October 16, 2022
Joshua 24: 1-26
Right off the bat, I think we need to acknowledge that the Book of Joshua can be troubling.
Before today’s passage, Joshua took over for Moses and led the people into the promised land … the Land of Milk and Honey.
Once there, they conquered the people who were already living there. Those who weren’t killed or pushed out of the region in the wars, were allowed to remain and become part of the society.
The word “assimilated” has been used by some to describe what happened.
Over the centuries, the Book of Joshua was one of those pieces of scripture that was used to justify displacing indigenous peoples or placing people into slavery.
In much the same way today, certain verses … called “clobber passages” … are used to justify hatred toward people based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
So, you can see that Joshua can be a painful book for some people.
For a faith community called to be an agent of reconciliation, we should be aware that the Book of Joshua … like any Bible passage or verse … can be misused and harmful to indigenous peoples and persons of colour.
Scholar Joy Moore points out that when we are using Biblical texts to overpower others, to marginalize, to enslave, … or to wipe out, we are worshipping power, we have made an idol of something less than the full promises of the kingdom of God.
And the promise … the covenant … is where Joshua’s heart is set this morning.
The presence of Amorites and other peoples also meant that the descendants of the freed slaves were exposed to different values, different languages, and different gods. Some of the chosen people married those of the other cultures and began adopting different lifestyles and beliefs.
Which is the reason for Joshua’s gathering in this morning’s readings.
Joshua has called all the tribes of Israel to Shechem … the place where Abram built an altar to the Lord and where God formed a covenant with Abram … or if you prefer … Abraham.
He brings together the leaders of the tribes, the elders of the people and seeks to renew the covenant that was formed between God and the Israelites.
Joshua recites the history of the people and recounts all that God had done for them.
Joshua cites all the victories over the people who were occupying.
This land was given to them by God, Joshua tells them.
God has kept the covenant with the people.
Joshua calls on the people to honour … to revere … God and forget about all the other gods that they may have worshipped.
Joshua is near the end of his life and he now wants the people to refocus … to recommit … to God and to the covenant before he goes.
Joshua tells them they have a choice … as free people do … follow the other gods or follow the God who has been active in their lives and in the lives of their parents … protecting, nourishing … remaining faithful to them and keeping the covenants that have been made.
If they follow the gods worshipped by the other peoples … if they turn their backs on the Lord, then they will be held to account for that decision. God … said Joshua … will punish them for the transgression.
Choices carry consequences that the people will need to live with.
Joshua makes his choice clear to the gathering:
He tells them, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua calls on the people to recommit to the covenant … affirming the promise and renewing their lives in the process.
By doing this the people will set themselves apart from those around them. They will fully live into their lives as God’s chosen people.
Joshua tells the people, “Make your choice.”
The people gathered with Joshua choose God – they promise to follow the God who brought them out of slavery and who stayed with them throughout their journey.
After Joshua’s death, verse 31 says that the people remembered what the Lord had done and remained faithful during the lifetime of the elders.
They had stuck with their commitment … for a time, at least.
Now, as the pandemic eases its grip … knock wood … we’re exiting a long and sometime lonely journey and we begin to move into a new congregational reality, perhaps it is a time when like those gathered before Joshua, we too can mark this place in the life of the congregation and in the life of the church.
Perhaps, as covid-wounded congregations limp forward, this is a time that calls for recommitment and renewal. Maybe it’s a time for choices to be made.
Perhaps, we can choose to more fully and deeply live into the promise … the grace … we have received.
As we move forward into the new reality, we can ask ourselves, “Whom or what do we serve? What fills our hearts?”
A few years back, Clarence E. Macartney wrote a book called, “The Greatest Men of the Bible.”
In the book he wrote, “There are plenty of gods one you can serve, aside from the true God and his Son Jesus Christ. Among these gods are business, society, money, power, fame, appetite, pleasure. But what are all these gods compared with Jesus Christ? … Whomever chose God and lived to regret that choice?”
Each day, we are confronted with a number of choices and have to live with the consequences of some of them.
… do we help someone asking for change?
… do we take food to a foodbank?
… do I call someone I know is hurting?
… do I support my faith community?
Choices we make are informed by the depth of our faith and our commitment to serving others.
Serving God can seem limiting to some, but it is liberating.
It calls us to avoid things that can fill our lives, our homes and our hearts … but can still leave us empty. It calls us to put our wants aside and focus on the needs of others.
By choosing God, we are called to stand against things that diminish others’ lives, it calls us into advocacy roles … adding our voice to those who have been ignored.
It calls as to work toward reconciliation among the people.
And it also calls us to be present in others’ pain and suffering … to serve the Lord is to put others at the centre of our lives.
Is it our choice to follow a life that sets us apart … that makes us a light in someone’s darkness?
Choosing to serve God also means that we are free … that we are forgiven for our missteps and unshackled from the things that can envelope our hearts.
And it means that we are free to share the grace … the love … that we have received.
And this makes the choice seem pretty easy.