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Monday, August 24 2015

Pastor Randy Milleville

John 6:63-69; Ephesians 6:10-20; Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18


    Sometimes – no make that a lot of times – we have to make choices, yes?  We are making choices all the time.  The first choice everybody makes every morning is this.  “Am I going to get out of bed or not?”  SO once you’ve said yes to that – you choose to get out of bed – or maybe somebody drags you out of bed – then you have another choice to make.  “What am I going to wear today?”  Nothing life threatening about making that choice.  It might be a little embarrassing if the fashion police show up because your colors or patterns don’t match – but by and large – what we choose to wear is no big deal.  Unless – of course – you’re going on a job interview, then what you choose to wear might be extremely important.

    So we make choices of all kinds every day.  And I want to suggest to you that one of the most important choices that you and I can make – comes from what we have heard – what we have seen – and what we have experienced.  You’ve heard the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.  Here in this place – or a place like this.  Maybe from a friend at work or at school.  Maybe you’ve read about this man Jesus in an article, or in the Bible itself.  Whatever.  You’ve heard the call to discipleship – to come and follow this man Jesus.  
SO here’s the choice.  What are you going to do with this man Jesus?  You’ve got a choice to make.  Because no one – absolutely no one – can ram the stuff you hear in church down your throat.   You are free to choose.

    One of the classic examples of this is from our reading in Joshua today.  I love this section of Joshua.  Joshua is the leader of the people of Israel, the successor to a man named Moses.   And I want you to listen again to his bold declaration.  Speaking to the people of Israel he says, “Choose this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

    Joshua was making a choice that day – for both himself and his family – and encouraging the people of Israel to do the same.  
    In our Gospel reading from John’s Gospel, people are also making choices.  Some good, and some not so good.  A few weeks ago we heard the story of the feeding of the 5,000.  You remember that one.  Jesus fed 5,000 people with just two loaves of bread and two fish.  The people were satisfied.  The next day, the people wanted more.  “Please sir – we want – more!”  In fact, they want to make Jesus their king.

    But Jesus declines their offer.  He wants to be a king alright – but not the king of their country.  What he wants is to be the king – the Lord – of their lives.   So he says some things that they found difficult to understand.  Things like, “I am the Bread of Life.”  Things like, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them on the last day.”  Well that sounds rather creepy!  Cannibalism?  Well, that’s what it sounds like to people who don’t know the whole story.

We of course understand that Jesus is already talking here about the bread and wine of what we now call Holy Communion – that somehow – someway – in, with and under the bread and wine – Christ is truly present – to the point where Jesus himself says of the bread and the wine, “This is my body.  This is my blood.”  

    So because the vast majority of the people don’t get it – they make a choice.  And the choice is to turn away from following Jesus. That’s when Jesus turns to the 12 disciples, and asks them, “Do you also wish to go away?”  And Peter – good old Peter – gets it right.  And I love Peter’s answer.  Listen!

    “Lord – to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe, and know that you are the Holy One of God.”  
 
    Peter made a choice that day.  Peter made the right choice that day.

    Listen!  I know that for some of you listening to me today – you’re struggling with this thing called faith.  You’re struggling with this whole Jesus stuff.  This church stuff.  And I want to tell you that as I have examined the evidence for God – as I have examined the evidence for the life, death – and especially the resurrection of Jesus Christ – I can only come to one conclusion.  And that is that God is real.  That everything the Bible says about Jesus Christ is true.  I cannot prove that God exists any more than the sceptic can prove that God does not exist.  But I’m not talking about proof.  I’m talking about examining the evidence.

    Because the evidence – all the evidence – points in the direction that what the church has to say about God and creation and Jesus Christ is all true.  In fact, I find it takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to be a believer in Jesus Christ.  And if you’re here today, and you are a sceptic – if you’re placing your faith in the belief that God does not exist – then I want to have a conversation with you.  I have a whole sermon series on why Christians believe what we believe that I want to give to you, and then we can talk.

    So here’s the deal.  We have a choice to make.  So what choice – when it comes to Jesus Christ – what choice are you going to make?  If you have come to believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God – what choice or choices are you going to make as a disciple of Jesus Christ?  

