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On the Right Side of History

Ian Holland
Aug 23 2009

This church, Old South Church, was born in a storm. It was born in a storm of dispute over water. It was born in a storm of controversy over baptism …

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 (responsively)

One: Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 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.”

Many: Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

Listen with me to the Word of God from the Gospel of John.
At the very end of Chapter six

Jesus said;
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me,
and I in them.
Just as the living God sent me,
and I live because of God,
so whoever eats me will live because of me.
. . .

He said these things while he was
teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it,
they said,
“This teaching is difficult;
who can accept it?”

Let us pray
Holy One, bless our understanding of these words of scripture. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts,
be acceptable and pleasing unto you,
O God,
our Rock and Redeemer.

“This teaching is difficult,
who can accept it?”

I love the directness and honesty of this statement.

Sometimes, when reading the Gospels,
the disciples say exactly what I was thinking.

This teaching _is_ hard …

Can you imagine what it was like
to hear Jesus telling people that
they must eating his flesh and
drink his blood
to gain eternal life?
well .. that sounds really, … well … icky
“Icky” is a theological term we learn in seminary.

Even after 2 thousand years of theological reflection
on the sacrament of communion,
this teaching is still difficult,

Well, on that day in the synagogue of Capernaum,
many who heard the teaching
did not accept it.

There were number of people who had followed
Jesus right up to that moment.

But following this event
they left him and returned home.
He had gone too far in what he said.

Then Jesus turned to the 12 disciples and asked them.
“Do you wish to go also?”
“Do you wish to go also?”

Far beyond the immediate “ick factor” of his imagery,
Jesus’ words have deep implications
for the 12 disciples,
and all others who would follow him.

Jesus says that eternal life comes through HIM.
That HE will raise the faithful up on the last day.
In these words Jesus claims power and responsibility
only ascribed to God.
Only God can do those things.

For a Jew, this is radical, even heretical talk,
It seems to violate the commandment
“You shall have no other gods before me”

And then, in using the language of
flesh and blood,
especially the use of blood imagery,
Jesus is challenging
the purity laws of the Old Testament.

For the people listening to Jesus on that day,
there is nothing more unclean –
nothing more impure and unholy –
than blood.

Anyone who comes into contact with blood must
perform rituals of cleansing
and sacrifice to God before they can
be part of the community.

But in the words we hear today,
Jesus rejects that tradition.
He is offering blood, his own blood,
as the means to righteousness.

I imagine that in the synagogue that day,
some people got really angry
and even shouted at Jesus,
like some of the town meetings
we see on TV these days.

Things probably became very tense in that room,
and in the streets outside after the meeting.

What’s at stake for those who choose to stay with Jesus?
Could they follow Jesus and still remain faithful Jews?

If they are rejected by the synagogue,
would they be outcasts,
and persecuted?

If the disciples continue to follow Jesus,
Would they be rejected by their families,
And their neighbors?
how would they live
and provide for their children?

What could they lose, what will they gain?

If you were in their place,
what would you choose?

Would you risk your livelihood and
perhaps even the wellbeing of your children,
because you feel a calling
from God, from Jesus, to do so.

This teaching _is_ difficult.

Jesus’ question “will you go, or will you stay with me”
was a turning point in the lives of
those specific individuals,

Into their confusion Jesus said
“be not afraid, for I am with you,
life and eternal life are yours through me.”

For those disciples,
the fear, uncertainty and doubts of the world
were cast aside by the assurance,
hope and love of God

And, It was a turning point in the history of humanity,

This is how Christianity begins.
With a small number of people,
rejecting the status quo,
rejecting the apparent safe choice,
and choosing relationship
with Jesus instead.

And in the many years, and centuries that followed
Faithful women and men
made the same choice.

And this morning,
Calvin becomes part of that same history.
We are part of that history.

Through his dedication,
we affirm our connection to the people in
the synagogue that day.
The questions we answered
Reflect the one that Jesus asked them.

Now, Jesus’ question to the disciples
is an echo of the one asked
in the scripture that we read together.

“choose this day whom you will serve”
“choose this day whom you will serve”

And like the disciples,
the people faced with this question,
their response had spiritual,
and security implications
that could impact the wellbeing of their families.

