Sunday, August 16, 2009

Joshua 24:1-18; Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost; August 16, 2009

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 fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, 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 fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in 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 he is our God.” (Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18, ESV)

“When a choice is no choice at all.”

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

If you've talked to anyone who’s traveled to a foreign country one thing you might hear him or her say about visiting a grocery store overseas is how we have so many choices here. It’s a wonderful thing to live in a country that offers so much choice in simple matters. How many different kinds of bread are there at the grocery store? Flavors of potato chips? Mustard? That’s one of the things that make our country great. But, it’s also one of the things that makes some people hate us so much. We are used to having choices and lots of them: from 31 flavors of ice cream, to hundreds of choice for breakfast cereal.

Of course not all of our “choices” are the kind we really want to revel in too much. Not all the choices that we have legally are really good choices. Every single day thousands of women chose to end the life of their unborn children. And still others long for the choice to end their own life with physician-assisted suicide. “It’s the woman’s choice!” some say, or “It’s my choice. Don’t push your religious values on me! I want to have control over my own choices!” These days I think we could reasonably say that choice has become the national religion.

But, you know, sometimes our choices are easy, but sometimes your choices are downright impossible. It’s happened to you. You have a choice but none of the options are good ones. No matter how you choose it’s going to be painful. No matter what you do the outcomes isn’t going to be ‘all right.’ Those are the times when you wish the choice would go to someone else.

So what about the easy ones? You know about these, too. They’re the choices that aren’t really choices at all. Sometimes on the football field you see the Ref asking the team about the results of accepting the penalty, in one case the touchdown stands and the other it is called back. You say to yourself, “Of course they’ll decline it, that’s not really a choice at all.” There are lots of times in our life when a choice is so obvious that it’s not really a choice at all. And sometimes a choice isn’t a choice because the decision is really made for us or the decision is really outside of our control. You’ve all voted when you felt it really didn’t make any difference. (Which by the way isn’t a reason not to vote!)

But all in all, we like the idea of choice. We like the idea of having control over our lives, and making decisions by having lots and lots of options, lots and lots of choices. It makes us feel in control of our destiny. You know

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.” (Robert Frost, the Road Not Taken)

Even if we don’t like the outcome, we like having the choice. And that’s why I think when we heard the OT lesson for today, the words “choose for yourselves,” jump right out at us and stick in our minds. “Yea!” We say. “We have choices even when it comes to God. Even in religion we have choices. What a wonderful country we live in!”

You know though, as I look at this passage I’m not sure it says what we’d really like it to say. If we really look at the passage I think we’ll find out really what choices are being offered.

First we should note that in the bulletin a big chunk of the text is missing (namely verses 3-13). And although you can get the gist of what’s going on here you really need to know about those missing verses to really get the whole sense of it. You need to know what Joshua says in that missing text, before he says “choose for yourselves.”

And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they 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. I gave him Isaac. And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. And I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. And I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out. “ ‘Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea. And the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. And when they cried to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. And you lived in the wilderness a long time. Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan. They fought with you, and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel. And he sent and invited Balaam the son of Beor to curse you, but I would not listen to Balaam. Indeed, he blessed you. So I delivered you out of his hand. And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’ (Joshua 24:2-13, ESV)

Here the people have gathered before Joshua because they are just about to go into the Promised Land. They’re looking for marching orders, instructions on what to do next. But Joshua doesn’t just do that, he recounts with them what God’s been doing in their lives. He recounts the whole history of God working in the lives of His people. He reminds them exactly how they got to where they were right then. But he doesn’t just go back to recent history he goes all the way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He reminds the of God’s protection to Abraham in his travels, Isaac during his life, and how Jacobs family was saved from famine by going into Egypt. Then Joshua tells them again about how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt. How Moses came and showed God’s mighty hand to Pharaoh and secured their freedom. He reminded them of the scene of God’s protection at the Red Sea. How God parted the waters for them and closed up the waters on the Pharaoh’s army. And how God protected them as they wandered in the desert for 40 years, and again how He gave them the Promised Land, the land that they were now ready to occupy. It was a history of God’s protection and love.