You see, God has already chosen you.  God has already chosen you to be his disciple – to be His beloved daughter – His beloved son – through the waters of baptism.  But now, you have a choice to make.  What kind of disciple am I going to be?  Am I going to be a disciple who walks away from Jesus – or am I going to be a disciple who walks with Jesus?   

    Because, let me tell you, as a disciple I want to invite you to take a stand – to take a stand with your brothers and sisters who are in Christ.  If you are a believer, I invite you take a stand for Jesus Christ.

    Paul – the Apostle Paul – saw the importance of taking a stand.  In our reading from the book of Ephesians, Paul encourages us to put on the whole armor of God and having done so, to stand.  To take a stand against the enemies of the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Who are these enemies?  I like to call them the big 3 – or what Martin Luther called sin, death and the power of the devil.

    Did you catch in that reading from Ephesians where Paul tells us take a stand against what he calls “the wiles of the devil”?  And he says that followers of Jesus Christ are to put on “the whole armor of God.”  He was using the armor that a Roman soldier would wear as a metaphor for how a Christian ought to be equipped – the helmet of salvation – the breastplate of righteousness – the belt of truth – the shield of faith – the sword of the Spirit – which is the Word of God.

    These were the things that kept a Roman soldier protected in battle.  But the greatest protection came when that soldier stood shoulder to shoulder with other soldiers – try saying that three times real fast – they stood shoulder to shoulder with other soldiers with their shields locked together.  

    In other words – the Roman soldier was safest when taking a stand against the enemy –when he was connected – standing side by side – with other soldiers.

I don’t want you to miss this point.  We need to be equipped with the spiritual armor that Paul talks about – but we are at our best when connected with – when we are standing side by side – with other disciples of Jesus Christ. It’s why church matters.  By the way, I’ve got a sermon series on that too!  It’s called, “Why Church Matters.”  I’ll even give it to you free of charge!

Listen!  Joshua spoke for himself and for his family when he said, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  Peter spoke for the other disciples when he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  Back to our fishing nets?  Back to collecting taxes for Rome?  Back to some other rabbi who can’t hold a candle to you?  Back to our old way of life?  No Lord!  To whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

Folks – we all have this choice to make.  Where will you go?  To whom will you turn?  Some of us have tried other things, and found them lacking.  We’ve been to other places, and we don’t want to go back there again.  Those other things and those other places just don’t cut it, do they!  

So some come back – back to their baptism where it all started.  For others – today may be a starting point – a point at which you’ve never been before in your life.  A starting point as it is for Camryn – baptized into the body of Christ as our newest sister in Christ this weekend.   

The point is – what is the alternative to Jesus Christ?  What is the alternative?  Well, there are many choices that could be made right now.  You could have chosen to be anywhere but here.  But where would you rather be?  At the mall?  By the way, did you know that there are more people visiting shopping malls on a Sunday morning than there are in church?

Hey! That’s their choice, right?  Of course, maybe some of them went to church on Saturday night instead, right?  But where would you rather be than right here, right now?

Where else are you going to hear Jesus say, “I am THE way, THE truth, THE life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Where else will you hear Jesus say, “I am the Bread of Life.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

I guess it all boils down to in whom or in what are you going to put your trust?  In whom or in what are you going to place your faith – because you’re going to put your faith in something.  

Let me share with you a story that took place several decades ago.  “A group of Lutheran ministers were meeting in a Chicago hotel and a fire broke out. The clerics came close to panicking as flames and smoke blocked their normal escape routes through the corridor to the elevators and stairway. They went out onto a balcony to escape the smoke but were ten stories up so there was no escape that way. Then one of the ministers braved the smoke and went through the room where they had been meeting until he found an exit to a fire escape. As one of the ministers said later, ‘One cannot imagine the feeling of relief in hearing and seeing this man come back to us and say, ‘This way out.  Follow me.  I know the way.’”

Folks, that’s the Gospel message.  Jesus is the One who not only knows the way, but He is the One who is the Way.  He is the One who can save you.  He is the One who leads you through this life and brings you safely to the life that is to come.  SO he says, “Come, follow me.  I know the way, because I am the way.”

SO what will you choose?  The answer to me is SO clear.  Of all the choices – of all the options – and there are many – and after examining all of the evidence – and I really want you to examine the evidence – BECAUSE I want you to make the right choice – I’ve gotta say, “Lord to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

                                        Amen

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656
Email:
zionoffice@zionclarencecenter.com

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