Good news! Today’s reading requires very little set-up. Maybe slightly less good news… It’s kind of long. Partly because the reading itself includes the sort of summary I usually give you.
So, I’ll set the scene and then let Joshua do the heavy lifting.
After much wandering and fussing in the wilderness, Moses finally brought the Hebrew people to the very edge of the promised land. On the banks of the Jordan River, Moses assembled the tribes. After recalling their wanderings he delivered God’s laws by which they must live in the land, sang a song of praise and pronounced a blessing on the people. Moses then passed his authority to Joshua, under whom they would possess the land. And then he went up Mount Nebo, looked over the promised land that he would never enjoy, and died.
Our reading today takes place at the end of Joshua’s time as leader, near the end of his life, in fact. He also chooses to address the people, challenging them to be faithful and to renew their part of the covenant with their ever-faithful God.
Listen now to the Word of God as recorded in Joshua 24:1-26
I actually like this passage of scripture. Perhaps because it is provides a great synopsis of what God’s been up to. It is always so much easier to see God’s work in retrospect.
It was true for Joshua and Moses and the Hebrew people, too… looking back and chronicling the faithfulness of God was easier than seeing God’s presence moment by moment… perhaps with the exception of that pillar of fire at night. That had to be pretty obvious.
Now that they are established in the land that was promised so many years ago, they are entering into another time of transition. The kind of situation that the brilliant prophet Fred Rogers described this way…
“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”
The something that is ending is known. Knowable.
We may or may not like the situation we’re in. But we can at least describe it.
And we can do an even better job describing all the when’s and who’s and what’s that brought us to this place.
The something that is beginning? That’s the unknown.
Which can be exciting. Or it can make us anxious.
This is why we tend to lean into the past. It’s way more comfortable.
Joshua gets this.
And maybe because he saw Moses help the people move forward by remembering.
He knows that this is what he and God need to do in this moment, too. Restore their faith to renew the covenant.
See, here’s the thing… faith isn’t about actually knowing.
It is about remaining true and faithful when we can’t see around the corner
Faith isn’t the promise of hearing God’s voice up on the mountain
Or seeing the presence of God – even the back side of the God’s presence as Moses did… Though hearing and seeing God that way would sure make living and believing way easier.
No… Faith is more like a random Tuesday afternoon.
A random Tuesday afternoon when someone asks you “Where did you see God today?”
And all you have to offer are observations about humidity, traffic and the fact that having a full pantry and fridge with plenty of food doesn’t mean you can create a coherent meal.
And yet… even on a random Tuesday, when you pause to reflect… you do see God… right there… in the heart of the person who cared enough about your heart to ask the question.
Faith is trusting that the God who cared for you in the past,
The God who kept those old promises for those ancestors of ours
That this God is with you now, and will be with you in the future.
So Joshua leans into the past.
And then he calls the people back into the reality of the present.
See, if his time leading through a time of war and conflict taught Joshua anything… it was to be present to God. To be in the present with God.
Joshua knows how tempting it is to “take back control” of what is God’s work to do.
He knows the temptation toward pride… of thinking we know better than God
He knows the temptation that other gods offer… the promise of a harvest, of a quick solution, or of prosperity in return for the right prayer.
He knows this because he’s seen it in himself
And Joshua knows this about his people.
Which is why he says to the people… “No… you can’t”
Ok- what he said was… “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.”
But I’m pretty sure what that meant was… “You stand here and say to me, Yes Joshua! My household, my people and I will be all in for God, too. But you haven’t been faithful. You’ve rarely been all in for more than a day at a time. What makes you think today is different? And do you understand what will happen when your fickle hearts get distracted again? God is NOT going to be happy…”
Joshua wants the best for them. He wants for them to be the kind of people who respond wholeheartedly, not just in the moment, but for a lifetime.
He wants them to understand that the relationship they are talking about is not just with God. It is with one another.
As the beloved people, they must always be striving to be a beloved community, to be the builders of the kingdom of God.
Their lives together must bear witness to this commitment… Because their lives will be their sworn testimony, Joshua says.
And they again tell him Yes.
We are ALL IN. We will serve the Lord.
And you know what? I believe them.
I believe that they believed that they would be as faithful as any people could be.
As faithful as we ever are.
I mean, their future is our past, so we already know where their story headed. And as we read on past judges into the days of the kings and prophets, and exile…
we see more failure than we do success.
But in that moment, in that moment with Joshua, right on on the cusp between the known past and the unknown future, they had the presence of mind to cast their lot with God.
You know… if Joshua were a good Presbyterian.
Yes, it’s a crazy thought, but…
If Joshua were a good presbyterian with access to the Book of Order or the Book of Common Worship, he might have approached the challenge a little differently.