After all of that then Joshua says, “Now! Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.” You see Joshua doesn’t really ask them to make a choice at all. Joshua is really saying, “Remember all that God has done for you. Now respect Him and serve Him! Get rid of those false gods that your relatives worshipped. After all what did they ever do for you? Is there really any comparison between those idols of wood and stone and the living God whose hand you have actually seen in action? Get rid of them and serve the True God!” Notice that in all that Joshua has said, there hasn’t been any choice at all. “Serve God!” He says. You see, it’s and obvious decision. After seeing what God has done of course they’ll serve God. But Joshua does offer the people of God a choice. It may not be the choice you think it is. And it’s important to note what Joshua has just said (all that part that’s cut out of the reading). “If it is evil in your eyes to serve God (this God whose done all these things for you), then choose for yourselves from these other false gods. If you don’t want to serve the True God, then it really doesn’t matter what you choose to do, it doesn’t matter which false god you choose. Serving the True God isn’t a choice, not a decision you can make. After all just look at what He has done for you. God has already chosen you, and serving God is what God’s people do.” It’s a choice that’s no choice at all. “As for me and my house,” Joshua says, “of course! We will serve the Lord.”

So, even in the world we live in, this “choice paradise” I’m not going to tell you that you’d better choose Jesus. After all that’s not what Joshua told God’s people gathered before him that day. You don’t have to choose because the choice has already been made. You really couldn’t choose to believe in Jesus anyway. Even though we’d like to have something to do with our salvation, some little part in it all, the bible makes in abundantly clear that there is nothing that we do. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Eph 2:8-9, ESV) You don’t decide to receive a gift; you only take it when and if it’s offered. You can’t “make a decision” for Christ. Not just because it’s impossible but, because you don’t have to. Instead of choosing God, God chooses us. "…God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Ro 5:8, ESV) "For God so loved the world, that he gave (that is He chose to give) his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (Jn 3:16, ESV) The choice was His, not ours. He chose to act for us. Jesus was born, lived and died on the cross by choice! He made the decision for us. Whenever we are tempted to think that there’s something that we have to do, whenever we think that God did His part now we have to do our part, we put ourselves in that boasting category by saying that my salvation isn’t complete unless I act. “I know what Jesus did but I have to help Him out and make it complete, through my own choice.” Sounds like boasting to me.

Faith in Christ does feel to us like a choice. But that choosing comes from faith that is planted in our hearts by the Holy Spirit already. It really is just a reaction to faith. It’s like this. Let’s say you won the lottery. The Lottery winnings are yours weather you believe it or not. If someone tells you you’ve won but you don’t believe them, it doesn’t change the fact that you’ve won. You go to get the prize when you believe that you’ve won. No amount of deciding to win the lottery is ever going to get you the money. You can’t decide to win. First you have to win, and then you have to believe that it’s true. Jesus Christ chose you, not randomly like a lottery, but He chose you by His Word, when you heard it or when it was spoken over you at your baptism. It wasn’t chance it was God’s free grace. His choice for you.

Come to think of it you have a story just like the one that Joshua told the people of God in our OT text for today. It’s the story of God’s great love for you; the story of God’s choosing you. For lots of you it begins at a font just like this one, with parents and congregation gathered around. It begins with God’s Word and water poured on your head in the God’s name. That’s God reaching out and choosing you to be His; changing you from His enemy to His child; giving you the salvation won on the cross by Jesus. He has brought you to a land of God’s promises though a wilderness of dangers. You are here completely because of God care and protection. You are here completely because God provides for you every day in every way. Not just in a worldly physical sense either. He provides for your spiritual need, too, in this Promised Land. He gives you His Word full of promises that are true for you right now, and will be even more true in the future, when you and He spend eternity together. And just so you don’t forget He finds lots of ways to remind you. Lot’s of ways to tell you of His great love for you again and again. Just look around in this place, it’s full of those reminders.

So, serve the Lord, Jesus Christ right now. Remember all that He has done for you. When you do that, of course you’ll serve Him. You see, it’s a choice that’s really no choice at all. Amen.

The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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