24 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders of Israel, its leaders, judges, and officers. They presented themselves before God. 2 Then Joshua said to the entire people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Long ago your ancestors lived on the other side of the Euphrates. They served other gods. Among them was Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor. 3 I took Abraham your ancestor from the other side of the Euphrates.
14 “So now, revere the Lord. Serve him honestly and faithfully. Put aside the gods that your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and serve the Lord. 15 But if it seems wrong in your opinion to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Choose the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But my family and I will serve the Lord.”
16 Then the people answered, “God forbid that we ever leave the Lord to serve other gods! 17 The Lord is our God. He is the one who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. He has done these mighty signs in our sight. He has protected us the whole way we’ve gone and in all the nations through which we’ve passed. 18 The Lord has driven out all the nations before us, including the Amorites who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”
19 Then Joshua said to the people, “You can’t serve the Lord because he is a holy God. He is a jealous God. He won’t forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you leave the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn around and do you harm and finish you off, in spite of having done you good in the past.”
21 Then the people said to Joshua, “No! The Lord is the one we will serve.”
22 So Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”
They said, “We are witnesses!”
23 “So now put aside the foreign gods that are among you. Focus your hearts on the Lord, the God of Israel.”
24 The people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and will obey him” (Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-24, Common English Bible).
As we begin I would like to invite you to take a little trip with me. This is not a physical trip, it is a mental trip. We are going to take a mental trip north to Canton and First Monday. We are going on this mental trip because after living in Canton for two years and close enough for Christopher to keep his First Monday job even after we moved closer to Tyler. Meaning we drove back and forth to Canton every month. I didn’t leave anything in Canton and have little desire to go back.
As we walk through the main gate we see all the usual booths. Over here there is a guy selling sunglasses. Over there is a young man selling guides with maps and advertisements and even a coupon or two. Down the way, a bit, is a lady selling t-shirts and a little further down is a food booth where we can get us a turkey leg, a funnel cake, and a cup of lemonade. Now we walk through the Arbors pavilion. The merchants are all displaying their wares. Here is someone selling plastic cutters to make cute little sandwiches and over there is a guy selling the latest thing in lawn sprinklers so you can have the best lawn in town. As we continue to walk, we enter the Civic Center. Here is where they have all the antiques. The antique dealers have been here for a long time so they get really good spots. Finally, as we continue to walk we enter the unreserved area. Things here are less expensive; sometimes they are even called junk. But it is in this area that people sometimes will find a bargain on a special treasure.
Our little trip through First Monday in some ways is comparable to the lesson this morning. As the Israelites followed first Moses and now Joshua into the “Promised Land” they too had opportunities to shop along the way. These shopping opportunities weren’t shopping in the literal sense of shopping for things. Rather, they were in the spiritual sense of shopping for a god or gods to worship.
Let’s take that trip again but this time as one of the ancient Israelites. As we enter we see the same large crowds milling around. Over on the left, someone has a god they claim will help you grow better crops for a greater harvest, if only you will buy their statue god. Over under the pavilion are the places to find fertility gods, both of humans and animals. If one desires to have cows pregnant with fat calves or to have a male heir, all one must do is sleep with one of the temple prostitutes over there. Over at the Civic Center, we find the worship of Baal. Baal has been around the longest and has the best place. But really, why settle for only one god and take a chance when there are so many gods around that can help.
But way over there, in the unreserved section, tucked away by itself is a small booth. One old man runs it. He doesn’t really look like the others, the vendors of other gods. As we approach we hear him, “The Lord your God gave Abraham, Isaac and to Isaac, Jacob and Esau. The Lord brought us up out of Egypt, away from Pharaoh, and out of slavery and provided for us along the way. Now it is time to choose which god you will buy. Will you buy the gods that come from out there,” he indicates by waving his hands in the direction of the other vendors. Or, will you buy into the Lord your God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? For me and my family, we choose the Lord.”
Now it seems strange. The people crowd in closer, they want to buy this God, but now he won’t sell it to them. Finally, the people assure him they will worship his God alone and he allows them to choose his God.
As our lesson this morning occurs, the Israelites have secured themselves a place in the world. Now Joshua brings them together. It is decision-making time. From the beginning of the Israelite’s story we see over and over again, the cycle of their faith and lack thereof. As they gather together, Joshua tells them it is time to put up or shut up. The land that God has provided for them was filled with false gods and the people who lived there, the Amorites, had worshipped those gods. God and Joshua knew, there would be times those false gods would be difficult to resist. It would be really easy to add a few more gods to the worship list and not just worship YHWY alone. God, through Joshua, was now telling them as God had told them, through Moses, you can’t serve YHWY and serve other Gods. You must choose.
The same types of choices exist for us today. No, we don’t have to worry about the gods of the Amorites, the Hittites and the Jebusites. We don’t have to worry about worshipping Baal. There are no other God’s beside YHWY, our creator, and redeemer, for us to worship, are there? Sure there are. And, we must choose this day, and every day what god or gods we will serve. The human act of following what we Christians often refer to as the one true God is an ongoing choice we must make over and over again. Will we worship the God of Israel or chase after other gods?
Well, Keith, you say there are other gods out there, what are they? Thank you for your question, I am really glad you asked. I am going to talk about a few, there are many more than we have time for today.
First, is the god of money. We don’t have to pay too much attention to what goes on in society to see there are a whole bunch of people out there chasing the almighty dollar Money is an important part of our existence, but when money becomes our central focus, money becomes our god.
