Sunday, August 26, 2012

As for me

Joshua 24: 1-18, OT page 215-216 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. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Essau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. When they cried out to the Lord, the Lord put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time. Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan; they fought with you, and I handed them to you, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. Then King Balak son of Zippor of Moab, set out to fight against Israel. He sent and invited Balaam son of Beor to curse you, but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I rescued you out of his hand. When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I handed them over to you. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and town that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant. “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. The Lord protected us along 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 the Lord is our God.” Sermon My grandmother loved to decorate her house, and one of the most interesting objects from her house looked like a little cat curled up sleeping. She had two or three of these decorative cats, and she used them to accent a couch that was more for admiring than sitting in and a bed that took a long time to make and a long time to get into because in addition to the decorative cat there were at least 500 throw pillows. That was the bed my grandmother was the most proud of, so when Sara would come to stay she always insisted that we sleep there. The only problem was that Sara was sure the decorative cat had at one time been a real cat, so before getting into bed she would always burry that cat under the 500 throw pillows. As it turned out, Sara was right. The local paper published an article about a Chinese company that stuffed real stray cats, molded their bodies into that curled up sleeping position, and exported them to the United States where they were sold, even at Tomlinson’s, the store my grandmother shopped in every single day of her life whether she needed anything from there or not. After reading this article about the unfortunate origin of her decorative cats she drove right over to Tomlinson’s, went straight to the front desk and addressed the lady who was running the store, “isn’t it just awful about those decorative cats.” “Yes it is Mrs. Bivens,” the woman replied, “I’m so sorry that we sold you a pair of them, I’m just as embarrassed by all this as I could be, but I want you to know that we’ve boxed every one that we have left, as well as a few others that people have returned, and we’re sending them all back where they came from.” Now I want to stop my story there rather than tell you what my grandmother said next, to emphasize the fact that you may already have an idea about what happens next based on your idea of what you would do if you found yourself in the same situation. Or you might have an idea about what happens next in my story based on your idea of what your own grandmother would do if she found herself in the same situation. When it comes to what happens next, whether in a story or in real life, we all make assumptions about the future based on the past, and when we are making assumptions about what someone will do next we make assumptions based on what we know this person has done before. You’re not going to give the restaurant that made you sick a second chance, but you’re going to assume that they’ll do it again. No one goes back for a second or a third bad haircut, if she made you look like a poodle once then once is enough. We all make assumptions for the future based on the past, and if you really knew my grandmother then you wouldn’t be surprised that she looked the sales lady in the eyes and said, “if you’re just going to ship all those cats back to China then it really won’t be any trouble to give me a couple more to take back home with me will it?” If you really knew the lady then you could have seen it coming, and considering our scripture lesson from the 24th chapter of Joshua, it’s because Joshua really knows God that Joshua can anticipate what God is going to do next, even while so many around him falter. As the Israelites began their life as a people, free from slavery in Egypt, done wandering through the wilderness, and finally at home in the land that God had promised, some of them began to wonder about what kind of a people they would become and what kind of religion they would adopt. After all, the people must have thought, what guarantee do any of us have that the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Moses will even be around for us in the same way that God was present to Moses – now that Moses is gone how do we know that God will still be with us? I believe that this is an important question, especially for Joshua. How would he know for sure that God would still be there to deliver and provide for him and his people? How would he know for sure that God would not abandon him? How could he be certain that the blessings God had provided in the past would not dry up in the future? He could consult a fortune teller to find out whether blessings or curses were in his future, or he could do what he feared his people would do – turn to other gods, either those of their ancient ancestors or the gods of the people whose land they had invaded, whose ways seemed easier to predict. This issue of other gods is a theme throughout the Old Testament. Despite God’s mighty deeds of power the people’s faith falters and they turn to other gods and adopt other ways of life that do not honor the one who delivered them from slavery in Egypt. You would think that they had more reason to believe than any of us, but the truth is that putting your faith in God has always been a struggle for God’s people. This issue of faith and doubt has always been there – and the only way to gain any grasp on what God will do in the future is to remember what God has done in the past. So Joshua reminds the people: thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. When they cried out to the Lord, I put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt.” But how do you know that God will do it again for you? How do you know that God hasn’t left, moved on, fallen asleep on the job? How do you know that God still listens, still delivers, still suffers alongside people just like you and can set you free just as the Lord set the Israelites free? How do you know that God can still break down whatever walls stands in the way of your freedom, that God can do the impossible, divide the sea and whatever obstacle stands before you to set your feet upon the shores of new life? How do you know? Because the Lord has done it before, the Lord will do it again. That’s why I can say, “As for me – we will serve the Lord.” But what about you?

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