Choose | Serve (9am)

Choose | Serve (9am)

Series: Joshua | Onward
Theme: Choose | Serve
Bible Reading: Joshua 24:1-15
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain

In our last week of our Joshua sermon series we find Joshua at the end of his life and calling all the people of God together for a chat. Joshua reminds them of the faithfulness of God, but then challenges them to understand that being with God is more than a concept, when we choose God we also choose to serve. What does this mean for us as we come out of lockdown? What does it mean in a world that is trying to address difficult issues like Climate Change? How can we live up to being God’s people, not only in the words that we say but the things that we do! And we will have our third special video input from our soon to be new second minister Kevin!

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We have been moving onward through Joshua, looking at three key moments of his life.  We first looked at Joshua chapter 1 and Joshua’s calling into leadership and the encouragement by God for Joshua to be strong and courageous – to be strong in his faith and trust in God and courageous in his perseverance.

Last week we explored Joshua chapter 6 – the key moment of Jericho, where the Israelites were confronted with his huge wall on the horizon but were encouraged by God to trust in God – to not try and defeat the wall in their own strength but to call upon God’s strength to help – which is best found through worship.

Can you see a pattern emerging here?  Even though Joshua has some complicating aspects to it about war and displacement of people from their land (sorry, there no easy answer for that) … we can also see in Joshua this is a narrative about faith and trust in God.

Today we are jumping to the last chapter of Joshua, chapter 24 but I want to acknowledge that there is a large chunk of the story we are skipping over that you might like to go back and read sometime.  And don’t think that everything from chapters 7 to 23 are like Jericho with the people trusting and miraculous victories.  It is not.  It is a messy book with some great moments of faith and trust, such as the story where Joshua raises his arms and the sun stood still!  But also some really bad decisions and disobeying God such as the weird story about the killing of the kings.  It is a complex and messy story that raises a whole lot of questions but as I said, has this underlying narrative of trust in God.  

The second half of the book is where Joshua divvies up the Promised Land to the different tribes and now we reach chapter 24.  A long time had passed and now Joshua is very old, and in verse 1 from our reading we find that Joshua wanted one last time to talk to the entire nation, so he called all the tribes of Israel (and that is a lot of people) to come and assemble at Shechem. 

What do you know about Shechem?  It is an ancient city that keeps popping up in the bible.

We first find Shechem as a place of blessing or Promise.  At was at Shechem that Abram stopped at the tree of Moreh and received God’s promise of the land.  (Gen 12:7)  It was also a place of worship – Abraham, Jacob and Joshua all built altars there to worship God.  (Gen 12, 33 and Josh 24)

But it was also a place of bad decisions or sin.  Genesis 33 and 34 tells a horrible story of the rape of Dinah, Jacob’s daughter and then the retaliation slaughter of the towns people.  There are other stories from Judges of not nice things happening at Shechem.

There is even some evidence that Sychar in the New Testament – where Jesus talks with the woman at the well – is at or near the ancient city of Shechem. 

But more than all these things – Shechem was a place of choice – of serious decision making … which is best shown in our bible reading for today.  Joshua brings all the people together and gives them a choice – “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” – The Lord our God who rescued us from Egypt or the gods of this land?  Shechem was a place of choice.

This idea of Shechem being a choice is even more stark if we understand a little about the geography of Shechem.  As you can see by this picture, Shechem is found in a narrow valley between two small mountains – Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim.  The slopes of these mountains are only about 1500 metres apart meaning that it creates this natural amphitheatre where someone yelling in the valley can be heard quite clearly from the people sitting on the side of the mountains.  Hence, it was an ideal place for Joshua to gather all the tribes and speak to them all at once.

But the two mountains also symbolised the choice.  You had half the tribes sitting on one mountain and half the tribes sitting on the other … visually representing the choice that they had … Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve”

The Lord our God OR the gods of this land.  One or the other?

It is in this highly symbolic place that Joshua steps up and – like the wise old elder sharing some parting wisdom – old Joshua reminds them of the story so far.

  • Abraham’s ancestors worshiped other gods, but the Lord our God brought Abraham here, to this very place, and promised to be his God and to give him this land and many descendants.
  • The Lord our God rescued us from Egypt and although we wandered in the desert for a long time, brought us here and we took possession of this land.  We did not do this through our own sword and bow but rather the Lord our God did this for us.
  • So now – fear the Lord and serve God with all faithfulness.  Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve – the Lord your God or the gods of Abraham’s ancestors and the gods of this land?
  • It is time to choose.

And then in this iconic verse 15 – Joshua drives his challenge home with the line, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Have you noticed what old Joshua is doing here?  He is linking two words together.  Joshua is definitely talking about choice but he is linking it to another word?  Did you see it?  Joshua is linking “choice” with “serve”.   Choose today whom you will SERVE.  As for me and my house, we will SERVE the Lord.

