted to the lordship of Christ.
Sooner or later every believer discovers that the Christian life is a battleground, not a playground, and that he faces an enemy who is much stronger than he is – apart from the Lord.
As Christians, we face three enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil (Eph. 2:1-3). “The world” refers to the system around us that is opposed to God, that caters to “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:15-17). “Society apart from God” is a simple, but accurate, definition of “the world.” “The flesh” is the old nature that we inherited from Adam, a nature that is opposed to God and can do nothing to please God. By Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christ overcame the world (John 16:33; Gal. 2:20), and the devil (Eph. 1:19-23). In other words, as believers, we do not fight for victory – we fight from victory! The Spirit of God enables us, by faith, to appropriate Christ’s victory for ourselves – salvation and eternal life.
In our Old Testament reading, Joshua made it clear that the people of Israel had to make a decision to serve the Lord God of Israel. There could be no neutrality. To serve God means to fear Him, obey Him, and worship only Him. It means to love Him and fix your heart on Him, obeying Him because you want to and not because you have to.
The Jews had to make a choice: if they decided to serve the Lord, then they would have to get rid of the false gods that some of them secretly were worshiping. Even after the great experience of the Exodus, some of the Jews still sacrificed to the gods of Egypt (Lev. 17:7; Amos 5:25-26; Acts 7:42-43; Ezek. 20:6-8). Jacob had given this same warning to his family and Samuel would give the same admonition in his day (1 Sam. 7:3ff).
Joshua wasn’t suggesting that the people could choose to worship the false gods of the land, and God would accept it; for there was no other option but to serve Jehovah. Being a wise and spiritual man, Joshua knew that everybody must worship something or someone, whether they realized it or not, because humanity is “incurably religious.” If the Jews didn’t worship the true God, they would end up worshiping the false gods of the wicked nations of Canaan. His point was that they couldn’t do both.
The people assured Joshua that they wanted to worship and serve only the Lord God of Israel, and they gave their reasons. The Lord had delivered them from Egypt, brought them through the wilderness, and taken them into their Promised Land.
Joshua had declared that he and his house would serve only the Lord, and the people said, “Therefore will we also serve the Lord; for he is our God.”
I have another story to tell you. I have to confess that I have another memory loss. I don’t remember whether I heard this story on the radio or I received it by email, but if you’ve heard it before, it’s still worth repeating.
There was a woman dying. She didn’t have too much longer to live. The Pastor of the church called on her to offer her love and support and answer any questions she might have as to where she was going. The woman asked the Pastor for a favor. “Sure if I can,” the Pastor responded. The woman told the Pastor that she had made arrangements after she died to have a fork placed in her hand in the casket. He was a little confused as to the significance of the fork, although he had seen other interesting articles placed in caskets in the past. So the Pastor asked the woman, “Why a fork? What’s the significance?” The woman told the Pastor about a church supper. You start out with some cheese and crackers and then on to a salad. Now comes the main course: very delicious. As the kitchen crew is clearing the tables of dirty dishes, the dinner guests are asked to “keep your fork for dessert” or “keep your fork for the best is yet to come.” The woman told the Pastor, “I want you to stand by the casket and tell the people the story of the church supper, that although my life on this earth is done, the fork will remind the people that the best is yet to come: Eternal Life with God!”
The Pastor was quite moved by this woman’s witness. She got it! She chose to proclaim the Words of God’s promise, that “he who believes in me, should not perish, but have eternal life.” Do you know where you are going? Remember the fork; the best is yet to come!
Let us pray:
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things. Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true faith; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works. Help us to feed on your Word and acknowledge your promise of eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives, and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.