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November 6, 2005 | November 13, 2005


November 6, 2005


15"If you decide that it's a bad thing to worship GOD, then choose a god you'd rather serve--and do it today. Choose one of the gods your ancestors worshiped from the country beyond The River, or one of the gods of the Amorites, on whose land you're now living. As for me and my family, we'll worship GOD."
16The people answered, "We'd never forsake GOD! Never! We'd never leave GOD to worship other gods.

The Long march was over.
The wilderness was back in the distant past.
The string of victories that God has led them to are now complete.
And there lay the Land.

The Land… the Land that was first promised to Abraham… then Isaac… the Jacob.
The Land that was promised to Moses… which he was allowed to view from across the river.
The Land that Joshua and his men had marched through… vanquishing every enemy in their path.
The Land now lay before them.

Our story takes places after the victory parades have been staged…
Joshua called them together.

Joshua was Moses’ successor.
He was the high priest/commanding general/head-of–state Joshua who calls the people to assembly.
Joshua has a question for them.

Who will you now serve?
Which god will you worship
What divine presence will you seek?

For Joshua… there is no question… there is no choice.

Fear GOD. Worship him in total commitment.

The god of whom Joshua speaks is the Liberator God.

This is what GOD, the God of Israel

Joshua then recounts the history of Israel.
Joshua names the names of Israel’s honored ancestors…
Abraham and Isaac… Jacob and Esau… Moses and Aaron.
Through them came their identity.
their tradition.
the promise…
the promise of a path through the wilderness… across the Jordan and into Canaan… the promised land.

They were God’s chosen people.
And as they stood there on the plains of Shechem…
Joshua called them to declare their allegiance.

Perhaps it seems strange for the need to declare one’s loyalty so soon after victory.
They know they owe so much to the God that Joshua had reminded them of.
You would think that their loyal and devotion would be automatic.

Joshua knew better.
Joshua had been there when complaining of the lack of food they had moaned that they would had been better off to die in comfort as slaves in Egypt the free people in the wilderness.
Joshua had been there when he and Moses came down the mountain to the specter of the Golden God that the children of Israel created for themselves.
Joshua knew better.

So he called them together so they could declare their allegiance.
After reciting their history to them…
Joshua confronted them with their past digressions from the God of Abraham and Moses.
Get rid of the gods your ancestors worshiped on the far side of The River (the Euphrates) and in Egypt. You, worship GOD.
For Joshua there is no place for those Gods here.

If you decide that it's a bad thing to worship GOD, then choose a god you'd rather serve--and do it today.

Choose now.

If you are going to desert the God who brought you out of Egypt… do it today.
If one of those other gods are more to your liking… do it today.
If one of the gods on the other side of the river… one of the gods still hovering in the wilderness or dominating the slave fields of Egypt… do it today.

Perhaps Joshua not only knows his own history… but our history.
Perhaps Joshua knows that a conquering people are less loyal to their God then a conquered people.
Perhaps Joshua knows there are few non-believers when one prays for guidance in the wilderness…
And too many self-assured promoters on the victory stand.

It was easy to be humble when starving in the snowy New England winters…
And then be proud when you stride victorious across the Mississippi.
It is easy to sacrifice and struggle in the depths of depression and war…
And then be greedy and lazy when you are the economic and military superpower.

Joshua knows how easy loyalties change when the times change.
Memory is short.
All too soon the congregation before him will be exposed to new choices of peace and prosperity…
Which inevitably lead to new choices in gods and worship.
So here and now…
Here at Shechem…
Now in this assembly…
The time has come to make their declaration.

Perhaps they will choose another God.
Joshua will not.
As for me and my family, we'll worship GOD."
A simple statement.
A straight forward declaration of faith.

Yet it is this simple statement… this declaration of faith that most challenges the congregation in front of Joshua.
Right away the people cry…me too… me too…

Count us in: We too are going to worship GOD. He's our God."

