Reflection Series on a semi-continuous reading of Hebrew Scriptures: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 on November 8, 2020 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas
If you go to London and ride the underground train, you will hear an announcement that always comes on as you enter and exit the train warning you to “mind the gap” between the train and the platform.
In his farewell speech near the end of this book, Joshua tells the Israelites to “mind the gap.” However, unlike the London underground, Joshua is not referring to a physical gap, but a spiritual gap. Having led them into the Promised Land, Joshua details the gap by listing the many gods from whom the Israelites can choose—both past and present. Their ancestor Abraham first served the gods of Mesopotamia, their ancestors in Egypt were enslaved by the gods of Pharaoh, the Amorites that currently surround them in the land of Canaan have another menu of pagan gods. What is more, many of the Israelites carry with them household gods—statues of fertility gods, weather gods, and harvest god’s that they keep in their tents so they can be sure to cover all of their bases. We heard about such household gods when Rachel, Jacob’s second wife, took some of her father’s household gods and hid them under her saddle when they left.
Joshua preaches to the people: “These gods have done nothing for you, but the Lord, the one true God, led your ancestor Abraham and gave him many descendants as promised, the Lord liberated your ancestors from Egypt, the Lord brought you through the wilderness, the Lord now gives you this land.” This is the God who has defeated all the other of the other gods, so now, “Choose this day whom you shall serve, as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.”
The Israelites agree with Joshua’s testimony of what the Lord has done for them, and they promise to serve the Lord—“Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods….we will also serve the Lord!”
Joshua then offers a warning: “mind the gap”— Joshua notices a gap in what the people are saying with their mouths and what they are doing with their behavior. Joshua instructs them: “put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” You cannot worship the Lord on the Sabbath, and the rest of the week pray to the rain god, the fertility god, the wheat god, the war god, and whatever else you desire. It does not work to offer lip serve to the Lord, and then hedge your bets on other candidates in case God does not come through on your terms, or on your timetable, or with your election returns.
This Post-election season calls each of us to “mind the gap” between who we confess as our Lord and Savior—and how we think and behave. Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, we have several realities to grapple with:
• We live in a divided country with very differing ideas what kind of leadership we need and the best way forward through this pandemic, economy, and global state of affairs.
• There is little real listening to other points of view underneath the rhetoric and accusations;
• On all sides, in both parties, underneath all the differences, everyone is really afraid—this deep fear is what we all have in common.
• If we could set aside politics and listen to one another’s real fears as human beings, we could begin to tap in to that great American tradition of working together for the common good.
For it is fear, after all, that drives the Israelites to hedge their bets against the Lord God who has done so much for them, and rely instead on those back-up gods. Do we not do the same? Worshiping at the altar of our bank account, our political party, our success, our control, the rightness of our viewpoint, our pride, or whatever is that drives us?
Joshua reminds us that God gives us the freedom to choose, and that to choose the Lord requires complete trust regardless of external circumstances. “Choose this day whom you shall serve, as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” Joshua commits his whole household to the Lord—there are no little statues to fertility gods hidden in the house; and no children, servants or anyone else will serve a foreign god—he is talking about complete loyalty. That is what it is to serve the Lord. To serve the Lord entails three things.
First, it means complete loyalty to God and no other. This is the first commandment, “you shall have no other gods before me”—including for us no political platform, candidate, nor government; we participate as responsible citizens, but God always remains number 1. Second, to serve the Lord means to worship—to praise, honor, pray, give thanks, make offerings with a thankful heart, and to support the mission of God in the world which is faith active in love. Third, to serve the Lord means to obey God—to follow the commandments and for us, it means to love our neighbor as ourselves—especially our neighbor who voted for the other candidate. Obedience to God means faithfulness is the only standard, not success; and the same tasks are always required regardless of who is running the government: do justice, love mercy and build the beloved community of the kingdom of God.
We can offer God our complete loyalty, our worship, and our obedience because we do not stand in the gap alone. God, in his infinite mercy, knows that we can never fill the void between our confession of faith, and our fidelity to that confession perfectly, so God sent God’s very self into the center of our fears to fill the gap.
Jesus Christ comes to us now and says, “fear not” for I am with you and in you, and working through, and you are never alone.
So be of good courage. Choose to serve me and me alone with a thankful heart this day, and order your life, your words, and your actions accordingly. Heaven and earth shall all pass way, but I will not pass away. So, act justly, live kindly, walk humbly, serve joyfully, worship wholeheartedly, obey loyally, feed abundantly, clothe warmly, give generously.
As Christians, we are not blue or red, we shine brightly with the golden light of Christ as we choose to serve the Lord, and him only.
• Where do you notice the gap between your faith in God and your words/thoughts/behavior most noticeably?
• What are the “back-up gods” that come between you and complete trust in God? Can you name what insecurity drives you? Is it money, success, political views, recognition, control, love, relationships, worthiness, security, the rightness of our viewpoint, fear, insecurity, pride? Ask God to help you trust in Christ instead of this “god” in your prayers.
• What external circumstances challenge your faith and trust in God?
• How does choosing to serve the Lord show up in your daily life? Can you choose this for your whole household, like Joshua did? If so, how? If not, why not?
• To serve the Lord means three things: loyalty, worship, and obedience. Which of these is most natural for you? Most challenging? An area where you would like to grow?
• What does it mean for you that Jesus Christ stands in the gap between your confession of faith and your inability to be completely true to it? Try a prayer of imagination, picturing Jesus standing in this gap with you, offering grace, love, forgiveness and help with whatever you need to trust God more fully.
Photo by //unsplash.com/@introspectivedsgn?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&;utm_content=creditCopyText">Erik Mclean on Unsplash
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