Pentecost 13 B 2021 Sermon
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
A couple of days ago I was in HEB, and I wanted to buy some ice cream. And as I stood in front of the ice cream freezer, I was baffled by the variety of flavors. Yes, there was the predictable flavors such as vanilla and chocolate; but there was also cookies and cream, cookie dough, strawberry, coffee flavor, chocolate chip, birthday cake, pistachio, and a whole list of other flavors I had never seen before. If I left off your favorite flavor ice cream, I am sorry.
Well, as I stood in front of the freezer it got me thinking about how overwhelmed we are by choices each and every day. No matter what the product we are trying to buy, or what activity we are planning to do, the options we have for each item or event is growing year after year.
Take television for example. At my house we have cable tv, amazon prime, Hulu, Netflix, and many other options available for us on our firestick.
Our society has come a long way since the days when I was a lot younger and we had only two or three tv channels depending on how the rabbit ears were positioned. But that’s progress for you. As we live out our lives today the mindset seems to be, “The more choices, the better.”
And so, whether one is staring at a freezer full of different flavors of ice cream or standing in a car dealership with hundreds of cars lined up to be sold, having a choice is the American way. And having a choice means one has options, and who does not love options.
And that is all fine and good, until the language of choosing (and options) enters the conversation concerning the topic of our faith.
For example, when we talk about “choosing” in the context of church, it is tempting to fall into the language of some our brothers and sisters in other denominations that state that in order to be saved one must choose Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior.
And to further emphasize the point, some denominations insist that one’s salvation is not assured unless one can state the date and the time and the place where one has made a choice to follow Jesus.
But that, my friends, is not how we Lutherans understand things. As Lutherans, we believe that Jesus chooses us. Why? Because the Bible tells us so.
In the Bible the New Testament writers assure us that Jesus chose to live among us as a human being. And that Jesus chose to die to make sure that the powers of sin and death do not have the last word in our lives. And the New Testament writers promise us that when we are baptized, Jesus chooses us and marks us with a cross that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives as a sign that we are claimed by a grace more generous than we deserve.
We do not choose Jesus, Jesus chooses us. So how then are we to read all the choosing going on in our scripture reading today?
Our First Reading this morning finds Joshua gathering all the tribes of Israel together for a very important message. They are at Shechem, the place where many years earlier God had appeared to their ancestor Abram and promised him the gift of the land. Standing in that same holy place, Joshua gives the people this challenge: “Choose this day whom you will serve.”
Like today, the choices are all around them. Just like their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, the Israelites have many opportunities to worship other gods, and to pursue idols that were shiny and alluring but had nothing to offer in the way of relationship.
But hear this… The people were not choosing to be in relationship with God. That relationship already existed. They were/are God’s Chosen People. God has been with them from the beginning.
The Israelites acknowledge this when they stated: “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 slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight.”
The people did not choose God, but they did have to choose how they would live in response to that relationship.
In other words, would they be distracted by other gods, or would they follow the One who led them out of slavery into freedom? And the truth before us this morning is this: we too can choose to turn our backs to the One who loves us, and frees us, and offers us the gift of salvation or we can choose to be faithful to the One who chose us.
And that is the same message before us in the Gospel text this morning. As Jesus continues His long discourse on the Bread of Life, many in the crowd began to turn away from Him. This teaching is difficult, the people complained. Who can accept it?
I suspect it is not just His colorful talk about flesh and blood that has people inching toward the parking lot. The people have seen Jesus hang out with undesirable people, and the people had witnessed Jesus’ healing people on the Sabbath, and the people were aware that Jesus had made the religious and political leaders angry.
The people knew that this was not going to end well. So who, in their right mind they reasoned, would choose to follow Jesus?
The people had forgotten that we do not choose Jesus as our Savior. Jesus chooses us. And this decision to choose us was made long before we were born. It’s a done deal.
The Bible tells us that God’s promises to us have been engraved on a rock forever. It has been written in stone. God chooses you. God chooses me.
Even so, we struggle with this truth every day. Like the Israelites, we too are surrounded by all the bright and shiny things that try to lure us away from our faith. And the options available to us today are more numerous than all the flavors available to us in the ice cream freezer at HEB.
And so, it is no wonder that we can find ourselves saying, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Look at all the options and flavors and colors available to us.
Yet even as we say these words to ourselves, God reaches out to us and God reminds us that He has chosen us, and that we have been marked by the sign of the cross on our foreheads, and that we are held by a love that will not let us go. And as we are reminded of all these things, it becomes easier to follow Jesus because we are reminded again that the choice has already been made for us. And that is why we can speak as Peter spoke that day and say “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Words of Eternal Life.” Amen.
Let us pray: God our strength, you rescue us in times of trouble and bring us to a land of green pastures. Help us to listen always to your voice and feed us always with that living bread given for the life of the world, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.