No Turning Back
August 27, 2006 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 6:56–6:69
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
"No Turning Back"
At times in life, we reach a certain point and realize there is no turning back. An interest in a certain field or subject leads us to focus in this area during our college years, and this translates into job opportunities, and so becomes our life's work. A friendship may blossom into a romantic relationship, and somewhere along the line that relationship between a man and a woman reaches the point where it must lead to marriage, or the relationship must be dissolved. An aging parent or family member becomes frail, and gradually the roles are switched between parent and child with the adult child now assuming the role as parental caregiver for mother or father. An illness may launch us into a regimen of treatments and therapy that become part of everyday life, reshaping our entire outlook on the world. These are but a few examples of how by reaching a certain point in life, there is no turning back. On this Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, that is the theme for today's message: "No Turning Back." May God's rich blessing attend the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus' sake.
Today's Scripture lessons tell how there is no turning back for God's people. Today first reading (Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18) is the account of Joshua's farewell sermon to the Hebrew people as they began to settle in the promised land. Joshua, the successor of Moses in leading God's people, had labored faithfully in transitioning them from a wandering existence to the new home which God had promised them beyond the Jordan. And now, just before he dies, Joshua the servant of the Lord, calls upon the people of Israel to make a decision: "Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River 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 24:14-15). God had already made a covenant with his chosen people at Mt. Sinai, and now Joshua calls upon them to reaffirm their allegiance to the God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt. The people respond by saying: "Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God" (Joshua 24:18). No turning back! The sad truth is that Israel's history was one turning back after another. As Dr. Harry Wendt, founder of Crossways Bible study, is fond of saying: "The Old Testament is the history of a failed mission." Not on God's part, but on Israel's, as they turned back and turned away from God, and turned in on self.
It is for this very reason that God did not turn away from his people, but responded by sending his only begotten Son in the flesh to offer his very life for Israel's sin of turning away and ours as well. Jesus is that only begotten Son, the Bread of Life, who tells us "... whoever eats me will live because of me" (John 6:57). Feeding on his Word in holy Scripture and on his very Body and Blood in the holy Supper, we have life-the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, which He alone can give. After Jesus' extended teaching on how He is that Bread of Life here in John 6, people started to drift away. They took offense at Jesus and his words, just like people still do today. We are told: "Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him" (John 6:66). Maybe that's our reaction as well. Do we find Jesus and his message offensive? It's okay to talk about Jesus here at church where it's safe, but out there in the world, well, that's another thing entirely. After all, we don't want to offend people with our beliefs. No, but we are willing to offend our Lord. No turning back! How can we who have tasted and experienced the incredible riches of God's grace in Christ Jesus be willing to offend him who bled and died for us? Where else in the world are we going to find what we have been given in Christ? Together with Peter, we say: "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" (John 6:69). When every other earthly support and security falls away, Christ stands alone.
In the hustle and bustle of daily life, we may forget that our country is engaged in fighting a war. Whether we like it or not, whether we agree with it or not, our country is fighting a war. That war is not just half a world away in far-off Iraq. That war lurks nearby wherever terrorism threatens. The heightened security for air travel, as inconvenient as this may be, is for our own good. There's another kind of warfare going on. It, too, lurks nearby. In today's second reading (Ephesians 6:10-20), Paul the apostle reminds us that as believers in Christ Jesus, we are engaged in spiritual warfare. The enemy, though unseen, is very real: "For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). We who have been baptized into Christ Jesus are called to serve in his army in this spiritual warfare. No turning back! Paul encourages us put on the "whole armor of God" (Ephesians 6:13), because our own strength and resources are no match against the enemy. It will only be with the strength and resources that God gives-the armor of God, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and sword of the Spirit-that we are able to conquer. Being thus equipped, we stand with boldness and confidence that Christ alone can give. The truth is that the victory has already been won. That took place some 2000 years ago on a hill outside of Jerusalem on a dark Friday afternoon. By his suffering and death, Jesus has destroyed the power of sin, death, and hell. The battle has been won; the enemy has been routed. What we are now engaged in is a mop-up campaign. Christ who died for us now calls us. No turning back!
Friends in Christ, there have been, there are, and there will be times in life when we feel like throwing in the towel, when our faith seems to make no difference, when it would seem easier to just give it up. Precisely then, say this simple three-word prayer: "No turning back!" Christ who gave himself for us will give us what is needed so that we may not turn back, but with confidence in his power turn ahead and press on. May God make it so for Jesus' sake. Amen.