Sermon: 12th Sunday After Pentecost

It was tradition on my previous blog to post sermons after I had preached them.  The tradition continues here.  As always, comments are welcome.

Text: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:15-22; Ephesians6:10-20; John 6:56-69

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

What does it mean to confess something? We often think of a confession as something that a criminal makes to the police or if you’re in the Roman Catholic church, confession is something that one makes to the priest to receive forgiveness from sin. Our own liturgy begins with the Brief Order of Confession and Forgiveness in which we say, “We confess that we are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.” We profess before God and one another that we have not been faithful covenant partners. God said, “Don’t lie,” (Exodus 20:16)  and we lie. God said, “You shall not have any other gods before me,” (Exodus 20:3) and we find something else to worship, be it money, power, food, television.

But confession has not always been viewed this way. There was a different confession of the early church. We still use it in our liturgy. It’s not a confession of sin, but a confession of belief. “I believe in God, the Father almighty”, “I believe in Jesus Christ”, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” The confession I’m talking about is one we make when we recite the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed. This confession is a public profession of our faith.

In today’s Old Testament lesson, Joshua also makes a confession or belief. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) And in today’s Gospel lesson, Peter, in response to Jesus, makes this confession, “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)

Joshua gathers all the tribes of Israel at Shechem and gives his farewell speach. Beginning with Abraham, Joshua begins to recount to the tribes the whole of salvation history. Joshua tells the people how God had led Abraham to the land of Cannan, how God raised up Moses and Aaron and led His people out of Egypt, how God provided for His people in the wilderness, and how God gave the Israelites the land He promised them, the land flowing with milk and honey, the land of Cannan.

Joshua then presents a choice to the gathering. Either the Israelites can “ revere the LORD and served him in sincerity and in faithfulness” (Joshua24:14) or they can serve other gods. The choice is theirs. But for Joshua and his house, his family, will serve the LORD. The people of Israel answered Joshua, “We also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.” (Joshua 24:18)

But we know that the Israelites didn’t always serve the LORD, that they fell into a cycle where they would worship God, for a generation or two. Then they would start to worship other gods. They would be conquered and then call out to God for help. God would then send the Israelites someone to free them.

We are so very much like the Israelites. We too go through cycles of worship of God and worship of something else, be it money, power, food, alcohol, television, or any number of things that distract from or even take the place of God. But these things do not satisfy us the way that God can and does. Like Joshua points out about the gods of their ancestors, they just don’t cut it.

It’s easy to look at this text and think that the choice is totally ours to make. That would be true if we were living under the Law. Under the Law, both parties would have to chose to accept the covenant. And that is what Joshua is doing here. But notice what prompts Joshua’s response. Joshua’s response comes from the whole of salvation history to that point. Because God was faithful to Abraham, because God brought the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, because God has kept His promise to His people and given them the Promised land, Joshua confesses that the LORD is God and worthy to be served. None of the other gods of the land are worthy to be served because they don’t have the track record that the LORD God does. That is why Joshua chooses to serve the LORD.

But we don’t live under the Law because God’s activity did not end with the giving of the Law. When God’s people broke God’s law, God called up a leader to bring the people back into right relationship with God. God called prophets to call the people into account. And when that did not work, God sent His Son to die on a cross, not just for His people, but for all of the world. Because God sent His Son, we now live under grace. We see the whole of salvation history, including the cross. And we see salvation history each time we come to worship.

We confess Christ’s power over sin, death, and the devil every time we gather around the font, where, through water and the Word, God grants forgiveness of sin. In the waters of baptism, we die a death like Christ’s and just like God raised Christ on the third day, so too does God raise us. We become a new creation in Christ. The old Adam is washed away. God calls us and makes us one of God’s people. We are adopted into the body of Christ and given the promise of salvation.

We confess Christ crucified and risen every time we gather at the table, where, through bread and wine, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, God feeds and nourishes us. “This is my body… This is my blood…” Christ is truly present in, with, and under the bread and the wine. God strengthens us to live out our baptismal vocation when we partake of the bread and the wine. Here, we eat the true bread from heaven.

Our confession of Christ’s death and resurrection does not grant us salvation. Rather, because of Christ’s death and resurrection we confess Christ as Lord and Savior. Because Christ died for the forgiveness of sins, we confess God’s salvific act of dying and rising for the world. Because Christ died for us, we proclaim Christ’s love for the other in word and deed. Because Christ first chose us, we are free to choose Him.

In his autobiography, Martin Luther King, Jr. writes, “Of course I was religious. I grew up in the church. My father is a preacher, my grandfather was a preacher, my great-grandfather was a preacher, my only brother is a preacher, my daddy’s brother is a preacher. So I didn’t have much choice.” With all due respect to Martin Luther King, Jr., I have to disagree. It might not seem like it, but he did have a choice, just like you and I have a choice. We can confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who died for the sins of the world, or we can confess something else. I don’t want to put words into Rev. King’s mouth, but I think his choice was based on the same reason that Joshua’s was. Rev. King saw the whole of salvation history and chose to serve God because God is faithful to his promises.

Our confession does not secure our salvation. Christ has secured our salvation, Christ paid the debt for our sins with his blood. Christ is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That is what our confession for today needs to be. We are free to make this confession because Christ first chose us; therefore, we are free, like Joshua to proclaim, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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