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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost - August 27, 2006

   Many of you have raised children.  Some are still doing it.  Others have taught or coached or been involved with kids in some fashion.  All of us were children; some still are (regardless of their age).  Because of this everyone has heard and/or has given a lecture on choices.  The one who pops into my mind when I think about this is the assistant principal at the school where I taught.  Assistant principals tend to get stuck dealing with discipline issues and in that context this guy was always talking to kids about how much of life is choices, good choices, bad choices and consequences for whatever choices are made.  His point was always, I’m not punishing you.  You’re punishing yourself.  You made a bad choice and here are the consequences.

It’s true I guess.  Much of life is about choices.  Not entirely though.  There are some things, some circumstances of life about which you have no choice.  But especially as we get older, life is increasingly about the choices we make.  Sometimes they get pretty complicated, sometimes the choices are in response to things we can’t control or choose, but I guess what never changes is that sometimes we make good choices, sometimes they’re not so good, but always, we deal with the consequences of our choices.

Joshua laid out a choice to the people of Israel gathered at Shechem; “Choose this day whom you will serve.”  To put this in context for you, Joshua was the successor to Moses.  You perhaps remember that Moses led the people to the promised land, but he was not the one to lead them into the land.  That was the call of Joshua and with the help of the Lord he did what he was called to do.  Much of the book of Joshua is the account of a rather violent, militaristic conquest of the land and the people who lived there, an account that is somewhat troubling to our modern sensibilities particularly in light of the ongoing violence in that part of the world.  But that’s another discussion for another time.

In the final chapter of Joshua, from which today’s lesson comes, Joshua gathers the leaders of all the tribes of Israel and recounts for them the acts of God from their tradition; first in choosing Abraham and providing land and unlikely offspring; the story of the people of Israel in Egypt; the sending of Moses and Aaron to deliver the people from bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt; the exodus story of that deliverance, the plagues and crossing the Red Sea; the wandering in the wilderness; and finally the conquest of the land in which they now reside.

Joshua reminded the people of all this and then invited them to make a decision, a choice for or against the God of this recital and, consequently to make a decision for or against alternative gods beyond the River and in Egypt.  “Choose this day whom you will serve.”  Joshua tells them what he will do, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  But what is their choice?

And the response of the people?  “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods.”  Of course!  What other answer would they give?  I find their answer rather amusing but perhaps that’s just because I know the book of Judges which follows Joshua is the story of the people’s consistent failure to do what they said they would do.  But perhaps I should give them the benefit of the doubt and say that they were being sincere, that they really thought they were prepared to serve the Lord, to attest to the truth of what Joshua had reminded them. 

They thought they were prepared but what they hadn’t done was to fully think through the consequences of their choice.  Joshua was quick to remind them of that.  He wasn’t ready to accept their answer; in the verses that follow today’s text he pushes them a little bit; he challenges them and reminds them of what will happen if they fail to do what they say.  But still they say, “No, we will serve the Lord.”  I’m afraid though, that they hadn’t thought about the consequences of that choice, or perhaps I should say, the command of obedience inherent in that choice. 

A choice for the Lord, Yahweh, meant a reordering of everything else.  It meant really recognizing all the competing gods or loyalties that were out there and still choosing the Lord.  It meant knowing how appealing those other gods and loyalties were and still choosing the Lord.  

“Choose this day whom you will serve.”  The words linger to the present day.  The competing loyalties are still out there, not so much in the form of alternative gods beyond the River and in Egypt but in the form of money, job, country, leisure, food, football, basketball, hockey, even church buildings and denominations.  “Choose this day whom you will serve.”  “Far be it from us,” we say. “We choose Jesus.”  Have you really thought about what that means?  Have you thought about the consequences of that answer…that it means a reordering of everything else, a command to follow the model of Jesus?  Have you thought about that?  The theologian Soren Kierkegaard once said that if being a Christian meant actually living according to the teachings of Jesus, at any given time in history there might be four or five people who would have the right to call themselves Christians.  I think he was probably right. 

There’s another choice that has to come in here.  If it’s all about our choices we’re in trouble.  Even if we make a good choice and say, “Yes, I’ll follow Jesus, I’ll serve Jesus,” we find that we can’t do what we said.  Our intentions are good, as were the intentions of the people of Israel on the plains of Shechem, but then comes our own personal book of Judges where too consistently we do what is evil in the sight of the Lord.

But another choice has already been made…by God.  In and through Christ, God has made a choice for us.  What needs to be done has been done for everyone.  In Christ, God has chosen salvation for broken, sinful humanity.  He has made a choice for us knowing exactly who we are, knowing that we frequently do and will keep doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord.  God has made his choice, and that is important for us to remember. The choice for us is still there though; “Choose this day whom you will serve,” but it is a choice made in light of this choice that has already been made, a choice for us. 

So we gather, not at Shechem, but at Bethany Lutheran Church and other such places.  We gather and we hear the stories of our faith told, much as Joshua did with his people.  We are reminded of the choice made for us and we tell that story over and over again because we need to hear it because it is easy to have that story drowned out by the stories of all the other competing gods out there.  We hear the story and then the choice is put before us, “Choose this day whom you will serve.”  Every day the choice is put before us.

Some days we make a good choice, some days we don’t; but it’s easier to make that good choice when the sound of God’s story is fresh and familiar in our ears.  Like they say, If you want to hear the train you need to be near the tracks.  If you want to make a choice for Jesus, you need to be some place you can hear his story. 

          All of us, at times, are attracted by those other gods who promise wealth, comfort, relaxation, power, whatever.  But at our best, we recognize the limits of what they offer and when the choice is put before us, together with Peter we say, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  At our best we know that and we make the choice to serve Jesus and to reject those other loyalties as attractive as they may be.  Today we choose Jesus and we follow, sometimes confidently, sometimes struggling, but we follow.  Tomorrow we choose again.  But always, we know and have confidence in the choice that has already been made for us.

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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