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The Choice is Still Here
November 10, 1974

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

JOSHUA 24:1-15

“Joshua fit de battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down.” This old spiritual keeps before us the conquest of Canaan by Joshua. Joshua did not conquer all of Canaan but he did begin the process by conquering some key cities, the most famous of which is Jericho. Joshua was Moses' successor. Moses died before they reached Canaan, the promised land. He spent most of his life leading his people out of Egypt and through the wilderness for 40 years, preparing the people for their new land. But he died before he got there. He was allowed to see the promised land, however. In the last chapter of Deuteronomy, there is a very dramatic description of Moses climbing the highest peak of Mt. Nebo, and there he saw below him Jericho, the first city into Canaan. Then he died. Joshua was his successor and Joshua led the people into the land of Canaan.

Our Scripture lesson this morning described the covenant renewing ceremony at Shechem. Joshua called the people together—the twelve tribes and their leaders. No doubt local people were also included. There is no account in the Bible of any battles being fought in the Shechem area. This leads scholars to believe that friends of the Israelites lived here; perhaps relatives from ancient times, people who remembered Abraham and Isaac. Joshua held a convocation to challenge the Israelites to renew their covenant with God, and to invite the local people to make a new covenant with God. Joshua had a huge task as did Moses before him—to make a nation, to make a people. Now they were in the new land, the exodus from Egypt was a long time ago. Probably few if any of the original slaves were alive. The second generation now assumed God's promise but the traditions were not important to them. The Sinai covenant, the Ten Commandments were long in the past. The second generation is often not as enthusiastic as the first.

Also, he had to incorporate the local people, to tell them the story of how God had rescued his people from Egypt, made a covenant with them, promised them the promised land. In making a nation, Joshua no doubt felt the need for unity. No nation can last long without unity. In unity there is strength. When a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand. Joshua as he faced the task of conquering Canaan knew that unity among his people was essential. They needed strength. They needed power. They needed peace within themselves, so they could unite as brothers and sisters as one nation, one family, one people. So on that dramatic day at Shechem, thousands of people gathered, and Joshua gave them the word. He told them of the exodus, how God loved, saved and called his people to be his nation. Then Joshua gave them the choice, the choice that is still here, “Which god are you going to serve, the gods of Moab from which we have just come, the gods of the Canaanites, or the God who led you out of Egypt? Choose this day whom you will serve but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua knew that the unity so desperately needed in this new nation, rather than the crippling, vacillating, uncertain fence riders of weakness, would come from their common commitment to the Lord. Commitment to the Lord is the focus of unity. There is a great need for unity in this world and our nation today. There is a desperate need for unity--strength, power and peace--in the church. There is a crying need for unity--strength, power and peace--in St. Paul's Church. My dream, my prayer for our church here in Manteca is that we will discover the power of God, that we will know the power of his Holy Spirit as he moves in our midst uniting as brothers and sisters, and sending us into the community and world strong, powerful and loving.

I don't know about you but I personally need unity. I need a community. I need brothers and sisters of the church. I need the strength, power, peace and love that come from brothers and sisters in a united church. I praise and thank God for my wife and family for the strength, encouragement and love I receive. But I need a larger family. It is hopelessly unrealistic to expect one's spouse to provide the emotional strength, the satisfying of all needs. I thank God for my wife and my family. I have the best family in the world (as you do!). I'm so thankful for the strength, encouragement and the love they give me but no spouse can give all the emotional strength that the other needs. No spouse can meet all the needs of the other. It's impossible. Many marriages fail because they expect too much of the spouse. They're laying too high and heavy expectations on the other that are impossible to demand. No two people can make it in this life. We need a larger family and no nuclear family can make it in this life. We need a larger family. We need unity in the church.

I don't know about you and I suspect you're the same as I am, but I have days when I must reach out and grab somebody's hand, the hand of someone who cares about me, who cares whether I make it, who believes in what I'm doing. There are days when I need hugs. There are days when I need sustaining and uplifting, when I need to be upheld by other people. And I need people to pray for me. I don't believe that I can make it on my own prayers alone. My job is too difficult. Life is too tough these days. We have pressures, tensions and crises like no one has ever known and I can't make it by my prayers alone. I need brothers and sisters to help.

