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The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16B)
23 August 2009

A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume

Grant, we beseech thee, merciful God, that thy Church, being gathered together in unity by thy Holy Spirit, may manifest thy power among all peoples, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-25
Psalm 16
Ephesians 5:21-33
John 6:60-69

Where’s a seminarian when you need one? For the umpteenth time this summer we have John 6 and the bread of life: this time with a bit of rather exclusionary sounding language tacked on. We also have that loveley passage from Ephesians about wives needing to be subject to their husbands. At least there was that rather hopeful passage from Joshua about forming covenant with the God of Israel.

Perhaps it is there that we can begin to unravel what these lessons might have to say to us here today. Joshua said to all the people,

Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if you be unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, 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 fathers up from the land of Egypt.

Joshua then tests them and challenges them, holding up their foibles before them, but the people still say they will serve the Lord. And they choose—use their God-given gift of free will—to form a convent, a mutual relationship that binds God and human kind. God will love and care for his people and the people will obey God’s commandments—in reality as best they can, working at it as a process—and live in relationship with him and with each other.

In the passage from Ephesians, through all the language about subjection, language from a specific place and time far removed from our own and that creates a kind of noise, I believe, that makes modern liberal folks turn off their ears, Paul is ultimately saying that mutuality, relationship, is something that is of God. It is something intrinsic to human relationships, it is something that is intrinsic to God-in-Christ’s relationship with the world. It is something intrinsic to the Church, which is the mutual in-gathering of God’s people bound together in Christ in Baptism and sustained by Eucharist.

In Marriage, Paul says, a couple chooses to covenant with each other, before God, with God, to live in mutual relationship. Paul tells us, “He who loves his wife loves himself.” One could even say who so ever loves another in this covenanted relationship loves another in the way God calls us to love him and our neighbour as our self. “For no man ever hates his own flesh,” Paul continues, “but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.” In marriage two people, having been called by love itself into relationship with each other, choose to make a covenant of mutuality before God and before their neighbours to live in relationship with each other and with God within the context of the larger Christian community of the Church. Marriage, like the covenant God and the people made in Joshua’s day shows forth God’s love into the world, shows forth God’s nature as the one who calls us. It shows forth our ability to respond, to accept the love of God, the relationship that we are offered. These covenants show us the possibility that God sets before us life in relationship with each other in relationship with him.

It is in this context that we can look at the passage from John, the passage that sums up some of Jesus’ teaching, Jesus action concerning the bread of life. Many people have now seen and heard the news about this bread that gives life to the world. They have been called to and experienced the meal that connects them with each other and with God-in-Christ. And yet,

Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? ... the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe .... This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father."

Jesus knows that in calling the people to him in and through the bread he is asking something of them that is not easy.

Jesus knows that his invitation to the table, to the meal of the bread that gives eternal life involves making choices and that many people may not want to make those choices. Indeed he knows that there are people who may have decided from the beginning never to listen, never to respond. Yet God in Christ makes in the invitation, issues the call to the table, and he expects that we will use our freedom to make a choice. John reports that, “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” Peter and the disciples (and we know from the results across the globe to this very day that there were ultimately more than twelve) made the choice to covenant with God in Christ in and through their participation in the Body of Christ, in sharing the bread that gives eternal life.

Today’s hard lessons, lessons in which we hear the uncomfortable words of different, distant cultures and the uncomfortable words about hard choices, show us the power of relationship and the steadfastness of God’s call to us to live in mutual love with each other and with him. They show that what we do matters to God. God wants this for us and for him and it is important that he does so. God would not be the God
we know and love, who loves us, if his relationship with us did not matter. God is constantly calling us. He has been calling us since the beginning, throughout history, into our own day into covenant with him. He has been calling us to make the choice to be his person, be his people, be his Body in the World. This choice, while not always easy, not the choice we make every time, is still a choice that is possible. It is a choice we can make again and again even after we have strayed, after we have made horrible mistakes. God is always calling us into covenant with him and with each other and we are called to use our gift of free-will, a gift to make a choice that is at the heart of our having been made in the image and likeness of God, to participate in God’s project to bring about the victory of love, the victory of relationship over alienation. We make these choices in small ways every day and they are cumulative. My brothers and sisters: hear the invitation to receive the bread of life, hear it as you have never heard it before, and come to renew your convent with God so you may be strengthened to take the Body of Christ, your body, back into the world, back onto the steamy streets of New York, as a witness to the power of God’s love to bind, unite, and change us.

Andrew Charles Blume+
New York City
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, 23 August 2009

© 2009 Andrew Charles Blume