Sermon for October 23, 2022 Twentieth after Pentecost “Save us from Ourselves”
But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15
This ancient proclamation from Joshua is a reminder that people of each generation and time have had to, and still have to make decisions about who or what will be their primary guide. For me and for us, we have made the decision to follow the teachings of Jesus. From that focal point all else flows: our work, our prayer, our intentions and our actions.
Here, as in all things, there is a lesson to be learned. A life to consider, perhaps to model. We listen in and hear a challenge to the kind of life that gospel requires… Requires? Demands? That doesn’t seem right. A door is opened into this kind of life, this all-or-nothing life. And the one who opens the door stands with you to the very end. But perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Let’s look at this life, this poured-out life.
The description is poured out as a libation. Libation is not a word we encounter all that often. The Greek is σπένδομαι, (stendomai), and sometimes it means to be put to death, to have one’s life’s blood poured out. It means to give one’s all, withholding nothing. A libation is a liquid sacrifice as opposed to a grain sacrifice or meat sacrifice. It would not be a misuse to speak of blood, sweat, and tears as part of the offering. We talk about that total commitment calling forth our vital essence, our full selves.
It is not, however, implied that the only way to be poured as a libation is to die, that only the martyrs can be said to have been poured out. We can, instead, read this as a call to live, not to die. Not to diminish those who die for the faith. Even in our so-called civilized world today, there are those who do make this ultimate sacrifice with frightening regularity. But we need not issue the call to die from our pulpits week by week. Instead, we issue the call to live. But to live fully.
The mentor describes the life as one of fighting the good fight, of running the race. Choose your metaphor. The image of fighting might be uncomfortable for some in such a contentious time. But we fight for air; we fight for rights. There are fights that carry all sorts of connotations; it is important to choose what communicates best. The verse says, “the good fight”, trouble for the right purposes, trouble to bring about the right change. Fighting for the sake of fighting or to prove strength or toughness is not a good fight. But the fight for justice, for redemption, for transformation, might be.
Or maybe just keeping the faith would be the place to settle for this moment. What does it mean to keep the faith? Keep it to oneself? Keep it hidden away and safe and secure from all alarms? Keep it unchallenged, unexamined, tucked into some rarely visited corner of our existence? Surely not. No, the call is to keep the faith before us always. To let faith, to let Jesus, be the measure by which our lives are measured. We keep the faith when we live it every day. We keep the faith when we don’t set it aside when the choices get difficult. We keep the faith when challenged by divisiveness or hatred and prejudice, we don’t set it aside to go along and get along. We risk security and privilege by keeping the faith.
We keep the faith by listening to and leaning into the words of Jesus, by looking at his life as the model for our own. We keep the faith even when others seem to be swayed by something less than the faith of Jesus, something that resembles the faith of nation or race or moment. It is oh so luring to look good in the light of the public eye, which is now mostly social media. We use big words, the catch phrase of the day and puff ourselves us so that we do in fact get noticed. Our egos are fed and our likes increase. And we the watchers are the strokers of those egos and likers of those words and images…for then some of the light falls on us too. By word and action, Jesus points in the opposite direction, points us to the ones who work and give without notice and encourages us to do the same. How often have we heard Jesus say something like ‘I know this healing, this wine, this restoration of life is exciting for you and you want to tell everyone, but please, go about your day and new life and tell no one what I have done’.
Paul, facing the end of his life, declares that he has kept the faith. May we, facing another day of living and choosing and leading with kindness, simplicity and faith, declare the same.