November 8, 2020 Rev. Karen Horan
Good morning. Again, my name is Karen Horan, and I’m so glad to be with you all today. But I have to admit, it is a bit of a strange Sunday after all that has happened this past week. It seems like the waiting and the deep breathing and even more uncertainty is just wearing on people. Just last night I not only watched a victory speech, but I also read about the promise of legal battles to come over this election. And once again, when I had first talked with Pastor Paul, I thought many of you might be here in the sanctuary, but you are home being safe. For that I am so glad. And yet that also means there have been more virus, more people infected, a rise in cases and hospitalizations—and more, they say, are coming.
2020 has been a year with so much uncertainty and unpredictably, and yet the sun rises every morning, even if we can’t see it through the fog. And the one thing we know and can cling fast to is this . . . God is still God, amen! Our strength, our fortress, the one on whom we can rely. And so while the world might feel like it is spinning a bit out of control, today I hope that we can think about, talk about, ponder how we might be daughters and sons of God; how we might focus, be still, see where God is and choose God; choose Christ and the love, as Marisa just said to our children.
Our scripture passage from today comes from the Book of Joshua. It’s a long passage, verses 1-3 and again picking up at verse 14, and I have to admit, before I begin reading the passage, Joshua is not one I always like reading. It’s a bit violent, as were the people of that time. It’s a bit patriarchal, which were the people of that time, and yet it still holds such beautiful, transcendent truths for us and for our times. So listen for God’s word as it comes to us from the Book of Joshua 24, selected verses, beginning 1-3.
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 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.
Now before we jump to verse 14, there’s a whole lot to fill in right here. You see, the writer of the book of Joshua begins to explain all the things that God has done for them. How God gave them Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and how the people went into Egypt, became enslaved, and how God then sent Moses and Aaron and freed them from slavery. Joshua once reminded the people that when the Egyptians came after them, God protected, opened the seas, and then covered the Egyptian armies in that sea; that the people then spent 40 years in the wilderness—and yet God provides. And then Joshua reminds them that God brought them, the Israelites, to the land of the Amorites—and God destroyed those people. And now, the Israelites live in a land, and even when the King of Moab wanted to come and attack the Israelites, God protected them again. And now they have crossed the Jordan River, and all of these other tribes were wanting to harm them. I just say all the “-ites”, right? The Hittites and the Perizzites and all the other “-ites” were against them, yet God has given them security and peace, living in houses they did not build, and eating from vineyards and orchards that they did not plant.
And now we pick up again in verse 14. Joshua, again speaking to the people:
“Now therefore revere (fear) 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.” Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 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. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18 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 he is our God.”
19 But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord (if you serve other gods), for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24 The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.” This is the word of the Lord, Thanks be to God.
Oh my! There is a lot going on in this passage, isn’t there? We hear so much of the history of all the things that God has done. Bringing the people out of slavery, caring for them, defeating those who lived in the land God had promised to Abraham so long ago . . . and God did it all. You see, it’s not by the military might of the people, no: God has done this thing. And those details, the thing like the people are living in houses that they did not build and they’re eating from orchards and vineyards they did not plant. I would have assumed that the people are grateful for all that God has done. And yet, after hearing all of these things, it just feels a bit harsh. Joshua is saying, “You cannot serve the Lord for He is a holy God. He is jealous; He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.” YIKES! It seems as if the leader of the Israelites has turned against the people themselves, standing against them; and while there’s all kinds of reasons, commentaries say that there might have been this particular tone with Joshua, maybe perhaps that this was written later and inserted here.
I think what is true and what’s important for us to hear is that we are seeing a glimpse of humanity in our fallen state. See, both Joshua and God seem to know that once we get to a comfortable place, we become forgetful, complacent. We fall away from what we have known and begin to rely more on: self. We begin to take on more of the culture right around us because we get lulled into this complacency. The theological term is “apostasy,” the falling away from what we have known, which turns to a failure of keeping covenant. You see, so God’s speaking through Joshua. He seems to know that, yeah sure, we want to say that we will follow God, and yet there also seems to be some of the idols, the gods of the Amorites, or the gods of the Egyptian still among the people. Maybe they’re just tucked away, just in case?
