10/14/18 – Pastor Joshua’s Fiery Sermon


October 14, 2018
Jazz Vespers Homily
Joshua 24:1-15; Mathew 4:8-10
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones


Last week we read the Exodus story of Moses parting the Red Sea and the Israelites safely escaping the clutches of the Egyptian army. After 40 years wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites arrived at their destination. The dying Moses, looking into the distance to Canaan, the Promised Land, passed on the mantle of power to Joshua. After enduring the hardships of slavery in Egypt and 40 years wandering in the desert, God’s promise to the Israelites was fulfilled.

Our reading for today takes place many years later when Joshua is an old man. The Israelites have enjoyed the land of milk and honey so many years they have forgotten what it was like to be without bountiful harvests and comfortable homes. Many had taken God’s blessings for granted and had begun worshipping pagan gods in the hopes of having even more. Joshua preaches a tough sermon to this group of backsliders.  Joshua chastises, he accuses, he threatens.  Joshua demonstrated more courage than many pastors who worry about speaking prophetically for fear of offending their congregations. Joshua had no such fear. He chastised the people for their failure to keep their covenant with God.  He accused them of ingratitude, reminding them that all they had was God’s fulfillment of that covenant made with Abraham.

It is no coincidence that Joshua assembles the 12 tribes of Israel at Shechem. Abraham demonstrated his faith in God by leaving his homeland and traveling to the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. It was there that God promised to give him al the beautiful land Abraham could see and beyond.  Abraham built an altar at Shechem to commemorate that auspicious day. At Shechem, Jacob, returning from Haran, set-up camp, bought land and built an altar to worship God.  At Shechem, Joseph was buried. Today Shechem is the Palestinian city, Nablus, and is considered the most beautiful area in Central Palestine.

Joshua gathered the tribes of Israel there to remind them of all that God had done for them and to shame them for forgetting. Joshua said to the Israelites: ‘You don’t deserve any of this! God “gave you a land on which you had not labored and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and olive-yards that you did not plant.” Shame on you for seeking other gods for more rather than praising and thanking God for these many blessings. God kept his promise, shame on you for not keeping yours.

Joshua condemned the Israelites for worshiping pagan gods, particularly the gods of fertility and prosperity that they hoped would increase their good fortunes. Perhaps, we could substitute more modern gods – gods of retail, gods of physical improvement and beauty, gods of power, gods of Wall Street, gods of sensual pleasures, gods of mood enhancement and pain relief like drugs and alcohol. There are so many gods from which to choose. And, their evangelists on Madison Avenue work tirelessly to convince us we are entitled to them all. Through the media of television, internet, neon signs, and glossy magazines the message is spread: “You want to be one of the Choen people, choose my product.” You deserve it. There are so many choices that worshipping God becomes just one of the many options for spending our time and our money. Joshua challenged his congregation to choose – The God of Israel of the gods of the world.

Joshua challenges his congregation —   the 12 tribes of Israel –to what we might compare to an altar call. He throws down the gauntlet and challenges them: “but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”Joshua must have been some prince of the pulpit because the congregation answered,” Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods;” But that wasn’t enough for Joshua. He wanted sincerity, he wanted commitment. ‘Don’t just give me your pledge, do it, and do it wholeheartedly, holding nothing back.’

Joshua cautioned them about false promises and made them pledge their allegiance to God alone: “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He extracted repentance from them: “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD,  the God of Israel;”    and he made them swear their obedience to God alone one more time.  Can’t you just see Joshua in a white suit mesmerizing the folks at a summer revival meeting? After he had gotten them under his spell, he pulled out the pledge to which they were to sign.

I can’t imagine Pastor Joshua being content with his congregation to show up for worship often. Or throwing in a few bucks in the offering plate. No, Joshua expected more. Joshua expected his people to honor and serve God every day of their lives in all that they did. Joshua would be watching. Joshua understood that if Israel was going to be a great nation it must honor the covenant. Otherwise, Israel would be no different from the other tribes and nations. Keeping covenant with God is serious business. Joshua might have even kept a calendar or day journal to record his service to God and to God’s people. What if we asked ourselves at the beginning of each day: “choose this day whom you will serve.”

What would your covenantal calendar look like?



© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church
1420 W. Moss Avenue – Peoria Illinois 61606
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