He might have asked his people the questions we ask of members as they enter the community by baptism or when we renew our baptismal vows…or when we take on the mantle of ordered ministry.
We ask people, Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
To which they answer… I do.
Then we ask Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love?
Again they answer… I do.
Then we ask this one… the one that Joshua was asking, just using God instead of Jesus language. Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?
And the answer is slightly different: I will, with God’s help.
See, the people might very well have said to Joshua
We will be God’s faithful and faith-filled people.
We will remember the words God gave to us through Moses.
We will love God with all that we have and all that we are.
We will show God’s love to our own households, to our neighbors and to the strangers and refugees who come among us.
We will… with God’s help.
With God, all things are possible.
You know, part of my work these past weeks as I wind down my time among you is to reflect on our history together. To remember and to report the ways God has been at work among us. Here are just a few of the things I’ve recalled
God brought brought us several new members, some by transfer and others by affirmation of faith.
God even blessed us with the opportunity to baptize little Reid, and Charlie, Tory and Joel.
God took home several beloved saints among us… including Myrt, Gerry, Sandy, Beth, John…
God brought opportunities to host Girl Scout events and the Blessing of the Animals.
God spared us from major hurricane damage and then brought together volunteers to help clear out and prepare for worship the next week.
God has continued to provide in miraculous ways so that neighbors who are experiencing homelessness or food insecurity or other financial woes can eat a hot meal on Fridays.
God has consistently raised up women and men willing to serve as deacons, elders and trustees.
In the midst of all that God has done, we have been contentious and political.
We have been angry and stubborn; we have been compassionate and forgiving.
We have been joyful and encouraging.
And we have displayed all the other very lovely and very awful things that we very human Christ-followers can experience. All of them.
The truth is, we can be an awful lot like the Israelites and the Pharisees. We get caught up in the anxiety of not knowing and forget to trust. Or we spend more time and energy on re-reading the rules than we do on the relationships they are meant to support.
It’s not hard for me to look back and describe our shared history, and with your help, I could describe a more complete and far-reaching past.
And I’m pretty sure that would be a more comfortable and lively conversation than one about the future of the church. The denomination, the church in general… but especially the future of this particular congregation.
Friends, I have no idea what the future holds for First Apopka. I can’t know, really.
Not any more than I can know what the future holds for First Titusville.
I mean, I don’t even know what the future holds for me and my family.
But I know this.
I am all in.
I am all in with God on wherever this grand adventure leads.
Because I know that there isn’t any place I can go that God isn’t already there.
I am all in – because I know there isn’t any place in the world that doesn’t need a goober who loves Jesus and is willing to put her energy, intelligence, imagination and love into prayer and action.
And what I want, more than anything, is for you to be ALL IN, too.
For you to bring all the energy, imagination, intelligence and love you have… to this place. Where all of that is desperately needed.
I long to hear stories that bear witness… the stories that are your living testimony to the love you have for God, and for the people God places in your lives.
You are beloved of God, my friends,
God has claimed and reclaimed us, again and again…
For a purpose. Beyond salvation. Beyond membership.
Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of the beginning of Ephesians 2 in The Message brilliantly describes what that requires of us…
It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.
Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish!
We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving.
He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
All of us, we countless children of Abraham…
Gathered and scattered
Hopeful and frightened
Sitting at the end of something and the beginning of something else.
All of us have work we had better be doing.
What does that work look like? Well, I started to get all Jesus on you, but really what it looks like to me is at the end of the movie Lilo and Stitch.
Stitch is this crazy looking alien that crash lands in Hawaii and does what it is made to do… destroy stuff and create mayhem. He ends up being “adopted” by Lilo, a little girl whose family has come undone. Her parents died and she’s living with her sister who is overwhelmed. Basically, they are a hot mess, and this little destructive creature doesn’t help.
By the end of the movie though, when some other aliens come to take Stitch back someplace where the universe will be safe from his mayhem, something has changed. Stitch sees that he really does belong.
He says they are a family… little and broken, but good. And he uses the word he’s learned… Ohana.
Now I don’t know if it’s the real definition or just a Disney thing, but he says Ohana means family. And family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.
When I run races with friends, if I am the one who finishes first, I don’t just stop. I go back. I go back and find them, and bring them to the finish. One time I went back a mile to get Amy, and I started calling it the Ohana mile.
See… that’s the work I think we were made for.
Making sure no one is left behind or forgotten. Going the extra mile.
For our families of origin.
For family we choose.
For the ones who don’t know yet that they can be part of God’s family.
Because that is what we are.
That is who we are.
That is what we are called to be and do.
To be All in- until all are in.