Year B Proper 16, 22 August 2021
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Dare We Not?”
Collect: Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
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.”
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.”
Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 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?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So 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.”
You cannot jump a hole in two leaps.
When someone says that they are going to meet you halfway, they are often a poor judge of distance.
Whoever finishes a revolution only halfway, digs his own grave. (Georg Buchner)
Do or do not. There is no try. (Yoda)
Almost only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and thermonuclear war.
Our phrases express the wisdom that is as old as time. We cannot cannot build half a bridge and call it done. Or as Jesus put it in the Sermon on the Mount: “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37 NRSV)
We want things to be whole, complete, full, mature, and done. Think of how being half-brained, half-hearted, and half-, umm, -buttocked(?) are all considered bad. Halfway will not cut it.
Half committed, half prepared, half awake all leads to failure. When we commit, let us commit. When we promise, let us keep it. When we do, let us do. Halfway will just not work.
Some of the saddest words in the Gospels are in today’s reading:
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.
They started, but chose not to finish. They believed, sorta. They counted the costs and were found not willing to pay the price. But then, we have a resounding affirmation of faith, a recognition of there is truly no other source of hope.
So 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.”
I find it fascinating that this explicitly states the 12. The 12 included Judas, a true believer. Even when our faith is complete, staying true to the end is required. Anything else can be disastrous.
Joshua called the people to commit. “Choose you this day whom you will serve, ...but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!”
St. Paul instructed us about how to do it, and why. So often we think we are struggling against whatever crisis or problematic character is frustrating us these days. We are a part of a cosmic struggle, Good versus Evil, Light versus Darkness, Truth and Beauty versus Lies and Ugliness. When we forget that, our preparation lessons. We wane in our readiness. We seek comfort and happiness, both good but not the end goal. As we prayed in our collect, we are to show forth the Power of God in our lives to the honor and glory of God.
As many of you have heard, too many times for some of you, I am a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings. So much wisdom and truth novelized by a fellow Christian, J.R.R. Tolkien, without once mentioning God or Christ or religion. But that truth is in every page without invoking the name. It did not need to do so.
The simple hobbits are living life in goodness and truth, upholding the light even though they did not know it. When darkness spread, a few were called to step outside their comfortable normal to do what needed to be done. At one point Frodo commiserated with Gandalf about having to answer the call.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Friends, if you have not figured it out, we are living in such times. We do not want it. We did not seek it. Afghanistan. Haiti. Countless crises most of us have no clue about. And a global pandemic to boot. We are in a divided country where we do not respect our neighbors and the feelings are mutual. And to make it worse, it is not just disagreement, but the other side is considered crazy or deficient. But we are here and now, and God is with us. God is always with us. Thanks be to God. And God is with Them, whoever Them is. God calls us all to Light and Truth. The darkness is what we oppose. The Lies and Deception are our enemy. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those that curse you,” someone [Jesus] said.
And we are given the freedom of choice, of how much we will tap into that, or not. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
St. Paul says we need a few things to combat “this present darkness.” He used an armor metaphor, because in the Roman empire this image would have been obvious and clear, but listen to what he was saying without the metaphor getting in our modern ears way. We need these things:
Truth- Wrap yourself in it. May it encircle and bind you. Truth, and seeking it, holds up everything else.
Righteousness- Other people notice how we live our lives. Moral, upright, good, and fair lives opens a lot of doors, and helps people give us the benefit of the doubt if they are unsure. It is a strong and secure way to live our personal lives.
Peace- be ready to run to make peace, not conflict or fighting. This is Good News to a divided world.
Faith- When the world flings its barbs and arrows your way, whether trying to drown out the light or your particular light, your faith blocks those attacks. Holding on, deep down, when days are dark is how we get through this.
Salvation- This is what holds together what we hold most dear. I said last week Fear is the Mindkiller. Our salvation is what destroys our fear. We are in a battle that is already won. We are mopping up the remnants of a force already doomed. We are saved! What fear need we have. “If God is for us, who can be against us!” [Romans 8:31]
Word of God- This is what we read and hear. The Bible and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This is food that sustains us. The drink that quenches us. It is what we share. It attacks darkness and spreads light. We hate the sin. We love those opposed to the light, and urge them to join in the struggle against darkness.
Prayer- And last, but far from least, we pray. We pray to start. We pray to finish. We pray all along the way. We pray without ceasing. Some of our minds are better attuned to that than others. But prayer is what binds and surrounds all of this, our connection with the Spirit who directs all our choices and moods.
Friends, there are big days ahead. Days of Goodness and Light. May we live to see them. I want to commend our Vestry. We had a long, detailed, and intense Vestry Meeting on Monday night. They made some hard and good decisions on how we will do church in the coming weeks and months. Some of the changes you have already seen this morning. More news is on the way as we look to programming for the fall. Repeatedly they made choices on safety, health and well-being (physical, mental, spiritual), and sustainability. Lots of meetings of hearts and minds came to consensus. Some of the hard decisions were compromises. All of the votes were unanimous. It was a wonderful exercise in what the Scriptures encourage, “Come, let us reason together.” Some of the decisions made were about new directions in mission and ministry, and repeatedly being a faithful, mission-minded Church was where they landed. That is not easy in these times of uncertainty. Again, and again, and again, faith was shown. Thanks be to God.
Whenever we step out on faith, we never know for sure where our feet will fall. We do not know the whole path when we are called to venture forth. We are told the intended destination and the desired outcome, and encouraged to step out, boldly if we can. But move we must. We commit to the path. Come what may. Come what may.
When I was a child I remember my dad telling me what he would do “One day…” That “One day…” never came. It was a lesson I learned very young. Why say “One day…” when we can make today “Day One…”
Let us step out. Are you ready?
Word of God. Check.
Pray. Always and Everywhere. Check.
We are ready. We have been given all we need. Will we step forth?
Do we dare?
Dare we not? “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.” If we believe that, what other choice have we? Amen