A PEOPLE CHOSEN, FORMED IN GOD’S WORD, CALLED BY GOD
TEXT: Joshua 24:1-18
SELF-MADE GODS "If God made man in his own image," it is said, "then man has returned the compliment." We are like the character in one G.B. Shaw's plays, whom the playwright describes as "a self-made man who worships his creator." In our society today, we live fragmented lives, isolated from each other. A person generally takes great satisfaction in proclaiming “I’m my own boss – nobody tells me what to do.” Our society indeed has produced a generation of self-seeking individuals who are an Island unto themselves.
We also live in a world of increasing religious pluralism. Not only is every religion tolerated. But rather, we have gods for every conceivable wish and desire under the sun. Consider the gods of science and technology, finance and success, military might and national security.
In the church we often feel confused about this pluralism. In part that is because we have bought into the claims that they make for themselves. Someone said that “Every person is serving god(s) in his/her life. Every person is transformed into an image of his/her god. Mankind creates and forms a structure of society in its own image. That for which I would give anything and accept nothing in exchange is the most important thing in my life. Whatever that is is my god. “
Tony Campolo suggests that “When I hear Jesus being proclaimed from the television stations across our country, from pulpits hither and yon, he comes across not as the biblical Jesus, not as the Jesus described in the Bible, but as a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant Republican.... God created us in his image, but we have decided to return the favor and create a God who is in our image.”
DONAHUE GOSPEL: Billy Strayhorn, Arlington, Texas tells this story: “One evening I went to visit one of our members who was in the hospital. It was late and I had another meeting so I stopped to get a hamburger and some fries. While I was sitting in the burger place I overheard two women talking. I usually don't eaves drop but the tone and excitement of the one woman really grabbed my attention. She was saying, "He's changed my life. He communicates with me every day of the week. Anywhere I go, he's there. He let's me know how I should live and what I should think. He tells me the meaning of life." You can see why I started listening. I thought to myself, "This women really knows how to witness!" And then she said, "I just love, Phil Donahue." Talk about being disappointed. Can you imagine basing your whole life and your values on what you saw on the Phil Donahue Show? Can you imagine what a distorted, misshapen set of values you would have?” But, then again, these are also the exact same comments that we sometimes hear in the homes that we visit.
Although we do not face a pantheon of false gods like the Israelites did, we face the claim for loyalty of these gods--materialism, love of leisure, sensuality, worship of self, security, and many others.
If you still think that you are unaffected by these modern day gods, let me ask you: “What is the object of your affections, your efforts, and your full attention? Where does the majority of your free time go? Your money? Your energy? What other gods do we have besides the Lord?
I know some of you are thinking that I’m getting close to the line when I challenge some of your favorite gods: “Don’t mess with my love for football. What do you mean I’m worshipping my firm? Leave my kids out of it – they have to be in sports and music and all those extra high expectations I have of them to stay out of trouble.”
Issue for today
We live in a post-modern culture – we are told (even though we don’t understand what that really means). But, what we do understand is that Christendom is crumbling right before our eyes. The Values of Christianity have been largely abandoned by our society. And we find ourselves in a constant struggle between the God who has chosen us and formed us into His people and the false gods of our secular society.
Issue for the Church
If your starting to get depressed let me assure you that there is hope. God is alive and active in our lives. Recently we were invited somewhere together with a few other families. During the course of the evening the teenage children decided that they were going to go watch some movies. As they were going out the door, one of the parents said to them, “Remember whose children you are.”
As people of God we are confronted with the very important question of our Identity. Who are we? What kind of people ought we to be? What is God doing in the world in the midst of the disintergration of Christian values? How are we called to participate in what God is doing in the world?
LISTENING TO THE TEXT
As we listen to the text we get a sense that we’ve heard this before. This text gives us an insight as to the “crumbling of Godly values” in the very beginings of Israel as a people of God. They had come through the desert experience – a journey and a story that had shaped them into a people of God. Now they had conquered the Promised Land – they had tasted the lucious grapes, and learned to enjoy the Land that flows with milk and honey. They had tasted success. And they had seen also that their neighbors, the Canaanites, had experienced success. The Canaanite fertility-gods were offering a seductive alternative to the trust they had placed in God.
