And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, 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. – Joshua 24:15
Many people have these words, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord, displayed somewhere in or on their homes. My family did growing up…it was on a little gold colored plaque on our door. It’s one small way of identifying this as a Christian home, a home that follows the values of the Lord as opposed to the values of the world. We will serve the Lord…It’s always wonderful to see this commitment made by a family; but it helps to know the back story.
The Israelites had been freed from their bondage of slavery to the Egyptians. They had wandered through the wilderness for 40 years. They had been attacked by others and, quite frankly, they had done a perfectly wonderful job of attacking themselves. They had stood at the threshold of the promised land and heard the command of God to take the land and to root out any and all things that were opposed to the Lord…those things that would draw them from the one who had redeemed them…we call this task in the book of Joshua the conquest. From there to this verse we read about their crossing the Jordan river, and it’s parting for them to pass…this is intentionally reminiscent of the parting of the Red Sea at the beginning of the Exodus. We hear about the fall of Jericho and the rest of the conquest…and we read about the division of the land and who will live where.
Then we come to these verses. This is the end of Joshua and he has gathered the people together to renew again that covenant that the Lord had made with them. What a recurring theme we see in scripture…at key moments, sometimes before and sometimes after, God gathers his people so that they might hear again the story, that they might be fed on the words of eternal life, and that they might be given the vision of whose they are and of where they are going. There’s a challenge. For well over 40 years the Israelites have been slaves, they’ve been wandering in the wilderness, they’ve been conquering the land. Now they are home in the land of promise, now they are to get down to the blessed business of living each and every day in the land flowing with milk and honey as God’s own people…they are, through their perfectly ordinary life, called to be that city on a hill for all the world to see. But with that glorious blessing comes a problem…the problem of being too comfortable. It’s one thing to follow God when it’s difficult…when the cards are down and the chips are in. It’s another thing entirely when all is going along fine and dandy…when things are going the best, that’s when you can fall the hardest! So God calls Joshua to gather the people, to renew the covenant and to ask them this question…choose this day!
These are words that we need. We are, by and large, the comfortable. We have cars and houses, 401K’s and savings accounts, families and jobs and all the rest. Most of us don’t worry about where our next meal will come from or if we’ll have another check to put into the bank. It never fails to amaze me how little people seem to know of the spiritual dangers that lurk all around them. We want to fixate on the present physical dangers…oh how insignificant those are! It’s the unseen spiritual dangers that we must be concerned about. Most don’t even believe that they exist! In his classic Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis observes that the devil doesn’t normally assault us with dark nights of the soul but rather with mundane business. In another place he observes that if you actually start thinking of spiritual matters the devil will just remind you that you’re hungry so that you’ll think about your stomach. Still in another place he says that the devil does his work best when you believe that he doesn’t exist at all! These spiritual assaults of the devil are the true ones we are called to worry about, to strive against, and to work to conquer.
I’ve often said that Lutherans aren’t big of decision theology…we don’t have this one big moment where we decide for Christ. Instead…we are called to decided for Christ each and every day…this is the daily calling of a Baptized Christian. Luther said in his Catechism that we are to daily die and rise with Christ. So, here’s the deal…right now you find yourself standing in the wilderness on the threshold of the promised land…your call is to strive against and to root out all that is in your life that draws you from God. This is your daily work. Like a gardener weeds their beds so we pull up the weeds in our own soul…Oh and the good news…you’re going to win the battle because Jesus has already declared it to be so! So pull up those weeds with joy and choose this day and all days to join in the Lord’s great conquest!