We took a break from the Narrative Lectionary to worship with our brothers and sisters at the United Methodist church for World Communion Sunday last week. Today, we’ll go back to the stories of the Old Testament. Last time I preached from the lectionary we found the Hebrew people at the shores of the Red Sea passing through the waters held back for them to escape the Egyptian army.
Today, we jump forward to the people under the leadership of Joshua. A lot has happened since the Red Sea. Moses leads the people through the wilderness for 40 long years and God gives the people the 10 commandments at the crest of Mt. Sinai. Moses establishes the law, also known as the book of Leviticus, which contains 613 rules to live by. The time of the wilderness wandering didn’t have to be as long as it was. God had the people wander – generations of unfaithful people whining about their circumstances passed away and a generation of faithful people emerge ready to enter the Promised Land. Moses dies and passes the mantle to Joshua. Joshua leads the people into the land of Canaan which they conquer and take as their own homeland.
The Hebrew people who left Egypt, now occupying the land of Canaan, become the Israelites, God’s chosen people, living in the new nation of Israel. When God told the people to enter the Promised Land, they were given the command to not be like other countries who invade and conquer nations, pillaging the nation and keeping everything worth value for themselves and taking the people as slaves. God will not have His people act like other godless nations.
God gives His chosen people the command to kill everyone and every animal and destroy everything. They are not to keep treasures for themselves. They are not to take slaves. They are not to pillage the land; they are to destroy everything in the land. This will be a sign to all nations that they are not like others; they are the people of God.
Now, the Israelites have taken the Promised Land. They are ready to settle in, build homes, establish a nation. Joshua has departing words for them. He is close to the end of his days and wants to leave them with a renewed commitment to the covenant God made through Abraham.
Joshua gathers the people in Shechem. This is where God made the covenant with Abraham to give him numerous offspring, to make him a great nation, and to give the land to his descendants. In Shechem, Abraham built an altar to the Lord to commemorate the place where God first appeared to him. Now, the people, Abraham’s numerous descendants, have gathered at the altar built by Abraham to celebrate the fulfillment of that covenant.
God retells the story of what He has done through the generations from Abraham to their day. These people before Joshua didn’t experience crossing through the Red Sea. They didn’t experience slavery. Their experience of God is His mighty hand giving over the people of Canaan to their sword so that they could conquer and occupy the Promised Land. The people before Joshua needed to be reminded of the story of what God has done for their people. In knowing the story of their ancestors and the covenant God has made with them, they are challenged by Joshua to adopt that story as their story and enter into the covenant with God.
The Israelites have been chosen by God to be His children and they have before them the opportunity to choose God. Will they be faithful children of God or will they be rebellious children worshipping idols? The Israelites inherited the faith and covenant of their ancestors. They are children of God claimed by God. They can choose who they will serve. As for Joshua and his household, he will serve the Lord.
If you go into any Christian bookstore, you will find verse 15 of this text on all sorts of plaques and pillows, quilts and decals. Having that verse placed prominently in your house is a sign that you have chosen to serve God. But, what does that mean? It may be trite for us to display this verse in our homes if we don’t give proper consideration to what it means to serve the Lord. What does it mean to serve the Lord over worshipping idols and the gods of our world?
Y’all have been pretty quiet lately, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and ask you a question. I hope you’ll have lots of responses. What does it mean to you to serve the Lord? In what ways do you serve the Lord? What is it about your life that is a sign that you serve the Lord? The theologian John Wesley said, “they that are bound for Heaven must be willing to swim against the stream, and must do, not as most do, but as the best do.” How do you swim against the stream of our culture? Or, how do you see others serving the Lord?
The Hebrew word in this text that is translated serve can be translated as serve, work, and worship. In the Hebrew language, to serve the Lord is to worship the Lord and to worship the Lord is to serve the Lord. In the Christian faith, to serve the Lord is to work for His continued ministry in the world.
Jesus faced the challenge to choose to worship God. After His baptism, He went into the wilderness where He was tempted and tried for 40 days. In Satan’s last temptation, he offers Jesus all the kingdoms and their splendor if only Jesus will fall down and worship him. Jesus’ response is quick and certain. The Scriptures say, “worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.” Jesus makes it plain – as for Him, He will serve the Lord.
We stand at the edge of our future much like the Israelites before Joshua. Joshua gave the people the opportunity to choose to serve the Lord. This invitation was the people’s to make a choice that would guide their nation. They could choose to be the people of God or they could go their own way. We stand at the edge of our future ready to choose to be the people of God and serve the Lord.
The Board has approved the 3-year ministry plan and adopted a plan for a new Board structure to try for 2015. You’ve been given a copy of that structure. The new Board structure eliminates committees hopefully providing more opportunities to serve for more people. You are asked to read it, consider it, and pray about it over the next 2 weeks. We’ll discuss it as a congregation in 2 weeks during worship and consider giving the Board permission to try it.
In November, we will celebrate our church’s birthday. We will hear your stories about worshipping here, growing in faith here and raising families here. We will adopt the ministry plan and approve Board members who will guide us in fulfilling that plan. We will celebrate our past, our present, and our future as God’s people serving the Lord.
In order to fulfill this ministry plan, the church will need resources to carry out ministries reaching out to our neighbors, nurturing our membership and developing our faith. When Scott Woolridge was here for our visioning retreat, he had us dream big as if energy and finances were of no concern. We have a great, God-sized vision which needs resources to fulfill. This is an opportunity for you to invest in our future. The church will need your spiritual gifts and your time to see this plan to fruition to become the church God is calling us to be.
The church will also need your continued offerings. Our offerings are an investment in the future of our church. Wouldn’t it be great if as the Finance committee is considering the budget for 2015, we also considered a dream budget? Imagine if we had unlimited resources what we would do with those resources? What would our dream budget look like?
We have had 133 years of people investing in the future of this church. There is a legacy of faithful believers who have believed in this church and invested in its continued witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Bethany. We now have the opportunity to remember what God has done in us, with us, and through us. We have the opportunity to enter into that narrative and place our hope in the future of our church. As we move forward, you are invited to invest in our future as we seek to be God’s people and serve the Lord.