Revised Common Lectionary Reflection, Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, Year B
August 26, 2018
Lessons: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:15-22; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people are equipped by God for ministry in a world that is often indifferent or outright hostile to the message. Even though the going can get tough, the faithful get going to share the good news of peace.
Key Scripture: Finally, 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. Ephesians 6:10-11
This week concludes five weeks of bread lessons from John and seven weeks of celebrating the life of the church in Ephesians. What we find is a diminishing group of disciples in John’s gospel; many who are aghast at the difficult teaching of Jesus leave for greener and smoother pastures.
Jesus asks his twelve closest followers if they, too, wish to leave. Peter answers plainly: “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” (John 6:68-69). Although they will continue to doubt, to fall short of the mark, and even abandon Jesus when the going REALLY gets rough, they place their fate and faith in Jesus, abiding in him.
Our Old Testament lesson echoes this theme when Joshua tells the Israelites in effect that it’s time to fish or cut bait; to decide whether they will serve the LORD. His next words are oft repeated and inscribed on wall hangings and plaques: “…but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15b).
It’s a question we’re still asking today: Whom will we serve? Will we follow Jesus and serve God, or will we serve money, the clamorous claims of the marketplace, and the illusions of fame and fortune? The answer hasn’t changed much over the years—either we do, or we don’t. There is no “half-way” to the discipleship journey. Sure, we may choose to follow in hundreds of little ways every day, and we may even move away for a season to follow other paths. However, once we are named and claimed as God’s own, the choice is made. We belong to God, and we are destined to follow or flee.
Here’s the thing: it is impossible to make this discipleship journey alone. We are meant to be in community. We have a relational God, and we are created for relationship. This is why the beloved community, the Church, matters so much.
This week’s epistle lesson implores the faithful to “put on the whole armor of God.” It’s important to note that the “you” is plural in this passage. We tend to think in individual terms in our culture, but the writer of this letter is addressing the entire faith community. God’s “armor” is to equip the Body of Christ for a different kind of warfare. It’s not an army that seeks aggression, but rather faithful followers who are enfolded in God’s truth, Word, and righteousness. Covered in salvation, shielded with faith, the beloved community walks in a way to proclaim the peace of Christ to a hurting world.
We need one another in this effort, standing together and supporting one another against the powers of darkness and destruction. Together in the beloved community we have what we need to prayerfully and faithfully follow Jesus, ever attuned to the Spirit’s leading. The choice is made, and we know that Jesus leads to a forever and abundant life. Let’s keep going!
If possible, invite worshipers to “circle up” for the prayers of the people, gathering around the perimeter of the worship space and holding hands. Remind each other that God continues to equip and guide the community to share the gospel of peace with a world that sorely needs to hear it and live into it. After you finish the prayers, invite worshipers to pair up with their neighbor and bless one another. You might even consider writing a short commissioning/blessing to use. Finish by passing the peace and preparing to gather at Christ’s table.
Consider the Old Testament lesson this week and the concept of who to serve. You might want to use Bob Dylan’s classic song “Gotta Serve Somebody.” You can review the lyrics here. Invite conversation about whether it is easy or difficult to serve God. What other “gods” are we tempted to serve? What makes them easier to serve than the God of the Cosmos?
A Spirit Workout
Use Ephesians 6:10 as a focus verse “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” Begin with some barbells, hand weights, and other exercise equipment. Invite the children to join you, and begin exercising. Tell them that you are trying to become stronger. Ask them what working out with weights and other exercise equipment will strengthen. Once they have identified strengthening the body, ask them how they think you can strengthen your spirit. Entertain all answers. Then share with them that they are gathered in a “Spirit Gym” when they come to worship and other activities in the congregation. Tell them that a regular regimen of prayer, studying scripture, coming to worship and Holy Communion, serving others, developing relationships with other Christians, and giving generously of time, talent, and treasure is a sure-fire way to strengthen one’s spirit. Finish with a simple prayer. If you happen to have water bottles with your congregation’s logo or name, give each child one to remind them of where they can go to have cultivate a stronger spirit and greater faith.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
Look around you! See all of God’s beloved people gathered as the Body of Christ? Together you have all that you need to proclaim the gospel of peace that leads to real life. Sure, it may not seem like it sometimes, but you are being equipped through prayer, Word, and Meal to be stewards of this very good news. To whom shall we go? Jesus!
Stewardship at Home
This week we learn about Jesus’ difficult teaching and how many disciples left the group. We also hear from Paul about putting on the “whole armor of God” in response to the evil and lures of the world.
We’re also seeing a lot of “back to school” photos in social media feeds—fresh-faced students (and teachers!) marking the occasion of a new year with a photo. What you can’t see in these photos is the invisible “armor of God” that surrounds and enfolds God’s followers. It’s there! Yes, as surely as the Spirit goes with us into each day, so do truth, righteousness, faith, scripture/Word, and peace. This invisible “Holy Force Field” helps us navigate the ins and outs of daily life.
This week spend some time pondering and talking about how life in the Body of Christ (the congregation) and Holy Communion help you live each day in God’s love and grace.
Here’s a look back at our 2015 Lectionary Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2015/08/a-tough-teaching/
And here’s the 2012 Lectionary Reflection: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2012/08/offensive-you-bet/
Here’s a reflection on Ephesians 6:10-20: https://www.stewardshipoflife.org/2017/08/stand-strong/
Photos: annamarieangelo, Denis Jarvis, and Ollie Jones, Creative Commons usage license. Thanks!
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