As best I remember, we received two weekly and two monthly periodicals in my childhood home. Weekly we got Life magazine and the Grit newspaper; monthly The Progressive Farmer and Decision.
Decision was the newsletter of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; the title referred to the need for everyone to “make a decision for Christ.” We attended an evangelical church where
every service, even funerals, included an “altar call” — an invitation to “accept Jesus as your personal savior.”
Many of us are pretty uncomfortable with this sort of “decision theology.” I suspect that’s partly out of theological conviction and partly out of a bit of class consciousness.
One of my friends in North Carolina says that “Lutherans would rather be sinful than tacky. God will forgive your sins; your neighbors will never forgive your tackiness.” What is true of Lutherans is, I suspect, equally true of other mainline Christians.
But in both Joshua and John’s Gospel we are confronted with issues of decision, of choice, of invitations to accept or reject God’s call on your life.
In Joshua we find the Hebrew people in the promised land, but many are beginning to have second thoughts, they have discovered that although God has given them this land, there is still much work to be done. There are obstacles to be overcome, there are already people living here.
What are we to do?
Joshua lays out for the people a history of God’s saving acts beginning with the calling of Abram and Sarai and moving through their liberation from Egypt, their wandering in the wilderness, etc.
Joshua reminds the people of their sacred history, of how God has seen them through, God has provided, God has made a way. Then he says,
24:15 — “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.”
Choose this day. Decide. As Bob Dylan said in the song, “You gotta serve somebody.” Who’s it going to be?
In our Gospel lesson Jesus’ ministry has come to a turning point. For the last month we have been reading and preaching about the sixth chapter of John. In this chapter we have seen Jesus preaching to large crowds, feeding the 5,000, being followed about by crowds of people from here to there. His moment has arrived. The people are at his beck and call; he has them in the palm of his hand, and then —
Jesus would have flunked Church Growth, Mega-church Ministries 101. Instead of soft-pedaling and making it easy and telling them that if they follow him their spouses will love them, their children will become docile and obedient and all their business plans will work out, Jesus does a stupid thing — he tells them the truth.
He tells them “I am not just another rabbi, a faith-healing miracle man. I am the Son of God. I am the Bread of Life, I am the Christ.”
And the people say, “Whoa, this is heavy. This is, this is weird. This is hard. This is leading somewhere I’m not sure I want to go.”
It has become clear to the people who have been following Jesus around — listening to him talk, watching him heal people, and eating at his overflowing table — that to follow Jesus from here on out would be to go against their own culture. It would make them religious and social outcasts.
They are being asked to “choose this day,” and they do. They choose to go away, in droves. This is too hard, too difficult for them.
Jesus turns to his closest companions, the chosen ones and gives them the choice as well, “Do you also wish to go away?” And Peter, as usual, speaks the words of faith, “Lord to whom can we go, you have the words of eternal life.”
In both Joshua and John, we have situations in which people are asked to choose, but they are not invited to choose blindly, like picking a door on “The Price is Right.” They are invited to put their personal future into the hands of the one who has been there for them in the past.
“Choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house we will serve the LORD.”
“LORD, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
“O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (“Evangelical Lutheran Worship,” p. 317)
- When have you simply chosen to walk away?
- Can you name a time that you chose the more difficult path?