Growing up my parents were very strict about making sure that if my brothers and I committed to something that we followed through on those commitments; no matter how much we may have disliked it. Yet this was an important lesson that has carried my brothers and I through our lives. Many of you might know that my oldest brother went to the Iraq war back in 2007. But what you may not know was that he volunteered to go over there. I remember that phone call very clearly to this day and I remember crying as I got off the phone knowing fully the potential sacrifice he was about to make.
He called me that evening and I sat there in my dorm room at Andover Newton as he broke the news. Something about that conversation lept out at me. He said, “Mandy I signed up to go to Iraq. I put a lot of thought into it and there are so many young men going to war. They need some experienced men. They need someone to support them in this time. They need someone committed to them. I believe God is asking this of me. I believe my country is asking this of me”. I sat there silently listening wondering how do I respond to this. He made the commitment and he was trying to live out that commitment. He was trying to live out his faith in God and country. How could I do anything but support his decision. I knew he didn’t make it lightly. I knew that I wouldn’t and didn’t act differently when I felt called into the ministry. So though it brought me great fear and pain, I supported his decision. I offered him my support because that is the commitment that I made to him, I believed in him and in the mission he was called to, though it scared me to the core of who I was.
I am very proud of my older brother and his service not only to our country but more importantly to other human beings in times of great stress and need themselves. Today, we heard another passage from the end of the book of Joshua. They are in the holy land and beginning a new stage of their relationship with God. Joshua calls them to carefully contemplate their decision to follow God. He urges them to fully understand what they are committing themselves to. He wants them to understand that though they commit themselves verbally, their actions still mattered and their actions needed to match the words of their mouths. This is still what is being asked of all those who claim faith. Martin Luther of the 16th century wrote, “Where there are no good works, there is no faith. If works and love do not blossom forth, it is not genuine faith, the Gospel has not gained a foothold, and Christ is not yet rightly known”. Our actions in life should reflect what we claim to be truth; what we claim to base our lives in; what we claim to believe.
After the resurrection, when Jesus questioned Peter so intensely about his devotion to him. He asked Peter three separate times, “Do you love me?” because he wanted Peter’s actions to match the words of devotion even in the face of hardship. This troubled Peter because it required him to look into himself and come face to face with the doubts that lay hidden in his heart. We too are called to come face to face with the doubts that lay hidden in our hearts and to make sure that the actions of our hands, the words of our mouths, and the faith that we claim match.
We need to remember that our claims to faith and our claims to being good Christian people are essentially meaningless if they are not followed by dedication, if we do not do what we claim we will do. James Russell Lowell wrote, “All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action”. Christ is asking us the same questions that he asked of Peter; Christ is asking us the same questions as Joshua asked the people of Israel, “Do you love me? … He said to him, ‘tend my sheep’”. We are being asked to more than love God. We are being asked to more than just prayer. We are being asked to show our dedication to Christ’s love through the careful works of our hands. Just as my brother and so many other service people act out their faith and their commitments, so too are we being called to act out the faith that we hold onto so tightly in our lives. So go forth and love your fellow human kind, even when it seems dangerous to do so. Go forth and care for their needs, even when we are scared and hate seems to loom around the corner. Go forth and let the world know that Christ’s love is still alive, still working, and will not be deterred by the mess around it. Make your Christian actions match your verbal dedication, your verbal declarations of faith.
 Martin Luther, 16th century.
 James Russell Lowell, 19th century.
 John 21: 16, RSV.
(Based on Joshua 24: 1-3, 14-25 and John 21: 14-25)