SERMON Pentecost August 26, 2018
Text Joshua 24:14-18 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” --- 16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”
The historical setting for our text is one of the golden ages of Israel. They are at peace.The Israelites under Joshua as leader have conquered the whole land of Canaan. They now occupy houses they did not build, and they harvest grapes and make wine from vineyards they didn’t plant. Joshua as well as the tribal leaders know all this is a result of God’s faithfulness to his promises. He had promised them that all this would happen. And it did. And they are thankful. This peace and blessed life would continue for another generation. Considering all this our text presents a bit of a mystery. For Joshua here tells the Israelites in various words, now at this time, you need to Renew Your Relationship with the Lord. Why was that necessary? Had they not been fearing, loving and serving the Lord?
Our text says the same thing to you and me. Renew Your Relationship with the Lord. You see, you too have been living in a golden age, and still are. Specifically, I am speaking of the golden age of this congregation which still goes on today. Congregational life here is part of living in the Holy Christian Church. Consider the blessings you have experienced, and still do, due to the faithfulness of the Lord. You founders and charter members have had God’s blessings for about 40 years. Likewise, the rest of us who have joined along the way, have experienced the same blessings. The same biblical Word of God is still preached and taught as it was in the beginning. Two generations plus have been served here with the Sacraments in addition to the Word. Not every congregation has had the peace in relationships among its members as you have. Consider the joys of our like mindedness; also our happiness in talking and visiting one another; consider the blessing of working together we have had, workdays when more than enough showed up for the task at hand; we even party and play games together. ---Now, our Pastor would be the first to tell you, this blessed life is not because of him and his work among you. Nor do you have these blessings because of you and what you have done. Rather, this is the Lord our God opening his hand and blessing you both physically and spiritually. And I know pastor and all of you are thankful. And it is obvious that you have been fearing, loving and serving the Lord. Then, why at this time are we being told, RENEW YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LORD.
The answer to this is simple and easily seen. Yesterday, or the day before, certainly last weekend here you prayed the Lord’s prayer. You said in that prayer, Forgive me my sins. Now today, you again pray, Forgive me my sin. Why is that necessary? You know, because we sin daily and deserve nothing but punishment. You, like the Israelites have a pact or covenant with the Lord. But our sin can destroy that relationship. Our relationship with God needs constant renewal through the forgiveness which is found alone in Jesus death and resurrection.
Look at what Joshua tells the people, reminding them of their past unfaithfulness. “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.” Weren’t the Israelites fearing the Lord? Weren’t they serving him? Yes. But turning to other gods was a threat even at that moment. This is especially true when people have had peace and prosperity for a while. Just 40 years after Joshua’s death, the people began turning to other gods. We are told they began to forget about all that the Lord had done for them. Now, other gods are all around us. In fact, gods of pride and wrong ambition can dwell in our hearts. The Canaanite neighbors worshipped fertility gods. Israel would turn to them. In our land, how many people have turned to improper fleshly relationships from adultery to who knows what. And we are tempted. All this could and did lead the Israelites astray; the same can happen to us in a day.
But in reality, Joshua demands something of his fellow people that they are incapable of doing. “Fear the Lord”, “Serve the Lord with faithfulness.” And when we are told to do the same, “serve the Lord with gladness” we are incapable. Only God can enable the Israelites and us to serve him even in the simplest fashion. The same is true for us.
And the Lord has done this. He led the Israelites to swear on this occasion, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods.” How did God cause them to continue to worship only him day after day? By reminding them and showing them his faithfulness. The Israelites gave this reason for fearing and serving God; “It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt.” “He protected us on our entire journey.” “The Lord drove out before us all the nations.” They recognized this not only as the truth, but something he had promised about 500 years earlier to Abraham. “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.” (Gen 15) “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.” (Gen 17) The people of our text experienced the fulfillment of all this. But they had to keep on remembering the Lord’s faithfulness as they lived in peace.
The Lord made another promise to Abraham. He fulfilled this 1300 years later. But it was a promise all believers counted on, “and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Gen 22) That was the promise that our faithful God would send the Savior. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians, “when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” As you have learned from God himself in his Word, through Jesus the Lord kept his promises. Jesus spent his lifetime seeking and saving those who were lost. A leper, one of ten. Nicodemus, from among the unbelieving Pharisees. One paralytic lowered through a roof. One sinful woman of the street. He died for those people’s sins. --- Today, again he comes to you, singular. To each of you individually he says, “Peace be unto you.” “Look at my hands and feet.” “I give you a peace which the world cannot give.” “Your sins, all of them, are forgiven you.”
We sin daily, so each day we have to renew our relationship with God. We do that by laying our sins at his feet. We also renew our relationship by calling on God to keep on being faithful to his promises. He will be. Each day it is good to say or sing, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with your free Spirit. Amen. Let us now stand and sing this (Page 20 CW) We too do not want to forsake the Lord; rather we want him to help us worship him faithfully forever. Amen.