Choosing God First

Joshua 24:13-27                                                                 Gratitude Season

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                          9 November 2014


I grew up in a time and a place in which sports for kids were not very organized or supervised.   In the neighborhood and on the school playground, we would just go out and start choosing sides for kickball, basketball, or baseball.   Two captains volunteered first, and then teams were chosen.  Nobody wants to be chosen last, not even God.   Oh yeah, let me choose career, family, friends, entertainment, hobbies, house and yard work, and God.   Yes, God would be okay on my team, as long as God doesn’t try to run the team.   I mean I think we might even let God be lead-off batter on the team, as long as God doesn’t want to be captain, cause that’s not going to work, I’m captain of this team.

Today, friends, we are reading the story from the book of Joshua.  Joshua was Moses’ right hand man.   He and Caleb were leaders among the twelve spies who went to check out Canaan.   Joshua took over leadership of the Israelites after Moses died.   He is best known for two things – the spiritual song about his first conquest.  Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho.   Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls came a tumbalin down.   And the other thing for which Joshua is known is from our reading today.   I quoted it in This Week at Peace your weekly email:  Choose this day whom you will serve but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.   As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.  The only gift I ever made for my father was a calligraphy of that verse with the outline of a house.   It’s all faded now, but my mom still has it hanging in her kitchen hallway.  

So we read today Joshua’s final challenge to the people before he died at the ripe old age of 110, according to the story.  I know I said we are all getting old last week, but you’re not that old.  But you still should get on with wills and estate planning.   Joshua’s final challenge.  The text says, that after he stopped speaking, he sent them out to their inheritance. 

Now before we read it, let me say that Joshua is one of those Old Testament books that tells “oral history” in retrospect.   Joshua is set in the 13th century before Christ.    But it was likely written in the 7th or 6th century, during the time of exile, to keep the people’s faith strong.   But the theological message of Joshua is still valuable to this day.   Joshua says God wants to be first.   And if you say God is first, if you promise to serve God, then you’d better mean what you say.

Joshua 24:1-2, 13-27

Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people…

13 I 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 oliveyards that you did not plant. 14 "Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." 16 Then the people answered, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; 17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18 and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God." 19 But Joshua said to the people, "You cannot serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good." 21 And the people said to Joshua, "No, we will serve the LORD!" 22 Then Joshua said to the people, "You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him." And they said, "We are witnesses." 23 He said, "Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel." 24 The people said to Joshua, "The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey." 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. 26 Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the LORD. 27 Joshua said to all the people, "See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God." 


Like the Israelites, you Peace people have been given a land with trees and shrubs that you did not plant and with a building you did not build.   You have been blessed by the hand of God at work in your short decade of history as a congregation.   God gave us vision when we were a few around a kitchen table.   God gave us determination to keep trying when we were just 25 people meeting on Sunday evenings.   God gave us courage to keep believing when people came and went for four years at SCF and finally we were large enough to be considered by the presbytery a real church worth chartering.   Then we picked up the tabernacle when God said leave this place and go to a new home, which was the Manatee Association of Realtor’s Building, where for three years, God richly blessed us.   Then God gave us a year of testing as we thought we might build on five acres on Lorraine, and then decided we’d better stay at the Realtor’s building, extending our lease, but they said no, we want you out sooner than you thought.  So we quickly found a foreclosed church on Lorraine Road and after pursuing that for months, and coming close to closing on it, a dreaded mold sent us running, and God’s hand was in it because at just the right time, by providence, this property became open, and one year ago, today, we took ownership of this building and 24 acres.

And so I say to you, as Joshua said to them, as God has so richly blessed you, “Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served.”   So what gods did our ancestors serve…well our ancestors may have serve the god of the American Dream or the god of freedom.   No there’s a great deal of good in the American Dream and our freedom in this country.  They are much to be valued, but not if they lead us to put more faith in our country than in our God.   Maybe we valued individual freedom more than our communal responsibility to God and one another.  As Veterans Day approaches, we give thanks to all who loved their country enough to give their lives and their limbs, and we are so very grateful to them for freedom won.  

But we who are Christians in America or anywhere else must remember that ultimate freedom and ultimate loyalty are to Christ.   Such that I choose to love my brother or sisters in Christ, no matter from what country they hail.   And further, I care for all of humanity and desire God’s best for all of them.  

There are many choices that we make in life – where to go to college or what career or life path to pursue, whom to marry if called to marriage, when or if to have children, how to rear those children if I have them, where to live, and so forth.   And each step of the way, God is guiding us to make the better of many choices, and when we choose wrongly, God takes the bad and turns it to good.   So our choices are significant and have consequences but not consequences that are beyond God’s intervention.   God’s coming in Christ proves that nothing and no one is beyond God’s ability to save.

So let’s talk about some of the choices we make, because they all boil down to a few primary issues.   Who is most important?   What are our gifts?   How do we spend our time and our money?   Joshua makes it clear that he thinks God is most important.   God is first.   The trouble is we think we can choose all kinds of things and squeeze God into the cracks.   It is so easy to put family first. 

These are the ones we love most of all right, but remember, Jesus once said, “Who is my mother and my father and my brother and my sister?   Those who do the will of God.”  He said that when his Jewish mother was waiting outside to see him. 

What are our gifts?   Sometimes we think because we are gifted in something, and our gifts come from God, then the gift is first.   So our career, or the sport we play, or the musical talent we have.   Those gifts are significant, but are not the most important.   It is the Gift Giver.   Time is one of the most precious gifts God gives.   How we spend our time tells a lot about who and what we value.   Think about that one.   Last but not least, money.    Money is a good gift to be used for our well-being, that of our families, and for the purposes of God and neighbor.  

But here’s where we really don’t want God to be captain, because you see, we understand more about the game of time and money than God.   We know how much we need to invest because we know how investments work.   God was laughing about that one back in 2008 when we all knew so much.   We know how much time certain things in life take.   

We know how much we need to hold on to because of all those unforeseen situations of declining health.   God would not know anything about that or have any control over that stuff.

When Joshua invited the people to make their commitment to put God first, they said, “Sure, we will choose God, for look at all God has done for us.  We would never choose another god, an idol.”   But Joshua had noticed that sometimes when the people say they are choosing God, they are not really committed.   So he tells them, in other words, “Don’t tell me you are choosing God, unless you mean it.  You cannot play with God.   Choosing God is serious business.”  

This is kind of like when Jesus said to Peter and the disciples, “Oh, you want to follow me, do you?  Well, then deny yourself and pick up your cross and start walking.”   It’s like when Jesus told the parable about the two sons – one who said he’d work and then did not follow through and the other who said “no” but then changed his mind and worked.   The second one was preferred.  God does not appreciate a flimsy promise, a casual commitment.   A covenant is a covenant. 

So if you are committed, then you are witnesses against yourselves, for the promises you make.   So think about what you’re saying when you sing Take My Life and Let It Be Consecrated Lord to Thee.   Think about the opening lines of A Declaration of Faith, We acknowledge one God alone, whose demands on us are absolute, whose help for us is sufficient.   Choose this day whom you will serve.

But as for the Deiberts, we will make God captain of the team.  And with joyful hearts, and maybe a wee bit worry and grumbling, we will give the full 10% of our income as a weekly act of gratitude to God to continue the ministry and mission of Peace.  Above that we will give to the building campaign.  We have clearly seen that God’s demands are absolute and God’s help is sufficient.   To the best of our ability, we will put God first with our relationships, our money, our time, and our talent, and we are confident beyond the shadow of doubt that God will not cease to provide everything we need.   We’re choosing God first --- because God has called and loved and blessed us.  How about you?