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Sermon August 23, 2015

Christ Church, Eureka

Back in the last century, when I was just looking over the borders of young
adulthood, I was a seeker; desperately hungry for a real experience of God. In the
words of one preacher whose name I cant recall, I wanted a holy zap. Didnt get it. Was
horribly disappointed and disillusioned. I even attended a Billy Graham crusade, hoping
that if I could believe fervently enough and go forward at the altar call, something
magical would happen. Let me emphasize that word: magical. Looking back, what I
wanted a glorious religious experience and to float around joyously in a holy glow. Now I
can smile gently and sympathetically at that naive young woman. At the time, though, I
just felt like a failure.
Decades later, holy zaps are rare in my life. This is a really good thing as to rely
on holy zaps is to miss both the point and the adventures of life. You who are married,
you know its darned hard work at times. The glow of love, the glories of passionate
moments, the joy of mutual attraction all of those can be wonderful as you know better
than I do. But if youve been married for more than, say, 2 weeks, you probably know
that those zaps can fade in the face of daily living together. You probably know that a
relationship that is worth anything is one that you work at, day in and day out. You know
about those choices about biting your tongue or not in a moment of irritation, about
forgiveness. You know about the hard work of loving, truth telling, struggling endurance
in the inevitable crises and losses and disappointments of life. Yes, its fine to enjoy the
of glow, passion, attraction when they show up, but they are not the point of a
committed, covenantal relationship.
Thats something the young woman I was didnt understand. She wanted the
high the fun the ego boost of dramatic religious experience way more than she
wanted Jesus.
If we think about the experiences of the ancient Israelites as they came together
through their long, difficult time of living in the wilderness, youll see some familiar
parallels. There seems to be something in human nature that wants the zap, the happily
ever after, and pulls back from the daily effort of living practical love regardless of
feelings and circumstances. I wish Id figured that out a lot younger.
In our reading from Joshua, the lectionary editors had us skip over a long
recounting of their communal history. Its a story with which were mostly familiar, at
least in the broad outlines. We know the stories of Abrahams call, the crossing of the
Red Sea, the long sojourn in the wilderness. In reminding them of these and other
moments, Joshua urged them to a decision point: Will you live in response to God who
has been with us all these years, or will you look for an easier way? The people
reviewed their favorite high points and promised to serve God. In the next part of the
story, Joshua warned them that this commitment is not an easy one to live into and that
to serve God is to live into a demanding relationship that asks everything of them.
Jesus, too, makes clear just how challenging it is to be his disciples. Weve spent
weeks with the eating my flesh and drinking my blood metaphor, and now we come to
the sticking point. Can those who are listening to him can WE make the ongoing
commitment to the sort of relationship with the one who is so totally self-giving and

wants the same from us? Some couldnt handle it and left. It was too much. Their faith
was already challenging enough and they stayed with what they knew. Really, I cant
blame them. To follow Jesus is incredibly demanding and can take us way out of our
comfort zones.
Ive often wondered what tone of voice Peter used in response to Jesus
question about whether they, too, wished to leave him. Was he resigned? Passionate?
Fearful? Hoping for reassurance? Wishing for another option? Lord, to whom can we
go? You have the words of eternal life. Maybe his voice gained a little confidence when
he added, We have come to believe and KNOW that you are the Holy One of God.
As we know all too well, sticking with and acting on such conviction day in and
day out is hard work. Its harder than sticking to a diet-and-exercise New Years
resolution. Trust me, Ive failed at both, many times. The rest of the Jewish and
Christian scriptures bear that out as they tell the stories of generations of people who try
to live their commitments faithfully. Sometimes they get it really right. Sometimes not so
much. Frankly, no one comes out of this with shining haloes except through the loving
grace of God. I find that to be a relief.
But were not left without help; without the ability to receive what we need to keep
on trying and keep on growing and serving, and getting up again when we fall. This is
true even when its hard and weve blown it again or it feels like God is far away and
ignoring us. We are given such incredible gifts through Jesus, our Lord, our Friend, our
Hope and Life.
In the letter to the Ephesian Christians, the author uses another metaphor: the
uniform of a Roman soldier. The metaphor flips the meaning of battle garb and turns it
into help for our daily struggles. It would take way longer than my voice or your ears
could hold out even to begin to explore all the implications of this metaphor and the
various parts of it, so Ill leave that to your own prayerful explorations and simply
suggest that the Letter to the Ephesians repays prayerful study and reflection.
One reason is, as William Loader, an Australian Bible scholar and commentator
points out, that the overall theme of Ephesians is reconciliation and love, the
overcoming of barriers, religious and otherwise. There really are forces at work, he
reminds us, that are determined to divide; to set some people against others, to
construct barriers of all sorts against truth, justice, mercy, compassion and other people.
We are reminded to concentrate on the truth the truth that Gods love is so
overwhelming that God became one with us, suffering and dying alongside us and
showing that death is already overcome. That truth breaks down barriers and helps us
to live with the kind of righteousness that reconciles enemies and reflects Gods love in
all our actions. And thats where things get really tough, because division, evil, greed,
manipulation and lies even the ones we tell ourselves are all very, very real.
Whatever may be our reaction to such language as standing against the wiles of
the devil and struggling against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, it
describes a reality that is inescapable, both in the world around us and in our own
efforts to live into the Covenant we entered at Baptism. No one gets through life without
struggle both internal and external.
Our sisters and brothers in Ephesus were not blissfully enjoying holy zaps, either.
They heard the good news and received the gift and challenge we have: to live in our
covenant with God through our Baptisms. They, too, had to decide day by day, moment

by moment to make the choices to stay faithful in large and small ways; whether love,
mercy, sacrificial generosity and compassion made sense or were safe in their
circumstance or not.
The only way they could do that the only way we can do that is to pray
continually whether we feel like it or not. This doesnt mean being on our knees 24/7. It
does mean setting aside time for prayer. It means taking a moment to send out a plea
for help and guidance before reacting. It means sitting in quiet openness before God. It
means helping to hold the Body of Christ together in its various manifestations by
praying for all of us. As with everything else implied in choosing to serve God, it can be
hard work and inconvenient at times, but it is how we let Christ into our lives to help us
become the people we were created to be in the first place and to grow in hope and joy.
If we get the occasional holy zap, thats great. They can be great fun and touch us in
deep places. But they are only passing byproducts of the way of life we have chosen
and continue to choose, every day. We make that choice because we, too have come to
believe, and know, that Jesus is the Holy One of God.

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