The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16 - 26 August 2012

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Psalm 34:15-22
Ephesians 6:10-20
St. John 6:56-69

Background:  Joshua
The Book of Joshua reflects several aspects of the history of Israel, not only in the materials that it has preserved, but in its editing as well.  The first major section of the book is a narrative concerning the conquest of Canaan (2:1- 11:23) and these are largely etiologies, i.e., stories of explanation about landmarks, place names and such.  A later editor completed this section with a closing commentary in the final chapters of this section.  This is followed by a list on conquered kings, and then an account of the allotment of the Promised Land (13:1 – 21:45), which began as an item of record and then was edited as a narrative in which Joshua allots the land.  The final sections: Regarding the tribes in the Trans Jordan, Joshua’s Farewell Address, and an Epilogue, were added later.  Much of the work was assigned to an author working as the Deuteronomist, with other editors performing their work during the divided monarchy, and some after the return from Exile.  Joshua is depicted as the political, and theological heir to Moses, and serves as a transition leader as the tribes insinuate themselves into Canaan.

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel:
"Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God."

Joshua 24:25-26 

This reading comes at the end of the book of Joshua where the editor seeks to tie together the tumultuous and essential history of transition that Israel has just taken.  Preceding these verses, we witness the Farewell Address of Joshua, which has its roots in the Renewal of the Covenant ceremony held on occasion at the shrine at Shechem.  This was a rehearsal of the tribes’ common history, the covenant rules, and the “Blessings and Curses” that accompany such a covenantal agreement.  The section that comprises our reading was probably added as a commentary on the “farewell” by a later editor at the time of the return from exile.  As such, it restates the material from chapter 23, but here the tribes are queried as to whom they will serve.  This is a poignant question, if it indeed was composed at the time of the return from exile.  The question Joshua asks of the ancients could have been asked of the returnees as well – “whom will you serve.”  Like the ancients, who came under the influence of Canaanite culture, so the returnees came under the influence of Mesopotamian culture.  The question was proper and good – whom will you serve?  Thus the reading reflects more a nationalistic bent than a theological bent.

Breaking open Joshua:
  1. Have you promised anything to God?
  2. Has God promised anything to you?
  3. How do you renew such promises?

Psalm 34:15-22 Benedicam Dominum

The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, *
and his ears are open to their cry.

The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, *
to root out the remembrance of them from the earth.

The righteous cry, and the LORD hears them *
and delivers them from all their troubles.

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted *
and will save those whose spirits are crushed.

Many are the troubles of the righteous, *
but the LORD will deliver him out of them all.

He will keep safe all his bones; *
not one of them shall be broken.

Evil shall slay the wicked, *
and those who hate the righteous will be punished.

The LORD ransoms the life of his servants, *
and none will be punished who trust in him.

This is our final reading from the 34th Psalm.  At the twelfth verse, the psalmist gives us a clear indication of his agendum in the words, “Come sons, listen to me, the Lord’s fear will I teach you”.  The verses that follow comprise a definite turn toward “wisdom literature”.  The verses state proverb after proverb, and then return to the original intent of the psalm.  It is blunt in its recognition of the trials of life, “many the evils of the righteous man,” but it is equally hopeful about the God of Israel who “ransoms his servants’ lives.”

Breaking open Psalm 34
  1. What “wisdom” has your faith taught you?
  2. How is that wisdom useful in the world?
  3. How does your faith make life less difficult?

Ephesians 6:10-20
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. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

In this final section in Paul’s discourse on “the Christian Life”, Paul compares our life in Christ to armor.  Here he speaks of a conflict not with the usual suspects in the world, but rather conflict with evil.  He lists the foe: “the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers, the spiritual forces of evil.  The necessary defense is the “armor of God.”  Such vocabulary would have made sense in Asia Minor where there were military garrisons, whose soldiers were becoming attracted to the Christian faith.  Fond of lists, Paul also lists what this armor consists of, truth, righteousness, a readiness to proclaim the Gospel, faith, salvation, and finally the Spirit – the Word.  Thus facing those outside, Paul bids his readers to pray – to maintain a communication with God as the world is faced with all its evils and troubles.

Breaking open Ephesians;
  1. How do you defend yourself in life?
  2. How is the world evil, in your regard?
  3. What do you think that the “armor of God” is?

John 6:56-69
Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father."

 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?" Simon Peter answered him, "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."

The first verses of this reading summarize and complete the Bread of Life series with which we have been instructed over several Sundays.  Jesus teaches in the synagogue at Capernaum that the manna, which was part of the remembrance and history of the Jews, serves only as a slight reflection of what he, Jesus, truly is – the Bread of Life.  However here we reach a cusp, a cusp of believability and commitment.  Some of the disciples state it quite bluntly, “This is hard stuff.”  In previous readings we have commented on the cultural barriers on the part of both Jew and Greek to these sayings about the flesh of Jesus.  Jesus acknowledges the difficulty, and makes a differentiation between a worldly sense to these words (the flesh is useless) and a more spiritual direction (spirit and life).  It is impossible for some, and they leave.  Once again Peter is called upon to confess the faith, and he does so with an almost pitiable answer, “Lord to whom can we go?” that is followed by a spirit of resolution, “you have the words of eternal life.”

Breaking open the Gospel:

  1. How do you feel about Jesus’ command, “unless you eat of my flesh…”?
  2. Are you offended by Christianity at all?  In what respect?
  3. What could you confess about Jesus?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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