Joshua 24 As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
Water Brueggemann is the retired Old Testament professor of Columbia Seminary outside of Atlanta and he’s who I’m reading these days.
He says, “The world for which you have been so carefully prepared is being taken away from you by the grace of God.”
Well. I’ve been thinking about that. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. In life, how often have I carefully prepared and it was taken away from me? I have big examples, I have small ones.
But listen to the wording again.
The world for which you have been so carefully prepared—you did not so much prepare as were being prepared, you were being molded and shaped by a larger force, you were called to something by God—The world for which you have been so carefully prepared is being taken away from you by the grace of God. The plan takes a turn.
You are not where you thought you’d be.
In writing and rewriting my own spiritual autobiography, this is so true in my life that it’s the norm. At every age I have been, I say it without hesitation: I am not where I thought I’d be. Even being here, serving God in this place.
Brueggemann emphasizes that in the end, this is all “by the grace of God.” That somehow, whatever it is, God is in it, present.
I’m no different than you. You experience this too. The world for which you have been so carefully prepared is being taken away from you by the grace of God. By God’s mercy, as if God knows what God is doing. Hm?
God called Moses out, adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter; he was a stutterer, he murdered someone for beating a Hebrew and ran away because of it, God calls Moses out to save the nation of Israel from Egypt’s oppression.
Moses travailed with the people, put up with the people, argued against God, followed God, and he died just before reaching the promised land.
Have you ever gotten to the edge of the Promised Land, something you’ve worked for, something you were called to even, only to watch someone else go over?
For Moses, the world for which he had been so carefully prepared was taken away from him by the grace of God.
Joshua was unrelated to Moses. Moses chose him as his apprentice and successor. Joshua led the military conquest of Canaan, the promised land, and he divided the land among the 12 tribes of Israel.
Today’s passage occurs when Joshua is an old man. He reviews the Israelites history with them and then challenges them to choose who they will worship.
Hear the Word of God in Joshua 24.
“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.”
Abraham and Sarah had Isaac. Isaac married Rebekah.
Isaac and Rebekah had twins, Jacob and Esau. Jacob bought Esau’s birthright for a bowl of stew, Jacob tricked his father out of his blessing. Jacob had his hip put out of joint when he wrestled with God in the night as he ran away from Esau’s wrath.
Jacob fell in love with Rachel. Her father said, yes, of course you may marry her but you must work for me for 7 years, which he did and Leah, Rachel’s sister, was the one standing under the wedding veil. One does not give a younger daughter into marriage before the elder one, so father-in-law said you may also marry Rachel but you need to stay another 7 years. Fine.
Leah and Rachel had handmaids: Zilpah and Bilhah. Jacob, renamed Israel, had 12 sons and one daughter with them.
The 12 sons became the 12 tribes of Israel: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph (of the technicolor dream coat), and Benjamin.
“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve God 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.”
This week, three parts of this passage stood out for me.
First: God led him through. God led Abraham through. God led the people of God through. God has led us through. God leads us through.
Does this mean that is was always smooth sailing?
Of course not.
God through Moses led the Israelites out of the land of Egypt, from slavery to freedom. And you would think that going from slavery to freedom would be an amazing thing for them, and it was at first. Can you imagine the moment when Pharaoh’s army drowns in the great crash of water in the Red Sea and the people realize that this slavery that the Israelites were burdened with for 400 years has evaporated? What joy! What celebration!
And eventually, what complaining.
What did they complain about? Food. “At least we weren’t starving to death in Egypt. Sure we were slaves, but we were not hungry.”
What did God do? Gave them a steady diet of manna by morning, quail by evening. What was God’s restriction on the manna? Use only what you need to today. Any extra that you keep will rot.
God did not give up on the people and led them in cloud by day and fire by night. God gave them the Ten Commandments. And then, gave them land they were promised.
God led them through. God led them through.
God leads us through. God’s handprints are all over us.
Now think about your life. Think about it. What has God led you through? What has God led you through? What is God leading you through now?
Joshua urged the people to think about how God led them through.
Second point: Choose this day whom you shall serve. Put away all other gods. Put away all other idols. Choose this day whom you shall serve.
See, Joshua knew that they waxed nostalgic for their old gods of the past, and the stories they’d heard about the old gods. Family history told you that if you had a need there was a god, and now they were asked to choose one God over all the other gods.
Choose this day whom you will serve. Choose today. Not tomorrow. Not sometime in the foggy future maybe, but today.
We just came through some Sunday morning classes where we talked about predestination. I’m not going there now, but this we know: The Father has chosen us as His beloved little children. God has come to us in the person, Jesus Christ, to be Savior. And God sustains us with the mystery and the inspiration and the instigation of the Holy Spirit.
Do we choose Him back? Do we respond to His grace by choosing Him or do we choose something else?
What are the other gods and idols that throw our attention away from the Christ?
Their number is Legion: money and all that it can buy, sex, power, entertainment, material things, politics; being busy is an idol that we defend with our work ethic. But being busy pulls away from God.
What pulls us away from the Christ? What do we think about? What do we spend our money on? What do we do with our time?
What choices do we make every day in terms of being with God?
What good choices? What bad choices? What God choices?
Round back to the first point and know that God will lead you through it, even if it’s a bad choice and not a God choice.
And after we’ve been led through by God, whom will we choose to serve this day?
What does service look like?
It’s intentionally giving yourself to God and submitting to His will. How do we do this? By prayer, worship, and studying His Word.
Serving God is looking at another as if we are looking into the face of God. So that rude waiter needs our prayer and our tip. The tired checker at the grocery store needs our prayer. The overwhelmed teacher needs our prayer. The co-worker that doesn’t pull his weight needs our prayer. The Trinity Café guest needs our prayer. All, the face of God.
Service is submitting to God in every way: body, mind, soul; talents, skills; with our presence—with our showing up. And with our resources. With God’s resources.
Third point: God will lead you through it. Whom will you serve this day? As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. On January 1, 2017 I gave you a bag with a house blessing and a piece of chalk. The instructions were to draw a cross somewhere outside your house and use the blessing for the new year. This is an outward sign that as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.
Ed and I look at each other as God’s gift to the other. We have from the start. Because, see, God has led us through and we cherish the gift of this marriage, this partnership. We don’t take us for granted, nor do we act like we have all the time in the world.
As for Ed and me, we will serve the Lord. In the morning when I wake, I say, “Good morning, Lord. Thank you. How may I serve You this day? What lesson will I learn? What mistake will I make that will show me Your grace?”
Because we serve the Lord, Ed and I will take our resources and our money–God’s resources, God’s money–and we will ask, how does God want us to use what we have to the benefit of the kingdom? What will we pledge knowing that God will call us to even more over the year?
Choose this day, today, whom you will serve. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.