Joshua thinks they are acting too quickly.
Easy promise to make… harder to keep.

So Joshua tells them.
You can't do it; you're not able to worship GOD.
And Joshua warns them that they will pay the price if they start fooling around… engaging in sin and idolatry… there will be a price to pay.
He'll put an end to you--and after all the good he has done for you!"
Of course the people protest again and declare all the louder that they will do as Joshua and his family…
And follow the God of the Patriarchs and the God of Moses.
But the people told Joshua: "No! No! We worship GOD!"
So be it Joshua tells them.
You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen GOD for yourselves--to worship him."
Witnesses against yourselves.
What if we were witnesses against our own faith statements?
What if we were held to our youthful and enthusiastic declarations we made at our confirmation and baptism?
What if God held us accountable… and measured our behaviors against our stated faith?
What would be the verdict?
Would it be as swift and sure as Joshua suggests…]
He'll put an end to you--and after all the good he has done for you!"
Do any of us believe that?
Do any of us believe that we as persons… as a nation… stand in judgment because of our beliefs and behaviors?
Do we believe that there is anything seriously at stake because we might abandon the faith we once had?

Certainly there is a danger for any prophet or preacher to call down hellfire and damnation upon people or nations that they believe have transgressed so badly that God must punish them.
Self-righteousness and self-congratulatory prophets who doom others seem all too often to stand outside the standards of faith and the consequences of judgment they proclaim.

Biblical prophets never truck in such phony and arrogant prophesies.
More likely they understand that the judgment God will wreak upon God’s people will fall also upon their heads.

This is why I believe Joshua will not let the people of Israel off with so easy a confession of faith.
"Now get rid of all the foreign gods you have with you. Say an unqualified Yes to GOD, the God of Israel."
Faith for Joshua is serious business.
It is not enough to say you believe in the God of the Patriarchs and the God of Moses.
They must rid themselves of their other gods…
Their gods of convenience and comfort…
Gods whose purposes are to please and comfort its worshippers…
Always grant them victory and success… happiness and heaven.

Such gods are false gods.
The God Joshua pledges his faith to is a jealous God.
Of all the characteristics most of us give to God… I would bet that a “jealous” God would almost never be listed.
Loving… caring… forgiving… merciful… even judgmental.
But jealous.
I don’t think so.

It goes back to whether faith matters.
It matters to a God who is jealous.
It matters to a God who tells us there are to be no other Gods.
It matters to a God who treasures faith above show… justice above eloquence… discipleship above mere membership.

Does it matter to us?
That is the question Joshua put before the assembly at Shechem.
It is the same question God continually puts before us.

Our answer is important only if we believe something is truly at stake.
Our answer is important only if we believe that our God… the God we believe in… is truly a jealous God.

Maybe you think it really doesn’t matter.
Maybe Joshua is just one more Bible beating evangelist trying to scare us into believing.

Of all the workshops and conferences I have attended in 30 some years of ministry…
I will always remember the one given several years ago at one of our association meetings.
The speaker said the trouble with most preaching in Protestant preachers was that we peach under the twin themes of as if… whatever.
Our preaching went on week after week… year after year as if there was nothing crucial or important at stake…
Whatever we believed was OK… as long as we believed it.
He said we ought to preach as if this were our last sermon… and that there was something really at stake when we preach.

I have never forgotten what he said.
I believe he was right.
I believe that Joshua believed there was something at stake when he challenged the people to declare their faith at Shechem that day.

What is at stake for you today?
For if there is nothing at stake… then why are you here?
If there is nothing at stake… then you are free to choose whatever God you like.
If there is nothing at stake… then there is no need for statements of faith… declarations of loyalty.

Like Joshua… I believe there is something at stake.
Like Joshua… I believe we are asked to choose.
So Speak… declare what you believe.
Now get rid of all the foreign gods you have with you. Say an unqualified Yes to GOD, the God of Israel."


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