Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.
We listen to a scripture lesson from Joshua. The people of Israel are in their new land which God has given them. They are called to create a community of justice and compassion as a model for other nations. Things have derailed. And Joshua calls the people to make a commitment. They can commit to their God, Yahweh, who has brought them to this fertile land, or other gods, the gods of the peoples around them. They must decide. They must choose. They cannot sit on the fence. And this decision is of ultimate consequence for their well-being.
Joshua 24:1-3a, 13-25.
Joshua gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, and called a summit of the elders, leaders, judges, and officials of Israel. Once they presented themselves before God, Joshua said to the whole assembly, “This is the word of Yahweh, the God of Israel:
“‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah, the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates and worshiped other gods. But I took your ancestors Sarah and Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led them through the entire region of Canaan. I made Sarah and Abraham’s descendants numerous. . .
“‘I gave you land that you had not tilled, and cities you had not built, and you have settled in them. You now take the fruit of vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.'”
Joshua then said, “I now call upon you to revere and serve Yahweh completely and sincerely. Cast off the gods that your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt, and worship Yahweh alone. If you do not want to worship Yahweh, then make the decision today whom you will worship, even if it is the gods of your ancestors beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you live. As for me and my household, we will worship Yahweh.”
Then the people responded, “Far be it from us to abandon Yahweh to worship other gods. It was Yahweh our God who brought us and our ancestors up and out of the land of slavery. Yahweh performed those great signs before our eyes. Yahweh protected us on the entire journey and among all the peoples whose lands we passed through. Yahweh drove out before us the Amorites and all the people dwelling in the land. We too will serve Yahweh, who is our God.”
Joshua said to the people, “You will not be able to serve Yahweh. This is a God most holy, a jealous God, a God who doesn’t forgive your transgressions and your sins. If you desert Yahweh and serve foreign gods, after all God has done for you, you will bring disasters – fatal ones – upon yourselves.”
But the people protested, “No! We will serve Yahweh!”
Then Joshua said, “You are your own witnesses that you are choosing to serve Yahweh.”
“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.
“Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the alien gods among you and turn your hearts to Yahweh, the God of Israel”.
Then the assembly said to Joshua, “We will serve and obey Yahweh our God!”
On that day Joshua ratified the covenant with the people and drew up statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.
Reflection from Kim
I have been on a news fast for over a week. But Wednesday morning, I had to take a peek and I continue to be haunted by what I saw. The map. With a blue edge on the west and northeast, and a huge swath of red in the middle. I have looked at it over and over. Stunned.
Choose this day. What are we choosing?
After the death of Moses, Joshua led the Israelites from the wilderness into the promised land of Canaan so that the Israelites could become a model community that would be a light to the nations. Evidently, things have gone a bit awry. So in this last discourse before his death, Joshua challenges his people, the Israelites, Choose this day. Whom will you serve? Who will be your god or gods? This story is echoed in the history of this continent. People came from Europe to form a new society that was to be a beacon to the nations. The classic book Errand into the Wilderness by Perry Miller looks at this understanding of the settling of North America by Europeans who saw it as their calling to displace the indigenous peoples and establish a new society as part of a larger divine plan. Choose this day.
Joshua is direct. Choose this day. Will your allegiance, your loyalty, your reality be centered in God, Yahweh, who brought you out of bondage in Egypt, or will your allegiance, your loyalty, your reality be centered in the gods of the people around you. Choose. And this choice makes all the difference. Period.
It is interesting, the choice is not God or no god. It is not between Yahweh God and no god at all. The choice is between Yahweh God and other gods. We all have faith in something, we trust something, and that becomes our god. Something is at the center of our reality. Our world view. There is something that we choose that determines who we are and how we see the world. There is something that functions as ‘god’ for everyone, something that defines what we care about and how we see things. We are choosing.
For Joshua, the alternative to the one God Yahweh was the pantheon of gods of the peoples around them. Ok. Today we don’t see a pantheon of gods around us, but we can see the forces that compete in our lives for god status with the God of the Bible. We can see forces that are trying to claim our ultimate loyalty and devotion. And they are competing with the God of Love and we must choose where we will put our faith and trust.
