These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
This recording is intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.
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BEFORE READING THE TEXT:
I have a question for you today. What do the following places have in common?
Toomers Corner in Auburn
Franklin Street in Chapel Hill
What do those places have in common?
They are all places regarded as Holy Ground by someone.
The first places are Presbyterian conference grounds where many have had a spiritual experience with God. Toomer’s Corner-is holy ground to Auburn fans just as Franklin street is for Carolina fans… Mention Gettysburg, Normandy, Ground Zero, Auschwitz and a host of other places and you can find someone to tell you why that ground is sacred. Jerusalem… sacred ground for Christians, Muslims and Jews for many reasons.
Shechem is another holy place for God’s people. Shechem. I’m betting you didn’t know Shechem, 30 miles north of Jerusalem… Shechem… the site of our story today… Shechem is Holy Ground… As Joshua is about to give his farewell speech before he dies, he gathers all the tribes… the family of Israel to offer his final thoughts. And he gathers them on the sacred ground of Shechem.It’s a fitting place. Shechem, at the oak of Moreh, is the place where Abraham (their George Washington) built his first altar to the Lord… it was here that Jacob buried the strange gods of the people as they vowed to serve the living God… it is here that Joseph would be buried… So this is Holy Ground.
Shechem seems like the right place to gather and remember what God had done for them-from the promise made to Abraham years earlier-before these people were born-that God would bless Abram with a great name, a great nation and a land. Now that promise is fulfilled…and they are back where it all started. Shechem is where Joshua wants them to look back in order to look forward. Shechem is the place where Joshua wants to lay a choice before God’s people. A choice that is not easy. Listen for the choice they are going to be asked to make:
READ THE SCRIPTURE – Joshua 24:1-28
I have a good friend, Jay Stowe who moved to Huntsville, Alabama years ago to serve as the Chief Operating Officer for Huntsville Alabama Utilities. I first met Jay in Newton where he served in a similar position. Jay was very active in the church- especially among the youth. He loves youth and youth love Jay. We missed him when he moved to Shelby, NC… he left a hole in our life at FPC.
But I was kind of glad when he, Elaine and Emma moved to Huntsville where Sharon is from. That meant I’d get to see Jay on trips to my inlaws.
I remember when Jay moved there he emailed me and told me that he had stumbled into this Auburn-Alabama rivalry. Year round. He said, “Jody, people are crazy around here… it is worse than Duke-Carolina.”(Well, I could have told him that). And people were asking him to make choices. There is no middle ground. You have to choose-Auburn or Alabama…. Tide or Tiger.
It is their version of “Choose you this day who you will serve… who you will root for… whose name will be on your T-shirt, on your car… which team you will worship when you rise and when you go to sleep… which team’s logo will you tattoo on your face come football season (No house divided for you) … Choose you this day, Jay… whom you will serve and love and obey as you live in the state of Alabama!
You know the pressure Jay was under don’t you? I have lived in NC long enough to know that you ask the same thing at Carolina, State and Duke. No middle ground.When Joe went to Carolina I started pulling for the Tar Heels… but when I told him that I would also be pulling for the Wolfpack… he looked at me with dismay and disbelief and said, “You can’t do that! You have to choose.” He said, “You wouldn’t pull for Alabama would you?”
Choose you this day, whom you will serve… we know something about the drama of making choices, don’t we. Today, on that Sacred ground, Joshua realizes that God’s children will have some choices to make… again and again and again… for generations to come.
They are living in a land filled with the gods of the Amorites/Canaanites. Some of them have brought along gods from their ancestors… family gods. Gods passed down in the family from generation to generation. They are surrounded by all sorts of choices of household gods who promise all sorts of things. Gods who specialize in success and prosperity-agriculture/farming and fertility. Imagine how this would look on an infomercial… Seewhat this god will do for you! Better than sham wows! A consumer driven cultures dream. There is a god for everything. Household gods for every occasion.
Joshua and his people have been living among those gods… some have kept gods around the house. But sooner or later, Joshua says, you have to decide between the God who brought you out of the land of Egypt… who gave you this wonderful land… and the other gods… the choice seems clear for Joshua- no house divided for him:
“Choose you 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.”
Today is a day of decision according to Joshua. Today is the day to make a choice. And the choice is a sacred choice in that we are choosing what will be sacred in our lives. Who we will ultimately serve and follow in our lives.
Bob Dylan said it well when he sang, “You are gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed…” But where he differs from Joshua is this. Dylan said, “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you are gonna have to serve somebody”
If only the choice were that easy. For most of us it is easy to choose between the devil and the Lord. But choosing between the Lord and the other gods I love (God and family, God and sports, God and nation, God and money) … that is a bit harder for us.
A friend of mine spotted a bumper sticker on a Mercedes not long ago. It quoted Joshua: “Choose this day whom you will serve”… The questions for the driver might be, what does the Mercedes represent for you- the god of status or success? What god or gods did you have to serve to get the Mercedes? And I know if you looked in my home, you could ask the same kind of questions. What household gods did you worship to get ahead? Did you have to serve the gods of capitalism and business to get ahead? Who can be against those gods?