There is the god of pleasure. Unfortunately, I must admit to you that I sometimes worship this god. As is evidenced by looking at me, I enjoy a good meal. That is not to say that food or eating is necessarily a bad thing, in and of themselves. But all too often, when I sit down to eat that good meal, I overindulge, to the detriment of my health and the body God gave to me. When I do, I am worshipping the god of pleasure. The same could be said of those of us who drink too much, who do drugs, who play the lottery, although the god of money could be involved there. When we do things because they please us, with regard to the consequences, we worship the god of pleasure.
Next is the god of church. And yes, church can be a false god. It is a god that can exist in people in at least two ways. First, when coming to church is nothing more than a booster shot, to make us feel good and help us get through another week. That is worshipping church as a false god. To worship YHWH, the one true God means more than showing up for a few hours on Sunday morning. It means going out into the world and working for God and sharing what God has done in their lives. The second way church becomes a false god is when we become so involved in the work of the church that we forget who it is we do the work for. In other words, we are worshipping the work and not worshipping the Lord.
Then there is the god of sports which is closely related to the gods of pleasure and money, but I put it into a separate category because in our society sports has become such an obsession we have almost made sports a religion all its own. When we get so caught up in what time the game starts that we don’t come to church, we are worshipping the god of sports. One of my personal pet peeves is when a church has regular Sunday evening worship and either cancels it or moves it so it occurs during halftime of the Super Bowl. What god is really worshipped?
God calls on each of us to make that choice. God called on Sandy Koufax. As you may or may not know, Koufax is a devout Jew. In 1965 he announced he would not pitch on the Jewish high holy day of Yom Kipper. The only problem was, as his team the Dodgers pointed out, was that particular day was game one of the World Series. Couldn’t Sandy pitch just a little bit? No, he couldn’t. He stuck by his commitment. He didn’t pitch that day, but went on to pitch shut-outs in games five and seven as the Dodgers won the series, 4-3.
Hakeem Olajuwon knows about that choice too. Back in 1994, when the Rockets won their first of two championships, the city scheduled a downtown parade at 3:00 PM the next Friday afternoon. Because most of the NBA’s games are at night, Olajuwon, a devout Muslim, scheduled his regular worship for Friday afternoons and quietly told the Rockets he would not be at the parade because he would not miss worship. Olajuwon placed his commitment to God, as he understood him, above the accolades and rewards that could come to him. The city wanted him there bad enough they moved the parade.
Koufax and Olajuwon would sure understand Eli Herring. Eli was a 340-pound offensive lineman at Brigham Young University. The Oakland Raiders made plans to draft him and offer him a deal worth millions. After a long period of thoughtful prayer, Herring decided his Mormon faith was in direct conflict with playing for the NFL. He announced that if drafted he would not sign a contract and he would not play. Herring believed it would be wrong for him to play on Sunday, the very days NFL teams usually put on their pads. Herring became a high school math teacher. He traded millions for a job that, at the time, paid $20,000 a year, but he preserved his faith.
We are called to continually make the choice of what god we will serve. But, as Eli Herring could tell you, there are consequences that go with making our choice. If we choose to follow one of the other gods, the consequence is we separate ourselves, at least for a time, from the one true God. On the other hand, when we choose to follow YHWH, there are consequences that come there too. Joshua’s warnings to the Israelites communicate loud and clear that following YHWH is no simple task. The same is true for us today.
It wasn’t easy for Dietrich Bonhoeffer to follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As Nazi Germany took over his native land, this Lutheran pastor stood up for what he believed in the face of Hitler and his mighty army. For his trouble, he was arrested and eventually killed. We in American society don’t generally face such risks for our faith. But there are those in the world who do and we who choose to follow the Lord should feel their pain. No one ever said it would be easy to live our faith.
God knows living in faith is not easy. God knew it would not be easy for the Israelites to live up to what they promised. But God desired to be in a relationship and made a covenant with the people. Through the covenant, God would bless the Israelites. This was not the first covenant God had made with the people nor would it be the last.
As with the Israelites, it is not easy for us to live our faith. The constant temptation of false gods is just as present today as it was then. Like the Israelites of old, God desires to make the covenant with us too. But making a covenant for us is not a onetime shot. We have to make a covenant with God, again and again, each time we are faced with the temptation of a false god we must again make the covenant with the Lord our God.
Each of the people I mentioned this morning has faced the temptations of false gods. We may not agree with their religious beliefs but we should respect their faith decisions to live in covenant with God. Koufax faced criticism when he refused to pitch game one, but he followed God. The same could be said for Hakeem Olajuwon. Eli Herring touches the lives of young people every day in ways he never could as an NFL star, because he chose to follow God.
I know what it’s like to follow a false god and choose to follow the one true God. When Cindy and I got married, God was not real high on our priority list. We both believed in God but it could never be said we were serving God. As a result, our relationship suffered. We both spent a great deal of time working and on the road. This was a period of my life I have referred to as chasing the golden calf. I wanted more money and would do just about anything to get it. At one point we even talked about divorce. Thankfully it never came to that. We decided it was time to reevaluate what we were doing and we returned to God. Back then we never seemed to have enough money and today we still don’t but it isn’t as important. Our relationship is closer because God is a part of our family.
Joshua said to the Israelites, “choose this day what god you will serve but as for me and my house, we will worship the Lord.” The same choice is given to us and we must choose over and over again what god will serve, knowing the consequences of that decision. But God wants to make a covenant with us, to be a part of our lives. The choice is ours, we can follow false gods or we can have a covenant with the one true God. As for me and my house, we will worship the Lord.