Tumbling in the Sand
If you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve …
well that’s a pretty easy choice
To put it all in perspective,
Joshua, in the verses that get left out of our reading
just recounted the entire history of what God had done for the people
Delivered them from slavery
waltzed them through the Red Sea
lead them in the wilderness
fed them with bread from heaven
and squeezed water from rocks
gave them a law and made them a people
led them into the promised land
gave them victory and a home
and then Joshua suggests that they serve this God
— this delivering, freeing, life-giving, victorious God
they could serve the gods of the Egyptians or the gods of the Amorites
pantheons of gods known for their violence, capriciousness, and death dealing.
If it is true, as some believe, that the Amorites
are also the “Old Babylonians” that then became the Babylonians,
then, the Amorites’ main god, for instance, is believed to be Marduk,
who killed the goddess Tiamat and created the world from her dismembered body.
Or, there are the gods of the Egyptians, that we do know a whole lot better
Gods who were not exactly known for their benevolence
one of whom, the Israelites had encountered — Pharaoh
who had enslaved them.
Yes, let’s not forget gods who endorse slavery.
So, Let’s see. God of life and freedom. Or gods of death and destruction …
It seems an obvious choice.
It seems like you might want to stand with Peter and say
Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Yeah, God, there really aren’t a lot of worthwhile options here
when you put it that way.
After all, God has already done the delivering, the leading, the feeding the saving.
Why would we ever choose otherwise?
It kind of reminds me of something Paul wrote in Romans 8:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery
to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.
Who would ever choose otherwise?
Who would fall back into the slavery of fear?
The slavery of death?
The slavery of violence?
And yet …
isn’t it true that we fall back into slavery all the time?
That we serve other gods at every turn?
Our pantheon of gods is not all that different than the Ancients.
Our economy invites and endorses real slavery
—and the more general commodification of human life
Our society is built on the glorification of redemptive violence
Our social structures are held together by hatred and capricious power
And those are just the big gods.
It’s not exactly like we, each,
don’t give ourselves over to things
don’t let our lives be consumed by stuff that is not
this God that frees and enlivens and heals and feeds and restores
Do I need to list the pantheon of gods?
I don’t think that I do.
We, like the people of Israel, stand before Joshua
and declare that we will serve the Lord
We, like Peter, stand before Jesus
and for the moment get it exactly right
Lord, to whom can we go, you have the words of eternal life.
You are the Holy One of Israel.
But like the people of Israel, like Peter
Joshua actually warns the people in the very next verse after our reading
“You cannot serve the Lord your God.”
And it’s true — when we are left to choose
we, again and again re-enslave ourselves
we, again and again can’t quite get it right
we, again and again turn away and do not follow
the God of life
the God of freedom
the God of healing
And my guess is
it is because it is not as easy as we think
is a lot harder than we might plan
It calls us to stand where others have turned to go
It calls us to proclaim gospels of peace in places of violence
It calls us to bring weapons of life and restoration and hope
into places where death and injustice and apathy overwhelm
Following and serving a living God …
Well, it requires more than just making a choice once
or being baptized and being done
It leads us to faith, which to quote Luther,
is a living, busy, active, mighty thing
It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God.
It kills the old Adam and makes altogether different people.
And that kind of faith, that kind of following,
well, we’re not going to get it right
we’re going to, like Peter, fail at it when it matters the most
and find ourselves and our will weaker than we could imagine
Isn’t good news, then, that Jesus showed up to feed Peter on the beach?
Isn’t it good news, then, that faith is God’s activity in our lives?
Isn’t it good news, then, that God already frees us?
That God already choses us?
That God already calls us to freedom, calling us back
again and again and again
to justice and grace and reconciliation?
Isn’t it good news, then, that God sets a table before us
and feeds us bread for the journey
and invites us into the wine of abundance— God’s very self—
again and again and again?
Isn’t it good news, then, that we come only as beggars
to receive this God
that promises us life
that makes us new
that choses us for the world being born again
on our very tongues.