WORSHIP SERVICE AUGUST 22 2021 “Making A Choice”
Join Holy Trinity church members for worship on Sunday, August 22, 2021 in person or via YouTube and hear Pastor Erik’s message, “Making A Choice.”
You are welcome to join us in person for Indoor Worship, inside the sanctuary at 9:30 and 11:00 and also during HTLC Virtual Worship Service on Sunday morning.
Joshua 24:14-18 “Making a Choice”
“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” It is a strong statement of conviction that Joshua made as he addresses the people in our first reading today. He has gathered together the leaders and tribes of Israel at Shechem to remind of them their history — to remind them of their ancestors and what they went through — to remind them of their journey with God so far. The passage we heard from is at the end of the book of Joshua. It is after they have conquered much of the promised land and are beginning to settle down.
But Joshua knows they cannot get too comfortable because the lure of the other cultures around them is strong. The temptation to follow a path other than the way of God may actually increase as they get complacent. They may forget the importance of God when they are not struggling so much.
This is why Joshua has gathered them to recall the mighty things that God has done so that the people do not forget — so they can make an informed decision — so they can keep the faith and not chase after the foreign gods. Joshua lays it out clearly as he asks the people, “…choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors serve in the region beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living, but for me and my house we will serve the Lord.”
I don’t know how you picture this scene when you hear it, but I think we tend to think of it like a general addressing the troops. Joshua was a great warrior, right? So he must have been this strong imposing figure who commanded an audience. He must have shouted out his statement in a way where it almost sounded like an ultimatum — or almost like a threat, like this is what he was doing and you had better do it to or God was going to get you.
But what if it wasn’t quite like that? What if the statement of Joshua was not so much of an ultimatum, but more of an invitation.
What if it was not so much a threat but rather more of an opportunity? What if Joshua’s tone of voice was not so much commanding, but rather one of concern? Yes, there is definitely a sense in Joshua’s presentation that he is bringing the people a challenge, but it is really about making a choice. It is about making a decision to follow Yahweh, the God of Israel, or the gods of Egypt and the other tribes around them.
Joshua wants the people to be aware that there are different paths to take, and they can either just go along and perhaps be swayed by the other groups around them, or they can make a conscious decision to follow the Lord, who was the God of their ancestors. Notice that Joshua doesn’t say to the people “you should do this”, or this is how you should believe. Instead, he leads by example and makes clear his own choice from his own perspective by using the language of “me” and “my.” Joshua has laid out how God has helped the people and been faithful to them, yet he knows at the end of the day the people have to make their own decision if they are to stay on the path that God has set before him. I think he knew that he could not make the choice for the people if it were to last. They would be much more likely to stick with it if they had made it for themselves.
I remember when our kids were little, we heard either from a class or a book about the importance of giving your kid choices. The idea was that the child was much more likely to comply with a request if they had some kind of say in the matter. So, instead of just telling them to do something, the parent was to give them choices within the parameters of what they wanted the child to do.
For example, if it was bedtime you could say, “Do you want to go to bed in five minutes or in fifteen minutes?” When we used this method, our kids were old enough to know that fifteen was bigger than five, so if they wanted to stay up later they would say, “Fifteen!” The idea was that you could then remind them of the choice that they had made when it was time to go to bed. You could remind them that it was their decision when they were going to bed so that it was no longer a battle between you and them, but rather something they had chosen to do, which meant they were more likely to actually do it.
Of course the method didn’t always work perfectly, but it definitely helped, and you can see the logic behind it. No one really likes to be told what to do at any age. We like to have the ability to make our own choices. We like to have a sense of agency, a sense that we can take action that can make a difference.
But sometimes it can be difficult to feel as if we have a choice. Sometimes we can be in circumstances where there doesn’t seem like much we can do. Have you ever felt like you were in a situation where you didn’t have a choice? Have you ever felt like you had to take a certain course of action because there was no alternative, or at least it felt like there was no alternative? The ability to make choices may depend upon your socio-economic status, your physical health, your mental ability, where you grew up, or what kind of family you had. It may also simply depend on where you happen to live.
There are thousands of people around the globe who have felt like they have had no choice in the last couple of months but to evacuate from their homes because they happen to live in the path of deadly wildfires.
In parts of Russia, Turkey, Israel, and Greece forests are burning as a result of one of the hottest summers ever on record as bone-dry forests mixed with stifling heat waves and high winds make for the perfect storm of extreme fire conditions. These heatwaves have hit the American west as well, in places that have rarely seen heatwaves. Hundreds of fires are burning across the West including in the northern parts of California. The towns of Greenville and Grizzly Flats have both been destroyed by these raging blazes as hundreds of people have been forced to flee and more towns and homes are being threatened as the fires continue to grow. This is all that’s left of the Grizzly Flats community church.
As individuals in the West and around the world have had their choices limited by such natural disasters in the last several months, a report came out last week alerting us to how we all will be affected by a planet that is getting hotter. The scientists who are a part of the International Panel on Climate Change issued a dire warning a week ago on the devastating effects of global warming. They have concluded that some rise in temperature is now irreversible. The rise in extreme weather events and natural disasters is a result of this crisis and it will only get worse if we don’t do something.
In the face of such an overwhelming situation it can be easy to allow ourselves to feel helpless—like there is nothing we can do. But the reality is, we did not get into this circumstance by accident. The heating of our planet occurred because of thousands of choices individuals, governments, and corporations have made over the course of the last one hundred years. Humans have made choices to burn fossil fuels, to cut down forests, to act out of a sense of greed and personal gain rather than a sense of shared responsibility and sustainability. The result of these choices over the last one hundred years or more is the destruction of the delicate balance of the ecosystems that maintain the conditions for life to thrive on our planet and the situation is getting critical.
Not all is lost, however, and humanity can still prevent the planet from getting even hotter. But doing so requires making different choices both as individuals and as nations. It will require a coordinated effort among countries to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by around 2050, which would entail a rapid shift away from fossil fuels starting immediately. “There’s no going back from some changes in the climate system,” said Ko Barrett, a senior adviser for climate at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But, she added, immediate and sustained emissions cuts “could really make a difference in the climate future we have ahead of us.”
We have to begin with believing that we can make a difference if we are going to start facing such an issue as the climate crisis or any of the other tough issues facing our world. It has to begin with the step of choosing hope instead of hopelessness. For Christians, it also begins with choosing to draw strength from the way of Jesus.
Like Joshua, Jesus addressed a crowd of people and spoke to them about choices. He knew that as he taught about the path of God that he was announcing for folks to follow, some would choose to believe and some would not. He says in our Scripture from the book of John this morning, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.”
The Bible tells us that because of the difficult teaching of Jesus, many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
The way of Jesus is the way of Spirit and life. When Jesus asks us if we wish to go away or follow, it is not an ultimatum or a threat, but rather an invitation to choose a path of hope for the future as opposed to short-term selfish gain. It is an opportunity to make decisions that are life-giving not only for ourselves but are also life-giving for our neighbors and for God’s creation as well.
Scripture asks us this day, “whom will you serve?” May we respond with, “We will we serve the Lord” through the way of Jesus. Amen.
-Pastor Erik Goehner