I want take a few minutes to retell some of
their story to you.

As you know,
The people of Israel were led
out of captivity in Egypt by Moses.
For 40 years afterwards,
they wandered the desserts and the wilderness.
At the end of the 40 year journey Moses died,
Joshua became their leader.
And the people of Israel came to the
plains of Moab,
On the east bank of the River Jordan.

God told Joshua that it was now time for the people
to go west and cross into the land
between the Jordan River
and the Mediterranean sea.

Can you imagine this huge gathering of the People of Israel,
perhaps as many as 600,000 of them,
along side the river bank and
stretched out on the plains of Moab?

I wonder how they felt.

After 40 years in the wilderness,
They are now told that the
promised land;
the land of milk and honey,
promised to Abraham
was right there across the river,
and it was time to go.

I am sure that many were eager to go,
perhaps even ready to jump in the river
right then and there,
if only they could swim.

But I wonder if there were many in the crowd
who were more hesitant.

How well would they transition from life as nomads
to a settled life as farmers and fishermen?
What did they know about such things.
And what about the wars ahead?
The land was already occupied
by the Amorites, Canaanites, and many others.

But God told Joshua:
Be strong and courageous;
do not be frightened or dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

And so they crossed the river,
with the help of God,
and they defeated all their enemies.

They went on to settle,
and prosper in the land.

Now imagine if you were a patriarch
of one of the 12 tribes of Israel.

You have received your allotted part of the Promised Land.

But your land is surrounded by Canaanites and Amorites.

Wouldn’t it be strategic to try to form alliances
with your neighbors?

Would it be good to have your daughters marry their sons,
and vice versa.
It would surely help with trade
and it would certainly help the security situation.

But to do so would mean honoring
the Amorite and Canaanite ways of life,
and accept their customs, and their gods.

In order to maintain their new found prosperity,
their safety, their wellbeing,
would they worship other gods?

What would you do?

God whispers in your ear:
“Be strong and courageous;
do not be frightened or dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you.”

Once again ..
faithful people are challenged
to make a choice.
Will they play it safe,
Or will they choose relationship with God

This was a historic turning point for those people,
and the history of that region of the world,

Their decisions will change the path of human history.

In both situations I have described today,
The people facing the decisions
lived in times of transition, and turmoil
at turning points in history.

Defining moments in history are messy.
In transition periods,
there is always fear, and uncertainty,
and there are times of danger
but as we have learned,
they are also times that people discover
new and deeper relationships with God,
that can guide people’s
life decisions and actions.

What is your sense of the time period
you and I are living in right now?

Does it feel like we are going through
A time of change and transition ?
Are there feelings of instability and uncertainty in the air?
Have you heard and felt the anger?

Certainly, our world has been rocked by.
the never ending wars in the middle east,
the collapse of the economy,
and on and on and on.
Politicians and cable TV commentators
Are constantly challenging one another
to be on the “right side of history”.
with respect to
healthcare reform,
climate change,
marriage equality,
war policy,

I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel anxious.

I linger for a while with a Rip Van Winkle theology
and hope that I could just go to sleep
and when I wake up,
it will all have been sorted out.

But then reality bites, but not for long.

Into the space left by
the empty noises of the world,
comes the still speaking voice of God,
“Be strong,
have courage,
be not afraid or dismayed,
I am with you.”

And I realize that:
we have a decision to make,
you and I.

“choose this day whom you will serve”

“choose this day whom you will serve”

What do the commandments to love God,
And to love our neighbor
require of us in this moment of history?

“What would Jesus do?” is the wrong question.

The question for us living, breathing,
members of the Body of Christ Is:
What is Jesus doing for us,
with us, and through us,
in this moment in history?

What is Jesus saying to us about healthcare,
climate change and immigration reforms?

Our relationship with Jesus is as close and intimate
as the feel of bread in our mouth,
and the taste of wine.
Are we willing to risk our own immediate
economic wellbeing to follow his teaching?

This teaching is hard,
who can accept it?
We can,
with the help of God.

Jesus asked the twelve,
“Do you also wish to go away?”
Simon Peter answered him,
“Lord, to whom can we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and
know that you are the Holy One of God.”