Which God Will You Serve?

The Episcopal Church has a set Sunday lectionary that rotates through a three year cycle with Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel readings for each Sunday. The Old Testament reading for Sunday November 9, 2014 (the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost) was Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25.
Included in that text is the following:

Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors – Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor – lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.

“Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region 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.”
(Jump to the end for the full text).

As I heard this read in Church today, I thought about how the Lord God, in much the same way, brought new people from Europe (where they worshiped Him) into the New World. Some came in search of religious freedom or at least tolerance and some came for opportunity. In the New World, many of those who came banded together to found a new nation “under God” and most of those in the new nation worshiped Him. They chose to worship God. Some were Catholic and some were Protestant but they worshipped God. As the faith spread in the new world, new expressions of that faith emerged – but they still worshiped God.

Time has passed, much has changed. Like the Hebrews in Israel and Judah, we have prospered and multiplied and subdued the land. We have alternative cultures and religions and distortions of religions. We have found freedom and tolerance. Many don’t know who God is. We’re so free and tolerant that we let people tell us we can’t talk about God or pray or express our faith. And we have “churches” (often without crosses) that preach prosperity and self-actualization and positive thinking and empowerment, where Bibles are thumped and sometimes quoted (often out of context) but not really read. And we have churches of football and the arts and politics and society.

Today we need a Joshua to ask us “Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods of personal fulfillment, or the gods of leisure, or the gods of money or politics or … ”

What will we answer? In times of trouble, it’s easy to see that we need the Lord. Wars, turmoil, and tumult have a way of making us see that we need God. But in these times of peace and prosperity (and make no mistake that – relative to much of the rest of the world – we in the USA live in peace and prosperity), it is too easy to go our own way and follow these others – other things that can become our gods.

Let us choose to serve the Lord. Let us to choose to serve the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Let us chose to serve Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Let us choose to love and serve our crucified and risen Lord. There is no other path to salvation.

Full text of Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25:
Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors– Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor– lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.

“Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River, and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region 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 that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

But Joshua said to the people, “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. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the LORD!” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

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