The Sunday Sermon: Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost – November 12, 2017
Scripture: Joshua 24:1-8, 13-15
Choose This Day
So 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. Joshua 24:1
Pray with me …
And so we have come, gathered this morning, Dedication Sunday to present ourselves before God. We do this every Sunday, of course – come before God in a special way, a way different than other days of the week. But this Sunday is different even from other Sundays of the year. We’ve been intentional about this Dedication Sunday since I’ve been a part of the community. And at the end of the journey we’ve been on since mid-October with the ancient Israelites, there are few scriptures better suited for this day. This passage, and particularly the second part of verse fifteen, is special for me in several ways.
When I graduated Seminary way back in 1999, my older brother, and ordained Pastor, himself, at this point working in Japan for the United Church of Christ, sent me a wooden plaque with Japanese symbols carved into it, along with a letter of congratulations and good wishes. Tim was fluent in Japanese, taking classes before he left and having been there for two or three years already. I had to get in touch with him to remind him that I didn’t speak Japanese and didn’t know what the plaque said.
“Oh, it’s a bible verse,” he told me.
“Okay … which bible verse is it?”
And he couldn’t remember. He said he had forgotten which verse he had decided on. He had trouble choosing between Joshua 24:15 and Matthew 28:19-10, the Great Commission. (Go therefore, and baptize all nations …)
Now, this was before smart phones and cameras and text messaging, and all that. I think we were emailing each other, but I honestly don’t remember. In any case, there was no way for him to see the plaque or for me to adequately describe it, so I just hung it on the wall of my first office wall at Highland Pres. and, when asked, told everybody it was either Joshua 24:15 or Matthew 28:18-19.
A few months later the Reverend Lou Lancaster, who worshipped with his wife at Highland, happened to drop by my office. He saw the plaque and said out loud, “But as for me and my household …”
I jumped up from my chair and said, “What?!”
He said, “I was just reading your plaque. “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Lou had been a missionary in Japan in the Fifties. Mystery solved.
Joshua 24:15 was my confirmation verse. And there aren’t many better suited for this Sunday. I read the first verse of our reading as I began this morning. Verse fifteen is the last verse.
Listen for the Word of God … Read Joshua 24:2-8, 13
We have come this morning to present ourselves before God. It’s been a long journey this year, even for us. Six weeks! We’ve moved through the book of Exodus to Deuteronomy, into the book of Joshua and all the way through that in this past week. I read from chapter four last week as we pulled our stones from the River and placed them down to remind us that God has provided and that we will respond. And this week, this morning, we have come to the last chapter of Joshua to present ourselves to God before one another. But before we do, let us remember.
It’s been a long time coming, this day! Our reading goes a long way back, not just scripturally, but in the history of our church, all the way back to when the first two or more gathered in Christ’s name on this plot of land and declared that “this is what our stones mean to us” and “this is what our stones will mean to our children:” Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church. From beyond the river they came, through the wilderness, to the top of the ridge and down into the valley of promise that was no more earned than the air they breathed, but that was given to them for the generations who would follow. Those generations include us, sitting here today, one hundred and fifty-one years later..
Our own journey this year, an annual passage through which we try to live up to the pledges of yesterday and live into the promise of tomorrow, began out in the wilderness. We were complaining from the outset that we had no water at all to drink. Do you remember what we were told to do? “Strike the Rock. Discover the presence of God in our midst. Listen for God’s directions. Follow God’s lead. “Strike the rock!”
We came to the base of the mountain this year and we made a pledge that foreshadowed this day. Does anyone remember that pledge? We said it three times together that morning … We will do. We began our stewardship season with an ancient pledge before we even knew what we’re promising: Everything that the Lord has spoken … we will do.
With the confidence and the courage of our conviction, we listened directly to God on the next Sunday, moving “beyond the pledge,” encouraged and strengthened by the words Ashia spoke to us in her sermon message. At the base of the mountain, we planned and we prepared. We built a Tabernacle, a movable sanctuary for God, and prepared to set out again to the land of promise. Are you remembering?
The next Sunday, two Sundays ago, we found it. And we spent a week “on the other side” looking at it – milk and honey, financial budgets and opportunities(!) for Education ministries and Memorial Gift offerings, and everything in-between. It was beautiful, we noted … in its way. Still a vision, a dream, this promise. Would it be realized? Could it be? We spent a week poised before the promise wondering just that, praying for our personal and communal reply. And just last week, we crossed over, remembering our faith and our faithful on All Saints Sunday. With a radical trust and fidelity to the God who cared for us all the journey through, we gathered stones and we placed them in our minds as the foundation for what lie ahead – this day. Today we answer our children’s question: What do those stones mean to you?
The journey that Joshua retells for the ancient Israelites has been ours this year and is ours every year: Out of bondage, into the wilderness, met by God, led by God, to a land of blessing and peace, of memories past, ministries present, and perhaps most importantly, of mission future. We have gathered, all of us, to present ourselves before God. And the challenge that Joshua issues in our final verses this morning is the challenge we face every day of our lives. Choose this day …
Read Joshua 24:14-15
It’s not an easy decision, though we preachers may like to try to make it so. Beyond the global economic realities of the past years, the more recent upheavals and progress in the social structure of our country, and the gloomy outlooks of worldly cynics read on every newspaper and hear in every newscast, this morning we’re talking about giving to “the church,” as fallible an institution as any other in our lives, administered by imperfect stewards. And yet as we gather this morning, we do so not to present ourselves to an institution or to any person or persons in it. We have come to present ourselves to God and before one another for our little corner of God’s Kingdom on earth. How will our household respond?
I want to ask you to do one thing more in this time of sermon, something that we’ve done almost every year I’ve been with you on this Sunday. If you have your pledge card with you, take it in your hand. If you’re with your family or your spouse, one of you hold it, but both or all of you take note of it in front of you. If you didn’t bring your pledge card with you, take one out of the pew in front of you. There should be plenty for all this morning … there better be plenty for all!
Now as you hold that card (blank perhaps, but hopefully with some commitment in mind soon to be written down) listen again to Joshua’s words:
Choose this day whom you will serve.
Joshua makes it clear in our reading, our decision is free and deliberate. We do have options. We live in a time that worships a multitude of deities. It is possible for us to do that, too. But, as we have come to this day, this morning, this gathering, this Dedication Sunday as a household of God to present ourselves before God, we pray, with the anxiety that always foresees great things, that …
“As for our household we will serve the Lord.” During our offertory we will come forward. But first, let us sing, let us affirm, and then let us choose.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / November 12, 2017