12 Pentecost Proper B16                     
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Joshua 24:1-2a; 14-18 Sermon                                 
August 23, 2009

Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
158 "I Love Thy Kingdom Lord"
242 "Christ Is Made The Sure Foundation"
551 "Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus"
461 "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour"


TEXT (vs. 14-17):  "[Joshua said:] 'Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served 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 to forsake the LORD to serve other gods!'"

            The text I just read to you, and the Old Testament lesson that was read just a little bit ago contain some words that might be familiar to you.  This is a text that pastors frequently use for weddings, myself included.  And I would imagine that somewhere along the line, you've probably heard it at a wedding--maybe yours, or maybe somebody else's.

            The main reason that this is such a good text for a wedding, is because the prophet Joshua is about as straight forward and direct as he could be.  He doesn't beat around the bush, and he doesn't mince any words.  He just comes right out and says, "...choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve..."  And then he goes on to say, "But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

            When this is applied to the rite of marriage, it is necessary to establish the foundation of the marriage on Christian principles.  For a marriage to be blest by God, it takes a commitment for the entire household to serve the Lord.  This begins as the couple join together according to God's plan and will, and continue to carry this on throughout their lives together.

            This is the primary purpose for having a church wedding performed by the pastor.  A church wedding is to be a public testimony that the couple being united in marriage have placed the Lord as the head of their household and the central figure in their lives.  This lets everybody know that the couple takes God and his will for their lives very seriously. 

            Now certainly there are various other ways a couple can get married.  They can go to Las Vegas and have a ceremony in a chapel done by an Elvis impersonator.  They can go just a couple of blocks away to the courthouse and have the marriage ceremony performed by a sitting judge.  And there are numerous other people that are "marriage celebrants" that have absolutely nothing to do with the church or the Christian faith. 

            If someone chooses some other alternative for their wedding, this doesn't automatically mean that God won't bless it, or that they have somehow compromised their Christian faith.  As long as the couple have come together according to God's design (i.e. one man and one woman), and have made the legal marriage commitment, then it is legitimate.  And as long as the couple puts God and his will at the center and seeks to serve only him with their lives, then he certainly will bless the union, regardless of who performed the ceremony in the first place.

            However, the fact that our church does sponsor weddings, and the fact that I perform them is something important.  This is a way that we give public testimony to the fact that both myself and our congregation uphold God's institution of marriage, and that we have conformed ourselves according to his will.  Just like Joshua, we put the challenge right out in front of everybody: "...choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve....But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

            As we get into our text for today, which is our Old Testament Lesson appointed for this Sunday, we need to consider the background for these words of Joshua.

            The time of Joshua's life was rapidly drawing to a close.  He was nearing the age of 110 (the age he died), and it was necessary for him to speak God's Word to the Israelites.

            The Israelites were surrounded by an unbelievable amount of idol worship.  Heathen practices had permeated society.  All around, people had forsaken God and his way, and had come up with their own better way of doing things.  Sin and vice were rampant as people sought to satisfy themselves rather than follow God.  People had concluded that God's ways were old-fashioned and out-of-date.  God's ways might have been fine for their ancestors, but this was a new age with new ideas.

            So Joshua brings this right to the forefront.  He says, "But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve..."  It was time for them to make a decision; time for them to make a choice.  Were they going to reject God's will and follow something else?  Or were they going to remain faithful?

            So Joshua gathers the people together at a place called Schechem, which was the location of their tabernacle worship.  They had just entered the promised land under his leadership.  God had led them and protected them and provided for them.  He had delivered them out of the hands of the Pharaoh, and brought them through the wilderness.

            And now it was time for Joshua to remind them of the covenant on Mount Sinai.  God demanded undivided loyalty from his people.  This was a glory that could be shared with nobody else.  And it was a loyalty that had to remain intact irrespective of the attraction of worldly and heathen practices. The gods of Mesopotamia, the Egyptians, and the Amorites, all thoroughly defeated, offer no credible alternative to serving the one true God.  Joshua had to remind these people that they had been the direct recipients of God's loving kindness.

            And so here we are, three-thousand or so years later.  Joshua may have been speaking those words of God directly to the Israelites, but those words are spoken to us, right here today just as plainly and clearly as they were then.

