November 12, 2017

Series: November 2017

Category: Faith

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-27

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. 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. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.”

“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve the Lord in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 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.” Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. The Lord protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for the Lord is our God.”

But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for the Lord is a holy God. The Lord is a jealous God; the Lord will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then the Lord will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve God.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and the Lord we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. Joshua said to all the people, “See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that God spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.” 

And now, a reading from Dr. Seuss – “The Zode in the Road”

Did I ever tell you about the young Zode,

Who came to two signs at the fork in the road?

One said to Place One, and the other, Place Two.

So the Zode had to make up his mind what to do.

Well…the Zode scratched his head, and his chin and his pants.

And he said to himself, “I’ll be taking a chance

If I go to Place One. Now, that place may be hot!

And so, how do I know if I’ll like it or not?

On the other hand though, I’ll be sort of a fool

If I go to Place Two and find it too cool.

In that case I may catch a chill and turn blue!

So, maybe Place One is the best, not Place Two,

But then again, what if Place One is too high?

I may catch a terrible earache and die!

So Place Two may be best! On the other hand though…

What might happen to me if Place Two is too low?

I might get some very strange pain in my toe!

So Place One may be best,” and he started to go.

Then he stopped, and he said, “On the other hand though….

On the other hand…other hand…other hand though…”

And for 36 hours and a half that poor Zode

Made starts and made stops at the fork in the road.

Saying, “Don’t take a chance. No! You may not be right.”

Then he got an idea that was wonderfully bright!

“Play safe!” cried the Zode. “I’ll play safe. I’m no dunce!

I’ll simply start out for both places at once!”

And that’s how the Zode who would not take a chance

Got no place at all with a split in his pants.


 Two weeks ago, we heard the story at the very end of the book of Deuteronomy where Moses leads the people to the brink of the promised land … so close that he can see it. But God tells him that he shall not cross over there.  Moses dies and Joshua leads the people into the promised land.  Now, here at the end of the book of Joshua, he is close to death and has one more thing to tell the people who are now comfortably ensconced in the promised land – choose.  Choose this day whom you will serve.  Joshua is very clear – you can choose to serve the Lord your God who has led you out of Egypt and into the promised land, or you can choose to serve the other gods of your ancestors, or you can choose to serve the other gods of the people who are living here with you in this new land.  But – you must choose.

The people have no problem making their choice. They immediately reply - of course we will serve the Lord our God.  Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods!  Come on, Joshua, this is a no brainer!

But Joshua is not having any of that quick, reactive thinking. He knows that they are feeling good about God right now … they have made it to the promised land just as God declared they would.  Life is great, God is great.  But, Joshua also knows that the going will get tough.  He knows that it will not always be easy to serve God.  He knows that it might be tempting to serve the foreign gods of this foreign land.  He knows that the people have already wanted many times to turn away from God during their difficult journey to this land.  “Are you sure you can do this?” he wonders, “because I’m not sure that you can.”  Joshua wants the people to understand the significance of their choice.  Don’t say today that you choose to serve God and then turn around and forsake God when something else comes along.

The people assure Joshua that their choice is to serve the Lord. They are witnesses to their choice, and together they declare, “The Lord our God we will serve and obey.”

The Israelites are not the only one asked to make that choice. We, too, as people of faith are asked the very same question – who will you choose to serve?  Will we serve the Lord our God?  Or will we serve the many other gods of our culture and our world?  Sitting here in worship, the choice perhaps seems as obvious to us as it did to the Israelites – of course we choose to serve God!  But, as Joshua reminded them, and as Dr. Seuss reminds us, the choice is not quite that easy.  Or, maybe more accurately, following through on that choice is not quite that easy.  How many times in our lives do we try to choose both Place One and Place Two?  How many times in our lives do we try to serve God and fill in the blank here.  God and money?  God and power?  God and status?  God and new shiny things?  God and sports?  God and whatever it may be?  And all we end up with is a split in our pants.  When the values of our faith meet the values of our culture, there is so often a disconnect.  Who or what do we choose?

A couple months ago, my son received an invitation to a birthday party for one of his friends. His friend specifically requested in the invitation that she did not want presents.  Instead, she encouraged her guests to give a donation to a non-profit organization that was near and dear to her heart.  What a wonderful example of being just a bit counter-cultural and choosing to serve God.  I don’t need any more stuff, said this 10 year old girl, but this organization could really use the donations.

