It Makes A Difference

Rev. Sarah Buteux
Sunday, August 26, 2012
Proper 16, 13th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
Joshua 24:1,14-18
John 6:56-69

Watch sermon here

“Where you invest your love, you invest your life”. – Mumford & Sons
I don’t know about you, but I often find coming back from vacation to be a little overwhelming, in large part because I think life as most of us have come to live it, is pretty seriously overwhelming.  
For instance, I think there’s something paradoxically liberating about living out of a suitcase and having only a very limited number of shoes and clothes to choose from, something freeing about being away from your library and having only the book you just bought to read. 
When there is no TV with hundreds of channels, no fridge full of dozens of condiments, no shed full of countless tools, you learn pretty quickly to make do with what you’ve got and find that all the time and energy you would have put into making decisions is freed up to fritter away at your leisure. 
I suspect that the lack of choices we face when we are on vacation has a lot to do with why we find it so relaxing. 
So when I came home this past week, I resolved to thin out what we had, in the hopes of holding on to some of that sense of freedom. I cleaned out the fridge before I put any of the food away. 
Before I unpacked our suitcases, I ransacked the closets and drawers and filled 4 large trash bags full of clothes and shoes for Goodwill. It took some time but it felt so good, that I went into the office the next morning determined to do the same thing with my files. 
I’d love to be able to open my filing cabinet and actually find what I’m looking for. 
Well I don’t know if any of you peeked in my office this morning on your way to the sanctuary, but let’s just say that “operation get organized”… still a work in progress: which is to say that right now, if you look in my brand spanking new filing cabinet that Don and Norm put together for me while I was away - (I thank you… Andrew really thanks you.) - you’ll see that there is very little in there. At the moment I can find everything. 
However, if you look on the top of the new cabinet, the couch, the rocking chair, the top of my desk or the space around it - under which I believe is still floor - you’ll find piles and piles of paper through which I am still weeding. I spent most of the day Tuesday choosing what files to hold on to and what files to let go, and - let me tell you -that is not an easy choice. 
By the time I got to the deacon’s meeting that night, which involved a lovely potluck dinner at Mary Thayer’s followed by a dessert I can only describe as an embarrassment of riches, my internal decision meter was kind of on the fritz. I was totally holding up the line because I literally could not choose between the apple or the rhubarb pie, the peach cobbler or the brownie sundae, the local ice cream or the banana cake. 
I was standing there frozen, a veritable deer in caloric headlights, when somebody told me to get a move on. “Patience,” I said, “this whole choosing thing is really hard. Actually, you know I think I might just preach on that this Sunday.” At which point Shari Parsons said, “choice sounds fine Sarah, just do us all a favor and don’t preach on gluttony.”  
So I won’t, but I do want to talk with you today about choice, specifically the choice of whom we will follow. In fact, if I may be so bold, I’d like to go right ahead and place Joshua’s ultimatum before us today.  I want to talk this morning about the challenge and the importance of making a clear faith commitment in today’s world; a world where we may actually have more faiths to choose from than we do cereals …which is really rather sobering when you think about it.
There are so many religions, so many competing truth claims alive and well in our world that it’s really not an easy or obvious decision to make. Like Joshua, we too live in a pluralistic society, an ever shrinking world where we are confronted with the reality and the efficacy of other faith traditions at every turn.
For some people this presents an understandable but very serious problem. For some people, the only way they can choose one religion over all the others with any sense of integrity is to deny the truth of all the others.  
I understand that mindset even if I don’t agree with it. I myself have chosen to follow Christ, and I place my hope in him, but I have no problem believing that people of other religions can also attain salvation or enlightenment
What makes me truly sad, though, are all those people who never make a choice at all, all those people who figure that if all the religions of the world are equal than anything goes and what you believe doesn’t really matter… 
…because it does. It does matter
The path you choose, the religion you practice, who or what you place your faith in, matters a great deal. It will shape you.  It will color the way you love.  It will be your hope in life and your consolation in death. You can choose to follow Jesus, and as a Christian I certainly hope that you will. 
You can choose to follow Allah.  You can choose to follow the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, or Gaia.  I have no problem believing that there is one God capable of hearing us all no matter what name we use when we cry out to God, but choose we must.
The religions of the world may all contain in some form the saving power of God, but not a one of them can reach out and transform your life until you make a conscious decision to give your life over and follow: heart, mind, and soul.  
There are many paths - Joshua himself acknowledged as much that day at Shechem - there are many paths but none of them will get you where you need to be going if you’re not willing to step up and follow one of them with integrity. 
As a young child growing up in a Christian home, it’s no surprise that I chose to follow Jesus.  
As an old man in charge of the Jewish nation Joshua stood before his people and reaffirmed his decision to follow YHWH.  
I am most grateful that on that day the Israelites did too, for without them there would have been no Ruth or Boaz, no King David or King Solomon, no Joseph or Mary, no Jesus, and hence, no us. Who they should follow, was a choice of consequence, not just for the Israelites as individuals, but for their entire nation, and ultimately for our world. 
