>The following is the sermon that was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, November 9, 2008.  The text for this week’s message was Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 and is included in the the below text.

Last week we looked at the story of the Israelites crossing into the Promised Land, and how it recalled the story of the Exodus from Egypt.  This story in Israelite history both affirms where they have been and reassures them that God is with them and will continue to be with them as long as they continue in faith.  This is a reminder to us that God has been with us and that God will continue to be with us as long as we continue in faith.  After crossing the Jordan, the Israelites begin to drive out those who were in the land before them.  After conquering cities in the south and the north, the Israelites divided the land among the tribes.  Before they head off to their respective areas, Joshua wants to meet with one more time, which bring us to today’s Scripture, which is found in Joshua 24.

1Joshua 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. 2And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. 3Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many.

 14“Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15And 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.”

 16Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, 17for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

 19But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” 21And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the LORD.” 22Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.”24And the people said to Joshua, “The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” 25So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem.

Okay, so we’ve affirmed our past, we look eagerly towards the future, but the question now becomes, what do we do in the present?  How do we start in such a way that we have something to build upon?  I want to reflect for just a minute on something that many of us have probably seen at some point in our lives, and then I want to take those same principles and see how they match up with what is going on as the Israelites start to build their nation.  How many of you have seen a house, or any other type of building, being built?  There a number of steps that have to take place before the finished product stands before you.

The one of the first steps in building a house is knowing the building codes.  Building codes are set for a reason.  It’s not so that  there can be one more area that someone else can control in our lives.  Building codes are there to protect us.  They are put in place to ensure that the minimum standards of safety are met whenever a building is put up.  If the electrical wiring is not to code, then it is a possibility that the building will catch on fire.  If there is not a load bearing wall where there needs to be one, then it is likely that the ceiling will collapse. 

The Israelites were given their building codes before, at Mount Sinai.  The Torah, or the Law, is the building code.  When we get ambitious at the beginning of the year and decide to read the Bible from cover to cover, where do we often get caught? – about half way through Exodus, then in Leviticus, and Numbers and Deuteronomy.  It doesn’t make sense to us.  It just seems like a long list of “Do’s and Don’t’s.”  We don’t realize that these books are there to teach us how to live with one another. 

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that he did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but that he came to fulfill them, and throughout the message, he says, “You have heard that it was said, but I tell you…”  The Law was the minimum requirements of what it meant to live in relationship with one another and with a holy God, but Jesus comes to push us past the minimum requirements and entire into a relationship that goes beyond the minimum.  Jesus calls us to an abundant life, one in which we can live beyond the minimum requirements of a relationship with the Father.  It is a relationship that was intended from the very beginning when we could walk alongside the Creator.

We have also been given our building codes – the standards by which we are to live, and they can be found in Scripture.  We must be aware of what Scripture says, and in doing so, apply it to our lives.  When we live our lives by the standards that are laid before us in Scripture, the example that is set by Jesus, then we are going well beyond the minimum, and entering into a life of abundance.

Another step that is necessary to build a strong house is the need to prepare the land.  You can’t just buy a lot and start building on it.  You need to make sure the land is level.  Some of it may very well need to be ripped up and replaced.  This is what the Israelites had to do in order to really be able to live in the land.  They had to drive out those that were in it already.  If the land was not cleared out, the Israelites would have had an incredibly difficult time building in the Promised Land.  As it was, they cleared out a lot of those that were in the land, but not everybody, which is why we will see down the road, they did struggle with enemies that were in the land.  If the land is not prepared, then the house will not be very sturdy.  Parts of it will settle unevenly, and eventually there will be cracks all throughout the house; some of those cracks may be so severe as to render the house unlivable.

In the same way, we must make sure that our land is level.  We have to be willing to clear aware all of the debris that will get in the way and put cracks in our house of faith.  We have to be willing to get rid of all the junk in our lives so that we can have a clean area in our life in which Christ can build.  There are so many things that get in the way of our house, that can cause severe cracks, that if we don’t get rid of them, all the work in the world won’t matter because, eventually, we’ll settle down once again into an area that should have been cleared away, and the cracks will start to appear.

