Psalm 78 (CEB)

78 Listen, my people, to my teaching;
tilt your ears toward the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a proverb.
I’ll declare riddles from days long gone—
3 ones that we’ve heard and learned about,
ones that our ancestors told us.
We won’t hide them from their descendants;
we’ll tell the next generation
all about the praise due the Lord and his strength—
the wondrous works God has done.
He established a law for Jacob
and set up Instruction for Israel,
ordering our ancestors
to teach them to their children.
This is so that the next generation
and children not yet born will know these things,
and so they can rise up and tell their children
    to put their hope in God—
never forgetting God’s deeds,
but keeping God’s commandments—

Joshua 24Common English Bible (CEB)

What God has done

24 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders of Israel, its leaders, judges, and officers. They presented themselves before God. Then Joshua said to the entire people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Long ago your ancestors lived on the other side of the Euphrates. They served other gods.

Challenge to be faithful

14 “So now, revere the Lord. Serve him honestly and faithfully. Put aside the gods that your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and serve the Lord. 15 But if it seems wrong in your opinion to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Choose the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But my family and I will serve the Lord.”

16 Then the people answered, “God forbid that we ever leave the Lord to serve other gods! 17 The Lord is our God. He is the one who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. He has done these mighty signs in our sight. He has protected us the whole way we’ve gone and in all the nations through which we’ve passed. 18 The Lord has driven out all the nations before us, including the Amorites who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

19 Then Joshua said to the people, “You can’t serve the Lord, because he is a holy God. He is a jealous God. He won’t forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you leave the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn around and do you harm and finish you off, in spite of having done you good in the past.”

21 Then the people said to Joshua, “No! The Lord is the one we will serve.”

22 So Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”

They said, “We are witnesses!”

23 “So now put aside the foreign gods that are among you. Focus your hearts on the Lord, the God of Israel.”

24 The people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and will obey him.”

Joshua makes a covenant

25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people and established just rule for them at Shechem.

This is the word of God for us the people of God.  Thanks be to God.

Season of the Saints II – The Stories of the Saints

Last week we remembered the saints of this church and in our lives.  We read in Revelation 7 that the saints are those believers who are clothed in white robes – because they have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  They were so committed to Christ that the sin and darkness of their lives was washed away and they were transformed into God’s people.  They remained faithful to God even though they faced great hardships, and now those saints in heaven worship with joy in the presence of Almighty God.

Today, we begin to learn more about the lives of the saints as we think about what stories the saints share with generations past and present and even the generations to come.  Today we have Joshua telling the story of the ancient Israelites and their journey with God.  Joshua is the person who became the Israelites’ leader after Moses died.  You may remember that Moses led God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness to the very edge of the promised land, and then Joshua was the one who was chosen to lead the people across the Jordan River into the land that God had promised.  But this scripture that we are looking at today, is at the end of Joshua’s life, and at the end of the book of Joshua.  And so what we just read is actually one of Joshua’s farewell addresses to his people.  Not only does Joshua remember all the stories of God’s faithfulness, but he is speaking his last words – his words of warning and his words of encouragement for his people.

And don’t you think that one of the reasons that Joshua tells the people these stories about the past is to remind them about all that they have been through together.  And don’t you think Joshua is also reminding them how faithful God has been to them over the generations even when they have been unfaithful.             Many of you who grew up in church know these stories Joshua talks about by heart.  And our after-school program is hearing these ancient stories every Wednesday – they are important for us to continue to share with new generations, right?  Because they teach us something about who God is, and they teach us, too, something about who we are as children of God.

So I want to take some time to walk you along the path that the Israelites had walked — let’s take a minute to let the stories of these saints paint a picture in our minds of the adventures of some of God’s saints.

Like lots of good stories, Joshua starts out with “a long time ago!”  Long ago, the people lived on the other side of the Euphrates River, and they served other gods.  Before God called Abraham to his journey to the promised land, the people lived far away, and they didn’t know the Lord, our God.  But Joshua tells the story of how God took Abraham from the other side of the river through the land of Canaan.  God added to Abraham’s descendants and gave him Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Moses and Aaron.  Joshua reminds the people how they suffered as slaves in Egypt and he also reminds them of the way that the Lord plagued Egypt and used Moses to lead the people out of slavery.  He reminds them of the way the Egyptians chased his ancestors with chariots and horses to the Red Sea, and how the Lord responded to their cries for help by allowing them to cross the Red Sea, but not the Egyptians, right?  Joshua reminds the people of how they lived in the desert.  How they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.  And yet God provided everything they needed, even their daily bread.  God was faithful to God’s people, and they finally crossed over the River Jordan into the land that God had promised.

And Joshua remembers all of this in this text.  Joshua remembers the great things that the Lord had done for the people.  But Joshua also remembers the failings of the people.  I imagine this long journey was nothing like Abraham, Moses or Joshua had expected.  I am sure that God’s plan took much longer than they would have hoped or expected – generations longer, in fact.  And I think the journey was much more difficult than the people hoped for.  In fact, the journey was so difficult, that the people frequently lost their focus.  They forgot that God was there – they toiled in slavery where they couldn’t feel God’s presence.  They doubted that God would provide for them while they were in the desert, and even bellyached about wanting to go back to slavery because they were tired of eating manna.  They regularly turned away from Yhwh and worshiped idols instead.

