Sermons from St. Martin-in-the-Fields:
Aug 22, 2021 |
What Can I Get You?| The Rev. Barbara Ballenger
What Can I Get You?
Sermon by the Rev. Barbara Ballenger for the thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16.
Today's readings are:
Readings may be found on LectionaryPage.net
Let us pray. Lord Jesus, who knew what it was to be chosen and not chosen, help us to choose in spirit and in truth. Amen. Please be seated.
Good morning. Welcome to church. What kind of god can I get for you?
I mean, there is an endless selection of gods out there. And in today’s world you really can’t be too choosy.
As Joshua tells the people of Israel in today’s first reading, you gotta choose. Even if you think you don’t have to believe in any god at all, that’s the same as choosing.
Because there are so many forces out there that are bigger than we are individually. So many higher powers. So many gods out there -- that if you don’t choose, they’ll still choose you. And you will end up serving them eventually.
So it’s best to be proactive. What kind of god do you want?
We have the standard models – like the god that will make you feel good no matter what – it just requires a higher and higher dosage over time, and there are side effects. There’s the god of the intellect – this one’s mostly in your head. And there’s the one comes with a work ethic – the harder you strive, the more blessings you get.
Mammon, the love of money – always a popular choice. And there’s always Caesar, the god of empire.
There are several new models that come with your internet plan – like the one that allows you to have the followers as long as you never leave the screen, and the one that knows your deepest appetites even before you do.
And then there’s always the God of Israel, AKA the One True God. Though I have to warn you that I have personally heard several complaints about this One lately. I have been told (and I am not being tongue-in-cheek—this is from one of our youth) this God is bossy and mean. And I have also been told that this God is jealous, vengeful, judgmental, misogynist, and angry—and as a result is very hard to market to current audiences. Often mis-labeled The God of the Old Testament, this God does get better reviews in the Christian scriptures, though it must be said that the God of Joshua was also the Father of Jesus. Same same.
So what will it be? What kind of god do you want to covenant with? Which is to say, what kind of god will you ultimately serve with your life choices and your relationships, with your time and your other investments? Because if you look at those things, you may discover that you’ve already made your choice.
This is the question that Joshua asks of his people so many years after they’ve reached the promised land – and it’s a fair one. Joshua, you may recall, took Moses’ place and led Israel out of the wilderness after its long sojourn there. And today’s passage comes at the end of the book of Joshua, whose namesake is at this point over 100 years old.
Now, we have today a rather edited version, so we don’t hear Joshua’s own detailed description of the God that Israel knows, who delivered them from slavery, guided them through the wilderness, won battle after battle for them as they took military control of the land of promise.
But Israel understands that this is all God’s doing on their behalf. Not their doing. Not the work of their former gods or their neighbors’ gods. And given that, Joshua asks his people to be clear, because he know they have issues with fidelity. What god do they want: the God they know or the god they don’t know?
And the people answered: “We want to serve the God who delivered us.”
“Are you sure?” asks Joshua. “Do you know what you are getting into? Do you recall that this is a jealous God? This God will not let you go so easily. This God will ask all of you. This God does not like it if you see other gods on the side. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
And the people insist: this is the God we want. We choose to serve this God.
And so Joshua ultimately sets up a new covenant between God and Israel that day at Shechem, one of several we find in the Hebrew Scriptures.
So it may be that every once in a while we should revisit our commitments, and ask ourselves when we are gathered in assembly before our God, as we are today: have we really chosen this God? I mean, in every liturgy we have the opportunity to do that. We renew our baptismal promises, as we did last week when Gavin was baptized. We repeat those promises in the creed. But do we stop to ask ourselves, “is this god the one I am covenanted to?” What kind of god do we want? Is it the God of Israel, who revealed Godself in Jesus, or some other? Is the god we want, the god we have covenanted ourselves to? And what does it mean for us to serve that god?
I asked myself this question. I thought it was only fair. Here’s what I want:
I want a God who delivers.
And by that I don’t mean a god who shows up at the door with my order half an hour after I’ve made it, still hot and steamy. I want a God who delivers me. I want a God who delivers us, from the life that kills us to the life that sustains us.
When I think of that word, delivery, I think of being brought to the proper destination, to the place that I’d been sent from, to the place I was meant to go. I think of the Amazon trucks that visit my street probably 30 times a day. But I also think of birthing, when a woman delivers her child from its temporary home within her to the one where it will spend the rest of its life. The day my mother delivered me, was the day life as I know it really started. It was also the day her life as a mother really began.
So given that, I want a God who wants me, and who is with me all along the way, in the life that I’ve been delivered to. I want a God who knows who I am, and where I am. I want a God who will miss me if I’m gone, who wants me back, who has my back.
I don’t want a God who stands by and judges and judges and judges and only applauds on those rare instances where I get things completely right. We have people for that. Many of them coach in the Olympics. People make terrible gods. And maybe that’s why the human qualities we always place on God don’t seem to fit very well.
And I do not want a designer bespoke God that is mine alone – like a personal trainer, or coach, or fixer. Because I’m weary, friends, of the isolation that our worship of individualism has fostered. And I long to be knit back into a larger interconnected and appreciative body, one that doesn’t split apart so easily when it is disappointed or disillusioned.
“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” Joshua tells the people of Israel. When I was a kid we had a little plaque on a side table with that phrase on it. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. And I grew up in such a house, which is largely responsible for the faith that puts me here today. Though, I think my Catholic mother still believes I chose another God when I became an Episcopalian.
Which is say that we who choose the God of Israel still have many different experiences and understandings of that One, True God – understandings that shift from one book of the Bible to the next, that change over time from ancient to modern, and vary across faith traditions and divisions and distinctions, that develop throughout our own personal journeys from birth to death.
The work of faith is to be able to discern that One True God over time, as our own understanding deepens and changes. It is to acknowledge the shrouding nature of mystery, the limits of our human interpretations.
But the work of faith begins by acknowledging our own need for deliverance. We often have a clearer picture of what we hope to be delivered from than what we might be delivered to.
For Jesus, in today’s Gospel, that delivery destination is very clear. It is the heart of his entire ministry, it is what lies at the end of the way of his cross, and it is what we receive when we consume his flesh and blood, his whole self, in our communion bread – that destination is the very life of God.
Life that delivers and sustains.
Life that connects and reconnects and unifies.
Life that does not end.
That is the life that we have on offer here. Now, what can I get you?
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