Where do we find such unity? How do we create such unity? How do we create a sustaining, loving, caring community? How do we make brothers and sisters, and find the power, strength and love that we need? Well, we don't create it by just making commitments to each other. “I'll be your friend, if you'll be mine” is the basis of friendships, the basis of social relationships, the basis of secular relationships. But that's not adequate—I’ll be your friend, if you'll be mine. That's not adequate to hold us together. Because when we disagree, when we argue, when we have differences of opinion, when we say the wrong thing and hurt someone's feeling, the thing blows apart. I like you if you like me is not adequate. I'll compliment you if you compliment me is not adequate.

The basis upon which unity can come is a common commitment to Jesus Christ on the part of all of us. Only Jesus Christ can hold us together, not commitments to each other, not commitments to our interests and our desires, but our commitment to the Lord. He is our mortar that can hold us together. “Choose this day whom you will serve,” said Joshua. Every woman, every man, every girl, every boy must choose. If you don't choose, you've already chosen. If you put it off or evade, you've already chosen. No choice is to say “no” to the Lord. No choice at all is a no vote.

Choose this day whom you will serve. If you don't choose the Lord, whom do you choose? If you're not serving the Lord, what are you serving? If the Lord Jesus Christ is not the center of your life, if he's not the focal point around which everything revolves, if he is not the integrating factor that holds your life together and gives meaning, direction and purpose to everything you do, what is? You’ve all got something. There is something in your life that is more important than anything else, around which your life revolves. Often it's unconscious. Often you're not sure what you are serving. But there's something giving meaning and direction. What is it if it’s not the Lord? Is it adequate?

With some people, it's money. They serve money, sacrifice everything to get rich, comfortable. If that's really your main goal and purpose in life, are you really happy with it?

Or perhaps it's to be loved. A lot of people will do anything to be loved, to have friends, to be acclaimed, to have honor, to be popular. They will sacrifice anything—integrity, morality, anything—just to have somebody touch them. Is that adequate? Are you happy with that choice?

Or perhaps it’s power? A lot of people serve power and want control. They want to control their spouse. They want to control their children. They want to live their children's lives. They want to control half the neighborhood and the church too. They want to run everything. They want to be despots, dictators.  Are you really happy with power?

Perhaps it's pleasure, fun; do anything for pleasure. Do anything to satisfy needs. Sacrifice integrity, morality, ethics, family, anything for the pleasure of the moment.

Whatever it is, I submit to you that only the Lord is worthy of your life. Only the Lord is worthy of your service. The Lord who made you, created you, who loves you so much that his son died upon the cross; only God is worthy and only he can unite us and give us strength, power, peace and the love that we need to live our lives.

Joshua called the people together at Shechem. He challenged those second generations. He challenged those who had made a covenant with the Lord years before to renew it. And he challenged those who had never made a covenant with the Lord, to choose. Whatever, however we've been living, it's always possible to change. The question that he laid out before them was, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” I just can't preach this kind of a sermon, this kind of a topic when that question hits me between the eyes—choose whom you will serve. I just can't preach this sermon and sit down. I want us to do something that will publicly make a covenant. I want us to have a covenant ceremony, like Joshua did. I want to give you an opportunity to do something that will dramatize the covenant. When we go to the altar for prayer, when we pray the Presentation Prayer and ask God to accept our offering, to accept our lives, I'd like to invite you to come with the ushers, and we'll all go to the altar. I'd like to invite you who have committed your life to Jesus Christ and who publicly want to renew that covenant, to say to the rest of us that's where I am and I choose him. I choose him to be the Lord of our church and my life. And if you've never really faced yourself and got things straightened out in your own life as to what you're serving, I invite you to come. Get up and walk with the ushers as we go to the altar. And we'll all pray together.

© 1974 Douglas I. Norris