Readings: Joshua 24: 1-2a, 14-18; Ephesians 6: 10-20; John 6: 56-69.
May the words of my lips, and the meditations of all our hearts, be forever pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Our three readings today together ask us to think reflectively: to look deeply at ourselves and our lives, our day-to-day actions and activities, and our faith practice. Our readings ask us to ask ourselves what might be slightly uncomfortable questions. Just as many of us are often wary of looking properly in the mirror, so many of us are put off when we are told to look at our lives.
But these readings aren’t just a source of tension for us: they also contain words of hope. Our readings suggest that when God is the one holding up the mirror, he is there to help us find the beauty that he put there, even if we’ve occasionally obscured it.
If you like, these readings put God in the role of a kind of spiritual Gok Wan: and so this week could be called ‘How to look good spiritually naked.’
There are three stages to this process, which are reflected in our three readings: the first is where Gok gets the person for the week to look at themselves and own up to what they think of themselves: so our first stage is to look at ourselves and what we are doing with our lives. We see this happening in our reading from Joshua.
The second stage is the person for the week is told what Gok and others see. We find this reflected in our Gospel reading, and for us it involves looking at God and the calling he invites us to join.
The final stage of the programme typically involves the person taking the advice and going out on the catwalk. Our reading from Paul is the advice on taking encouragement and strength from God so we can walk the faith walk in our everyday lives.
In our reading from Joshua we see a nation being gathered together to face the tough questions. They say they’re following the God of Israel, but they’re also worshipping the gods of the Egyptians, the gods of the Amorites, and all these things are incompatible. So Joshua brings them together to make the people face up to the reality of what they’re doing, and to tell them to make up their minds which religion they want to follow.
Interestingly, Joshua says he doesn’t want to force them to follow God. He just wants them to be honest with themselves and decide which path they’re following. This is important, because God knows that contrary to what many religions have done of the years, ours included, forcing someone to practice a religion does not make them a believer. God does not want to force anyone into faith.
So the people take a good look at what they’ve done, and at the history they have with the God of Abraham and Moses, and think about everything God has done for them. From that serious, considered, attentive exercise, they decide to follow God. That’s stage one: looking at ourselves.
In our Gospel reading we see something similar yet distinct happening. Jesus is telling the disciples about his mission on earth and what it’s going to involve. He touches on what we’d call Eucharistic theology, but in a nutshell he’s saying he’s there to give of himself so that we can have life in all its fullness. To accept that gift, we have to let him into our lives, which is represented by joining in the Christ’s holy gift in the meal of the bread that is his body and the wine that is his blood at communion.
Many of the disciples don’t get it, though. It makes them uncomfortable. For some of them it seems that they simply don’t believe who he is; for others, they can’t believe what he’s saying. It may be that for still others, they are disturbed by the idea of that kind of complete and intimate relationship with God in taking within themselves the very body and blood of the Word made flesh.
For us, too, this can be the crunch time. We may have identified ways in which the life we’re living doesn’t satisfy us or help us. This isn’t enough on its own, however. God wants to be in our lives; his idea of discipleship includes being involved in every aspect of how we use our lives: not just at church, but at home, in our relationships with our family; at work, in our relationships with our colleagues; when we’re having fun as well as when we’re despairing. That kind of intimacy and intensity of relationship can be difficult for us to own up to. Even with God telling us: “this is how I made you to be: you can shine beautifully if you trust me,” even so, it can be intimidating.
That’s why a lot of disciples left Jesus that day.
But we’re not done yet, because God doesn’t stop there with that one opportunity. Although the Joshua and John readings feel like ultimatums, the fact that we have a New Testament as well as the Hebrew Scriptures tells us that our God is one who keeps giving us more chances.
And when we’re finally ready to take that step (again, for many of us, because living Christianity is a process rather than a one-time choice) then we’ve got advice in the form of the reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. This is the final element of our exploration today. Where the other readings have left us with questions to think upon, this reading leaves us with some advice to apply. This is the element of the readings that I likened to walking the catwalk in ‘How to look good naked.’ This is Paul’s advice for how to walk the faith life journey we are on.
He’s got three big pieces of advice to give us. The first is that we need to rely on God’s strength, because we need it. This faith is about a relationship with God. It’s not something we’re supposed to do on our own, so if we try, we’re setting ourselves up to fail.
The second piece of advice is that the people around us are not necessarily the enemy; in fact God puts many people around us to help us, together with a resource of knowledge and advice, and a statement of his love for us, in the Bible.
Paul’s final piece of advice is that the people around us can be a source of spiritual as well as emotional and tangible support. He tells us to pray for each other. That’s who he means by ‘the saints’: you, me, every Christian in every church around the world, whether we agree absolutely with them on everything or not.
And he asks his readers to pray for him too, because needing prayer is not a sign of weakness or failure, but a sign of healthy self-awareness and also of confidence in God’s power and commitment in us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.