This familiar passage focusses on the question of our identity as people of God. Who are we as God’s people? The context of this passage shows us a defining moment in the young history of Israel as a people. At the rate that things were going they would soon face a potential identity crisis. Recognizing the societal pressures that were pushing and pulling from every angle, Joshua assembled the Elders and the entire people of Israel. At Shechem they engaged in a solemn rehearsal of who they are as a people and they recommitted themselves to their identity as God’s chosen people. They were called to “Remember who you are!”
The torch of leadership has been passed from Moses to Joshua, a new generation of Israelites has crossed the Jordan River and possessed the Promised Land, and the land has been distributed to the various tribes. But, before the assembly disperses to live as a people settled in the land, they gather at a holy place, Shechem, to hear once again the call to serve the Lord.
The people will soon return to live their daily lives in a culture where the dominant worldview is one of control and manipulation. The Canaanite religion of Baalism will provide the people with simple ways to attain their desires through performance and achievement. Israel will be tempted to acknowledge the Lord as the God who delivered them from Egypt, but to acknowledge Baal as the god who provides the daily necessities of "real life."
In the midst of this tendency to divide life between the Lord and Baal, the sacred and the secular, Sunday and the rest of the week, church life and what many moderns - even Christians - call “real life”, Joshua calls the people of God to make a choice (v. 15). The choice is an either or. Joshua calls for a clear choice between two loyalties. The people are called to an undivided loyalty that involves both casting away the gods of the dominant culture and serving the Lord (v. 14).
In response to Joshua's call to undivided loyalty, the people acknowledge that the Lord is the One who has delivered them, provided for them, and protected them (vv. 16-18). They acknowledge that they will serve the Lord for one reason: He is already their God (v. 18). They are already God’s children.
The basis of the people's identity what God has done in their lives. It is God who has shaped them into a people. God has brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of slavery, out of the oppression and torture of Pharaoh. God has done so many things in the life of His people. They have already experienced God’s grace, blessing, protection, forgiveness, compassion, patience, and the gift of His unconditional love.
God’s people belong to an alternative kingdom - a kingdom that stands in stark contrasts to the dominant culture. Why would they ever begin to view life through the lens of that culture? At Shechem Israel is reminded of who they are as God’s chosen people. They are challenged to stand over against the popular world-view of their day. They were challenged to trust the God who had given them freedom and had formed them into a people.
\\ ENGAGING THE TEXT
In the same way that the Israelites' dominant culture seduced the people of God to worship Baal, so the dominant cultures in which we as the people of God find ourselves today continue to lure us to bow at the feet of gods that can be manipulated and controlled. As humans we seek to earn position, power and possessions through our own performance and achievement. From the server who earns high tips by good service to the athlete who earns a starting position by high performance to the business executive who earns a promotion by outstanding achievements, we learn early in life to use other people as well as God as vending machines. We make a deposit in order to get a high return.
Joshua’s proclamation is also for us today: "Remember who you are! You are not people of a worldly system. You follow the beat of a different drummer. Your life is governed by an unshakable faith that God is in control, and Not the US military, or Wall Street, the Entertainment Industry, Hollywood, or Dr. Phil. You are a people that has received the grace, the blessing and the gift of God’s unconditional love.
Our identity as the people of God is grounded in what God has done in our lives. In hearing who we are in light of God's work in our lives, we affirm that no other gods have shaped our identity and therefore they have no claim to allegiance in our lives.
The Bible is God’s Word to us when we are seduced to follow the gods of our day. The Word of God shapes us into the Image and character of the God who saves and transforms human lives. Therefore it is essencial that we seek guidance from the scriptures that recount the story of what God has done and continues to do in our lives.
\\ GOD'S ANSWER
God continues to form us into a people who know that their very existence is utterly dependent upon His work and presence in us. As God’s people we need to continue to trust Him especially when the gods of our culture compete for our loyalty and trust.
God continues to speak to us: “Remember whose children you are.” Then we will respond with the conviction of the Israelites, “We will serve the Lord.”
What is your response today as you hear the challenge from God’s Word? Are we clear on our identity as a people of God here at Springfield? Do you remember whose child you are? The choice before you this morning is this: “Choose today what kind of people you want to be. Will you bow down and worship the gods of our culture that have no real life to give? Or, will you serve the God who has created the heavens and earth, and who has brought you to this place?
If today you have been convicted by God’s Word, I invite you to stand with me and declare against the gods of our popular culture, “as for me and my house we will serve the Lord” Would you stand and proclaim with me “We will serve the Lord!”