What you believe matters.
Likewise, when Jesus gave one of his most disturbing sermons ever, most of those who had been following him chose that day to walk away. I don’t now how many disciples he lost that evening but I know exactly how many remained because their choice came to define them for all of history.  When Jesus stood up in the synagogue of Capernaum and said: 
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them… whoever eats me will live because of me.
…a lot of people were offended by that. These were people who kept the dietary laws, after all, people who kept kosher, who went to great trouble to remove as much blood as possible from any clean animal meat they consumed.  
And yet here is Jesus, offering his human flesh for their consumption, his very own blood for them to drink. What may still seem rather gross to us would have put these poor folks right over the edge, and as a result many left. They walked out of the synagogue shaking their heads. 
At which point, John tells us, Jesus turned and “asked the twelve. ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ “Simon Peter answered him,” and said, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” 
It is an undeniably beautiful moment but it is also a defining moment, for it is the first time in the gospel of John that Jesus’ inner circle comes into full view, the first time Peter and his cohort are referred to not just as Jesus’ disciples, but as the twelve disciples (Feasting on The Word, p 384-385.) 
Their choice to follow Jesus, even when they didn’t fully understand him, came to define those 12 men forever. I know we often point to Pentecost as the birth of the church, but right here, in this moment, I believe we are witness to the beginning of Christianity.
“Their decision not to turn away but to walk forward with Christ,” says Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm, “draws them together as a community of faith. It is not any particular creed, mission statement, style of worship, or service program that unites them as the body of Christ. (But) their professed willingness to follow Jesus…” (Feasting on The Word, p 384-385).
That choice, their choice, to follow Jesus above all else, that is what made them the twelve disciples and my hope this morning is that our church will grow to reflect that same choice more and more and more, that it is our decision to follow Christ that will define and guide this congregation. 
Because, you see, I think it is really easy to choose religion over God, the Church over Christ, the comfort of our community as we have come to know and love it over the calling to follow Jesus where ever he might lead us. 
Church can be challenging, no doubt about it, but following Jesus man, following Jesus is hard. 
I know it’s easy to get the two confused, but they are really not one and the same thing. As someone once said, sitting here in church does not make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car. 
Perfect attendance on Sundays, serving on committees, getting confirmed, becoming a member, none of that makes you a Christian. No, what makes you a Christian is your decision, not just once but everyday, to follow in the way of Christ. Is there overlap, sure, absolutely, but are they one and the same thing, not always and not necessarily.
Our decision to follow Jesus is what should make us a church, rather than say our common interest in knitting or putting on suppers or preserving this historic building… and I’ll tell you right now, following him, honestly, is anything but easy. 
For one thing he is forever saying the most offensive things and seems always to be asking far more of us than we think we can or even ought to give.  Day after day, week after week, he asks us to love the unlovable and forgive the unforgiveable, to let go of our fears about the future and give away all we have, to die to this life in order to truly live it. To quote Wilhelm again:
The more we realize that faith (our faith) calls us to consume the body and blood of Christ, to embrace his death and resurrection and to emulate his manner of living and dying for others, the more difficult the journey of faith becomes…. Our calling is a strange and difficult one (she says). It is more than skin deep, reaching beneath the surface of our loves and into our workplaces, bank accounts, family relationships, eating habits, daily schedules, and all the other ways we choose to live and die for Christ and our neighbors. 
… a “strange and difficult” calling, indeed. 
Dear ones, choosing to follow Christ can and will and should be the hardest choice you ever make, for there is no part of your life such a choice can, will or should leave untouched. And yet, paradoxically, that is precisely where the freedom kicks in. 
For you see, if we keep Jesus first, then what we should do as individuals and as a church becomes pretty clear. But if we put ourselves first, our vision for the church, our comfort, our preferences, our hopes, then all of a sudden we are faced with an infinite number of competing options. 
Like a suitcase full of a finite amount of clothes, truly following Jesus severely limits our choices, narrows our focus, and comes to define us as surely as their choices came to define the Israelites and the disciples. 
But trust me when I say there is something deeply liberating about knowing who you are and what you are about.  
That is my hope for each and every one of you and that is my deepest hope for this church, that we will be a people defined not by our denomination, our budget, our mission statement, our worship attendance, past mistakes, future problems, or even any of the cool things we are doing in the here and now, but by our commitment to follow Christ wherever he might lead us, wherever he asks us to go. 
Let us pray:
O Lord, all you want of us is all of us. And all you want give us is all of you.  What you ask is staggering. What you offer is overwhelming.  And yet Lord, we ask for the courage and the grace we need, to lay all else aside that we might open our hearts, take up our cross, and follow you.  Amen.