Readings: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 Psalm 34:15-22 Ephesians 6:10-20 John 6:56-59
In an election year, we are bombarded daily with our need to make choices. Election years are really not that different from our everyday life, although the stridency of those promoting our choices is considerably higher in the political realm. Sometimes we feel overwhelemed with all the decisions we need to make.
In today’s reading, Joshua, with a mere foothold in the Promised Land, told the people he had led across Jordan that they needed to make a choice. Likewise, Jesus, having fed five thousand people with a pitiful little lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish asked people to make a choice, too.
According to the book that bears his name, Joshua gathered “all the tribes of Israel, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel” to Schechem. Joshua took them all the way back in their history to Abraham, and reminded them of all that God had done for them. He particularly pointed out that they had always waffled in their loyalties. No matter how faithful some ancestors like Isaac and Jacob had been, some of them always worshiped other gods. Then Joshua reminded them what God Most High had done after they crossed the Jordan River: “I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive yards that you did not plant.” (Joshua 24:13) Despite the fact that some did not serve God, God had blessed them, but Joshua said that it was time to get real. It was time to choose whom they would serve. Would they serve the gods of Abraham’s ancient home, gods Abraham himself had discarded? Would they serve the gods of Egypt whom God had humiliated as Moses led the Israelites away? Would they serve the gods of this new land, gods who had been defeated time and again as the Israelites began to take possession of what God had promised? The people had a choice. They could serve gods that were no gods, or they could serve God Most High, who had brought them through the wilderness.
Jesus offered people the same kind of choice. The people wanted bread on the table every day. They had observed as thousands in a crowd around Jesus went away with bread. It was a miracle they could get their arms around. They knew what daily bread was. Unfortunately, like the ancient Israelites at Schechem, they could not see the eternal God at work in that miracle. They simply saw food for that day.
When the people chased Jesus down afterwards, they asked him to do the miracle again. Jesus loved them, and Jesus wanted them to understand that the bread they had eaten the day before was a sign, not a plan or a political promise. He reminded them that people who ate that bread, just like the people who ate miraculous manna in the wilderness, would eventually die despite having bread to eat. Jesus told them that they really needed to eat eternal bread. They needed his body and blood, the food of eternal life. The people who thought they wanted something that would stave off hunger till tomorrow needed something that would satisfy them eternally. It was a hard choice, and like those people in Capernaum, we, too, have trouble with it.
The choice in the coming election is about the same sort of things. Some campaign promises are shaped by secular standards which assume that this world is all there is. They do that, because the election won’t put anyone in office for eternity, but only for some finite period. However, as the Bible makes very clear when describing the kings that ancient Israelites dealt with, finite leaders can impact some things that touch eternity. One king in ancient Israel put up idols in Bethel under the guise of making it easier for people to worship. They didn’t need to go to Jerusalem any more. The leader pretended to power and authority he did not have, and people who knew better let him have it, because it made their lives easier. They thought God should not have made it so hard to serve him, anyway.
The same thing can happen in a democratic election. If people vote for someone based on his allegations that he will give them what they want, they may for a time be very happy that their wishes came true. Christian organizations rejoice when the government grants come through with much more money than their donors provide. It is awfully scary to rely on God to call donors to support the work. It is easier to write grants and be assured of funds for the coming year. The grant is like bread for today, but God’s provision comes whenever it comes, not so predictable. To be sure the grants continue, they vote for the person most likely to give them more bread for the day. Yet their decision to vote for the person who supports grants to do the social services that serve a political agenda may come back to bite them if the grants arrive with regulations that require behavior they consider to be sinful or with regulations that forbid them to act in missional ways. As soon as Christians buy into the idea that there can be some elements of their mission where it is okay to shut God out, it gets a lot easier for the culture and the government to shut God out of more and more places. If Christians choose a culture that squeezes God out of daily life in the US, it is very likely that the day will come when they will wish that once again there were churches on every corner. The fortress that used to be the USSR crumbled under the weight of a godless society, and it could happen to the USA as well.
We make choices every day. We choose every day if we will live for Christ, or not. Every decision we make is part of our testimony to those who reject Christ. Every time we collaborate in the rejection, we shrink our freedom to serve him. Choices matter. Elections matter. Pray. Vote. Serve the Lord with your whole life. It’s your choice.