Choose this day. Will it be the God of the Bible, the God of Jesus, the God of unconditional universal Love? Or will it be some other would-be ‘god’ that we choose as the lens through which we see ourselves and the reality around us? Is our world view controlled by a political party? Then that may become a god. Is our reality determined by our belief in the depravity of humanity? Then that idea may be a god. Is our reality controlled by the idea that there is no god, by atheism? Then that could be a god. Is our reality formed by the commitment to communism as a worldview? Is our reality determined by economics, wealth, and the commitment to capitalism? Is personal freedom and the right to own firearms what we care most about? Is our reality contingent upon a certain system of moral values? In some way, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are choosing what controls our understanding of reality and how we function in this life. We are putting our faith and trust in something that is guiding us. And that, essentially, is functioning as our god.
Choose this day. Joshua challenges us to be clear about that choice; to name it and claim it. It’s not to be some kind of hidden programing functioning in the background controlling us. It is to be an intentional commitment. And so Joshua makes his choice known to the people. He declares, As for me and my house, we will serve God, Yahweh.
That statement is not ambiguous or without content. The Bible makes it very clear that God is the God of all Creation and all people whether they know it or not. And God chooses to exert a preferential option for the poor, for those who are suffering, for those who are disadvantaged; God is the God of the oppressed. We were reminded of the nature of God in Psalm 146 in our election prayer vigil:
Yahweh, you keep faith forever:
you secure justice for the oppressed;
you give food to the hungry;
you set captives free;
you give sight to the blind;
you raise up those who were bowed down;
you love those who do justice;
you protect strangers;
you sustain orphans and the bereaved –
but you thwart the way of the corrupt.
That is the God of the Hebrew Bible and that is the God of Jesus and the New Testament. Jesus eliminates barriers between people and builds bridges. Neighbor, friend, stranger, enemy, all beloved. All equally valued in the eyes of God. God is a God of universal, unconditional love for all people and all of Creation.
Choose this day. When we choose the God of love, we open ourselves to a new reality. A reality that is often at odds with the values and behavior of the people and society around us. It was that way in Joshua’s time and it is still that way today. And today it is even more complicated because much what is labeled as ‘God,’ the God of the Bible, the God of Jesus, bears little resemblance to the God we find in scripture and tradition. People are saying they are choosing God but the behavior and values espoused do not echo what we see in Jesus or in the Bible. Choose this day. It has gotten even more complicated.
Joshua makes it clear that to choose the God Yahweh has certain implications; not just of responsibility but of blessing. He reminds the people that to choose Yahweh, to choose the God of Love, the God of favoritism for the oppressed, is to choose the God of blessing. Blessing for the entire world. When we choose to make God, the God of Love, our God, we are choosing responsibility but we are also choosing blessing not only for ourselves and our tribe but for all of Creation and all of humanity. The people who choose God are used by God to bless the world – the whole world. Choose this day.
There is a wonderful scene in Louise Erdrich’s book, The Plague of Doves, which portrays a conversation about sin. The book takes place in a setting that involves an indigenous community and what has become the dominant culture. There is a church, Catholic, and the priest is Father Cassidy. He is instructing a family in their home about sin and the need for confession. Father Cassidy declares, “‘There are so many ways of sinning not readily apparent. You may, for instance, share in the guilt of another’s sin without actually committing it yourself via the sin of silence. Has anyone you know sinned?’ The brothers shook their heads in blank surprise. . . ‘You may have sinned against the Holy Ghost by resisting known truth, the worth, for instance of holy mass, thus hardening your soul to the penetrations of grace.’” [The Plague of Doves, Louise Erdrich, 49:52 audio recording]. I love that line, hardening your soul to the penetrations of grace. When we choose gods that are not the God of Love, we restrict our receptivity to grace. The God of Love is trying to bless us, give us joy and abundant life, but when we choose other gods, we make it harder for those gifts to be bestowed.
Choose this day. We are in a season of choosing. And we are right to be fully aware of the implications of our choices. The Joshua story is very fitting for this moment. Choose. This day. Every day. What god or gods will you serve? What will form the core of your reality? What will be of ultimate importance to you?
While I may be haunted by the image of the map of red with dabs of blue, I will not let that map become my god. I will not let it determine my reality. I will not let that image of division become the lens that colors all of what I see. I want to choose the God of Jesus as the center of my life and my reality and my values and my behavior. I want to choose the God who loves red and blue and every other hue. I want to choose the God whose image makes each and every person sacred and beloved regardless of how or even if they voted. Choose this day. Amen.
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