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Joshua and the renewing of the covenant

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Background...
Shechem - a place associated with “choosing”
Genesis 12 Abraham builds an altar, God makes a covenant with Abraham, God chooses Abraham and Sarah - narrowing blessing in order to widen the blessing.
Abraham has Ishmael & Isaac
Isaac has Esau & Jacob
Jacob has 12 sons… Joseph ending up in Egypt which saves the brothers from famine, but then the growing family/nation end up in slavery. For 400 years.
Enter Moses. Cue the Exodus.
At the end of Moses’ life, he assembles the people to pass along the mantle of leadership to Joshua.
Moses and then Joshua have led the people through their 40 years of wandering and Joshua leads the people of Israel into the land of Canaan. And they have met with much resistance. (read the book of Joshua for that story). Including stories like we heard last week of Rahab, the unlikely heroine, who not only saved the Israelite spies in Jericho, but then herself was saved along with her family and then was enfolded into the community. After Jericho, there were many other battles. It’s part of what makes Joshua a compelling and a difficult book for modern readers.
Now Joshua is old…
Joshua 23:1–2 NIV
1 After a long time had passed and the Lord had given Israel rest from all their enemies around them, Joshua, by then a very old man, 2 summoned all Israel—their elders, leaders, judges and officials—and said to them: “I am very old.
Joshua 23:14 NIV
14 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.
(so you can trust that if God is faithful to the promise of blessing, God will also be faithful with the consequences of disobedience!)
And here we come to Joshua 24
Joshua 24 (NIV)
1 Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.
2 Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. 3 But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, 4 and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his family went down to Egypt.
5 “ ‘Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I afflicted the Egyptians by what I did there, and I brought you out. 6 When I brought your people out of Egypt, you came to the sea, and the Egyptians pursued them with chariots and horsemen as far as the Red Sea. 7 But they cried to the Lord for help, and he put darkness between you and the Egyptians; he brought the sea over them and covered them. You saw with your own eyes what I did to the Egyptians. Then you lived in the wilderness for a long time.
8 “ ‘I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I gave them into your hands. I destroyed them from before you, and you took possession of their land. 9 When Balak son of Zippor, the king of Moab, prepared to fight against Israel, he sent for Balaam son of Beor to put a curse on you. 10 But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand.
11 “ ‘Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. 12 I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you—also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. 13 So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’
14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”
19 Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”
21 But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”
22 Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”
“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.
23 “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”
25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws. 26 And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord.
27 “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.”
28 Then Joshua dismissed the people, each to their own inheritance.
29 After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 30 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
31 Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.
32 And Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem. This became the inheritance of Joseph’s descendants.
33 And Eleazar son of Aaron died and was buried at Gibeah, which had been allotted to his son Phinehas in the hill country of Ephraim.
Have you ever made a big decision?
Come to some sort of crossroads?
Will you stay or will you go?
And then, when you tell the story later, how do you tell it?
What are the places in your story where you’ve made big decisions?
Are there special locations in your life where you can recount your own choices or the choices of others?
I think of crossroads conversations. Like Gordon’s question to me in the Vandusen Botanical Gardens in August of 2005. That was a crossroads for sure. A decision made by both of us. And an invitation to a commitment and a partnership.
But again, how we tell that story - well, it differs depending on who tells it. And since Gordon is home with a cold, I could tell it and no one could contradict me.
I think of the place where the rivers meet here in Kamloops. Where my family and I stood down at Riverside Park during the candidating weekend, trying to feel out whether Kamloops and Southwest were the right place for us for this next chapter of our life. And if pressed, I think Riverside Park was a place of decision for me - and maybe for them too - as I stood there and tried to envision a future in a place that was still new and somewhat strange to me.
Now with this story, you all have a story to tell as well. If you were on the search committee or the board, our Pastoral Team, you would have conversations that were part of that decision that I wasn’t part of. And the whole congregation had a meeting that I wasn’t at. But it’s just as much part of the decision we made together. And that we know continue to make together. Can I be your pastor? And will we do the work that is Southwest’s to do - here in Kamloops and where
What are the big decisions you have made?
What places do you think of?
What are the places in your life where God made promises to you?
Or where you made or affirmed your commitment to living a life oriented towards God?
And how do you tell those stories?
These places matter. And I’m so glad that the reading we just read together didn’t just happen in an abstract way, but that it occurred somewhere in time and space. That Joshua as his last act of leadership really, called the people together and named the reality that they had a choice to make.
