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“Joshua: Dare to Be Different”
Life Lessons from the Old Testament Sermon Series
Joshua 24:15



Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost—August 2, 2009

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

We continue our Summer Sermon Series on Life Lessons from the Old Testament with today’s Old Testament Reading, and the challenge given by Joshua, to both the ancient Israelites and to us as God’s people in the world today: “Choose this day whom you will serve. . .  But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites are finally entering their promised land.  They will be surrounded on all sides by paganism and immorality and false gods.  The chosen people of God are supposed to transform the land and its pagan culture.   But, Joshua is worried.  Joshua is worried that instead of God’s people transforming the pagan culture, the pagan culture will transform them.

“Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.  Joshua said to all the people . . .  Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Like the ancient people of God, we are surrounded today on all sides by paganism and immorality and false gods.  As Paul tells Timothy, “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. . .  But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.”

The story of what happened to the ancient Israelites in their promised land is very sad indeed.  Joshua’s worry was justified.  That day the people boldly proclaimed, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.” 

But, as you continue reading in the Old Testament, it tells the sad story of how God’s people of old soon forgot this bold proclamation.  Just as Joshua feared, instead of God’s people transforming the pagan culture, the pagan culture transformed them. Before they entered their promised land they proclaimed, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods!”  But, soon they had done exactly that, forsaken the Lord and turned instead to the false gods of the prevailing pagan culture.  

In these last days, what are the false gods in our own prevailing pagan culture that are luring us away from the true God?  Paul identifies some of them in the quotation I read earlier from 2nd Timothy.

“People will be lovers of themselves.”  That is what Paul lists first, and it is certainly the #1 false god.  “People will be lovers of themselves.” 

The right hierarchy of priorities in life can be summed up with the word “Joy,” J-O-Y, Jesus first, others second, you last.  But, our priorities in life are upside down, and truncated: Y-O, “yo”, you first, others second, and Jesus often doesn’t even make the list.   Or, perhaps, “M-M-M,” me, me, me.  That’s the distorted priorities and the sinful way of the world that we have fallen into, our #1 false god: ourselves.

“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money.”  Paul lists the second most prominent false as money, property, possessions.  But, really it is not these things themselves that’s the problem.  They are good gifts of God.  As Paul again tells Timothy, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.”

So, what is the problem?  The problem is with us, turning money, property, possessions into a false god by giving to them the affection and the place in our lives that should be reserved for God alone.  As Martin Luther says in the Small Catechism, in his explanation of the First Commandment, “‘You shall have no other gods.’  What does this mean?  We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” 

But, if you instead “fear, love [or] trust” in anything more than God himself, whatever it is, that has become your false god, your idol.  Paul puts it this way in Romans, “[They] worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.” In Colossians he describes it as, “Greed, which is idolatry.”  And he tells Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”  That is the problem: the LOVE of money, property, possessions.   “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money.”  Not just in these last days, but throughout history humanity’s two most prominent false gods have been ourselves and our things, and so Paul puts them at the beginning of his list.

At the very end of Paul’s list is another false god, which has increasing prominence and dominance in these last days: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” 

On the one hand, it is to be expected that we would see this form of idolatry in the pagan culture around us: “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”  A disturbing current example is the perversion of God’s institution of marriage in our society.

But, Paul’s prophecy is very specific: “lovers of pleasure RATHER THAN lovers of God.”  Paul is specifically prophesying about the Church, the people of God, who should be expected to put God first, that in the terrible times of the last days even they will put pleasure above God.

We are seeing a staggering fulfillment of this prophecy at the conventions of several American church bodies this summer.  One voted to allow openly immoral people to serve as bishops, and to bless immoral relationships with a church ceremony.  Here’s what one news report said: “Denominational leaders explained they are attempting to stem the exodus from their church by embracing a new doctrine they call ‘inclusivity,’ which they hope will attract . . . people.”

Just as with the ancient people of God, instead of the Church today transforming the pagan culture of the world, in many cases the Church is actually adopting the pagan culture and false gods of the world.  In today’s Epistle Reading, Paul describes such Christians as “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”

But, the problem is not just out there with someone else.  We must all confess that the problem is also right here, in each one of us and our own sinful selves.  As Paul says in Romans, “What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? No, not at all! We have already made the charge that [all] alike are all under sin.  As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one’ . . .  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” 

In God’s sight, we are all sinful and deserving of punishment.  We all fall short of heaven and deserve damnation in hell.  “For the wages of sin is death,” Paul continues in Romans.  “But, the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  That’s what we are celebrating here today: the gift of God, eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as an offering and sacrifice to God.”  “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”  “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”  “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”  “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

That’s what we are celebrating here today, and that’s the Good News we have to share, which will transform the world: the gift of God, eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

“Choose this day whom you will serve.”  Like the ancient people of God, that is the challenge confronting us today.  “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. . .  But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.”

The life lesson we learn from Joshua is to not be transformed by the paganism and immorality and false gods of the world, but dare to be different.  Paul puts it this way in Philippians, “[Be] blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

“Choose this day whom you will serve. . . But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Amen.

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