August 20, 2018
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."
The assigned lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, August 26, the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
The readings for this coming Sunday bring up personal memories for me. It was 18 years ago, at about this time, that I was preparing to enter seminary. This particular Sunday would be my last Sunday at my home congregation, St. James Lutheran Church in East Cleveland - now known as New Covenant Lutheran Church.
My pastor at the time asked me to preach a farewell sermon that Sunday and the readings could not have been more appropriate. Just as Joshua was making his farewell discourse, I, too, would be saying farewell to my fellow members.
Just so you know, I have long since discarded that sermon. It was an awful sermon. And not being very experienced in preaching, it was also very short.
What I do remember is that I focused on the words of Joshua to the Israelites: "Choose this day whom you will serve." [Joshua 24:15]
I had wrestled with the idea of entering the ministry for over a decade, and finally concluded that I would serve the Lord. Reaching that decision wasn't easy.
The call to ordained ministry had been gnawing at me for quite a long time and finally, I gave in. It didn't happen in any dramatic fashion. No light from heaven knocked me to the ground. I simply decided that it was time to stop resisting.
I had been taking seminary courses for my own personal enrichment at what was then known as the Trinity Lay Academy; a series of classes offered by the Northeastern Ohio Synod, and taught mostly by adjunct professors of the seminary. Within minutes after stepping into that classroom, I became addicted to learning more about theology. Over the course of two years I took all six classes offered and yearned for more. The only way that would happen, I was told, was to go to seminary.
The words were a slap across the face. I struggled with everything that I would be giving up - a nice home, a decent job, a pretty comfortable lifestyle.
"Choose this day whom you will serve."
I can say in all honesty that I have never once looked back, and never regretted choosing whom I would serve. That is not to say there haven't been bumps in the road. But rather, that what I have now is far greater than what I had then.
One thing I have is a far better understanding that choosing whom I would serve was not, after all, my decision. I merely offered myself and let God decide the rest.
When you come right down to it, none of us are where we are because we choose to be in that particular place. It is God who calls us in the waters of our baptism to serve, to become a child of God. Sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ, the love of God beckons us on the most important journey we will ever undertake.
As the blessed Martin Luther clarifies in his explanation to the third article of the Apostles' Creed, "I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith."
In his rebuke of the Israelites, Joshua questions their sincerity in their profession of faith and expresses doubts about their ability to keep their promises of faithfulness to God.
Likewise, if it were left up to us, our sinful nature would prompt us to walk away. In our Gospel reading from John, that's what many of those who followed Jesus did; prompting him to question his most loyal twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?" [Jn. 6:67]
And Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, answers for all of the disciples, "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." [Jn. 6:68-69]
Peter, the one who we would often least expect to be the model of courage, makes a bold statement of faith. God chooses to use flawed, fallible human beings - like Peter, and like us - as witnesses to God's reign.
There are often days that I reflect on the office I currently hold and wonder why God chose me and not another. But it's not about us. It's never about us. It is always about God and what God is up to. By God's grace working in our lives and the Holy Spirit making real in us our connection with Christ and his death and resurrection, we find ourselves being drawn out of ourselves and into Christ.
God in Jesus is not finished with us but is still at work in our lives and in creation. It is testimony to both God's power and God's vulnerability and risk. We should expect no less from the God of the cross.
This coming Sunday I will be with the people of God at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Westlake, as they say goodbye to their pastor, the Rev. Sherman Bishop. I will lead the order of Thanksgiving at the Conclusion of a Call, and both Pastor Bishop and I will take part in the Affirmation of Baptism of several of their youth.
I will then be on vacation for the remainder of the week, although I will write a brief Musing to leave behind for your reading enjoyment.
This week and always, may you be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.
+Bishop Abraham Allende