Joshua 24:1-3, 14-25
Have you ever been on the precipice, not knowing exactly what was going to happen next?
That’s where Joshua and the Israelites found themselves.
They had been through a lot together. This isn’t one of the stories we covered in our VBS for the Rest of Us series, but it very well could have been. Most of us probably know the story of Joshua and Jericho from our childhood – but the problem with just thinking about the story is sometimes we miss the big picture, so let’s back up a bit…
Remember Moses? Let my people go? Parting the Red Sea? Ten Commandments? Sound familiar? Moses had led God’s people out of captivity in Egypt and had then wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Moses was a great leader. Before he died, Moses chose Joshua to take his place to lead the people the promised land. Moses, who had led the people through such enormous change, passed these words of hope on to Joshua:
“Be strong and bold… because it is the Lord your God who goes with you;
he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed”
It was a new era. Most of the people who were alive then had never been in captivity. They had been born during the years of desert wandering and had never known what it was like to have a place called “home.” The promised land was in view – the problem is, it was promised to them but held by others. In an incredibly violent story, God leads Joshua to take over Jericho – by completely destroying it. According to the text, this is accomplished by Joshua and his men walking around the city one time per day for seven days, then on the seventh day, walking around it seven times, then blowing horns. Let that sink in. The plan to destroy the city… was to walk around it.
It didn’t make any sense. It defied all logic and all understanding. There wasn’t a reason they could point to about why God had asked them to do this seemingly outrageous thing – the only thing that mattered was their faith, their belief that God would be faithful to God’s promises.
And isn’t that how it works sometimes? The thing we’re called to do just doesn’t make sense?
Many years passed. Joshua was growing old, another era was ending.
Which brings us to today’s text. Joshua had gathered the people together. He knew his time with them was coming to an end. He knew he would soon die and the people would have to decide what was next. So he told them:
Choose this day who you will serve.
He reminded them that they had not always served Jehovah, the God of Israel. Remember that these were ancient people, tribal people, so it wasn’t a matter of serving God or being an atheist – they wouldn’t have conceived of it in that way. It was more about whether they would serve the gods of the land, or the gods of their ancestors –
or the GOD who has been faithful to them.
For the ancient Israelites – and even for the New Testament authors – they had no concept of “believing” in God. Believing was serving and vice versa. Faith to the apostle Paul wasn’t an intellectual idea, but rather how you embody what you believe – faith is an action, not a thought.
When Joshua tells the people to choose this day, it wasn’t to say a prayer and be done with it. It was to commit to a lifetime of reflecting God – choice after choice after choice.
You’ve probably gathered by now why I chose this text from the options for today instead of the Gospel text.
We, too, are on a precipice – all of us. We, too, are confronted with choices. We, too, are not sure what the next chapter holds…
… though we, too, know it won’t be written together.
Next month, our faith community will go separate directions. I will be moving to San Antonio with my family – and yes, that is different from when I first shared the news last spring we were moving to D.C.
At the same time, Pastor Nathan and his family will be moving to Atlanta.
We are all on a precipice. There is a lot about the next chapter that we don’t know.
When Joshua spoke to the Israelites, he reminded them of the faithfulness of God through the time they had been together… so in my last sermon here, I want to do the same.
There is one particular part of our collective story that some of you know and some of you might not. In fact, because of how much this congregation has changed in the past three years, some of you were not even here when it happened.
A little over three years ago, as a seminary student, I was required to serve a congregation for 10 hours a week – paid or unpaid. I am so grateful for the program Lexington Theological Seminary offers, because it was the only way I was able to finish seminary with as much as we move. At the time we were stationed at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, and when my husband got orders for Fort Campbell, I Googled nearby Disciples churches and emailed the pastor. I remember feeling very nervous, because I had to be at a church – I didn’t have a choice – and I wasn’t sure what I would encounter! This week in a fit of nostalgia I looked up that email. It began:
Good afternoon Reverend Brown,
My name is Sara Fisher, and I am a student at Lexington Theological Seminary.
I continued on, asking him if he would consider letting me intern here while I completed coursework.
Little did we know…
But here is the remarkable part of that story. Just before I sent that email, the youth director, Brian Miller, had resigned. I emailed back and forth with Nathan, followed by phone calls, and after we had gotten to know each other a little better he said, “You know, I hadn’t told you this at first, but we actually have an opening on staff…”
Looking back, there’s a lot that we all didn’t know three years ago.
