Choosing

buy Lyrica online overnight The Sunday Sermon – October 18, 2015

site web  Joshua 24:14-18

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The Covenant Sunday School class just wrapped up a study of the book of Joshua. It’s a study that actually began last Spring, but just last week they finished Joshua: A Journey of Faith, by Mary Mikhael.  I led several lessons, and the class and I were challenged by this book in our study:  How to understand it in light of the conflicts in the Middle East today?  How to learn from it in light of its portrayal of a God who seemingly sanctions war?  And while the passage we’ll be reading is certainly an appropriate one for any Stewardship Sunday, it occurred to me that the book of Joshua as a whole is an intriguing one to consider during this season.

Joshua chronicles Israel’s emergence into the promised land and the “dividing up” of that land among the peoples, to each tribe. We can feel a kinship, I think, with those bone weary travelers who first peered across the Jordan from the East into “the wilderness and the Lebanon, as far as the great river, the river Euphrates,” to “the land (beyond) …” Joshua 1:4 We can feel a kinship because, in this season we set aside for our discernment, we too are looking across our fields, through our physical structures, and into our wilderness(es):  The Lands of Financial Rationales and Staff Configurations, of Ministry Engagements and Mission Opportunities.  We look across  the “promised lands” of our own …

Let’s pray … And let’s read our scripture lesson – Joshua 24:14-18

Those verses, that passage, is near the end of the book of Joshua.  But this book is actually the beginning of a massive story in Israel’s life on the land that also includes the books of Judges, 1st and 2nd Samuel and 1st and 2nd Kings.  Biblical scholars refer to Joshua through 2nd Kings as the “Deuteronomistic History” and to its authors as the “Deuteronomistic Historians”.  (Sound familiar Sis?  Betty, Karen, Carol, Heidi, Mary, Sally, Rebecca, Connie, Hope, and Sis?)  The authors of this history, a history most likely composed gradually from two to six hundred years after the supposed events occurred, have taken the book of Deuteronomy, the last book of the Pentateuch just before Joshua, as the introduction to their history.

Deuteronomy ends with Moses and Israel poised at the edge of the promised land.  The book of Joshua, takes up Israel’s story with its emergence into the land.  In this massive history, Joshua records the conquest of indigenous peoples, Judges relates stories about the settlement period, accounts of the reigns of David and Solomon, the divided monarchy after Solomon and the Babylonian conquest of Judah and exile from the land are recorded, all in 1st Samuel through 2nd Kings.

It is a massive history, and the historian’s accounts use memories and reflections from many people who told and retold Israel’s traditions.  Those who shaped the history used spy stories, battle reports, hero legends, songs, liturgies, confessions, and administrative lists to reflect what it must mean to be the people of Yahweh (2), of God.  That’s very much what we are doing, and what we will be doing, during Stewardship Season through our Minutes for Mission and scripture readings, and my sermon words:  we are using memories and reflections from the many people in our midst, in our family, to tell our story and to reflect on what it means to be the people of God at Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church.

Much of the material in the work of the biblical authors was supposed to establish a history for a people in exile. The primary purpose of the book of Joshua, and those that follow, is “existential.”  That is, it had to do with their existence, their life, with God and with each other.  That is true of our work as well.  Our primary purpose in this season (and all seasons, to be honest) is to ask and answer questions like:  What is our purpose as church? What are we trying to accomplish?  What is our business?  What is God calling us to be and to do?  How we can be good stewards of the money and the time and the talents we pledge to this church?

The compilation of the hopes and dreams of Pewee Valley church’s members is a fairly massive story, as well. Spanning almost one and fifty years so far, the story of this community includes who we have been, who we understand ourselves to be today, who we hope to become. Our story includes how we understand God at work in our history, how we understand God at work right now, and how we plan to do God’s work in the years to come.  And there’s more to compare …

The book of Joshua looks both backward and forward. It is a climax.  In it is recorded the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham concerning the gift of the land.  But, it is also a beginning.  In it is recorded the beginning of a long life for the people of Israel in the land.