            Each one of us has a challenge placed right before us.  God wants us to make a declaration of our faith.  "...choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve..."  God wants to know!  He's asking each of us to make that decision!  We identify ourselves as Christians, most definitely; but he's placing that choice directly in front of us.

            It's sad, but many people today spend countless hours and spill many gallons of ink trying to come up ways to compromise God's Word and his will.  People ask the same question that Satan asked Eve in the garden, "Did God REALLY say that?"

            And so people search for loopholes in the commandments and replace specifics with sweeping generalities.  People call into question what God has very clearly said and have replaced clear directives with their own contrived notions. 

            We have had to watch one church body after another come out with statements to the effect of:  "Homosexuality isn't a sin, rather it's an alternative lifestyle."  Or, "A committed same-sex relationship is every bit as good as marriage between a man and a woman."  Or, "Fornication is an outdated and obsolete idea."

            How can this in any way be considered God-pleasing?  If we look at what Jesus says in Matthew chapter 19 verses 4-6, we get a clear view of God's design for marriage and companionship.  He says, "Haven't you read...that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female', and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."  I don't think you can get much more clear than that.

            The excuse so often heard is that we have to "love everybody."  For some reason, people have gotten the notion that when we refer to sin for what it is, that we aren't loving people for whom and what they are.  People want to do exactly what they want to do, and furthermore they want God to bless their decision, irrespective of whether something conforms to his will or not.  People feel that the word "no" shouldn't be in a Christian's vocabulary when it comes to moral standards.

            Any parent will tell you that children cannot be masters of their own fate.  If a child were to eat what they wanted, they would have a horrible diet.  If a child were to make their own decision about school and homework, we'd have a nation full of illiterate people.  If children were in charge of their own moral decisions, we'd have a lot more unplanned pregnancies, unchaperoned parties, and underage drinking.

            Every child needs discipline, and we're no different.  God is the parent who is in charge.  If we look at Hebrews chapter 12 verses 5-11 we read:  "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

            God sets up rules and boundaries for our own good.  And furthermore, when God tells us what's right and wrong, he's not attacking our worth as human beings.  When we say that an action is sinful, we have to do so in light of the fact that God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.

            In our text for today, Joshua points out to the Israelites just how foolish following other gods is.  Certainly they may succumb to human will, but there is no power.  Worshipping a false god is as futile as fighting a forest fire with an eye dropper, or digging a well with a teaspoon.  You get absolutely nowhere.

            But the worst thing of all, is that with any other god, there is no forgiveness and no salvation.  In our text for today, Joshua says:  "But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."  When a person and household is dedicated to serving the Lord, then they are the recipients of God's love and grace.

            When we see sin for what it is, then we need to see our Saviour for who he is.  A person can be a homosexual, a fornicator, a liar, a thief, or whatever; there is no sin so great that it cannot be forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ.

            Certainly we are to love other people.  That cannot be disputed.  So isn't it the ultimate act of love to bring a sinner into the loving arms of their Saviour who loves them and forgives them?

            Consider this too.  If we condone unrepentant sin amongst people, then there are consequences.  Hebrews chapter 10 verses 26-27 say: "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God."

            It seems that our society today wants to make the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah acceptable and find ways to incorporate such activities into Christ's church.  God very vividly showed his displeasure by destroying those cities by raining down burning sulphur.  The destruction of the cities wasn't the punishment God had for them.  The residents would have died quite quickly, and faced the judgment of God afterward.  The vivid nature of this destruction is a witness for those who remained, even down to us today.  God is definitely serious about what he says.

            Today we hear the word of God through the prophet Joshua when he says:  "But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."  That's a call for us individually and as a group to make a decision and a commitment to stand up for the truth of God, even though others might want us to compromise along the way.  When we do this, then we are in a position to show others the grace of God and the love of our Saviour.  We can't crusade against sin if we don't immediately follow that with the forgiveness Jesus has given to us.  To serve the Lord is to proclaim God's love for the world.

            As we stand up for the truth of God, may our sincere response be the same as it is stated in our text for today:  "Then the people answered, 'Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods!'"