Sunday, 26th August, Trinity 13: Proper 16
Joshua 24: 1-2, 14-18. Joshua assembles all the Israelites at Shechem (modern day Nablus) and challenges their loyalty. Loyalty can quickly fade if it loses touch with God's loyalty to us, not as a set of facts to shame us into temporary commitment, but as the framework within which we live our lives.
Ephesians 6: 10-20. The armour of God is not a popular metaphor in the modern church because it is deemed militaristic. However stupid that may be, it must be noted that all the armour is purely defensive save one, the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God!
John 6: 56-69. Last week we emphasised the humanity of Jesus which is absolutely central to any Christian theology of human salvation and this week the stress is on the spiritual dimension. "It is the Spirit that gives life. The flesh is useless"(verse 63)
The twin themes running through our readings today are loyalty to God and the spiritual dimension of our faith and life.
What you find again and again both in the old and the new testaments are lists of all the good things that God has done for us, as a spur to us to respond with a similar loyalty to God.
Joshua gathers all the Israelites together and they are challenged to renew their loyalty to God and in so doing they are reminded of all the wonderful help they have received from God, starting back with the exodus from Egypt all the way through to God clearing their path to take control of the promised land which ends with the desired result;
“Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God” (verse 18)
How can we learn from this? Because we so quickly forget.
Let me use an example from Louise and I’s recent history. In September last year we decided that Louise really had to pursue the call that she had received to become a professor at Exeter university.
But that was a mammoth undertaking.
Although she had been headhunted she still had to go through the whole official selection process.
I needed to find and secure a post near to Exeter within commuting distance.
We had to move 300 miles changing job, house, part of the country, friends.
We had a house in Newcastle we had to sell to all the other stresses.
It was one of the most stressful moves we could have dreamed up and our prayers were for our path to be made straight – that God would smooth out any bumps in the road. And those prayers were more fervent than usual.
What we experienced was truly amazing.
The finding of two new jobs a new house and re-locating from the North East to the South West was achieved just one week apart from each other.
All the bumps, and there have been some, like being stranded in a snow storm in East Budleigh for three days, the vicarage being on a six month let, were all smoothed.
And we were delivered to this wonderful part of the world where we are thriving.
God’s help, God’s loyalty to us was palpable, and the only repayment that God requires is that we stay loyal and true to him in all our doings.
Now each one of us in this church this morning will have your own personal story to tell.
Because God is faithful. In just a couple of moments think about how God has been experienced in your life, about his faithfulness to you.
It could be in a series of little things or in big things for God is Lord of all.
God has been faithful and loyal to us corporately as a church as well. He doesn’t want to see us fail. He asks for our loyalty and renewed commitment to him.
When we do that we lay ourselves open to spiritual warfare. That sounds grandiose, but the devil won’t come at you with a pitchfork, breathing fire.
He comes at us in the niggling doubts and fears in the small hours, uses arguments with our loved ones or grievances in the church to ferment discord, to throw us off beam. He works through cynicism and defeatism, using our worst traits against us. The battles are being fought in our hearts and minds and souls.
They are spiritual battles, and we need spiritual protection against the wiles of our enemies.
God’s Holy Spirit is available to offer all of us that protection. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit which is the word of God.
These are protections offered to us by God himself and it is up to each one of us to put on this armour – to utilise them for our own benefit.
The alternative is that we face the father of lies, undefended and unarmed, and he is far more experienced in spiritual warfare than any of us will ever be.
In this battle it is exactly as Jesus characterised it. “It is the Spirit that gives life, the flesh is useless. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (v. 63)
The final exchange in our gospel reading today brings together those two strands of loyalty and the life of the Spirit in which many people had deserted Jesus.
John 6:66-69 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)
66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?”68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”