Sunday, March 17, 2019

Joshua.24.1-2.14-18; The Second Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2018;

Joshua.24.1-2.14-18; The Second Sunday in Lent, March 17, 2018;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
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)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
One of the things that is most sure about American life is the choices we have. There is a whole row at Walmart dedicated to choosing toothpaste. In fact, you might say, Walmart itself is an institution dedicated to the prospect of choice. Nothing displays our choices more clearly. My wife and I recently went to the Walmart at Ames. While our Walmart is fine, the choices one finds there make our small store look downright poor. So, our lives are full of choices. What car do you drive? Ford or Chevy? Vikings or Packers? Some choices are important, some are unimportant. Some choices are big, some are small. Some are heart wrenching some are easy.  
Because our lives are what they are, that is filled with choices, it might be easy to project the idea on to places in your life where a choice is not yours to make. For example, what about God? Is he your choice to make? Did you decide one day to follow God after living your whole life as his enemy? Did you choose one day to make a commitment to God? Well, that's what it sounds like is happening in our reading form the book of Joshua, isn't it?
Joshua assembled the twelve tribes of Israel to give them the word of the LORD. “Thus says the LORD,” said Joshua, and the word of the Lord comes to the people. What does the LORD say? He reminds the people of their fathers who lived beyond the Euphrates, the fathers who served other gods. He reminds them that he took one of those fathers, Abraham, out of that foreign land of foreign gods and gave him the land of Canaan. The LORD reminds them of Isaac and Esau and Jacob and the descendants of Jacob, and what he did for them. He reminds them of Moses and Aaron, his instruments that he used to bring his people out of slavery in Egypt. He reminds them that he drove the peoples out before them and he told them “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” (Jo 24:13).
Joshua delivers to the people of Israel this command: serve the LORD; put away the gods! Serve the LORD, the LORD who speaks these words, who rescued them, and who delivered them into a land he has promised. If this for some reason, some odd reason, seems evil, displeasing in their sight, Joshua demands that they choose which god they will serve. How about the ones beyond the Euphrates? How about the ones down in Egypt? Joshua, however, declares, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Jo 24:15). Well, that's just like us. Isn't it? It's a perfect example of a world full of choices! Doesn't this prove the we can choose God? Choose the gods of your father, the gods of the Amorites, or serve the God that brings you pleasure, or serve the god that tells you that you are always right, or choose a combination, or choose the one true God. Is Joshua really suggesting to the tribes and to you that they and we have the right to choose God? Absolutely not! One who thinks that Joshua 24 is about making a choice for the LORD has sadly misunderstood this word. Choose for yourselves amongst the gods that your fathers worshiped, sure. Choose one of the gods of the Amorites, yeah you could do that. That is no different than choosing between a blue door and a white one or between ham and turkey. Making the LORD just another choice, no way!
The people respond adamantly that they will not follow any other God than the LORD. They seem appalled by the very suggestion itself. “Far be it from us!” Never! Never! Let it not be! They say they will follow no one other than the LORD who saved them and showed them great signs (Jo 24:17). Is it simply that they didn’t want to bite the hand that fed them? Is it just a matter that these people made a good and educated choice? Joshua bursts that bubble straight away. “But Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God’” (v. 19). Joshua recognizes the sinful condition of this people and their lack of power and authority to do any choosing. Freedom of choice just failed them.
The confession that Joshua and the people make is bold: my household and I will serve the LORD, and far be it from us that we would serve anyone other, for the LORD is the one true God. This response, however, has nothing to do with their choice but everything to do with God’s choice. God took Abraham from beyond the river. He chose Abraham. God delivered his people from Egypt. He chose them. Now this word of the LORD has come to the twelve tribes. Their response? To serve and follow him. Their response flows from faith, which is never a choice of man but always a work of God. God has done his work on them through his word!
Always a work of God! So, it is in your life. As neither Joshua nor the twelve tribes chose the LORD, so we have no ground for choice. Jesus says, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you” (Jn 15:16). Choose for yourself this day whom you will follow (Jo 24:15). Who you will follow is Jesus who has already chosen you and leads you to himself by faith. The one you follow is Jesus who has drawn you to his cross through the waters of your Holy Baptism. The one whom you follow is Jesus who finds you dead in your trespasses and brings you to himself—to life—even when we had no intention to follow. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). God’s choice for you is no accident or afterthought: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the very foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1:3-4).
So what does the LORD’s work mean for Joshua? What does it mean for the twelve tribes? What does it mean for the disciples? What does it mean for you? It means being chosen by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who sent his Son to be your salvation, the promise fulfilled. It means receiving that gift by a faith that is his work alone. It means living a confession that looks like these words: As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD, the LORD, who is the true God. It means confessing with our lips and lives that we follow none other than the LORD. He is our Savior who came after us and rescued us on the cross. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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