Text: Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-25, John 6:56-69
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
August 26, 2018
Four hundred years severing as slaves in Egypt. Forty years wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. Four years conquering Canaan. Now its time to settle down. Time to relax, kick off your shoes, put on your bathing suit, grab a good book and spend the day at the beach (If only the red tide would go away.)
Such an attitude would have been understandable in Joshua’s day. For us at St. Paul’s it would be understandable too. The Search Committee had completed its work, a call has been issued, a new Rector will soon be arriving, filled with energy, and with a fresh vision. He will come and get to work; the parish will grow, and we can kick back in our rocking chairs and relax. Thank God the long transition is over!
Yes, such a feeling is understandable, but to given in to such a feeling is dangerous. Life is not like that. We can take a moment from time to time to catch our breath. But life is a journey. Our life of faith is a pilgrimage. It is filled with challenge and it forces choices. We can struggle and grow, or we can snuggle and die. This was the choice Joshua set forth to his people then. This is the choice our Lord Jesus places before His people now.
Just who was this Joshua that we read about this morning? Joshua, the man was Moses’ successor. Joshua, the book describes the work that he did. It was Moses who organized and carried out the escape from Egypt. A whole slave population of hundreds of thousands of people moved from Egypt into the Sinai Peninsula and eventually settled in Palestine. They spent a full generation in the Sinai desert. When Moses died Joshua became their leader. You all probably remember at least a couple of Joshua stories.
When they first crossed the Jordan River And entered the land of promise Israel’s first military campaign was very unconventional. For seven days, Joshua had the whole population march around the walled city of Jericho. The seventh day, you may remember, they got up very early and marched around the city seven times.
In my mind’s eye, I can see the citizens of the city safe behind their walls looking over the top and laughing at the Israelites. What a way to fight a war! But then, as they completed that seventh inning stretch they all pulled out ram’s horns and started blowing.
Several hundred thousand people trampling the ground for a week had loosened the earthen works at the foundation of the walls. The blast and vibration of the rams’ horns caused the walls to begin to crack and the weight of the stones caused the walls to come crashing down. Israel had won their first victory without firing a shot.
The story that fascinates me most is of another battle he fought in a more conventional way. At first the battle was going badly for the Israelites, but then the tide began to turn in their favor. The only problem was the sun was beginning to set. Joshua was afraid they would lose their advantage when both sides retired for the night and regrouped in the morning. Joshua commanded the sun to stand still. It hung in the sky just above the horizon until they won another victory.
Today’s Old Testament reading comes near the end of the book. Joshua is close to the end of his life. The land has been conquered. The people are about to settle down in the portions of the land that has been allotted to them.
Before they disperse, Joshua called a national assembly close to the city of Shechem, the place where God had promised Abraham that he would give to his descendants all the land as far as the eye could see. Now almost 500 years later God is fulfilling that promise. (It would be a bit like if Martin Luther prophesied that the Catholics and the Protestants would have to go their separate ways for a while, they would get back together in 2018. God’s word is faithful and sure, but sometimes we get impatient with His timetable.)
Joshua’s address, when we heard it read this morning sounded like a sermon. Actually, it takes the form of an ancient treaty that was current at the time. Much like in our day when two nations went to war, the victor would dictate the terms of the peace treaty.
In this case, of course, it is God who is the conquering monarch, and the terms which are laid out are for His own people. The treaty is very simple. It basically consists of two things. First, Israel is to fear God. Second, they are to serve Him alone, with an undivided heart.
To fear God in this case does not mean that they should be afraid of Him. Rather it means that they are to stand before Him in awe, and adoration. To acknowledge Him both as their creator and as the one who had delivered them from slavery and provided them a new home.
To serve God in this instance meant they had a choice. They could choose to serve God with undivided loyalty or they could allow other things, often important things, to take top priority in their lives.
For the Israelites it meant putting away the gods that their forefathers served beyond the river Euphrates, old gods of another time and another place, remote, reported but still remembered. It also meant not being seduced by the gods of the Canaanites in whose land they had just conquered.
For us it means so many things, doesn’t it, shameless gods of permissiveness, insistent gods of coerced political correctness, seductive gods of greed and tax shelters; enticing gods of complacency.
In such a world God calls for our hearts. He has sent to us His new Joshua--His only Son (I’m sure you know that Jesus is the Greek name for Joshua in Hebrew) . A Son who has delivered us from the bondage of sin through the waters of baptism, and who has led us to the land of promise and by whose Spirit calls us to live a victorious overcoming life.
In today’s Gospel, this second Joshua referring to the time just before Israel entered the land of promise and were still totally dependent on God providing manna from heaven, told those who would follow him “I am the bread of life and unless you eat of my flesh and drink of my blood you have no life in you.”
His words have obvious Eucharistic implications. That is why we come to His table each Sunday. But His words are not restricted to this meaning alone, for He also said earlier in this Gospel, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” We are called to follow in His steps.
When our Lord, this second Joshua, concluded His teaching to His disciples they responded by saying, “Master, this is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” And today’s Gospel notes, “many of them drew back.” Our Lord then turned to the twelve and asked. “Will you also leave me?”
That question comes to us today. We are called upon to choose. May our response be that of Peter, who was so often the spokesman for the group. “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
The first Joshua put the question starkly to his people: “Choose you this day Whom you will serve.” May our response be that of his: “As for me and my household we will serve the Lord!”