Jul 23, 2017

“Any Given Sunday” 7-23-17

Joshua 24:1-28
July 23, 2017

Today we conclude our short journey with Joshua and the Israelites. We began on the banks of the Jordan River, grieving with the people over the death of Moses. We journeyed across the river into Canaan and witnessed the Israelites conquer the great city of Jericho. After entering, Joshua and the people were able to systematically take the land and were in due time settled in their various inheritances. In our passage today, Joshua engages in the last great act of his ministry. He summons the people together as one body and leads them in a service of covenant renewal. Joshua’s concern is not now that the people might conquer the land but that they might flourish in the land. His desire is that here in the early days of their life together they would be rooted in their identity as the people of God, living lives of praise to the one who has loved them and saved them.
During our time with Joshua, we have seen how this book can function in two ways in our lives. First, it is a book for God’s people in transition; God’s church moving into the future by faith. Second, it is a book in which God reveals his purposes and character to his people, ultimately pointing them to the Lord Jesus. Our passage this morning accomplishes these purposes by reminding us of a crucial theme of Scripture. What we see in this passage is that God’s promises are for the people as a whole, that the true identity of God’s people is fundamentally corporate. Yes, God desired a personal relationship with each member of Israel; this was the spiritual ideal to which the people were called. Yet it is important to remember that the individual relationship was grounded in the corporate relationship. It was precisely because a person was a member of God’s covenant people that they were able to live into personal relationship with God. This applies to the church in the twenty-first century as much as it applies to the Israelites of the second millennium BC.
There is a bizarre way in which contemporary evangelical movements and progressive versions of Christianity have conspired together. In different ways, each of these traditions has exalted individual experience, individual belief, and self-expression to places of pre-eminence in the Christian life. The progressive and evangelical alike often enough see their personal faith as primary and their church life as secondary or even tertiary. Consider for a moment Hebrews 10:24-25: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The tendency has been to interpret this passage pragmatically. If you are a follower of Jesus, you should meet with other followers of Jesus in order to find encouragement for your personal faith. The focus is almost entirely on the added benefit of regular time together. That is true, but it is not a sufficient explanation of the passage in the flow of biblical thinking. We must not neglect to meet together because our foundational identity is as a member of Christ’s body, of which he is the head. To diminish the church is actually to diminish the gospel. For Christ died for the church and rose again in order to fill her with his resurrection life.
I digress too far from the passage. Let us return to this corporate service of covenant renewal which Joshua leads the people in as they begin their life in the land of promise. Let us make five observations of the flow of the service. First, the service begins with a call to worship. Joshua calls the tribes together to a central location. The people, however, are not merely responding to a human call, for they are presenting themselves before God. Second, Joshua announces the saving acts of God to the people. The primary task of the assembled people is to hear and remember what God has done for their salvation. This long narrative section focused on God’s gracious work concludes with a call to faithfulness: “Choose this day whom you will serve.” Will the people follow the Lord who had saved them or follow after the degrading false deities of the surrounding nations? Third, Joshua leads the people in committing themselves to God. The relationship between God and his people is not equal by any means, but nonetheless it is necessary that the Israelites respond to God’s promises and goodness by pledging their own lives to his service. Fourth, the people engage in a symbolic action which seals the covenant. Joshua erects a stone as a reminder of the covenant and as a witness to their pledge of faithfulness. Finally, Joshua sends the people out from God’s special presence so that they may live in the inheritances which they had received. So there is a movement here. Call to worship. God’s word. The peoples’ response. Symbolic action. Dismissal.
I hope that you begin to recognize this pattern. The idea of corporate worship as covenant renewal is a persistent theme of the Bible. In fact, I think it is the idea that undergirds the first lesson text we read this morning from the letter to the Romans. Paul calls on the people to present their bodies as a sacrifice to God. This presentation of their bodies happens in light of the mercies of God. The mercy of God, of course, is not an abstract concept for the New Testament Christian. God’s mercy is bestowed through the death and the resurrection of Jesus – actions undertaken in history for the salvation of God’s people. This announcement of God’s mercy leads to transformation of the minds of the people, in distinction from the prevailing thought patterns of the world, and the release of the people to use their various gifts in service to the Lord. Here Paul does not write of symbolic action, but we know from the first letter to the Corinthians that the regular practice of the Lord’s Supper was part of the tradition that Paul passed on to the churches that he founded.
And maybe you recognize this pattern most of all because it is the pattern of God’s people in worship any given Sunday. Take a moment and review the bulletin. We gather together from our diverse places in life to a central location to stand in the presence of God. We hear God’s word announced – psalter, Old Testament lesson, and New Testament lesson. We respond to God’s word with offering and prayer. If we do not actually participate in the sacraments of baptism and Lord’s Supper on a given day, we nonetheless leave visual reminders before us of the centrality of these actions to our life of faith. Baptismal font. Table. Pitcher. Cup. We are sent out with God’s blessing to serve him in all that we do.
Why is this significant and what does Joshua’s passage teach us? It reminds us that our inheritance in Jesus is not an isolated, individual inheritance. It is an inheritance that we share together with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. There is no future that God plans for us that does not contain one another. When we gather together in public worship, we are not doing something extra in the life of faith. We are reaffirming our core identity as God’s people standing before their covenant Lord. We are getting back to the basics. Any given Sunday we drag ourselves through these doors to hear from God, to respond to him, and to become the people we were meant to be. Moreover, there is an important personal application. You may be personally in a time of transition – in your relationships, in your work, in your education. You may wonder about God’s future and how you may continue to respond to him with faithfulness in the midst of uncertainty. So what do we do when this is the situation of our lives? We don’t neglect meeting together as some do. We don’t give up on the priority of covenant renewing worship. We continue to come to this place not as an extra element in a relatively fully life but as a necessary part of the life of discipleship in the way of Jesus. We should never choose to take a pass from worship as we try to figure things out or put things back together. We come in faith to hear God’s word and to worship with our brothers and sisters in his presence. When one of us chooses to neglect covenant renewing worship that person threatens their own experience of God’s presence and all of us together lose something unique and special that comes from that person.
As Joshua and the people contemplated their future in the land, they began with the foundation of corporate worship. As we consider our own future as followers of Jesus, we do the same. Every week begins with the fundamental reality of congregation and God. Any given Sunday we are here in this place. And we believe that God is with us. Let us be renewed by his grace. Amen.

Associate Pastor Scott Cress
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906