How will they respond to the actions of God and what will they do with the gods who compete for their devotion?
What God has done in the past - which is articulated here in overview, but also in quite a lot of detail - is the basis for their choice now.
Notice that serving God is not something we do in order to get God to do something in the future.
We may sometimes think that we are serving God now in order to get God to do something in the future… sometime the gospel is even presented this way…if you want to go to heaven, you have to choose to serve God now. Rather than presenting all that God has done, and then giving people the freedom to choose much as Joshua does here.
In fact, according to Joshua 24, our serving God comes out of what God has ALREADY DONE for us. We look back and rehearse the ways in which God has delivered us, and then our serving of God is a RESPONSE to the actions of God in the past.
And of course, when we serve God even through difficult times, we remember how God has come through for us in difficult times before. And we can hang on to some shred of hope because there have been moments where hope was lost and where God made a way where there was no way.
What do we do with a God who has done all of this? This is what the people are being asked.
And then secondly, what will they do with the gods who keep vying for attention and devotion?
Serving God doesn’t just happen by accident. We don’t live out our Christian faith without intentionality and commitment. And re-commitment.
There are other things that will demand our attention and even our loyalty.
Joshua names this in our text:
Scholar Richard Hess points out that, “Joshua challenges the people to decide for or against exclusive devotion to God…”
They cannot just “go with the flow” and “see what happens” … Joshua only offers a for our against option. They must choose.
And of course the irony here is that, as you read, the people insist that they will choose to be devoted to Yahweh. They will have no other gods before Yahweh, they proclaim. But in Judges (the very next book) the same people who boisterously voiced their devotion will indeed worship those same gods they promised not to.
And Judges will be an even darker book that Joshua. Things will indeed get worse from here.
So, I kind of set you up. Here’s my confession. I had you read the part of assembled Israelites so that you would have these words still ringing in your ears and on your tongues. “We will serve the Lord. He is our God. We are witnesses to this choice we’re making. We will serve the Lord and obey what God commands.”
Gulp.
But aren’t we just like the Israelites? Reflecting on all that God has done on our behalf. On the ways in which God has faithfully provided for us and delivered us from slavery, from oppression, those things from the outside that seek to destroy. And from all that is within us that also leads us to destruction. Sin and death.
And so we respond to God’s loving action. Throughout history and throughout our own histories. Made most clear in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth. Our hearts are moved by Jesus. And we respond with wholehearted and genuine faith.
And then, in the very next chapter, we find ourselves in a mess. In the dark. Living, as Paul put it so eloquently in Romans chapter 7: I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
And so here we are. At at crossroads once again. Where we can review past decisions. Where we can take a moment to see how we’re doing in living out what we have chosen in the past. Where we need a course correction. Where we have gradually drifted or made other decisions that betray our true allegiances.
And so, what are we to do?
Here we are at a place of choosing. In some ways, every time we gather here, we do so to re-affirm our identity as children of God. And as a community seeking to live and love like Jesus.
We come together here, week by week, to remember who God is and what God has done.
We come together here, week by week, to remember who we are and who God is making us to be.
To tell the story of God and of God’s people, and to discover and explore how our stories are being woven into God’s story.
To respond genuinely with faith and a desire for faithfulness.
And to tell the truth about how we have failed to live faithfully. As individuals and as a community.
And to discover again and again, that it is the faithfulness of God that we cling to. And not our own faithfulness. Hallelujah.
Will you serve God? Will you respond to God’s saving actions and covenant faithfulness? And will you continue to choose to serve God?
Knowing that you will have to make this choice again and again. And again.
As we read in our call to worship taken from Psalm 103:
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: (and what do his deeds reveal?) The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; 14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
This is the God who invites us to turn towards the Divine. Maybe for the first time ever, maybe for the 1000th. This God who is compassionate and gracious. This God who has ALREADY shown us what God is like - most clearly in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And most of us in this room have chosen to follow Jesus… but that doesn’t mean we’re done deciding. A life of following Jesus, much like a live of living in a covenant with Yahweh in Ancient Israel meant choosing and then choosing again and then choosing again. This life in the new covenant as Jesus called it as He sat at the table with His disciples… is an ongoing life of faith.
About 3000 years after this Psalm was written, Thomas Merton penned these words. And with this I close:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Thomas Merton
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