July 15, 2012
Joshua 24:1-2, 14-24 (1)
Rev. Lauren J. McFeaters
When you sit in the pews and look up into the stained glass windows of the Lutheran Church in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, there is a depiction of the Trinity. The colored glass illustrates the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The design is triangular and each person of the Trinity sits at each point of the triangle -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
And etched next to each depiction, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are the Latin words “Quis quaestiones?”
It’s a question. “Quis quaestiones?”
Sitting in that pew, God your Creator looks straight into your eyes and says, “Quis quaestiones?” “Any questions?”
Jesus Christ your Redeemer looks deep into your heart and says “Any questions?”
The Holy Spirit your sustainer delves deeply into your soul and says “Any questions?” (2)
Joshua draws his people to the same. Any questions? Four times he confronts them with the truth of God’s faithfulness and four times he demands their profession of loyalty, allegiance, and commitment. He doesn’t seem convinced by the people's declaration that they will serve only the Lord. Joshua really pushes them to repeat their affirmations as though repetition will engrave it on their hearts. (3)
Therefore revere and serve the Lord
in sincerity and in faithfulness. Any questions?
“We will serve the Lord.”
The Lord is a jealous God. Any questions?
“We will indeed serve the Lord.”
Serve the Lord. Any questions?
“We are witnesses.”
“Then put away the foreign gods that are among you,
and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
“The Lord our God we will serve and we will obey.”
On top of all this is Joshua’s constant proclamation that God’s people are a people called to serve; to serve the Lord. God’s people are called to serve, to service, to servanthood.
Each and every time I preach I seem to be followed by a song. It happens all the time. After I prepare the sermon text for study – a song, a tune, a melody will enter my head. It’s a whisper in my ear. And it follows me everywhere. Does this happen to you. It’s one of the ways God talks to me.
During preparation for last week’s text, as the Israelites prepared to cross the Jordan, the Talking Heads came for a visit in my ears and they were singing their version of “Take me to the River.” Do you know that song? David Byrne sings:
“Take me to the river; drop me in the water,
take me to the river; dip me in the water.”
Two weeks ago, as God challenged Moses and Joshua to be strong and bold; Des-ree showed up in my head with her song, “You Gotta Be.”She was singing in my ear all week:
“You gotta be bold, you gotta be strong, you gotta be wiser. You gotta be cool, you gotta be calm, you gotta stay together.
All I know, all I know, love will save the day.”
This week Bob Dylan came to visit. When he converted to Christianity Dylan wrote an album entitled “Slow Train Coming,” and in it is a song called, “You Gotta Serve Somebody.” So he’s been singing it in my ear this week.
You’re gonna have to serve somebody.
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord,
but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
Serve, service, servanthood. You’re gonna have to serve somebody. It’s been a refrain in my mind all week. Then I noticed why. Fifteen times this word is used in our text. Fifteen times in as many verses God moves us to hear “serve.” Fifteen.
Why? Why “serve?” Why now? And why is Joshua pushing so hard?
Certainly Joshua has grown much older, much wiser. Under his leadership the Israelites have a land of their own and life is unfolding in some semblance of normalcy. I think Joshua knew there were dangers with this semblance of normalcy. This kind of we-can-now-let-our-guard-down kind of life can cause people to become forgetful of service; indifferent towards God; apathetic to servanthood. People of Faith begin to delude themselves into believing that it wasn’t God who had been providing for them all along —rather, it was their own cleverness, talent, ingenuity. Why not take credit for such a successful epic – we came, we saw, we conquered.
Right there in Shechem, on the threshold of a new life, moments before they leave to settle their own parcels of land, Joshua steps into the pulpit for a moment for spiritual challenge. He knows his people. He recognizes their resistance to pledge themselves to service. Unless confronted, the Israelites could put their eggs in multiple baskets by returning to the worship of multiple gods.
But I think their resistance goes back decades when service was slavery, and slavery was death. Death at the at the hands of abusers. Perhaps the people mistrust that their freedom is absolute. Sure, God has brought us thus far, but what’s next. Are Pharaoh’s slaves simply becoming God's servants?
No. And that’s where the word “service” comes to full fruition, because Joshua knows and the people of Israel know that to serve also means to worship.
And in the hearts of this people is a raw truth that the God who has set them free from slavery, who has protected and loved them through the desert, is the God they worship, serve, and adore.
To serve. To worship.
In our own time and in the Reformed tradition we know that worship is at the very heart of who we are. We are deeply rooted in worship. And worship, we know, is meant for every time and place. We gather today in response to God’s call and through worship God shapes our faith. Worship is sustained by the presence of Christ who is the source of our life.
Worship is a joy. It’s a gift where all praise and honor, glory and power are given to the triune God. It’s a gift where we acknowledge God is very present in the world and in their lives. It’s a gift and we are transformed and renewed. Through the grace of God, we are a people of renewal. We offer ourselves to God and God equips us for service. To worship to serve; to serve to worship.
Like the Israelites, we can become forgetful of service; indifferent towards God; apathetic to servanthood; lethargic about worship. We begin to believe it’s not God who provides, rather own cleverness, talent, ingenuity. Why not take credit for such a successful epic – we came, we saw, we conquered.
Of anything else in our life together, it is worship that renews us and turns our hearts back to our Creator (4). Worship eases our egos out of high gear. Worship takes our hot and weary summer souls and quenches them with the waters of replenishment. Worship offers us a taste of humility. When our service and worship are central, God renews us body and soul.
Whether in ancient Israel or contemporary Princeton, God is shaping and forming us. God knows we are a very human group of people: a people who doubt, who sin, who turn and run. But we are also a people, who through turmoil and blessing, can hear the voice of God singing in our ear;
I have chosen you.
I have sent my son to save you.
I have made you my household.
Now, how can you keep from singing?
(1) Joshua 24:1-2, 14-24: 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.” “Now therefore revere 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. 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; 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; 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.” But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 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.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” 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.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.
(3) Anna Grant-Henderson. Commentary: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25. Uniting Church in Australia. November 9, 2008.
(4) Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson. Sermon: “Serve the Lord.” Josh 24:1-3a, 14-25, Pentecost 26/Year A. Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, September 11, 2008.
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