Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
The Choice Is Yours!
By Clara D. Thompson
Some people wake up in the morning and one of the very first things they do is catch up on the news. Some don their bathrobe and slippers and shuffle out the door to pick up their newspaper from the driveway, hoping it hadn’t accidentally been tossed into a puddle left from the previous night’s rain. Some click on the big screen TV in the living room and listen to the news while making that first pot of coffee in the kitchen. Some read the morning news on their phones before they even leave the bathroom. On Tuesday night, Election Night, I made the conscious decision NOT to read or hear any news the next morning until I had had my morning walk, which for me is a long prayer walk. Wednesday morning dawned bright and beautiful. It was a glorious morning for a walk with warming temperatures and a gentle breeze. I prayed for my family, my neighbors, my friends. I prayed for our country and God’s world. I prayed for peace, and for greater understanding of one another. And though I greeted various dog walkers who were also out enjoying the morning’s dawn, no one mentioned the election or the results. I was truly grateful. Then, as I rounded the corner and our house was almost within sight, having logged the first three miles of my day and with a quarter mile to go, a jogger passed me and made some reference to the election and which way the political winds were blowing. So much for my decision NOT to hear any news before I had completed my prayer walk. As she ran off I quietly said the following to myself, “I cannot control what others do. (Including the jogger who started talking politics before the sun was barely up.) All can do is control myself. I can influence others, for good or for naught, but I can only control myself. So I choose love, not hate. I choose hope, not despair. I choose faith, not fear. I choose life, not death. I choose God.” When I got home, before I turned on my phone, I wrote the introduction to this sermon. And then I read the news.
Our Old Testament lesson for this morning is about choices, and the choices we make. The Israelites are in the Promised Land. After having been led by Moses out of slavery in Egypt, having crossed the Red Sea with their feet dry, and having wandered in the wilderness for what must have seemed like forever, they’re now settling into their new homes in the Promised Land. They are meeting their new neighbors, and they’re starting to be influenced by the new neighbors, but not always in the best of ways. The people of Israel have started to forget what God had taught them in the desert, and how God had been their protector through it all. They’re starting to follow gods other than the Lord God who has been faithful to them all along their journey and who has been their protector against all enemies. Some of them have started serving the foreign gods of their new neighbors. And without mincing any words or sugar coating his message, Joshua tells the people of Israel that it’s decision time. “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.” (Joshua 24:15) Joshua tells the people of Israel, not necessarily what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. There’s no gray in it, no sitting on the fence, no twiddling your thumbs while living in la-la land. There’s no room for indecisiveness. Joshua is saying in essence, “It’s time to cast your ballot. The time is now to commit to the God who called you, to commit to the God who has already committed to you.” It’s decision time. The choice is yours.
You and I make choices all the time, do we not? Already this morning you may have had to make the tough decision as to whether to choose corn flakes or Rice Krispies for breakfast, or perhaps it was between scrambled eggs or fried; probably not an earth shattering decision, but a choice would be required just the same. More important decisions we make may include where we want to live, who we want to spend our life with, what job or career we wish to pursue. Among the big decisions we make are, who will we trust, who will we believe in, whom will we follow? Joshua is challenging the people of Israel to choose God first and foremost. The time is now, he says, to make a decision to follow the Lord God, the God who had seen them through some pretty tough times already, and who had promised to be their God always. Make a conscious choice regarding your ultimate loyalty. The choice is yours. The choice is yours and the time is now. Choose this day.
In our Gospel reading from Matthew this morning we heard of 10 maidens, ten bridesmaids, who were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. It’s an apocalyptic parable about the return of Christ, perhaps included here as a way of encouraging Matthew’s original readers who had grown weary of waiting for Jesus’ return. This morning I want us to think about that period of waiting. You will recall that the bridegroom in this parable had been delayed. All ten bridesmaids were ready for him, anxious and excited to go into the wedding banquet with him, but they kept waiting and waiting and waiting. They were waiting so long that they all fell asleep. Around midnight they hear the shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” They all get up to greet him but 5 of the bridesmaids don’t have oil for their lamps so they can’t find their way. The 5 who have oil go into the banquet feast and, we imagine, have a great time. The 5 who didn’t have oil and had to figure out how to get some in the middle of the night, are left out and the door to the wedding banquet is locked.
You and I have spent a lot of time waiting this year have we not? In the first couple of months, we waited to see what this new virus was that we heard about from across the ocean, and we waited as it spread. In the middle of March we waited to see how long the Safer at Home order would extend and how long it would be before we could get back into our churches. As the spring progressed into summer we wondered how long we would need to wait before we could safely see and be with our children, our grandchildren, our great grandchildren. August rolled around and we waited to see what decisions would be made about our schools, colleges, sporting events. In the fall many people waited for the election just to be over, and then this week, as we wanted to hear the results of the election, we fell asleep while we waited, again, and again, and again. Now we wait to see what comes next.
Waiting is hard. Whether it’s for something good that we’re looking forward to or something challenging over which we have little or no control, waiting is hard. And if we don’t know when the waiting is going to be over, it’s even harder. So what will we do as we wait? How will we cope as we continue to wait? How will we as disciples of Jesus Christ, disciples of the living Lord, live and act in this particular and challenging time? What will we choose?
Joshua encouraged the Israelite people to put their trust in the Lord God who had led them through challenging times in the past, who had guarded them from evil, who had protected them through it all. God didn’t always make their lives easy, but God was always, always with them. And Jesus Christ our Risen Lord came and said to the eleven disciples who were huddled together on a mountain in Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them, and Christ’s final words to his disciples, according to the Gospel of Matthew, are these: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) So as we continue to wait in these uncertain and challenging times, let us draw strength from the God who has already chosen us. Let us remember the words of the Apostle Paul, who in the 8th chapter of Romans said, “I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, nor a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!”
My friends, in the midst of what may very well be continuing election turmoil, and in the midst of a pandemic that has affected and changed life for everyone in the world and while the numbers of sick and dieing continue to skyrocket, I encourage you to choose God. Remember that we cannot control what others do. All we can do is control ourselves. We can influence others, for good or for naught, but we can only control ourselves. We have a choice: to love or to hate, to hope or to despair, to have faith or to live in fear, to live or to die, to trust in God Almighty who has been our guide and our protector and our comfort, the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ, or to ignore God’s very presence with us. The choice is ours; the choice is yours. Choose this day, but as for me, I choose love, not hate. I choose hope, not despair. I choose faith, not fear. I choose life, not death. I choose God! What will you choose? Amen.