Lectionary Lessons for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B August 23, 2015
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?” John 6:66-67
We’re in the home stretch of Revised Common Lectionary’s five week “Bread Cycle” from John’s gospel. Are you tired of such carb-infused good news? It seems each week the lessons become a little chewier and hard to swallow. And now, here we are, finding out that his disciples are having trouble with his teaching and many are turning away. Jesus finally asks the twelve if they, too, want to cut and run.
This is, after all, a tough teaching–both then and now. Jesus has just taught that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood abide in him and he in them. It sounds pretty weird and quite disturbing. No wonder people are turning away. It is one thing to be fed your fill of fish and bread, but it’s another thing entirely to expect this kind of commitment!
What we learn from five weeks of “Bread of Life” is that Jesus is truly “all in” when it comes to giving himself for the sake of the world, and that Jesus also expects us to be “all in” when it comes to being his followers. Jesus offers us a free but costly gift of real life without an expiration date, but nevertheless being a faithful disciple is tough because it is incredibly countercultural and can exact a pretty high price. While most of us will not likely be called to die for our faith, it is probable that we will be called to make some tough choices about everything from the way we spend our time and money, how we vote for elected officials, and where we stand on potentially divisive and polarizing issues. After all, being a follower of Christ is a 24/7/365 kind of lifestyle rather than a one-hour begrudging duty to which we submit on Sundays or when it’s convenient.
How then should the average person in the pews respond? Peter has the right idea when he says simply, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter gets it. Turning away from Jesus might seem like the easy path, but there is no other path that leads to the living waters. Peter and company have seen and have come to believe that Jesus is God’s son; there are no substitutions. The choice is life with no expiration date and huge helpings of mercy and grace or a span of days and years without resurrection hope and a very limited shelf life. What do you choose?
Yes, these are difficult teachings that require us to think differently and to put skin in the game. Yes, what Jesus says and requires of us can be offensive, and many will turn away. And yes, the world will promise an easier and more attractive path. Still, there is no substitute. There is no one else who can say, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
To whom then shall we go? The answer is simple: Jesus. Thanks be to God.
…but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
This snippet of scripture (from this week’s Old Testament lesson, Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18) was featured prominently on a wall plaque in my house when I was a growing up. Did we always follow well? No. Even so, I always knew that my mother valued that intention and tried to the best of her ability to foster a family that served, loved, and revered God. Maybe it’s time to reclaim the choice to serve God fully. We live in a world that seeks to divide and conquer our allegiances and that would seek to prevent us from daily reminders of whose we truly are and whom we fully serve. Consider a litany in worship today based on this passage of scripture. What would it mean not only for individual families within the congregation to reaffirm this stance but also for an entire congregation to take a stand for following God more faithfully and fully? What if each worship service, every committee meeting, and all activities began with a reminder that we choose to serve God for no other reason than God is God and we are not?
Chances are many of your youth watch (or at least are familiar with) the series Game of Thrones. If not that series, then perhaps other fantasy series or Arthurian lore are more familiar to them. Because armor is not exactly something we wear today (at least not in the traditional sense), you may want to make some visual links to begin thinking about armor. Of course, we do wear “protective armor” in the form of logo clothing, jewelry or shirts we like and that give us security or a sense of status or belonging. So how is it that Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians about wearing the “full armor of God” applies to us today? How can we enter the world each day, surrounded and protected by that which strengthens us? What might it look like on the outside AND on the inside?
A Poem about God
This week’s psalm offers a good opportunity to use as a spoken poem with motions for your children’s time. You can even “teach” it to the adults in the congregation and have them act out the motions with you. Here’s a suggestion using the Easy-to-Read Version.
The Lord watches over those who do what is right, (Shade your eyes with your hand and look around)
and he hears their prayers. (Cup your ear with your palm and listen)
16 But the Lord is against those who do evil, (Cross your arms in front of you and take a firm stance)
so they are forgotten soon after they die. (Uncross your arms and make a sweeping motion outward as if pushing something away)
17 Pray to the Lord, and he will hear you. (Fold hands in prayer)
He will save you from all your troubles. (Look up and point to heaven)
18 The Lord is close to those who have suffered disappointment. (Slump shoulders as if sad and defeated)
He saves those who are discouraged. (Straighten up and flex your arm muscles)
19 Good people might have many problems, (Shake head from side to side)
but the Lord will take them all away. (Make a shoveling motion like casting dirt away)
20 He will protect them completely. (Wrap arms tightly across chest in protective motion)
Not one of their bones will be broken. (Point to arm bone and shake head in a “No” motion)
21 But troubles will kill the wicked. (fall down to ground on knees)
The enemies of those who live right will all be punished. (bow head down to floor)
22 The Lord saves his servants. (spring up to standing position)
All who go to him for protection will escape punishment. (Lift arms high in praise)
(Photos: Fotolia, Chris Yarzab, and Ben Sutherland [Rouault’s “Christ and the Apostles”], Creative Commons)