CHOOSE THIS DAY WHOM YOU WILL SERVE
A sermon by Rev. Richard Miller, Minister of Trinity United Church, Montreal, Quebec. November 6, 2005. Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
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.
- Joshua 24:15
On this Remembrance Sunday – on this Election Day – I have a question. Where is your allegiance? Where is mine? In our lives there are many things that compete for our first allegiance. To what – or whom – will we give it? Every day we are courted by such gods as money, success, recognition, popularity....you can add others to the list. To which of them do we bow down and serve?
Sometimes it may seem to us that the Bible is a strange book passed down from another time and place which has nothing at all to say to us. At other times it is "right on the money," and we see ourselves quite clearly in its pages – perhaps more clearly than we want to. Whatever else the Bible is – or is not, it is the story of competing allegiances. From Adam and Eve in the Garden, to Jacob who was later called Israel because he "contended with God," to David, and on to New Testament people like Peter and Judas, this book is the story of people who struggled with this same question: to whom did they owe their allegiance? Indeed, the apocalyptic vision of the end-time in the book of Revelation is about this as well – giving a prophecy of the results of which allegiance has been chosen.
For many weeks we have been reading the Old Testament narrative of the Exodus journey to the Promised Land, and very early in that story those people – like their modern counterparts – were serving many gods. And Joshua, who was their leader after Moses, put the challenge very directly. He said, "Choose you this day whom you will serve...."
You know, most of us are seldom challenged so directly. When was the last time someone got in our face and put it so bluntly: "Choose you this day – right now – whom you will serve"? How often does someone look us in the eye, or wave their finger in our face, and in the name of God Almighty dare us to chose here and now – at this very moment – what god we will serve? Umh? But that is exactly what Joshua did. And it is what Moses had done, and it is what the later prophets did. It is what John the Baptist did and what St. Paul did and, of course, what Jesus did. And it is what he continues to do as he calls each of us to follow him. For many of us today this is not an easy challenge, yet it is one from which we cannot escape. We must make our choice. And in the words of a poster that has been around for quite some time, "Not to Decide is to Decide." When we try to reserve judgement, we have already made our choice.
And there is also another sense in which we are challenged every day to chose what god we will serve. You see, whether someone puts it so directly to us or not, other choices which we make each day are in fact choices of whom we will serve. For example, we make the choice in how we respond to the person who is hungry or cold. Or in how we respond to the one who is oppressed or in some way discriminated against. Or to one who reaches out for our friendship and we turn them away. These and many other are also ways that we chose whom we serve. And yes, many of us are very good at giving persuasive reasons for our choices. And there are times when our reasons may even convince other people, but in our heart of hearts we know what god we have chosen. And when we are honest with ourselves, there are times – too many times – when we are not happy with the choice we have made.
One time I heard a moving, poignant lecture and it was entitled: "I've given up all allegiances but these." Yes, life is a process of choosing – and giving up – allegiances. As we live and grow and hopefully mature, we learn that some allegiances must be given up, others must become more important, and still others must be taken up for the first time. Joshua of old said, "Choose you this day whom you will serve..." The question of our allegiance – of whom we will serve – is a question which is always before us, and a question from which we can never escape. Joshua put the question to his people quite directly, and he laid out the alternatives. He said,
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. [And] 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 [people] in whose land you are living. . . .
And then Joshua gave his own witness: "....but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."
Such is the challenge that is before you and me even today – to choose what god we will serve. And also before us is Joshua's witness, and his exhortation to "revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness," putting away other gods that we may have served in another place or at another time. Let each of us respond in our own way, and let us do it with fidelity and conviction. Amen.