However, when I talked with her mom about it after the party, her mom said that she still received a bunch of presents! She told me, “It’s weird – no matter how many times we say we that we really would prefer no gifts, some people bring a present anyway.”  It is so ingrained in our culture to gift stuff to people – often stuff that we really don’t need.  Not that giving gifts to others is a bad thing, but as we approach the holiday season, how do we choose to serve God in the types of gifts that we give?  In the ways that we choose to spend our money?  I am so grateful for our Alternative Christmas Fair that offers us so many wonderful options.

I was so inspired by this birthday invitation that I recently suggested to my family that we try this for Christmas. I suggested that we give each other fewer things – less stuff – and instead donate the money we would have spent to a non-profit organization of our choosing.  And then my son immediately burst into tears.  Tears!  A full crying melt-down.  I was somewhat surprised, because this is not a boy who lacks stuff.  He has more toys than he will ever play with.  I hadn’t realized he was so attached to the idea of receiving gifts.  But, once he calmed down, he explained why he was so upset.  It wasn’t that he would not receive as many gifts … it was that his friends would think it strange.  “What will I tell my friends,” he said through his sniffles, “when they ask what I got for Christmas?  They will laugh at me if I tell them I just gave the money away.”

Choosing to serve God with my money means my friends will laugh at me. Yikes.  Peer pressure is no joke.  And often peer pressure is directly opposed to our choice to serve God.  Peer pressure also is not just for 10 year olds.

Several parents and teachers at my son’s school have had a variety of problems and run-ins and disagreements with the principal. There came a point when it seemed like every time we gathered with other parents, it would turn into a gripe session about the principal.  I understand complaints about her job performance, or some of her decision-making about school-related things.  However, a couple of times the attacks turned personal.  The gripes started slandering her as a human being rather than constructively criticizing her job as the principal.  That made me uncomfortable.  I know when I choose to serve God, I am called to love my neighbor.  I am called to pray for my enemies … not to slander them.  If I really was living into my choice to serve God, I would have spoken up.  I would have pointed out the ways in which our conversation was not loving and not caring about our neighbor.  But I didn’t.  I remained silent.  I did not contribute to the mean comments, but I certainly did not put a stop to them.  I did not have the courage to speak God’s love in a difficult moment to my friends.

We are daily faced with the choice of who or what to serve. In the many decisions that we make every day, are we serving God?  Or serving someone or something else?  In how we are in relationship with others, are we serving God?  In how we care for ourselves, are we serving God?

The examples I have given so far are pretty benign. It really is not that controversial to support non-profits, or to speak to each other with kindness and respect.  But what about when the issues get more divisive?  How do we choose to serve God with our health care policies?  Or in our treatment of immigrants and refugees?  If I say I choose to serve the God who welcomes the outcast and who loves the least of these, how am I then called to welcome the outcast and love the least of these?  If I say I choose to serve the God who calls for nations to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, how am I then called to respond to the epidemic of gun violence in our country.  If I say I choose to serve God, how do I make that choice in my voting, in my advocating, in my daily conversations?

Joshua warned the people that choosing to serve God would not be easy. We all face obstacles and challenges when we choose to serve God.  Lest we focus too much on what might prevent us from choosing to serve God, however, let us remember the good news – that God has already chosen each one of us!  Before Joshua asks the people to choose if they will serve God, he reminds them of all that God has done for them, and the many ways that God has blessed them.  God has not been absent in their lives, but has fulfilled all of God’s promises to them.  Their choice to serve God – our choice to serve God – is a response to the blessing that God continually offers us.  With the unconditional love that God pours into our lives, how could we choose anything else but to respond in service to God?  And when we fall short, God forgives us and God loves us, and we have a chance to recommit ourselves to our choice to serve God.

When Joshua had received the people’s assurance that their choice was to serve God, he set up a large stone as a sign of this covenant. Here is our own large stone, as a sign of our covenant.  Let us pray …

Loving God, may this stone be a witness of our choice to serve you. We enter into this choice with eyes wide open.  We know there are challenges and obstacles to serving you.  We know we will often want to choose to serve other gods, and we might very well end up with a split in our pants.  But may this stone be our witness that we will not be overcome by these obstacles and challenges.  Again and again, we will choose to serve you.  Amen.