The “Working Preacher” commentary on this text is so right on the money. It talks about how famous Joshua 24:15 is, “As for me and my house . . . “ you probably can recite the rest. There are a number of reasons such verses drive me to distraction. I really do not like Bible bookstores. I’m glad they carry Bibles and everything, but the Jesus crap drives me crazy. Jesus doilies, Jesus dashboard characters, Jesus mouse pads . . . “Give us this day our daily bread” plates, platters, aprons and dishcloths. Most of the books are all about me, “Jesus and ME”, “How I made a million dollars following Jesus”, “How Jesus Can Help You Keep Your Man”. And then there is the music. There is nothing in the world that gains in quality because the modifier “Christian” has been attached to it.
This famous quote from Joshua is just such a verse. It is taken out of context and looses a great deal of it’s meaning by doing so. This is not a personal, pietistic, decision based platitude. This is a line drawn in the sand of the community, charging each person to make a choice. The consequences are dire. To step forward is to place yourself and your family in harms way. And it is not a personal decision. It is a drama set before the people, and Joshua is “calling the question” so to speak and asking to the people to make an important choice. It’s time for a vote. Where do you stand? And the people respond well. They have been triumphant in battle, and have won over large tracts of land—the land that God promised to give to their ancestors.
This story also has Joshua giving a history of the people. It is, of course, abbreviated. I keep thinking of the chart that Pastor Courtney shared in worship a few weeks ago. “OK, here is where we get Joseph, by following the blue line . . . ignore the pink line of his other wives.” In this version, as in all biblical histories, we start with Abraham, then to Isaac, and Jacob, and Moses (that’s quite a jump there) and now, to Joshua. Remember, Moses wasn’t allowed to come into the Promised Land because he hit a rock with a stick when God told him only to talk to it. When you look at the totality of human sin, that doesn’t seem like much, but there it is. Joshua has to remind them of the mighty acts of God in delivering the people of faith from the hands of the Egyptians. None of these people were alive when God brought the people out, so they have to be reminded. And lest they think it was their might that saved them, they are reminded that God has been powerfully acting on their behalf all along.
There are parts of this story that I struggle with, especially the idea wiping out entire peoples so that the Israelites can own the land. The slaughter of whole peoples, villages and countries sanctioned and aided by God. How as Christians do we hold that along side of Jesus who said, “Love your enemies”? These are the parts of scripture I wrestle with on a regular basis. But the choosing part, that I can relate to. It seems to me we are being asked to choose which God we will serve. Again three weeks ago Pastor Courtney talked about our idolatry of wanting to keep things orderly, safe and familiar. God is not having it, that is not the kind of God we worship! We are encouraged every day to worship the gods of safety and security. As a country we are strongly influenced to worship the idea of fulfillment through spending and security through violence and strength. Ironically, we are encouraged to do all this through fear. I don’t know why, but when people are given a regular dose of fear they will try with all their might to purchase their way out of it.
It is necessary, from time to time, for people of faith to recommit themselves to God and God’s ways. They are unpredictable, they are difficult, they will take away our sense of security and permanence, but they are so worth it. It is in following God that we find a life worth living, a life of purpose and meaning. We will never find that if we are worshiping the god of security. Joshua presided over the people of Israel at just such a time. He led by example and asked the people to choose what they would do. We are encouraging our leaders and staff to join us in a process of evaluating our lives and priorities using a book called “Free: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most”. Robin and I have found it a life changing, (and extremely difficult) experience. We are at a very important moment in the life of the church, and need to be reminded again what it means to worship and serve the living God of Abraham and Sarah. It’s a wild ride.
Quotes for the Week
“I Choose to be generous. I know that my choices matter for myself, for others and for future generations. Help me to live consciously and creatively, celebrating signs of your new creation . . . Guide me to use my time, talents and resources to pursue what matters most. Teach me to be free, to live without worry, fear or greed in the freedom of your abundance.” Part of the prayer of dedication from “Free” by Mark and Lisa Scandrette
“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” Roy Disney
“All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.” Noam Chomsky
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world arms is not spending money alone.” President Eisenhower (Republican)
“When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.” Mae West
Lesson: Joshua 24:1-15 (NRSV)
1 Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 3 Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; 4 and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. 5 Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. 6 When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. “7 When they cried out to the LORD, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time. 8 Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan; they fought with you, and I handed them over to you, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. 9 Then King Balak son of Zippor of Moab, set out to fight against Israel. He sent and invited Balaam son of Beor to curse you, 10 but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I rescued you out of his hand. 11 When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I handed them over to you. “12 I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant.
14 “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. 15 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.”
Questions for the Week
What are your personal values?
Are you making decisions in your life that reflect those values?
How might we as a church more fully live out the values of Jesus?