Our Stewardship Season look both backward and forward.  It always does.  There is a culmination that happens in these weeks.  During these weeks together, we’re doing more than asking for our money, our pledges.  We are understanding and articulating who this church has been from 1866 to the present:  “Ordinary people who  found in this community a spiritual home.”  So we are looking backward.

And in these weeks we are also looking forward. We are understanding  “who we are becoming and in whose service we labor anew.”  If those who came before us  found a “spiritual home” here at Pewee Valley Presbyterian, they wanted to be sure the doors stayed open for us.  If we who are here now have found a spiritual home here in this church, we want to keep open our doors for others, to come join us here, or at least to feel us at work here.  And with that sense of self, of our past, present, and future, we, like the Israelites of old at Shechem in the 24th chapter of Joshua, need continually to make a choice; to choose again this day.

Joshua asks the people to choose. The last chapter, the covenant at Shechem, articulates the idea toward which the whole book points:  the need to worship, to serve, to choose to trust Yahweh, God.  All of this self-understanding stuff is great.  Taking stock of who we have been and what we “possess,” of what we have been given, and visioning who we are becoming and what we can do with our treasures is wonderful only if it’s done in the service of something greater than ourselves.  The word “serve” appears no fewer than nine times in our five verses for this morning.  Repeatedly, Joshua presses the people to choose how they will respond to what they have been given, to choose whom they will serve.

As we figure out how to initiate and implement our goals as a community, how to be good stewards of what we give and what we receive, we are called once again to choose whom we will serve. If we hear nothing else urgent in this morning’s stewardship message, let it be this: The seriousness of and the power in our choice to serve, not ourselves, but God. That sounds obvious, but we know it’s not easy.

If we’re honest, we acknowledge a tendency toward self-centeredness as we think about what we’ll give again this year and what we want done with the gifts we give again this year. But the offerings of our time (whenever we gather together), of our talent (whatever ministry or mission we participate in) and our money (our pledges for our budget) are a means, not to our own comfortable ends, but to Christ’s challenging one:  The Kingdom of God.  We must not vision and initiate to make Pewee Valley Pres a gem in the crown of some earthly empire, but to make it, to make us, a stitch in the tapestry of God.  How rich, then, will our future together be?!

Until we can understand and truly be convinced that coming to Sunday morning worship is primarily to thank and praise God, we will serve ourselves.  Unless our finances remain a tool for our mission and not the other way around, we will serve our budget.  Until we believe that volunteering to prepare Sunday School snacks or Youth Group dinners is every bit as holy as preparing the communion table, we will serve our programs.  Until we can volunteer to teach a Sunday School class and understand that as equal to any sermon ever preached, we will serve our needs.  Until we can sit down at any mid-week fellowship and know that it is as holy as Sunday morning, we will serve our own time.

We must not choose to serve ourselves. We must not choose to serve our buildings.  We must not choose to serve our budget, or our programs, or our staff, or our status, or our time.  But we must choose …

And it is a serious choice. It is a serious commitment.  Read on in Joshua when you get home later:  “God is a holy God.  God is a jealous God.”  God will not settle for a “fractured allegiance.”  It’s all or nothing, let us not kid ourselves.  It is a powerful choice and we cannot serve two masters.  But … as we continue to be faithful to respond ourselves with more passion and trust and fidelity to God through this congregation and this church, here is God’s promise:  We will be protected along the way.  Great and wonderful things will be down in the future of Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church.  That has been true for one hundred and fifty years and counting.

The book of Joshua confronts us with the necessity of choice in a world that is always changing and always seeking to claim our allegiance. Our decision is free and deliberate.  We do have options.  We live in a time that worships a multitude of deities. But … “As for us” in this season, on this day we proclaim that we, too, “will serve the Lord.”

So, to pick up on our song from last week: ‘Tis the season to be “choosing.” Stewarship is here, let’s all be glad! We are witnesses against ourselves that we have chosen the Lord, to serve God.   May we bloom and grow in the choices we make in this Season of giving and far into our future together.

Amen.

Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / October 18, 2015