The Spirit Gives Life
26 August 2018 – Lectionary 21, Proper 16
In this marvelous passage, we have the end of a conversation in the synagogue at Capernaum. . . with the people who have just been fed the loaves by the sea, have followed Jesus about, and are asking, “What shall we do?” Jesus speaks to them about belief and eternal life. They want a sign, and Jesus refers to God’s provision of manna in the wilderness, and then he upgrades this to himself standing there before them; Jesus is the bread from heaven that God provides.
The point of the text, and in many ways of John’s Gospel, remains: Can you believe it? Can you receive and eat whom God has provided?. . . Believing requires a tangible humility and receiving, eating, as the nourishment of eternal life. God provides it.
But what does God provide? Jesus then escalates the conversation with a direct reference to his passion, death, and resurrection. . . It is the reality of his flesh and blood that must be ingested, digested, converted to life-giving energy and faithful living. The important invitation here is not just to Jesus’ self-giving as atoning sacrifice and freedom, but an invitation to his sanctifying way and new life. The sign is eating and drinking as continual abiding in Christ (v 56), a life lived in him. –– John E. Smith
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Joshua challenges those whom he has gathered: “Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom [what gods] you will serve.” There is no room here for saying one thing and doing another; the people must be straight up about the gods they intend to serve. . . As for Joshua, he does what he asks of others: “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” . . .
God’s relationship and credibility are indeed established, and it indicates reform in the land that rejects idolatrous worship: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods” (v 16 ff.). It takes no stretch of the imagination to see that Joshua’s call to covenant renewal and compliance, and his challenge to the people. . . is as poignant for Christians and the church in our current cultural environment as it was in the days of Israel’s compromises with the gods of Canaan. –– John E. Smith
In this passage, put into perspective by Paul’s own chains and final martyrdom, we see a seriousness to our life and witness that is often willingly underestimated in the church of our time. We are to be a disciplined community that distinctly supports each of its members to fortitude and fidelity in the face of real challenges to compromise, even the threats of duress and persecution. A congregation, functioning as a supportive, interactive, and disciplined praying community, becomes a bona fide witness to the presence of Christ as Lord and the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit, alternative and excellent living offered to the world. –– John E. Smith
John E. Smith has served as a Methodist pastor for many years.
Homily Service 42, no. 3 (2009): 133-145.