It is my experience, and I wonder if it is yours, that the really hard choices I have to make in life is not so much between good and evil but good and good. I have to choose between work and family or work and worship. Work is important. You have to make a living.
Some families make difficult choices between sports and worship… and as one who loves sports and sees the value in team sports, I know what a hard choice this is…. If only the choice I were asked to make was between becoming a terrorist or becoming a teacher. That’s an easy choice.
But the choice Joshua is asking the people to make is a difficult one. Give up the gods of your ancestors (your mother and father, your grandmother and grandfather)… go against the culture around you…do not worship the gods your neighbors are worshipping… instead, worship the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses.
It is a hard choice. Harder than the people thought. Oh, the scene at first looks like an Obama rally-“Yes we can”… but instead they are saying, “we will serve the Lord”… “We will serve the Lord”
To which Joshua says a strange thing. Be careful what you are saying. This is a huge commitment you are making. It is not as easy as you think to make this choice. This choice has consequences for you and your life.
I remember Jesus saying a similar thing. In the time of his ministry when he was popular with the crowds… they all wanted to follow him… they wanted to join his movement… Jesus sort of discourages them… which is interesting to me. He discourages people from joining his church. He says, before you follow me, you better count the cost… (it will cost you something to follow me) we’re going to be carrying crosses here… this is a choice to weigh carefully before you sign up for Jesus’ new member class.
I think sometimes we forget that sooner or later we all have this hard choice to make-whether or not we are going to follow our God. Sometimes we forget this. We all have to make the choice. And as is true with all choices, it will cost us something. You really can’t have it all.
Martin Luther King Jr. talks about growing up. He said, “Of course I was religious. I grew up in the church. My father is a preacher, my only brother is a preacher, my Daddy’s brother is a preacher. So I didn’t have much choice.”
But of course King, like all of us did have a choice… and he made it with his whole heart, soul, mind and strength. He made a choice to serve and obey the living God. And thanks to the choice he made he became a preacher and a civil rights leader who rocked our world and was an instrument of God’s desire to bring justice to our nation-among a people long oppressed. He could have chosen to live a long life as a quiet preacher who didn’t disturb anyone in Montgomery, Alabama. Even MLK at some point had to choose-to worship and serve God in the way God was calling him.
He had to make a choice as all children of the faith have to make a choice sooner or later as we grow up. We all, as we become youth or young adults have to decide for ourselves… who or what we will worship or serve.
I remember making that choice. I remember questioning my faith and asking questions about what I had learned growing up in church. I remember that the questions led to a re-commitment to the faith… to choosing the faith for myself. I wonder if any of you remember doing that as you grew up. Maybe some of you are doing that right now.
As Joshua looks over the crowd, I imagine he saw many in that congregation who were children of the faith… they had always worshipped God in some way… the way their parents had taught them… but Joshua knows, that sooner or later, they will have to make a choice – between the gods around them and the God of Abraham, Jacob, Moses and Israel. The choice was theirs.
That day, the children of Israel choose the Lord. Not without warning from Joshua… but still they chose the Lord. And they do so for two reasons.
One, is because they remember what God had done for them… they listened to Joshua’s sermon and were reminded of the greatness of God and the deep love God had for them. They remembered how God had been with them through thick and thin… How God had brought them through hard times. (like wildernesses and earthquakes) How God was always there for them. How God kept God’s promises even though the people had often forgotten God and let God down. They remembered their story and wanted to claim it as their own.
The other reason comes out of the first. It went something like this: “If God has done all this for us, then he is our God… he is the God we will choose. This is the God I want to love with all my heart, mind, soul and strength. This is the God I want to give my life to.”
Life, they say, is filled with many, many choices… small choices: what to eat, what to read, what to watch on tv (which may lead to some long term effects: GIGO- garbage in, garbage out)…. Some choices are larger ones- choices over the people you will date and maybe marry… choices over careers… where to live… choices over schools and colleges… classes… choices over going on mission trips or not… choices over becoming involved or staying on the sidelines… those are the choices that have consequences… many of them will change you life! You may not know it, but looking back… you will see, many of the choices you make were life changing.
May I suggest that Joshua knows that the biggest choice you will make is which God you will love, worship and serve among all the gods that compete for your attention in this world. As Dylan says, you are going to have to serve somebody… yes indeed, you will have to serve somebody…
As for Joshua… he made his choice-actually years before: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
I’m glad he did. Because his choice had a great consequence for me and for you. Thanks to Joshua and the choices of many others after him… today, we are here…
thanks to the choices he and many others made… we know the living and loving God… we have been given a great faith… and an opportunity to make our own sacred choice… a choice to worship and serve a God who Joshua and many others will tell you, who alone is worthy of our worship and praise. Amen.