The third necessary step is laying a solid foundation.  Once the ground is leveled out and packed down it is time to pour the concrete that will form the foundation of the house.  Without this foundation, whatever is built is in risk of sinking or falling apart altogether.  The foundation is the most important part of the house, because if it is messed up, the entire house is in serious danger of falling apart.

Joshua uses this time as an opportunity to challenge the people to decide who they will really serve.  Will they serve the God who brought them out of Egypt and gave them the land that now lies before them, or will they serve the false gods of their ancestors – the gods of Mesopotamia, or even the gods of those in whose land they now dwell.  What is most interesting about this scene is its location. 

It takes place in Shechem.  According to the archaeological record, Shechem was once an important center for pagan worship.  It is very likely that Joshua’s interaction with the Israelite leaders in this passage was taking place in the ruins of a pagan temple.  So, Joshua gives the people a look at where following these other gods will lead, and it’s not pretty.  The mere location seems to tell them that they are destined for destruction if they chose to follow these false gods, just as those who once followed in that location are now ruined.  Against the physical backdrop of pagan ruins and the historical backdrop of what the Lord has done for the Israelites, Joshua calls Israel to do two things: fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and faithfulness.

The Hebrew word for “fear” that is used here is yare (YAW-RAY).  It doesn’t mean to fear in a sense that there is need to be frightened or terrified, but to hold in high reverence.  Joshua is not telling them about a God who is bent on punishing those who make mistakes, but about a God who deserves our respect, and in whom we stand in awe.  This is a God who has done the miraculous, the God who has brought them out of the land in which they were oppressed, the God who parted the waters of the sea and stopped up an overflowing river.  This is a God who is truly awe-inspiring, and this is a God that is worthy of our respect and adoration.

Joshua’s challenge to the Israelite people is not just a challenge that stood before these people thousands of years ago.  It is a challenge that stands before us today – right here, in the midst of our comfy pews in Veedersburg/Hillsboro.  We also must decide who we will serve.  Will we serve the God who created the universe and everything in it?  Will we serve the God who brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and who brings us out of our own slavery to sin and death?  Will we serve the God who sent his one and only son into the world that we may be reconciled with Him?  Or will we serve a different god, who is no god at all?

Our society is not devoid of idols.  We may not name them, we may not pray to them or make sacrifices to them, but our society is not terribly different than those who were ruined before the Israelite people on that day so long ago.  Our idols are more subtle – movie and television stars, celebrities, money, power, position, pride, societal status – these are all idols in our society.  We don’t always recognize them, but they are things that draw our worship away from the Almighty God because they draw our hearts away from the Almighty God.

Joshua sets the example for the Israelites, by telling them that he and his house will serve the Lord, then challenges the people to follow his lead, and the people accept his challenge – they will also serve the Lord.  That’s when Joshua gives them a warning; a warning that I would be remiss if I didn’t give you today as well.  We cannot serve the Lord on our own.  If we try to do it by our own strength, and by our own determination of will, then we will fail.  The more we try to take control of our spiritual life, the more it will begin to slip away from us.  It is only when we give it to God that we can truly start to grow in our relationship with Him.  The more we try to control and manipulate our relationship with God, the further and further away we push Him.

So this morning, I leave you with a challenge – let go of all control.  Allow God to take the reigns of your spiritual life, because it is then – and only then – that you will truly begin growing in your relationship with Him.  Now, there are some things that we need to do to help facilitate this relationship.  It is our responsibility, our priviledge, to turn to Him in prayer and to study the Word.  And in doing so, we open up the lines of communication, but that is the extent of what we can do.  It is only when we relinquish our control that God will work in our lives.  So, where are you going to build your foundation?  Will it be on the sinking sand of today’s society or your own desire for control?  Or will it be on the Lord?  Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.