What does this mean for us as we re-emerge after COVID and prepare for Christmas and 2022?  What is the choice that we are facing?  What does it mean for us to link that choice with serving God?

While you ponder this … I have my last instalment of three minutes with Kevin where I ask him a little about wisdom from our elders and decision making.  

VIDEO – Kevin #3

To recap – Joshua is the valley of Shechem talking to the tribes of Israel who are sitting on the sides of Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim and he is asking them to make a choice … are you going to believing in the gods of this land OR are you going to SERVE the Lord. 

This use of the word serve is intentional.  Joshua in his old age is wanting the people to grasp that it is not enough to just say that they believe in the Lord, or that they are on God’s side … if you are going to choose God then it must be reflected in your actions.  Our faith is not just a conceptual thing, it is not just a set of belief … faith in the Lord our God is about the way we live and the way we serve.  Choosing God = Serving God.

Listen to Joshua’s summary in chapter 22 verse 5.  He is thanking the 3 eastern tribes of Manasseh, Gad and Rueben for their help and service and releasing them to return back over the Jordan.  Joshua encourages them to keep the commandment … love the Lord your God … walk in the way of God … hold fast to God … and serve God with all your heart and with all your soul.

The call was more than loving God and keeping the commandments … the call was also a call to serve!  To live out our faith and to serve God with all our heart and soul. 

We have been applying the story to Joshua to our own lives and situation.  And I think that this idea of living out our faith is very timely.  I have spoken on this before, but I believe that COVID and lockdown has encouraged many people to do some re-evaluating of life and how they are spending their time.  I think that has been a good thing, although there is some evidence that this has been reflected in people volunteering less … not only here but in all churches, community groups and NGO’s across the world.   There is less hours being offered in service and this is impacting the work that these groups can do.  It is impacting on the missional work that churches can do.

Let’s not forget Joshua’s end of life wisdom that the people of God are called to serve.  We are called to live out our faith.

As I said I think that this is a timely message.  Not only because we are trying to repopulate our rosters after COVID, but as you heard from the announcements earlier, our church has reopened with a bang and over the next 6 weeks we have a heap of things happening – the Children’s Christmas experience, hosting the community carols, the CEW program “Messy Christmas”, and the Avent and Christmas Services.  Have we gone a little too big?  Maybe, but after a year of restrictions we want to make an impact this Christmas … and we are going to need all hands-on deck to achieve this.

So I am asking you to consider how might be able to serve?  Are you able to work the BBQ at the Turratots kids service?  Or help lead the singing at the Tradition 10:45 Carols and Lessons?  Or help out in one of the many ways at the new community carols as a way of reaching out and blessing our local community?  Or maybe you might like to serve at the Messy Christmas program?  Or be in the Christmas Eve Play?  Or just be like the three eastern tribes and say “I am not sure what I need to do but I am here ready to support and help”. 

As I was writing this sermon, I felt slightly hesitant speaking like this because I know it can sound like I am a bit desperate for people’s help.  That I am doing this comes across as a self-serving exercise.  And to be honest, there is some truth in that, but I want to stress that it is a two sided coin.

Does the church and God’s mission need people to serve?  

Yes. A hundred times yes – we can’t do what we are called to do without you.  The mission of God is totally dependant on the service of the people of God.  But there is another side to the coin.  As Joshua points out … there is a blessing within serving.  Our faith becomes alive when we are living it out.

Remember when I was talking about Shechem was in the narrow valley between two mountains – Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim.  These are not just two ordinary mountains … these places are highly significant. 

In Deuteronomy 11 – in the dialogue with God on Mt Sinai when Moses receives the commandments and law – God says that when they enter the Promised Land they are all to go to Shechem – to this natural amphitheatre – and read aloud to all the nation all the laws … which Joshua does in Joshua chapter 8.  But Deuteronomy 11:29 adds an extra instruction.

When the read the laws that talk about the blessings that come from following God’s ways, the instructions that lead to life – they are stand on the Mount Gerizim side.  And if they read laws that warn about the dangers of not following God’s ways, or in Old Testament words, the curse that takes away life – they are to stand on the Mount Ebal side.  Talking about dramatically highlighting the choice between the 2 ways to live.

And from that time on, Mount Gerizim was this symbol for the blessings and life that come from God, and Mount Ebal was this symbol of the lack of life and blah that seem to happen when people not walk in God’s way. 

So this is why Joshua – in his old age and his final speech to the nation before his death – goes back to this place … a place of choice. 

Choose today, Joshua said…

Choose today between loving God or chasing after other gods

Choose today between serving the Lord or serving yourself

Choose today between the way that leads to life or the one that leads to death.  The way of blessings or the one that does not.  The choice is yours,  Joshua said.  So choose.

As for me and my family, we will serve the lord.  Amen.