Monday, October 13, 2014

Call the Question

Joshua 24: 1-15

For $69.99 at Home Depot you can purchase a 17 inch Cherry wall clock with the phrase “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  At Walmart you can buy Thirstystone Occasion drink coasters for $8.50 with that same verse emblazoned on it.  And if you would like a cotton poly blend sweatshirt with “As for me and my house…” phrase on it you can get it at Café Press for $34.99 and how about a Candle Pot with tea light illuminating these words to go with that sweatshirt for $18 from Grasslands Road Nature’s Elements.

The fact is this Bible verse from Joshua 24:15, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” has become, for lack of better words, kitsch!  It’s over sentimentalized.  Now I know that there is good, good intent with the wearing or displaying this endearing verse.  It’s a beautiful public statement of religiosity.  But I’d like for us to think much deeper about this Bible verse and its meaning. 

This particular verse is at the very end of our reading today from the Book of Joshua.  Last week we were in Exodus and since then a lot has happened which brings us forward into Joshua today.  The ten commandments were given a second time only this time written on stone. The covenant was renewed.  An ark to house the covenant was built.  Moses dies without ever stepping one foot into the promised land, the sweet land of milk and honey.  Then Joshua was commissioned to lead the people over that glorious border and settle the land.

And those people?  Well they weren’t the same people that Moses had sashayed through the wilderness for forty or so years.  It was their children, maybe even their children’s children.  A long time had passed, generations.  The land had been conquered and redistributed to the tribes of Israel.  They’ve settled in yet the people still grappled with the cultures around them, they still kvetch, they still wonder about who this ‘God’ is that seems to get angry at them but then brings them out of their misery and loves them through it all.  And now we come to another threshold for them.

Let us now hear the word as recorded in the Book of Joshua from the Hebrew Bible, the 24th chapter.

Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.
Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his family went down to Egypt.
“‘Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I afflicted the Egyptians by what I did there, and I brought you out. When I brought your people out of Egypt, you came to the sea, and the Egyptians pursued them with chariots and horsemen as far as the Red Sea. But they cried to the Lord for help, and he put darkness between you and the Egyptians; he brought the sea over them and covered them. You saw with your own eyes what I did to the Egyptians. Then you lived in the wilderness for a long time.
“‘I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I gave them into your hands. I destroyed them from before you, and you took possession of their land. When Balak son of Zippor, the king of Moab, prepared to fight against Israel, he sent for Balaam son of Beor to put a curse on you. But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand.
“‘Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you—also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

These beloved words that we hang on our walls or wear just happen to be part of Joshua’s final parting words to the people Israel. Not long after this oration that I just read he takes his last breath.  He had been with them for a good long while, through the battles and the trials and triumphs of life. And so he recounts their history reminding them of all of those times in which the God of Israel saved them from demise. 

I don’t think he is really sure that they get it, or if they do, he knows how they are mightily tempted to worship other gods which prevents them from following the God of Abraham.  While we may think that it is just a dry lesson in their history, Joshua is really pointing out that they belong, that they are part of a narrative that has been unfolding for many years, in fact many centuries before them, that they now are a part of. 

They are part of an ongoing history of struggle and faith, of doubt and fear, of trusting in this God above all other gods because this God, while perhaps at times displays questionable actions, IS the God of their ancestors, IS the God who continually forgives them, and IS the God who will consistently renew this beautiful covenant of steadfast love.

And so Joshua calls the question!  When debate drones on endlessly, the question is called and you have to vote immediately to determine if the debate should be cut off.  He calls the question and cuts to the chase…. Who will you follow?  Where will your allegiance be?  Are you willing to give up all of those other gods to follow the one true God?  Are you willing to stick with this God through the mucky muck of life, into the wilderness, and still declare that this is your God?  Good questions Joshua!  Thank you very much for raising them for us.

Life was messy for them as I suspect it is for most of us too.  We’re happily skipping along and you come to a fork in the road.  Which path will you choose?  Imperfections of your character or soul manifest at the oddest and most inconvenient of times and you find yourself completely adrift in a sea of unknown. Will you blame God or call upon God? Or will you decide that another sort of god could do a better job for you?

Sometimes the Israelites just wanted other gods.  A household god to make sure that the mana nut bread came out ok, a god of plentiful harvest for the fields, a god who would produce rain during a drought, a warrior god to best their enemies in battle.  I mean, the Amorites had such gods, why couldn’t they? 

It would be so nice to have a specific god in your pocket, wouldn’t it?   A god for the stock market, a more efficient god who will immediately cure ebola, a god who will take terrorists down way low, a god who will straighten out the mess that you woke up to this morning.  But it’s just not that way.  Following God is just not that neat and tidy. There will be unanswered questions and disappointments along the way.  So which god will you choose?

Walter Brueggeman, OT professor says this about what was set in Shechem that day by Joshua. Following God ‘requires a purging of all competing loyalties…for obedience’.  ‘It is a rather elemental decision to reorder life….within an entirely different set of risks and possibilities.’[i]

And to follow ultimately means to serve the Lord.  And to serve is to follow the example of Christ who served his Lord – to welcome anyone and everyone into your home and to sit at your table.  To serve is to look at this world, or the world in you neighborhood and to do something to make it better, to strive for the kingdom of God here on earth. 

Following this GOD of salvation won’t make your life perfect.  But we do know that this God will be the one who is with you, who calls you into the unknown and promises to stay with you until you see some daylight.  It is this God, who, yes, created your imperfections and loves you more deeply because of them.  It is the obedience of choosing God above all others, at all times, and then serving with your most sincere heart and hands.    

Joshua calls the question for us.  Which God will you choose? 


[i] Walter Brueggeman from ‘Spill the Beans’ Issue 13.

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