Joshua 24:1-26

(sermon note: 10-16 sermon note)

Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘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. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness for a long time. Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan; they fought with you, and I handed them over to you, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. Then King Balak, son of Zippor of Moab, set out to fight against Israel. He sent and invited Balaam son of Beor to curse you, but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I rescued you out of his hand. When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I handed them over to you. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.
‘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. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’
Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.’
But Joshua said to the people, ‘You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, we will serve the Lord!’ Then Joshua said to the people, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.’ And they said, ‘We are witnesses.’ He said, ‘Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.’ The people said to Joshua, ‘The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.’ So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord.
This morning’s rather looooong reading reminds me of the one about a man named Steve. Now Steve was a man who was deeply committed to playing golf. Every day, seven days a week, fifty two weeks a year one could find Steve out on the golf course. After several years went by and yet Steve was still out there playing golf. One day, as he was about to putt the ball into the hole, he noticed a funeral procession going by. So he took off his hat and gave a moment of silence for the procession. His friend, who he was golfing with, was amazed at him and said, “Wow, that was really respectful!” “Well, I should be respectful,” Steve replied. “I was married to her for over thirty years.”
Aaaah, two of the greatest commitments a man can make in his lifetime: golfing and marriage. What more can a man ask for than a good game of golf and a good marriage? And I like to think that they both get better over time but you wouldn’t suspect it if you saw my golfing this summer. There’s always next summer I suppose! Now my marriage, on the other hand, greatly improved over the summer for reasons I can’t really discuss so I guess it all evened out in the end. Maybe only one commitment is allowed to improve at a time…
But all kidding aside, we are all expected to make some type of commitment in our lives. Try as hard as we may, we simply can’t avoid commitments in life. Marriage and golf are arguably the greatest commitments but alas, they are only two of a variety of commitments. There are a multitude of commitments we can make in life: commitments to jobs or companies, commitments to personal health, commitments to relationships other than with your spouse, commitments to education, commitments to hobbies…there are multiple things we can commit to in life. And just because you might have a so-called “fear of commitment” doesn’t mean you’re exempted from having them. God expects us to have commitments in life. Even avoiding commitments is, in itself, a commitment! We just can’t get away from commitments in life. And even in dying we’re expected to be committed to it. I’m reminded of that famous quote from Redd and Andy in the movie, “The Shawshank Redemption,” who said “you either get busy living or you get busy dying.” Whether you’re living or you’re dying, you’re invariably committed to it…you’re “busy” doing it.
While commitments are expected and ultimately invariable in this life, God is gracious enough to let us choose what we commit to. For the most part, we get to choose our lifestyles, our hobbies, our relationships, our education, our jobs. Of course, such choices are greatly influenced by our surroundings but they are choices nevertheless. God blessed us with the gift of free will and the ability to make decisions for ourselves. None of us is without some degree of agency no matter how restricting our surroundings may be. None of us is a puppet to God. We are all free to live out our lives without his absolute control and manipulation. Our world may restrict us but our God most certainly does not! God set us free in this world with only one expectation: to commit to something or someone.
Our reading for today very clearly illustrates this expectation. Recall that Joshua was Moses’ right hand man in leading the Israelites out of the wilderness and into the promised land. Naturally, after 40 years of wandering, the Israelites had forgotten the mighty power of God that had set them free from Egyptian slavery in the first place. In all their grumblings and all their toils, they had forgotten that God had been with them through it all. God had persistently nudged them forward into that promised land of milk and honey. God even made it possible for them to overtake the land and claim it for themselves. The Israelites had forgotten this, believing God was nowhere to be found in all their struggles. Well, Joshua hadn’t forgotten and Joshua was willing to remind them as we heard in our reading. After reminding them, Joshua then made a very bold declaration of commitment: “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Perhaps he was simply reminding himself of the mighty acts of God to justify making such a declaration, such a commitment. And, oh, how the Isaelites react! “We, too, want to serve your God, Joshua! He IS mighty and powerful! Please let us commit to serving him too!” Joshua pushed back, getting them to fully commit to serving God.
The Israelites, like us, were expected to commit to something or someone. And they were expected to commit of their own free will. Joshua didn’t demand they committed to serving God. He simply said that he was committed to serving God. The Israelites chose to serve God! Such bold declaration, bold commitment, is an encouragement to us as well! We hear Joshua and ought to be emboldened, empowered, impassioned to commit to serving God! There is only one expectation in this life: to commit to someone or something. What better commitment is there than a commitment to our God? Yes, sadly I must admit, a commitment to God is better than a commitment to golf or a spouse. Why? Because a commitment to God ALWAYS gets better over time! Life ALWAYS gets better the longer you serve God! No other commitment can offer such guarantees. We hear in Psalm 37, “commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.” (vs. 5) When we commit to him, God commits to us and acts on our behalf. We serve him, He serves us. Surely the wisdom of Proverbs 16 is true: “commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (vs. 3) Serving the Lord invariably bears fruit!
Joshua’s bold declaration of commitment to serving God is a declaration we are all called to make. Commitment is expected, might as well be to the one making the expectation. There is great joy, great wisdom, great power to be had in such a commitment! And we ought to be encouraged by the words of Paul written to Timothy, “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15) Above all else, let us boldly commit to our God and to serving him. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.