• Steven Marsh

Serving–Commitment to Follow Christ: a Reflection on Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 and John 6:56-69

As in the case of the sick man lying on a platform at the Bethesda Pool, Jesus asks you, “Would you like to get well?” What is your answer? Rebecca Manley Pippert in Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World notes this about the significance of telling your story of salvation, moving from brokenness to wholeness, back to brokenness then returning to wholeness, and the journey of conversion continues. Becky writes,

It is not a story of human invention but a God-authored gospel that has the power to save! We are called to give the unchanging message that God sent his Son, Jesus, who took our sinful, broken humanity into himself and made it his own by dying on the cross. He sacrificed his life for us and overcame our sin. Then he rose from the dead so that by surrendering our lives to him our sins may be forgiven, our lives made whole and our eternal destiny made secure.”[1]

God made the covenant with Joshua. God chose the people and the people promised to be faithful. And we have been chosen by God and promise to be faithful. “Recognizing the one God who has been with them all the way, they declare, apparently in unison: ‘Therefore we also will serve the lord, for He is our God’ (Joshua 24:18).[2]Serving others with words and actions of Jesus, salvation happens.

The encounter in John 6 suggests that Christianity is about an ongoing experience of salvation. Not once only, for eternal life, but an ongoing discovery of what eternal life is…salvation becoming new every day. So, the question is, from what are you currently being saved?In the John 6 pericope, many of Jesus’ disciples had turned away. They left Jesus’ company and returned home. Being a follower of Jesus demanded a lot. Suffering in and through the predicaments of others, particularly their sin, was often overwhelming. Being obedient to God by loving God and others was difficult at best and infuriating most of the time. Jesus asked his small band of disciples, if they too wanted to turn back and no longer hang out with him. Peter answers Jesus’ question about whether any of the disciples wanted to leave with this statement, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus offered people bread that was far more sustaining than the manna that fell from the sky. Jesus offered people a drink of water from his well that would quench their thirst continually. Why do disciples then and disciples now want to leave Jesus’ company and return home? They were, and we are afraid.

Contrary to what culture tells us, that we can control our lives and set our destiny, we are incapable of being successful at these endeavors. We are broken and flawed. Our motives are never pure. We often are selfish. We look out for our own interests at the expense of others. We pretend that we are self-sufficient and do not need to be part of a community. Jesus offers us Spirit and life. But we prefer the trappings of religion, that pretend side show. We question whether or not a life with Jesus really matters and makes a difference.

Why do millennials value service more than sitting in a pew? How many of us would admit there is greater fulfillment teaching Sunday School than being annoyed at the disruptive nature of a baby’s crying and children being restless during worship. We like rules, because we can be absorbed in writing and enforcing them. Most people, however, want to participate in a religion which gives meaning to life and an experience of that meaning. Like Joshua, we want our obedience to matter.

God can do amazing “quick fixes,” but an engaging, ongoing, life changing relationship with the One who knows us the best and loves us the most is much more rewarding. It is demanding, however. When we choose to eat the bread and drink the cup that Jesus offers, we are abiding in Jesus, for we are saying yes to giving our lives away for the sake of others. When we grasp this, we realize that we are no better than anyone else. We know we’re not in control.  Amy C. Howe writes, “When we can accept the love of God that is pure grace, love flows from us and we love others.”[3]

Jesus wants us to get well. Jesus tells us that we are beloved and cherished. He helps us overcome our weaknesses and insecurities. It is Jesus who helps us become our true selves. When we stop to have authentic conversations with others, we prefer God to the trappings of religion. When we forgive the person in the pew for their life circumstance which troubles us, we prefer God to the trappings of religion. When we value the disruption of children and yes, even our own children in worship, we prefer God to the trappings of religion.[4]Why? Our commitment to follow Christ is a higher value. By surrendering our lives to Jesus, the ongoing journey from brokenness to wholeness captures our attention. We want our commitment to Jesus to matter. We want to experience our words and actions serving “the other.” For then, as Jesus taught, we are serving him.

[1]Rebecca Manley Pippert, Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 134-135.

[2]Susan Henry-Crowe in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3 Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 366.

[3]Amy C. Howe in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, 384.

[4]My thanks to the fine thinking and writing of Susan Henry-Crowe and Amy C. Howe in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, 362, 364, 366, 380, 382, and 384.They have impacted my thinking and writing.

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