Christ the King-Epiphany Church
13th Sunday after Pentecost
“Choose this day whom you will serve,” thundered Joshua before the assembled tribes. Actually, scripture doesn’t tell us that Joshua had a strong voice. I can’t imagine that he appeared very strong, as he was 110 and about to die at the time of this speech. But this speech is so passionate, so full of conviction, that I can’t imagine them sounding any other way. “Choose this day whom you will serve.” Choose.
I don’t know about you, but I get tired of making choices. I feel as if our life has been nothing but a series of choices for the last couple of months as we started to transition from life and ministry in Pennsylvania to life and ministry among you here in Western Mass. We had to choose a house, of course, which ended up being one of the easier decisions because there weren’t that many choices. But there were other choices with many more options. We had to choose a bank, because our PA bank doesn’t have branches in Massachusetts. And then we had to choose a new insurance company because our homeowners’ and car insurance were with a company that doesn’t write policies in New England. And now we’re choosing an internet provider. And soon we’ll have to choose new doctors and new veterinarians and new mechanics and new people to cut our hair and so on and so forth, so many choices. It becomes overwhelming. Now granted, relocating is something that doesn’t happen very often (at least not for most of us). But even every day choices can become overwhelming. We use Crest’s herbal mint toothpaste and we have for years, but apparently we’re the only people in America that do because Crest seems to have stopped making that flavor. So we had to choose a new toothpaste. Do you know how many different kinds of Crest toothpaste there are? There’s Crest with Scope, and Pro Health which seems redundant because there isn’t an anti-health toothpaste, right? There’s Crest Gum restore, which is somehow different than Gum detoxify; there’s Deep clean and Tartar control; there’s Whitening and Ultra whitening and 3D whitening (whatever that is); then of course there’s gel or paste to choose from, not to mention all the different flavors. No kidding, we stood in Bed, Bath, and Beyond a good 10 minutes last week trying to choose a new toothpaste! When there are so many options, choice can be difficult.
When Joshua said to the people, “Choose this day whom you will serve,” he mentioned a number of options. “Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord,” he said, “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River” . . . that is, the gods that they worshiped long ago, before the day when Abraham was called by God. Joshua continued: “or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living” – that is, the gods of their neighbors in their new land. In another place in this chapter, Joshua also mentions the gods of Egypt, where the people had been enslaved. The truth was, you didn’t have to look very far in the ancient world to find lots of other options of gods to serve. And though it seems obvious to us that the only real choice is the one, true God, I’m not sure it would have been so clear a choice to Joshua’s audience.
Nor does it always appear to be such a clear choice for us – which “god” we will serve. On the surface, sure, we’ve all chosen the one true God – otherwise, we wouldn’t be here in this place today, right? We’re not here to worship an idol or a statue as Joshua’s people might have been tempted to do as they looked around and saw what their neighbors were up to. But there are other “gods” who tempt us. One classic definition of a god is “that in which we place our trust.” And sometimes, truth be told, we place our trust in reason, believing that we can think our way out of any problem. Sometimes we serve the god of self-sufficiency, which whispers in our ear that we are self-made people, we deserve everything we’ve worked for, and can handle everything on our own, thank you very much. Sometimes we put our trust in wealth, believing that there is no problem that enough money cannot solve. Sometimes we worship the god of strength which lures us into believing that our best choices are always the ones in which we come out on top. We choose the “god” whom we will serve every day, and sometimes it’s not an easy choice. The lure of reason and self-sufficiency and wealth and strength are very powerful.
But here’s the thing: they are all subject to failure. Unlike our choice of toothpaste, where every variety of Crest, when used in proper oral hygiene will probably have roughly the same result, where we place our trust will have vastly different results according to the choice we make. Reason can only take us so far – yet our God is beyond human understanding. Self-sufficiency is a myth – and besides, God has created us to be in community. Wealth is illusory – plus, consider the fact that we serve a Savior who preferred to hang out with the poor. And strength can be sapped in an instant – the only enduring strength comes from above. There is only one unfailing choice of where to place our trust and of whom to serve.
And if we had read the verses from the 24th chapter of Joshua that the creators of the lectionary left out, we would have seen that, through Joshua’s prophetic voice, God Godself makes that very argument – that there’s only one clear choice. It was the one true God who led Abraham into the land and created a great nation from his children. It was the one true God who brought the people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. It was the one true God who destroyed all their enemies in the land they were to inhabit. It was the one true God who gave them land for which they had not labored, and towns that they had not built, and fruit from vineyards and oliveyards that they had not planted. It was not their reason or self-sufficiency or wealth or strength that had gotten them to where they were. It was the one true God.
So when Joshua says, “Choose this day whom you will serve,” there’s really only one answer the people can make. Same for us. There’s only one choice we can make. It’s like Peter says to Jesus in the Gospel: Lord, to whom else can we go? You have the words of eternal life. That doesn’t mean we won’t be lured into trusting a false god from time to time. But when we do, that’s when we remember that no matter our choices, God in Christ is always choosing us. Choosing to love us. Choosing to forgive us. Choosing to guide us. Choosing to protect us. And choosing to invite us not just to serve him, but also to serve the world whom he loves.
So let us respond as Joshua did: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”