Sermon Text: Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25
It has been a while since we’ve checked in on the Old Testament story, we took a few weeks off from the narrative and now we are all the way at the end of the Book of Joshua. The very end. In fact, we’re looking at Joshua’s farewell speech to the people of Israel, which means we’ve sped through the storyline where the Israelites sack and route all of the tribes and cities and inhabitants of the Promised Land. Now it is theirs, but Joshua is taking this time to remind the people that they did not get here on their own.
Joshua begins by going back in time—way back to the time of early Abraham, when he lived near the Euphrates and worshiped pagan gods. But things have changed dramatically since Abraham answered the call of God and moved south. We have followed this journey throughout the season of Pentecost, the stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The stories of Moses, Miriam, and Aaron as the people escaped Egypt.
We heard about the Red Sea, the giving of the commandments, the manna from heaven, and water from a rock. There has been the crossing of the Jordan River and the conquest of the land flowing with milk and honey. Every step of the way God has been there. Every step of the way God has protected, provided, provisioned, guided, and multiplied. The Israelites are now a great nation. They are inching closer to God’s original promise that they will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens or as the grains of sand in the shore.
After Joshua reminds the people of their history, after he reminds them of God’s ever-present hand in their journey, he challenges his audience. “Now therefore, revere the Lord and serve him in sincerity and faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.”
Then Joshua makes his famous statement: “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
A brief side note: Put that statement in Google and you will find all sorts of signs and pillows and whatnot that can be added to your home décor. Of course, folks have had some fun with the verse too—As for me and my household we will serve tacos. We will serve coffee. We will serve pizza, cookies, margaritas. You get the idea.
It’s a very fine speech from Joshua. Here is the laundry list of historical events God has helped us through. We are alive today, we reside here today, we have safety and security today because of God. Because of this track record that stretches for hundreds of years, because of what I have witnessed in my life, because God keeps the covenant, I will be gracious, I will give thanks, I will serve the Lord.
It’s a no brainer, right? Even my dog Otto has the good sense to follow this formula. Because you gave me a home, because you clean up my messes, because you take me on walks an hikes and car rides, because you feed me and only shower me as needed, because you give me biscuits and scratch behind my ear…I will serve the human. I will be their dog, and you will be my people. I will give kisses. I will wag my tail. I will snuggle against you in bed.
Part of me finds it interesting that Joshua is trying to reinvigorate the people’s commitment to God after all they’ve been through—that it is even necessary to renew this covenant and rally the ongoing faithfulness of God’s people. After all, they are living through it! However, I need to remind myself that God gave us the pesky gift of free will and from time to time we all end up worshiping at the altar of one false god or another. That’s why Joshua bellows “Choose this day whom you will serve,” and while the answer seems obvious, there are times when the ancient Israelites, and frankly, there are times when we, cannot get out of our own way.
A few weeks ago, on Reformation Sunday, three young men in our congregation went through a very similar process that Joshua outlines as they affirmed their faith with the Rite of Confirmation. Our Affirmation of Faith is our modern church equivalent to Joshua’s question: Who will you serve?
In gratitude, will you serve God who gave you life, who gifted you with family, friends, and community, who has equipped you with gifts of the Holy Spirit, who has claimed you as a child, who has washed away your sins and prepared for you a crown of glory? What will it be, the God of Israel, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…or will you be browsing for meaning in the little “g” god department at the altars of money, consumerism, power, popularity, sex, youth, and beauty?
As disciples of Jesus Christ we are given the opportunity to answer Joshua’s question every day. “Who will you serve?” We can also take it one step further: “How will we serve?” Will we have the faithfulness to affirm our faith and respond to this gift? This is not a one time commitment, a set it and forget it piece of who we are. This is a daily call to action.
Just take a moment to consider the baptismal covenant that we have entered into with God. Listen to the broad range of responsibilities we take on in this relationship. We have the baptismal call to:
Live among God’s faithful people
Hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper
Proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed
Serve all people, following the example of Jesus
And to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
That is the list of responsibilities we take on in our faith. It is a list designed to better ourselves, to better our community, to better the lives of the stranger, and to better our relationship with God. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you?
So, people of God, how will you answer the call? Will you continue in the covenant?
To echo the words of our confirmands, may we all have the courage to say, “I will, and I ask God to help and guide me.” AMEN