Lectionary blog for Aug. 26
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:15-22;
Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

“Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will
 — Joshua 24:15a

“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?'” —
John 6:66-67

Bob Dylan, in his song “Gotta Serve Somebody,” clearly lays out the options presented to the Israelites in Joshua, the disciples in the Gospel lesson and to each of us this, and every, day: “Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

When I was a student in the dvinity school at Duke University, there was a “shaggy dog” story going the rounds about a fraternity hazing prank. Seems the frat brothers kidnapped a pledge from his dorm, took him way out into the North Carolina countryside and put him out of the car with nothing on but a Duke Blue Devil mascot outfit. The young man trudged through the night, calculating how long it would take him to walk the 30 miles back to campus. After an hour or so, he saw some lights back in the woods, then he heard music and singing. It was a country church in the midst of a revival meeting. He thought to himself, “Church people are good people. Surely someone will give me a ride back to Duke.” So he walked across the parking lot and in the front door. The preacher stopped his preaching and stared. Everyone else turned to look at what the preacher was looking at, and then they stared too. Suddenly, the preacher dove out the window. The other folk began diving out windows too, until there was only one person left. She was too old and too frail to dive out the window, and the devil was standing between her and the church’s only door. She began to sidle down the aisle while talking in a soft voice, “Mr. Devil, my husband, bless his heart, was a deacon in this church for almost 40 years, one of my sons is a missionary, and my daughter is married to a pastor, and I was president of the Women’s Missionary Society for 20 years, but I just want you to know—I been on your side all along!”

“Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

Forty years after their ancestors left Egypt, the Israelites are about to enter the promised land. The people are a bit unsure about the future. It has become clear that God’s gift comes with a few strings attached. There is still much work to be done and obstacles to be overcome, not the least of which is the fact there are already people living there.

In the verses we didn’t read, 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, and their wandering in the wilderness. He reminds the people of their sacred history, of how God has seen them through, God has provided, God has made a way. Then he puts their choice, before them: Joshua 24:15–“Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve.” Choose this day. Decide. “You gonna have to serve somebody.” Who’s it going to be?

For the last month or so the lectionary has led us through the sixth chapter of John. We have seen Jesus preaching to large crowds, feeding the 5,000, being followed about by crowds from here to there. The Jesus movement has begun to pick up steam. Jesus appears to have folk in palm of his hand. They are ready to follow him anywhere … except where he is actually going.

When Jesus tells them, “I am not just another rabbi, a faith healing miracle man. I am the Son of God. I am the Living Bread from Heaven, I am the Christ,” 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 is becoming 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 will be to go against their culture. It will 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 then turns to the twelve, to his closest companions, to the chosen ones. He looks them in the eye and ask them directly what they are going to do, “Do you also wish to go away?”

“Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

The Israelites chose to follow the Lord. “Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods” (Joshua 24:16).

The twelve decided to stay with Jesus. “Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69.)

The Israelites and the twelve made their decision years ago. Today these questions are before each of us: How do we decide? Whom will we serve? Do we wish to stay with Jesus, or go away?

Amen and amen.


Delmer Chilton
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

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