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Worship and Sermons
August 26, 2018

“Whom Will You Serve?” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, August 26, 2018 [Pentecost 14 B] –  Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 and Psalm 34:15-22  •  Ephesians 6:10-20  •  John 6:56-69

FOCUS:  Choose daily to serve God by reaching out to others.

When you think of a great missionary, what names come to mind?  Certainly the Apostle Paul, right?  He’s the one who brought the gospel to the 1st century Mediterranean world.

And probably St. Patrick, the Scottish-born missionary who brought Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century – when he wasn’t busy getting rid of all the snakes, that is. 

In more recent centuries, there was David Brainerd.  Born in colonial Connecticut, Brainerd was expelled from Yale for being overly zealous in his faith.  Inspired by the fiery preaching of George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards, Brainerd rode 3,000 miles on horseback to bring Christianity to the Native Americans.

And, then a generation later, came the great William Carey.  Carey was an English Baptist missionary who spread the faith in India.  He established schools in Bengal to teach poor children not only Christianity, but reading, writing and accounting.  He went on to found the first college in India.  He’s rightly called the father of Protestant Missions.

And of course we can’t forget David Livingstone.  A Scottish physician, explorer and a pioneering member of the London Missionary Society, Livingstone traveled throughout Southern and Central Africa sharing the gospel and searching for the source of the Nile River. 

Along the way, he was attacked by a lion, but even that couldn’t stop him.  After his death, David Livingstone became one of the most popular British heroes of the late Victorian era.

We tend to think of missionaries like these as special, don’t we?  They’re people who have a special calling to serve God in a special way, with their whole lives.  

And that is exactly what Joshua is calling the tribes of Israel to do in our Old Testament text.  

After God appointed Joshua to be Moses’ successor, Joshua led the Israelites into the promised land of Canaan.  Now, after 7 years of military conquests, they’ve finally taken possession of the land God promised their ancestor, Abraham. 

Our text this morning is Joshua’s farewell message to the people.  His purpose is to affirm and renew their covenant with God. So, he’s gathered them all together at the holy site of Schechem. 

This is the same place where Abraham first stopped to pitch his tent in Canaan.  This is where Abraham first heard God’s promise, “I will give this land to your offspring.”

But Joshua starts off in a very odd way.  He doesn’t begin by invoking God’s relationship with the usual ancestral roll-call of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He begins by focusing on an earlier generation, before God called Abraham. 

“‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel:  Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.”

His point is, not only did Abraham’s father worship other Gods, but originally so did Abraham.   Now Joshua really has their attention.  The people would have been wondering, “Just exactly where is he going with this?”  And Joshua drives his message home:  serve God – Yahweh – and put away all those other gods.

They have to choose:  will they serve Yahweh, the one true God, who delivered them from slavery in Egypt?  Who fulfilled his promise to settle them in this land of milk and honey in which they’re now thriving? 

Or will they hedge their bets by worshipping the local gods of the Amorites, or the gods from further afield in Egypt or even the Mesopotamian gods Abraham and his family originally worshipped?

He’s baiting them.  And, of course, as the people have done before, they affirm their promise to serve Yahweh and him only. 

They recall his deliverance from Egypt, how he led their parents’ generation across the Red Sea without getting their feet wet, how he guided them with pillars of smoke by day and fire by night, how he sustained them with manna and quail in the wilderness.   

Most of all, they remember how he brought them here to a land they can now call their very own, a good and fertile land where their grapes ripen into sweetness, their olives and wheat flourish, and their animals thrive.

But, wait a minute.  If God has done all that, the question we have to ask is why does Joshua think it’s so important that they reaffirm their covenant with him?  Why does he even suggest that they might, as the Hebrew actually says, “find it evil in their own eyes” to serve Yahweh?

The answer is simple:  he knows this people.  He was there 38 years before at the foot of Mt. Sinai when their parents’ generation responded to the gift of God’s Commandments by saying, “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.”

And he was also there when, just as quickly, they forgot that commitment and broke their covenant by worshiping a golden calf.

Joshua knows that, despite all God has done for them – all his protection and provision, all the blessings he’s showered on them – they’re still serving those other gods, worshiping little stone idols and fertility poles.

Now, it’s easy to criticize them for being fickle and faithless.  But, if we step back and reflect for a moment, we can see the sobering truth:  we are not so different from them.

Our small-g gods may have different names, but we serve them nonetheless.  I call them the 3 M’s:  materialism, money and might. 

First of all, we like things.  And we like what those things say about us, the image they project.

And yet researchers continually find a strong link between materialism and unhappiness, lack of empathy and limited engagement with others. 

Second, there’s money.  We like big balances in our bank accounts for the sense of security and the self-affirmation they provide.

And yet study after study shows that, once our basic needs are met, there is no correlation between money and happiness.  The very wealthy are no more content than those whose incomes are just average.  In fact, the very wealthy are more likely to suffer from depression.

Finally, there is might.  Might is power, power over others.  The things that make us feel mighty can be status, sex appeal, fame, our address, even our job title – or anything else that makes us feel superior to others.

It turns out that having power over events and other people does actually make us happier, at least in the work place.  But when it comes to relationships, it’s a different story.  When one person in a marriage or a friendship has more power than the other, it’s all too easy to exploit it and the bond between them is eroded.   

Serving these false gods of materialism, money and might gives us insatiable appetites.  They constantly make us want more, more, more – for me, me, me.  It’s almost as if we can’t help ourselves:  we know in the end they’ll make us miserable, but we serve them nonetheless.

You and I are like the great 4th century church father, Augustine of Hippo.  As a young man, Augustine struggled mightily with sin, especially lust.  In his personal memoire, called Confessions, he described how he prayed, "Lord, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet." 

He went on to say, “I was afraid (God) would hear me too soon, and too soon cure me of my disease of lust which I desired to have satisfied rather than extinguished.”

Deep down, aren’t we all like that?  We all know we can’t serve God if we’re also worshiping those other idols.  Yet, we find ourselves doing exactly what the Israelites did, hedging our bets by trying to serve them all. 

Just like the Israelites, we need to choose whom we will serve.

That’s not as easy or as simple as it sounds.  We all need enough of those 3 M’s in order to be happy.  The trouble comes when our pursuit of those things crosses the line into worship.  That’s when they begin to control us. 

It’s amazing how quickly that can happen, especially in a culture like ours where serving ourselves by worshiping the 3 M’s is not only accepted, but encouraged – even glorified. 

That’s why you and I need to reaffirm our covenant with God.  We need to choose to serve God, and God alone – and we need to reaffirm that choice more often than we may think.

In truth, we should make that choice every day, by what we do – and by what we don’t do.  That is what makes us missionaries. 

A few of us can be missionaries in far-flung countries, but the mission field where all of us are called to serve God is our day to day living:  in our homes, in our offices and in our schools; where we shop, where we volunteer and where we vacation.

You and I choose to serve God every time we make a conscious decision to take a real interest in the people with whom we interact on a daily basis. 

That means, instead of just a cursory “hello”, we make the effort to connect with them, to find out about their lives.  What are their joys and concerns?  What’s causing them pain, and where can we help, if only by listening.

Think about your week coming up.  Who will that be for you this week?  Family?  Friends?  Co-worker?  Store clerk or bus driver?  

Whoever it is, taking the time - and making the effort - to care enough about them to connect with them and listen to them, shows not only God’s love for them, but our love for God.

That is how you and I serve God:  by choosing to be his missionaries every day.  We may not become as famous as David Livingstone, but to God and those whom we reach, we are as well-known as we need to be.

May it be so.      


Last Published: August 27, 2018 9:44 AM
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