But Joshua makes a bold statement—almost drawing a line in the sand—except what’s different about this line in the sand is it’s around his household, his family, the people for whom he is their leader. “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” And in drawing that line around his household, his family, those that work with him or for him, he also is putting the challenge to the people there listening that day. What about you? Who will you serve? Who will you follow, and in whom will you put your trust?
I have wondered the same for us, for me, sure. Oh, I can very boldly say—I will serve the Lord! But then I, too, get pulled here and there by the things of the world. I get distracted, or fearful, or angry or self-righteous. I don’t know about you, but when I am in some of those emotional places, or when I begin to have fear or mistrust, I can begin to justify my actions; I can lose my way. I can fall into that same apostate behavior. Isn’t that the human condition? To say one thing, and then justify how we live our lives disconnected from what it is we say we believe?
On Tuesday, I was listening to a podcast between Brené Brown and Nadia Bolz-Webber. Nadia Bolz-Webber was having all of these different guests on her Instagram feed just to try to keep her away from polls, and just to insulate herself a little bit. And I can’t remember which of them talked about it, but one of them had said how often she had caught herself at her worst during this political season. She said she found how often her heart had been hardened against others—and that she had to remind herself again and again to say to herself and God—“No! They don’t get my heart.” She was implying that if the world allowed her to become bitter, if the world allowed her to be divisive and talking more about the other than of God and God’s love and mercy and grace and peace, then we have lost our way. I can’t tell you how many people I know and love have morphed into these loud or angry, self-righteous people over the last few months. I read their rants on Facebook, or I sit with them in a backyard-distanced dinner, and I wonder, who are you? Or was that me? Lord have mercy.
So, how do we stay focused? Stay true to not only what we say we believe, but to also act according to that belief? As I have pondered that question, I thought of two very different things: a penny and the Apostle Paul. We’re going to start with the Apostle Paul. He writes in Philippians 4: 8-9, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the peace of God will be with you.” Think on these things and put them into practice. There is enough ugliness in the world, and while we need to see the ugliness sometimes so we can fight against it, we also have to be on our guard that we aren’t consumed by it. So how might we think about what is lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy, and true? How might we look for the blessings, the places God is working in the world and then join God in that work?
And that’s where the penny comes in. I think you were asked to find one, have it with you maybe, or maybe you can stop and dig around the couch and find a coin in there. It made me think about a penny, because oftentimes I miss the small things in this world. You know, when I was a kid or when I’m around my grandchildren, I watch how they wonder about the smallest little things: the butterflies, or the flowers, or the clouds, or the airplanes flying over that my sixteen-month-old grandson loves to point out. And when I was a kid and I’d walk to school or be with my mom in a grocery store, it seems like I was always the one who could find the coins on the ground, and then I’d sing that little rhyme. You know it, “Find a penny pick it up”—you know the rest, say it out loud with me—“all the day long, you’ll have good luck.” And this isn’t so much about good luck, but I read recently that every time someone found a penny, or a coin—they’re on all of them—not only would they pick it up, but they’d look at the words written there. “In God We Trust” You see, it’s not just about the feeling of security for me, but it’s a reminder for me to stop and look—where do I see God? Right Now . . . How is God working through the Holy Spirit right here, right now? Where is the love and light of Jesus Christ wooing me into action right now? And then hear those words again from Joshua: choose this day who you will serve.
My heart’s desire for you and for me is that we can turn our eyes upon Jesus, and yet I know that I need help. I can’t do that kind of work all on my own. I need others to help me stay on that path. I believe we need our brothers and our sisters—you—to walk together, so that when I’m in that place of uncertainty or fear, that someone can point to the beauty, and the trustworthy, and the excellent things of God right in my presence. That when I can’t see anything but darkness, perhaps others can point to the light, and then together we can speak into a world that is full of anger and fear.
And so, I pray that you can look for God in new ways this week, to walk with each other, and live a life of love and light, trusting in God, our strength, our fortress in whom we choose and rely. Can we not just say what we believe, but may our lives be a testament to all that Christ is? Thanks be to God. Let us pray.
And so God, as we turn our eyes upon you, upon Jesus, and hold tight to the trust that we have in you, Lord I pray that you will send the power and presence of the Holy Spirit into each of our lives exactly where we are this morning to fortify us, so that we may be the people you call us to be. That we can be faithful and loving, to act and not just speak; to see and to point to the beauty and the truth which is you, Lord. We love you and we need you, and it is in Your Son’s holy and precious name. Amen.