And so it is with these stories on his lips that he challenges God’s people in verse 14.  He challenges them to revere the Lord ….and to serve God honestly and faithfully.  He challenges them to put aside the gods that their ancestors worshiped back in the land beyond the Euphrates river where they came from and also to put aside the gods the Amorites worship all around them.  And Joshua says, if it seems wrong to worship Yhwh, then so be it, but “choose today whom you will serve.”

Joshua says – make your choice.  None of this wishy-washy, half-hearted religion – choose!  God wants all of you – God wants your heart and your soul and your mind.  Joshua wants to nail this faith issue down – he’s old.  He won’t be around long, and he wants his people to know the vital importance of their faith in their own individual lives and in the lives of the community and to the generations to come.  And so, he warns his people that God is a jealous God who wants the people to honor and serve only God.  And Joshua is pretty skeptical that the people want to worship God, but the people respond like this:

17 The Lord is our God. He is the one who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. He has done these mighty signs in our sight. He has protected us the whole way we’ve gone and in all the nations through which we’ve passed. 18 The Lord has driven out all the nations before us, including the Amorites who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

And so what do these ancient words have to do with us today?  Well, I think that this story is our still our story.  I think that we humans haven’t changed all that much since Joshua’s day.  And I am certain God is the same.  I think we humans keep messing things up – we fail to honor and revere God, and we worship all kinds of other gods.  But I also think that God is a faithful God who constantly calls us back into that deep deep relationship where we are faithful to God alone ………with all that we are.  There are a few more things I can relate to in this passage, too.

–I believe that we are still living in slavery, and we need a liberator.

–I think we are still wandering around in the wilderness and need to see the presence of God through it all.

–I think we are still worshiping other gods and failing to find the one thing that will satisfy our every need.

And so I want you to think through this with me, and to help me brainstorm some ways that people today are metaphorically living in slavery.  What are some ways that people are enslaved to something and are not free to live a life of joyful obedience to God?  What enslaves people today?  I think of addiction issues – drug and alcohol issues are so horribly devastating and enslaving.  Anxiety.  Unforgiveness.  Bitterness.

And haven’t we all felt like we were wandering in a desert place, in a wilderness before?  Don’t people suffering from grief feel like they’re in a desert place?  People who are caregivers for loved ones who are ill?  People with a devastating diagnosis like cancer?  Depression.  Bullying.  Financial worries.  Divorce.

And what modern day idols do we put before God?  I’ll give you one right here.  This phone – social media.  I listened to the man who created facebook say that it was intentionally designed to addict us to looking at it.  He said that it was purposefully designed in such a way that we would spend more and more of our time looking at it.  What else takes our attention away from loving and obeying God?  What are some other idols?   Money.  Success.  Power.  Work.  Sports.

There is a lot of trouble in this text from Joshua and there is a lot of trouble in our world.  We are enslaved; we are wandering in the wilderness, and we worship other gods.  But the good news is that God is faithful.  God is always faithful.  The good news is that Jesus is our liberator…… the good news is that the Holy Spirit is companion as we go through our desert….. and the good news is that there is only one God who will save us.  The good news is that we can choose.  We can choose today to serve the Lord.

Joshua’s ancient stories remind us of that today.  It is important for us to remember out stories – not just our own personal faith stories, but the story of the saints who went before us, so that we can remember who we are as God’s people.  We can find these stories in the Hebrew Bible, in the Old Testament – we can hear the story of how faithful God was to the Israelites.  We read the story of Jesus found in the New Testament.  It’s the story about our savior’s life and death and resurrection, it’s the story of who we are as followers of Jesus — the story behind our beliefs.

And there are some other ways that we remember our stories around here.

Great Thanksgiving p. 9 UMH

Apostle’s Creed p. 882 UMH

This is our story.  We remember our story on a regular basis.  And our stories should make a difference in our lives.  Our stories should remind us of how we as God’s people are consistently messing things up, and how God is consistently drawing us back into right relationship.  Our stories remind us that we are not alone.  Our stories remind us that life can be devastating – evil exists, bad things happen to good people, and we make stupid choices.  We tend to become enslaved to harmful things, we find ourselves wandering through a desert we never wanted to visit, and we constantly find golden calves along our journey to bow down to.  But the one constant we find in the stories of the saints is that NO MATTER WHAT – God is still good.  God is still there.  God still loves God’s people with an unending and overwhelming love.

The stories of the saints don’t end with the book of Revelation, though.  The stories of the saints are ongoing.  Your story is now a part of the stories of the saints.  And we have a choice.  How will we choose today to write our stories?  How will we choose to live as people transformed by the power of Christ?  How will we react when we find ourselves enslaved, wandering in the wilderness or bowing down to idols?  And how will we share our stories with the generations to come?

Listen again to Joshua’s challenge to his people:

14 “So now, revere the Lord. Serve him honestly and faithfully. Put aside the gods that your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and serve the Lord. 15 But if it seems wrong in your opinion to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Choose the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But my family and I will serve the Lord.”

Whom do you choose today?

Let us pray.

 

God we choose you.

Show us the way.  We want the freedom of obeying you.  And we crave to experience your life-giving presence along our journeys, so we cry out to you as we struggle in the wilderness.  And God would you open our eyes to the idols in our lives, and then would you give us the strength to put you first.  God we love you, and we are amazed by your grace.  Help us to live out this choice each day.  Amen.