Well friends, it has been quite the morning here, at church. There was an earthquake this morning and then the internet cut out at church mid-scripture, causing us to re-start the feed twice in order to resume worship.
I’m fairly certain the Apostle Paul never had to deal with these problems.
Anyway, I pieced together the two different livestreams and here we are. Here is the text to my sermon, as well as the video of today’s sermon.
Peace be with you, friends
Rehoboth Congregational Church
November 8, 2020
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
The Choice To Follow God
The story of God is a story about people; and it is a story about those people making choices. Choices to follow God, choices between right and wrong, choices that affect not only themselves, but also the people around them – the Body of Christ, as we understand it – choices that define not only their generation, but also the generations that are still to come.
The same is true today. We choose to be here. We, as God’s people, choose to enact our faith. We choose to do church. We choose to follow God even when that is not the easy choice or the convenient choice or the popular choice.
More relevant to this moment, in this time of social distancing, we choose to enter this virtual worship space, even though it would be really easy to just do something else during this 10:00 hour. But we choose to be here.
This morning’s scripture reading comes from the Book of Joshua, which is in the Old Testament; it is part of the Deuteronomistic history. This history tells the story of Israel from the conquest of Canaan to the Babylonian exile.
Essentially this whole Deuteronomistic history is a story about people and the choices they made; it is a story about Israel’s choice to follow God, even when that was not the obvious choice or the safe choice.
Specifically, the Book of Joshua tells the story about the Israelites crossing the Jordan River to take over Canaan. The Israelites are listening to Joshua, for whom God is speaking to. And this land, this land they are seeking to conquest, is land that was promised to them by God in Genesis.
And so the Israelites are making a choice. They are making a choice to listen to Joshua. They are making a choice to follow God, even though the road ahead of them might not be an easy one. They are making a choice to abandon their former lives and the gods they and their ancestors served and step out on faith – together – and believe in the hope of God’s promise.
This morning’s scripture brings us into a covenant ceremony that Joshua is presiding over. Joshua has gathered the tribes of Israel and brought them to a place called Shechem. Here they are renewing the covenant their ancestors made with God.
“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel,” Joshua says to the tribes. “Long ago your ancestors … 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. 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.”
In other words, Joshua is gathering the people of Israel and saying, “Friends, God is reminding us of where we came from and also of God’s faithfulness throughout the generations. And God is asking us now to love and serve God with honesty and with loyalty. God wants us – God needs us – to step away from our former lives and be faithful to God.
As Christians, of course, this story is eventually woven into the narrative of the Body of Christ. And so we read these words not only as a call to follow God, but also as a call to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And so when Joshua says to Israel, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him,” this is a challenge to us today to make that same choice.
To choose God.
To serve God.
To proclaim and live out the Gospel.
To uphold that Greatest Commandment that we talked about a few weeks ago to love God and to love the people around you.
To do church, even in those moments when it is hard. Because that is what those who came before us did to lay the foundation that we stand on today. That is what Abraham did, as Joshua says here in this passage. That is what the Israelites are doing in this passage, as a part of this covenant ceremony. That is what the disciples did, when Jesus called them to abandon their lives and follow him. That is what the apostles did, as the early Church was called into being. That is what the founding members of this church did nearly 300 years ago.
And that is what those who will come after us need us to do today so that they can continue to do this work and to tell this story in their generation.
The people could have said no, right? They could have said, “You know what? We do not need to be here. We are just going to go back to our former lives because that feels safe and that feels easy.”
But that is not what the people of Israel said. The people of Israel said yes. The people of Israel said, “We are witnesses … the Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” The people of Israel, knowing God was asking them to do a hard thing, renewed their covenant with God because they believed that, with God’s help, they could do hard things.
And the same is true for us today.
It was a very long week in our country. We have a new President-Elect and an extraordinarily divided nation. And regardless of whether the candidate you voted for won or lost, the message I want you to hear is the same: We have so much work to do.
The story of God is a story about people; and it is a story about those people making choices. Choices to follow God, choices between right and wrong, choices that affect not only us, but also the people around us – the Body of Christ, choices that define not only our generation, but also the generations that are still to come.
And so we have a choice to make. We can choose to turn away or we can choose to turn to God. We can choose to stay divided and hate each other or we can choose the much harder task to find unity in Christ. We can choose to come together and follow God. We can choose to worship God and enact the Gospel in real and powerful and lifechanging ways. We can choose to forsake the lives that are comfortable to us and, instead, commit to be all in to the lives God is calling us into.
The story of God is a story about us; and it is a story about this moment in time, about our generation and the choices that we are making. It is a story about the church – both our beloved church in the village and also the wider Church – that has an uphill battle to climb as we seek to bring healing and wholeness to a very broken world. It is a story about individuals whom God has called; individuals who wake up every day and choose to follow that call.
This is the time of year when our church typically shines; we create magic as we gather people in our building and on our property for Trunk or Treat, the Bazaar, Homeless Awareness Weekend, Hanging of the Greens, holiday concerts, our Christmas Pageant, Christmas Eve worship services, New Year’s Worship Brunch and Star Sunday. This is the season where people, who otherwise might not have walked through our doors, come to our church and experience the Gospel in motion and the radical hospitality of a church family that loves to welcome newcomers into their midst and they are forever changed.
And church – we are still going to do all of these things. It is going to look different this year. But I have said it before and I am going to say it again: Our church is not closed. We have a lot of work to do; the story of God still needs to be told, we just need to find some different ways to tell it right now.
And we have to do it, because, now more than ever, the Gospel needs to be heard. Now more than ever, God is calling us. Now more than ever, God needs us to choose to follow God, to do church and to be the hands and the feet and the face and the voice and heart of Christ to our community and to our world.
And it might at times be hard or logistically complicated. But we can do it. Because what do I keep saying? We can do hard things.
My friends, it is time to make a choice.
So may we, like the Israelites, bear witness to our choice to follow God. May we, too, promise to uphold this covenant and remain faithful, worshiping and serving God. May we, too, renew the ancient covenants made by those who came before us so that we continue to lay the strong foundation for the generations that are still to come. May the story of us be one of tenacity, of gratitude, of service, of obedience, of faithfulness, of hope and of choice.
And may it begin with that choice to follow God.
Thanks be to God!