A sermon for Proper 27
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14- 25, Psalm 78:1-7, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Matthew 25:1-13
We are back to our semi continuous reading of the Old Testament this morning. Two weeks ago we heard Moses’ farewell address to Israel as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. He did not go with them. Joshua, his appointed successor, of sorts, is to be Israel’s Prime Minister, as God leads them into the Promised Land. This morning we hear from the end of Joshua’s farewell address, which is actually a covenant renewal. This final chapter opens with a gathering of all the tribes. Joshua gives a brief review of Israel’s history up till then, although we hear it only through Abraham’s call. This review sets the stage for the choice to come. (Koeing)
The choice Israel has to make is which god to follow. Will they follow the God of the ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who freed them from slavery, led them through the wilderness and in capturing the Promised Land? Or, will they, as they have been want to do over the years, follow other, local gods? It’s an unusual scene in that Joshua seems to stand apart from Israel, challenging them, which is not his customary role as first among. (Coote 11462) Perhaps because this task is different. Here he demands they choose. Then he declares his choice:
“… as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Well success is at hand. All of Israel proclaims they will follow “the Lord for he is our God.” But then Joshua, in rather sarcastic voice, tells them they cannot. He knows they have all sorts of tokens and idols of the gods of the recently conquered lands. He has witnessed their wandering eyes. He knows their tendency to rebel. (Hoezee) And so he names it. But the people fervently reply “NO! ~ we will serve the Lord!” Twice more the people declare they will serve the God of their ancestors. And we come to the close; with Joshua’s command to them to put away their foreign gods, after which he makes a covenant with the people, including statutes and ordinances. (More laws.)
It would be easy to get offended by Joshua’s biting sarcastic “You cannot serve God!” It is tempting to think Joshua doesn’t believe: his people will, or can, put away their illicit mementoes; that Israel will not, cannot follow and serve God.
But I don’t think that’s how he feels. Joshua’s challenge forces the choice into public awareness, he names the easy pluralism or laissez faire relativism Israel so often tends to. He names the truth, they must choose, the God of their ancestors, or the gods of the lands, they cannot have both. (Epperly)
In many ways Joshua’s fare well mirrors Moses. Both remind Israel what God has done for them, and then presents them with the opportunity to choose to follow God. It is not the last time remember then choose is a structural theme of biblical writings.
The appointed Psalm for this morning is the first seven verses of Psalm 78. Psalm 78 is 72 verse marathon reviewing the history of God and Israel through to the establishment of David’s Kingly line. It is written over against the division of the Kingdom in the 9th century BCE by Rehoboam and Jeroboam, (Harrelson)
Solomon’s sons. The verses that stand out for me are:
… things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. …
… that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and rise up and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; (NSRV)
They are a succinct refrain:
remember and choose,
remember and follow,
remember and serve.
They are also a succinct definition of stewardship: that we are stewards of Christ’s ministry to proclaim that God’s Kingdom is right here, right now. It reminds us to teach the children, not just ours but “theirs” even the unborn.
Tuesday St. Stephen’s mailed a letter with a commitment form to everyone for whom we have an address. If you did not get one let me know, I have copies. The asking is for a commitment of time, talent and treasure. I know that you know that this is the stewardship time of year, and churches ask members to tell them what they plan to give next year. There is a focus on money. Our vestry is responsible for putting a budget together to guide our spending for the year to come, and to plan for the years ahead. So, knowing your intention to give back to God, through St. Stephen’s, is important. However, the contribution of time and talent toward participating in our stewardship of Christ ministry is more important. Commitment of time and talent represent your remembrance and your commitment to put away our foreign gods and to follow and serve God. Without the commitment to follow and serve God, our financial contributions, as significant as they are, are out of context.
My challenge to all of us is: over the next two weeks take time to prayerfully remember, to listen for the divine voice, to discern your commitment to tithe, returning 10% to God, or your plan to get there, and to discern how you are called to remember, share or teach the promise in the story of God and Jesus, so we and generations to come will know and live by God’s love for all.
Coote, Robert B. New Interpreter’s bible. Vol. Volume 2 Joshua. Nashville: Abbingdon Press, 2003.
Creach, Jerome F. D. Interpretation. Vol. Joshua. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2003.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurois Lectionary. 9 11 2014. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Joshua 24:1-3, 14-25. 9 11 2014. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php>.
Koeing, Sara. Commentary on Joshua 24:1-3, 14-25. 9 11 2014. <workingpreacher.org>.
Petersen, David and Beverly Roberts Gaventa. New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abbingdon Press, 2010. ebook.