Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
August 26, 2018
“Choose Ye This Day: Faith or Party”
Joshua 24: 1-2a-14-18 – NRSV
Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel:
14 “Revere the Lord, and serve in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 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.”
16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. And protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18 and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, who is our God.”
Joshua is a pretty significant biblical character about whom most people know very little. He was, among other things, the successor of Moses. After 40 years in the wilderness, he and Moses looked down from the mountain, but it was Joshua who finally led the people into the Promised Land. Joshua was also a military general. But, he was only successful when Moses was there holding up his hands. When Moses’ hands were up, Joshua was victorious. When his hands fell, Joshua’s army suffered defeat. So, to remedy this problem, on at least one occasion, when Moses grew tired, two men held his arms up until sunset, so Joshua could prevail over the Amalekites.
Joshua was also with Moses when he went up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. Six weeks later when they came back down the mountain, he was at Moses’ side when they discovered the people had built a golden calf in their absence. That’s when Joshua learned how quickly the people could abandon their god for something shiny and covered in gold. And because they chose a tacky idol instead of remaining faithful to the Lord, no one who had been alive when they were slaves in Egypt was allowed to enter the Promised Land, hence the length of a 40-year generation; not even Moses entered. Poor Moses, who had suffered through their constant whining and complaining. Only Joshua and two others.
Of course, we can’t forget the Promised Land wasn’t theirs to settle. It wasn’t empty land. It belonged to other people, whom they had to conquer first. It was the same kind of “in-the-name-of-God manifest destiny” that white settlers forced the original inhabitants off their tribal lands in the US and blacks off their land in places like South Africa. Colonial powers seized land around the globe for themselves not just out of greed but with the religious fervor of “civilizing and Christianizing.” So, it’s hard to “celebrate” Joshua’s victories when in reality it meant killing the Canaanites to get it.
You’ve probably heard the story of at least one of those victories at Jericho. We even sang a song about it in Vacation Bible School. Joshua’s army marched around the walls of the city of Jericho for six days in silence. On the seventh day, they blew their trumpets and the wall of Jericho fell, which, I’ll give it to them, was a brilliant strategy. The walls didn’t necessarily fall from the blast of the trumpets but the weight of all those curious people standing on the adobe walls watching an army march around their city in silence.
We may “celebrate” the Fall of Jericho, but what would the residents who lost their home call it? Just like the U.S. government called it Custer’s Last Stand – a heroic, romanticized image. Tribes, who were victorious, called it the Battle of the Little Big Horn. The U.S. government called it the Battle at Wounded Knee. Tribes call the slaughter of 300 mostly women and children without weapons the Massacre at Wounded Knee. Independence Day in Israel is called Nakba, the Catastrophe, by Palestinians.
Therefore, I always feel a sense of unease with stories like these involving Joshua taking the Promised Land. Unease, but not as sick to my stomach as I was this week when on Fox News, Tucker Carlson chose to highlight the most obscure allegation of wide-scale killing of white farmers in South Africa. As he decried the injustice of this literal “fake news,” he called the president of South Africa a “racist,” with such a look of sincerity you might even think he that he thought racism was bad or an issue with which someone should be legitimately concerned. And yet it was just one more in a string of attempts to change the narrative of corruption by this administration. All of it without any hint of irony that blacks in South Africa, 80% of the population, own 4% of the land of which they once owned 100%. Gee, how’d that happen? It’s all a bunch of white supremacy garbage, which only increased the likelihood that the president would tweet in support of a conspiracy theory without the facts to keep his base happy.
But back to Joshua. We may think of him for his roles with Moses and the Ten Commandments and the golden calf and the two of them standing overlooking the Promised Land and the fall of Jericho and all his military victories. But it is today’s story that will always stand out to me: “Choose this day whom you will serve.” Growing up we had a plaque in our kitchen with the words, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” alongside a picture of the Last Supper and one of those half a billion copies of Sallman’s portrait of a blonde-headed Jesus.
At 110 years old, Joshua was nearing the end of his life. No longer nomads, the people were now fully settled. The text says they were living in houses and eating fruit from trees. To be more accurate, it says living they were living in houses they didn’t build and eating fruit from trees they didn’t plant. I’ve even used the text before on such occasions as church anniversaries as a kind of tribute to the generations who sacrificed to build edifices like this sanctuary without thinking – hey, wait a minute – we’re in this church because the generations before us meant for us to inherit it, and for the next generation to inherit from us. That’s inspiring. But Joshua’s people were living in houses and eating the fruit of people from whom they took it. That’s not inspiring. That’s theft.
And yet, the point is, the people were settled and ready for new leadership. It was time for a kind of rite of passage. Sort of like, you’re an adult now so you get to decide. He had them gather at Shechem, which is a narrow passage between two mountains. Choose this day whom you will serve. It is a decision we are faced with nearly every day.
Michael Cohen told George Stephanopoulos, "My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will. I put family and country first.” And with that he flipped on a man for whom he had once pledged to take a bullet.
Under different circumstances, such a statement would have been lauded by faith leaders for its expression of family values. But some faith leaders today need a “Joshua moment” to decide whether family values include:
Are those the positions of your faith or your party?
Some “whom shall we serve” questions might include:
Perhaps we can be criticized for only accentuating the negative aspects of the times in which we are living. Can’t you find anything good to say? Perhaps we can just as easily find ourselves parroting the positions of only one party too. So what, then, do we stand for? But more important than what we stand for, who do we choose to serve?
It doesn’t matter what party we belong to, or what country we live in, the basics of our faith are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. As it says in the Book of James, “religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
It doesn’t matter whether Trump is president or Obama or Warren G. Harding. The question is always to choose this day: faith or party. When one conflicts with the other, which shall you choose? If you don’t know, ask “Where is the love?” What makes our world more like the Kingdom of God about which Jesus was constantly talking; more open, inclusive, just, and compassionate? One party doesn’t have a monopoly on that.
Now interestingly, after the people shouted, all pumped up and inspired, “We choose the Lord!” Joshua yelled back at them, “No you won’t. You’re incapable. You can’t do it.” They protested back, “Yes we can.”
And at times throughout their history, they were faithful. Wonderfully. And at other times they failed. Spectacularly. As spectacular as that gold covered calf or a gold-plated toilet.
And that’s when we realize, the issue isn’t whom we choose but that God keeps choosing us despite our failure to make the right choice. And offers grace that we might begin again. And again. And again. And, I’m sorry God, it looks like we’re gonna need it again. I’m sorry. And thank you.
 Richard R. Losch, All the People in the Bible, Eerdmans, 2008
 James 1:27
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My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and Travelling around the world