a priest's musings on the journey

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sermonette: Proper 16B - 27 August 2006

Joshua 24:1-25; John 6:10-20

The reading from Joshua recounts the remnants of a liturgy in which Joshua, in his final days as the leader of the Israelites, calls the people of God to finally reject the foreign gods of their neighbors and covenant to be faithful to YHWH. Joshua reminds the people of God of the mighty saving acts God has performed for them, and challenges them with a choice: "Choose you this day whom you will serve." To which the people of God respond, "We will serve the Lord, for He is our God."

The choice of the Israelites is paralleled with the choice the disciples are called to make for God, after being confronted with the revelation from Jesus that he is the living bread that came down from heaven. Many of Jesus' disciples were offended by his teaching and abandoned him. Jesus asked the twelve, "will you also leave me?" Peter replies, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

That moment when we are confronted with the decision to choose God or not comes to each of us at some point in our lives. For most of us, the choice is made for us by our parents at Baptism. Later, we affirm our parent's decision and choose God for ourselves in Confirmation. But what is it that we are choosing? What are deciding when we declare, "we will serve the Lord, for He is our God?"

I am concerned about the state of Confirmation in our Church, because instead of being a reaffirmation of the choice for God, it seems to be more like a rite of passage celebrating adulthood and the exodus from the Church. Part of the reason for that, I think, is because we do not take the Sacrament seriously. The Church doesn't teach what the choice for God means, and the confirmands rarely consider what the implications for choosing God are for their lives. "When Jesus calls a man, he calls him to die," said Bonhoeffer. The choice for God is the decision to pick up the Cross and follow Jesus. It is the decision to reject the attachments to the things of the world and to accept the values of God in Christ. Whenever the decision for God is made, one is inevitably confronted with the disparity between the values of the world (or one's on values) and the values of God. As a result the disciple of Jesus is constantly called to continue to affirm the choice for God in each moment; it isn't a once-for-all decision made when the Bishop lays his hands on our heads and renews in us the gift of the Holy Spirit. Findley Edge once said, that " any time the way of Christ collides with the way of the world, a cross is raised and we must choose whether or not to take that cross as our own." In these moments we are faced with the decision to choose God and follow the path of Christ, or to deny Christ and follow the path of the world. The decison is rarely an easy one, because the choice for God, the decision to bear the cross, usually leads one through the way of suffering. It calls for a death to Self; it opens one up to ridicule and persecution from the world, but ultimatley, it leads to resurrection and life in God. Sometimes, we choose what looks like the easy path; we refuse the cross, hoping to avoid its pain and suffering. The way of the world may appear to be easy and pleasurable for a while, but ultimately it too leads to death, but an alienating, lonely one, detached from life in God.

The choice for God and the cross is the choice to give up our own agenda for Christ's. It is the decision to follow Jesus Christ wherever he leads; to share the love of God and the hope of reconciling life with those whom Jesus embraces- the outcasts and disposessed unwanted by the religious establishment and ignored by the world. Giving ourselves to God always means giving ourselves to others as Christ- no matter what the cost.

From the beginning Jesus' mission was rooted in Love and sacrificial giving. His teaching redefined what it was that united us to God and one another. Instead of a religion of rules, Jesus proclaimed the standard for holiness is Love. When we choose God, we choose the way of Love. It is the way of Love, in fact , that empowers us to continually re-affirm our choice for God, and which calls us to repent- to turn back to God when we deny Him. St Teresa of the Child Jesus wrote, "How sweet is the way of love. One can fall or commit infidelities, but, knowing how to draw profit from everything, love quickly consumes everything that can be displeasing to Jesus; it leaves nothing but a humble and profound peace in the depths of the heart."

The choice for God is never an easy one, but it is the decision that we are faced with in every moment that our desire to be like Christ collides with the world's temptation for us to be like it. Every moment the Holy Spirit calls to us, "choose you this day whom you will serve?" The way of the world is often attractive, but at the end of the day, it is not really an option, because we know the confession of Peter is true: You alone, Lord, have the words of life. Lead us in the paths of truth and life; protect us from the distractions that obscure your footsteps that we are called to follow; spare us from the weariness that comes from choosing the way of the world; and unite us to the mystery of your life-giving Cross which we are called to bear for the love of the world. Amen.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 12:34 PM


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