We didn’t know how long I would be here – when we first arrived, 12 months was rather likely. We didn’t know that my husband would deploy – though, from Fort Campbell, that wasn’t really a surprise.
When I arrived three years ago, I walked in to a church that had anxiety because their senior minister was about to take sabbatical. There was a lot of uncertainty at that time – that spring, those “what if…” questions were on everyone’s minds.
What if there’s a funeral?
What if there’s a conflict?
What if the church is struck by lightning?
We didn’t know how well this church would work together for those three months…
What we would learn in those three months.
(and the church wasn’t even hit by lightning…)
We didn’t know about all the staff transition – since I’ve been here,
Pastor Jackie accepted a call to Virginia,
Jane McInnis, Sandy Cunningham, and Diane Beatty retired,
and Jane Wells, Donna Chapman, and Pat Sunderland stepped into those roles.
Whitney Joyner stepped down as our children’s choir director and Sylvia stepped up,
We added a youth choir with Hollie Dueker,
Jenny Fleming began filling in with children’s ministries this summer –
and I alone have had four separate job titles here in the three years I’ve been.
This church knows transition.
And we’ve experienced the faithfulness of God with each one.
Three years ago, we didn’t know how great of a fit we would all be for each other.
We didn’t know how much of a family you would become to my children.
We didn’t know that my leaving and Nathan’s leaving would align.
We didn’t know how sad we would all be heading into this Advent.
Of course, some of the changes in these past three years we might have anticipated with the passing of time.
Sara Camp and Caitlyn Shelton – those freshmen girls I met the day I arrived –
are, unsurprisingly, getting ready to graduate.
With each passing year as the all youth grew older, their questions have grown more challenging. Their faith has grown more engaged.
Then there’s that group of 5th graders I kept my eye on when I first arrived and welcomed as balls of anxious energy to youth group that first fall… who are now emerging leaders not just in the youth group but in the church – as 8th graders.
Whatever anxiety and uncertainty there is about the next chapter right now, let me tell you, you have amazing young people who are ready to help write it.
Yes, we as a church are on the precipice and about to begin new seasons of our journeys… but the reality is, those are not the only decisions facing us today.
I know and you know, that is not the only concern on our minds. Because we here gathered as a community, but each Sunday morning when we meet in the same room we bring the previous week’s worth of joys and concerns and decisions and changes with us.
And most of the time, the decisions we need to make aren’t between following God and not following God, but rather how to follow God. How to faithfully live. Choosing whether or not to follow God isn’t just a once-in-a-lifetime decision. It’s a choice today. And a choice tomorrow. And a choice on Tuesday. And choice every day after that.
Following God, serving God, loving God, is a choice made every time we put the needs of others before our own. It is a choice made every time we stand up for someone being hurt. It is a choice made every time we give of ourselves and our resources. Choice after choice, we cultivate a lifetime of faithfulness to God.
I don’t know what God is calling you to do for the rest of your life, or 10 years from now, or really, even next week. But I know that today, God is calling all of us – individually and as a church – to make Disciples of Christ by sharing God’s love in relationship, reflection, and response.
You will continue to bring God’s love to your workplaces, your schools, your civic engagement. People around Hopkinsville will continue to know this as a welcoming place because they know all of you. Every day brings new opportunities to bring the love of God to this community. The choice is yours.
Remember that remarkable part of the story that when I emailed Pastor Nathan, Brian had just resigned?
Brian’s first day back at FCC is three weeks from today, and he is beginning his time at LTS.
And somewhere, your next associate minister is on a precipice. Maybe already in search and call, he or she is wondering what the future holds. Grappling with uncertainty. In that liminal space – of not yet.
And. Somewhere. Your next senior minister is on a precipice. She or he might be standing in a pulpit, right at this moment, maybe feeling a call from God, some nudge they don’t even understand, to enter the search and call process.
Pray for them.
They are, somewhere, being prepared in ways they don’t even know yet
to help write the story of First Christian Church.
They will arrive to a church not knowing what is ahead.
Not knowing if they will be a good fit.
Not knowing how long they will stay.
Not knowing if you will become family.
So – this day, as you wait,
Be strong and bold… because it is the Lord your God who goes with you;
God will not fail you or forsake you.
Do not fear or be dismayed.