Joshua 1-3a, 14-25
This Sunday is the last of the semi-continuous readings from the Hexateuch (the first sixth books of the Bible) and the next to last semi-continuous reading from the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible in Year A this liturgical year as Christ the King falls on November 23.
In this week's text, Joshua has finished allotting the various lands to their respective tribes; the Israelites are now the ruling power. The LORD has delivered them from Egypt with a mighty hand and fulfilled the promise of long ago, the promise of a land that is their own. Now Joshua, like Moses before him, begins to prepare the people for life without him.
"Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem" (Joshua 24:1). Joshua has some important things to say to them, words of reminder and warning.
First, the reminder. Again, much like Moses in Deuteronomy, Joshua reminds the people of God's work in the past: "Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many" (Joshua 24:3a).
But Joshua knows this people; he knows how fickle they are, how quick they are to despair and to turn away from the God of their salvation, and even though those fears will soon be played out and will be played out again and again in Israel's and Judah's history, still Joshua tries to impress upon them the need for them to not forget the reminder and thus exhorts them to make a choice.
Because Joshua recognizes a simple truth, one summed up well by Bob Dylan: "You're gonna have to serve somebody."
You will either serve the LORD God on your own interests, in this case represented by "other gods." Other gods would have been attractive, I admit; they often promised good harvests, fertility, prosperity, favorable weather, etc. All the comforts of ancient life, things to make a hard life easier if only you make the appropriate sacrifices and do the right rituals. Service to these gods demanded comparatively little over and against the demands of the God of Israel.
The God of Israel demanded much more than just proper worship and ritual, but demanded justice within the community, concern for the poor, widow, and orphan, concern for the stranger, alongside proper religious practice. As Amos would later put it (in a reading which is the OT reading for today in some alternate lectionaries):
Joshua knows that this God demands more of God's people. "Choose this day who you will serve," Joshua says. 'Cause you're gonna have to serve somebody.
Some of us in the wake of the election are ecstatic and hopeful for the future, others are intensely uncertain and afraid of what an America under President Obama will look like. Still, President-Elect Obama will be our President, and my prayers are with him, his family, and his administration just as they would have been with Senator McCain if he had won.
But I have made a choice of who I serve, and while I support the new President-Elect because he will be our leader, my ultimate allegiance is not to him or his party. "But for me and my house," Joshua says, "we will serve the LORD." No matter your party allegiance or who you voted for, if you call yourself a disciple of Jesus, you have a commitment and loyalty and servitude higher than any elected official.
I am a citizen of the United States of America, but I have a higher citizenship, one that trumps all other loyalties and oaths and promises, and that is to the kingdom of God that Jesus came to proclaim.
My prayer for President-Elect Obama and for all our elected officials is that God's wisdom may be with them, will guide them, and that they be discerning, compassionate, and strong leaders. But at the end of the day, I choose a higher, and in many ways harder, calling to serve not worldly interests alone like economic policy or national security or any number of important issues. Instead, I serve a living God who demands justice, mercy and righteousness first and foremost. As for me and mine, we will strive to serve the LORD.
Hopefully, our country will as well.