Pentecost 18 – Narrative Lectionary 1
October 12, 2014
Grace, Mankato, MN
Joshua 24.1-15; Matthew 4.8-10
I want you think for a moment about the most meaningful human relationship you have. Think about how that relationship came about, how it developed, and what has happened during the time of the relationship. Maybe you hit it off and became BFFs (Best Friends Forever) immediately or maybe it came slowly. Perhaps you’ve been friends through thick and thin or maybe it’s been on again/off again. Furthermore, maybe something changed in the course of the relationship. For me, the relationship that comes to mind is my marriage, one that including “courtship” has lasted over 35 years. We were acquaintances in a young adult group for some time before we dated, much of it long distance. Ultimately we stood before a pastor and our family and friends, making promises to each other (one which I forgot to speak since we memorized our vows). As all married couples, we’ve gone through a lot together.
There is a similar dynamic going on in our Joshua text today between God and the Israelites. It seems odd to us to read this story because we have been following them since God chose Abraham and Sarah to be the parents of a great nation with their own land. And just last week, God established covenant with the newly delivered Israelites at Mt. Sinai. But, a lot has happened in the story since then, 40 years worth to be exact, because the Israelites have been wandering in the wilderness since then and only recently entered the Promised Land. Why has it taken so long for them to get there? It is not because Moses refused to stop and ask directions as some have joked. It has taken so long because when they had the opportunity to do so, the Israelites became afraid and doubted God’s ability to fulfill the promise. They blinked.
God delayed their entry until all of those who doubted had died and couldn’t be in the way of trying again, because God was going to fulfill the promise. So, those who were left to enter the Promised Land were the children and grandchildren of those who had lived in Egypt and been delivered by God’s hand. So, not only was there no memory of life then, there was no direct memory of God’s deliverance. God wants these new settlers to make a commitment to follow this particular God, and not another god or gods they might have picked up along the way. That’s important for two reasons: first, they need to agree to be the people God calls them to be. Second, they are entering a land that has multiple religious options available to them and God wants to inoculate them against these foreign viruses.
Regarding the first, being God’s people: The most important thing to always remember about making a commitment to this relationship with God is that the relationship is only made possible through God’s graceful mercy and love. Look in the text at how the Israelites are reminded of their history, one that God influenced and has acted in, with and through it. God creates the space that makes relationships possible, and that is especially true for the one between God and us. One of the results of this relationship is that we become keenly aware that each and every generation needs to respond to God’s love for us. Another way to say it for us who have received baptismal promises through Jesus Christ is that our baptism is not as much about a one-time act as it is about a continual unfolding throughout our lives.
Even so, the text may be less about the call to choose than it is about the difficulty that ensues following the onset of the relationship. The rest of scripture is full of times when Israel falls short, often because they go after other gods. Indeed, the religious options that are available to us in our own time are no fewer than those available to the Israelites in their time. The gods of consumerism, materialism, nationalism, perfectionism, etc are just as dangerous to us and our human relationships as the multiple national gods were to the Israelites 3,000+ years ago. When I work with couples in pre-marriage sessions I ask what they could do to make their fiancé divorce them. Of course, they don’t want to even think about it let alone answer, but they need to understand what seemingly harmless actions could lead to divorce. Once they do that, they can decide not to go down those roads and prevent it from happening.
God has created a space for us to be in relationship and invites us to respond with lives that are healthy and life-giving, with God and with others. What are the gods that are drawing you from just such a life? Are there ways that you can strengthen your relationship? We are all on that journey, standing on the brink of the Promised Land. Let each of us hear God’s call on us, inviting us and our families to commit again that we will serve the Lord. Amen.