Sunnyside Reformed Church
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed
We Believe, Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18 & Eph 6:10-20, 8/26/18, NM
There are an infinite number of ways to talk about spirituality. Christians have no monopoly on faith. What we do have and can share is our own beliefs, texts and practices that have come to us down to us from our forefathers and mothers. Ours is a faith that has stood the test of time. It has been at least two thousand years since Jesus walked on the planet, but his words are as fresh and potent as they were then.
What then do we believe? What do we stand for and what is the foundation upon which we build our lives? Our two readings come from the Lectionary and each in its own way speaks to this matter of expressing and defining our faith tradition.
The first text is from The OT, and is part of a testimony that God spoke to Joshua and Joshua shared with the Israelites. As most everyone knows, Joshua was a general who led the Israelites to victory against the City of Jericho. There’s a famous spiritual about it. But he was much more than that. When we first met him in Exodus, he was a soldier on whom Moses relied to fight and win a battle with the Amalekites. It was an epic battle because their leader Amalek had come to represent the forces of evil that opposed the Israelites and their just struggle to become a nation. They won that battle, but there would be many other foes and many other battles. Joshua in time became the leader of the People and won again and again, for God was with him.
The NT text is from Paul’s letter to The Ephesians. It’s quite well known and one of my personal favorites because it so clearly and vividly expresses the terms of our ongoing struggle against The Adversary, and how we can use our faith as both protection and self-defense. And it affirms that this is a real struggle - we bear witness to it every day as we live our lives on this broken and bleeding world of ours.
What stood out for me most in the OT text was two words - sincerity and faithfulness.
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.
Joshua was nearing the end of his life. He had been at war since even before the People had crossed the Jordan into Canaan. God had promised them a new land and a new life, what they found was a land already occupied. Didn’t stop them, for God had promised and they believed.
In all the years of the Exodus The People had struggled to remain faithful to God - whenever things went wrong some inevitably blamed God and turned to other gods. Gods of harvest, gods of war, gods of peace. None of them ever responded, but they were a constant distraction.
And that was why Joshua felt compelled to make a statement. He wanted to shape the future he would not live to see. He wanted to make sure - as sure as he could - that The People would survive and flourish and so he pushed them to make a choice between the old gods and God. Do we understand that it is the same choice that faces us everyday?
Before Joshua put the choice to them he retold the whole story of Abraham and Moses.
Jos 24:2-5 And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out.
So too I would retell the story of Christ as it is known to us.
Once upon a time, God decided to experience sin and mortality so as to finally understand us. And so God became Incarnate. Was born to a human woman - though conceived without coitus - and grew to adulthood - but did not proclaim Godself - he was a common working man - Yeshua Ben Joseph. Until the day he was baptized by John Ben Zechariah - also called the Baptizer - and was awakened to his true identity. He spent three years speaking the Truth to us but many were envious and resisted his message. Finally God sacrificed Godself on the altar of Truth and was executed by unbelief on The Cross. Only then was it revealed that Yeshua was The Messiah of God.
And yet here we are - fighting the same fight - answering the same question - Who will you serve? Will you serve God in sincerity and faithfulness?
This is where Paul’s Letter comes in to the picture., for it provides us with spiritual defenses that anyone can deploy. But first, he tells us who it is we’re up against.
...our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
I love this. It is so true that I am hard pressed to say more. What Paul was saying was not esoteric or mysterious, but eminently practical. Anyone who thinks that what faces us is human has not been paying attention. Humans may be enlisted in this war, but the one who pulls the strings is The Adversary himself. Why would human beings love money so much that they would be willing to destroy the planet on which we all rely in order to accumulate more wealth than anyone could ever need? Someone said to me recently that I preach too often about climate change. If it’s true then I stand accused, for that is one struggle I will never walk away from. I have a daughter who got married a couple of years ago, and I want some grandchildren. I want to hold them and smell them and later on talk to them and listen to what they have to say. No human person should be willing to obliterate the future. Only demons and Satan himself are that evil.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
The whole armor of God. Of what does it consist? The first piece is truth. Telling truth and recognizing truth. The second is righteousness. Making sure that what we do we do for the right reasons. The third is peace and the fourth is faith. Six is salvation which comes only through Christ. And seven is Holy Scripture - the Word of God.
But all of it begins and ends with truth. We are supposed to be the people of truth. People who tell the truth and people who seek the truth. Moreover, when we speak of the truth we’re not just talking about describing events accurately. Consider the story of the adulterous woman. The one who was about to be stoned to death until Jesus came along. He walked over to her and comforted her. Then he stood up and faced the crowd and said, What a wonderful group of people you are. You have judged this woman guilty of a sin and have decided she must be punished unto death. Good. But, just before you get started, I wonder if one of you will come forward and accept this stone from my hand, just before you throw it at her, tell me...are you without sin? Is every man among you innocent of fornication? And the shopkeepers...surely you have never shortchanged a customer? And the rest of you...perfect people all...surely someone among you is ready to take this rock and throw it at her? Slowly the crowd dropped the stones they were holding and drifted away until only Jesus and the woman were left.
Do we see how Jesus applied the inner truth of the situation? That inner, revealed truth that showed him the heart of things. It is that truth we must be aspiring and committed to. It is that truth we must reflect in what we do and say and believe. It is that truth and only that truth that can protect us from the lies and schemes of The Adversary.
When Joshua addressed his people back in the long ago, it was at a seminal moment in their history. A crossroads moment. They had gone from being a slave-race to a nation of priests in the space of a single generation. They had crossed the wasteland and arrived at The Promised Land only to find it occupied by others. Led by Joshua, and directed by God, they waged war on those others and had succeeded beyond all expectation and hope. Now - victorious - they had to decide - what kind of nation would they be? What were to be the principles that characterized them and what gods would lead them?
Joshua put forth the choices, but it was the people themselves who had to decide. Looking back through the lens of time and scripture, the outcome seems inevitable. But in that moment, with the Sun shining hotly upon them, the dust rising from the land, the recent combat fresh in their minds - the outcome did not seem inevitable at all. Why not worship the smaller gods? The gods who would help at need and who were so much more accessible and so much easier to understand than Yahweh...who had always scared them so much. But fortunately for us, Joshua convinced them of that which was so obviously true - only God was God, the others were simply figments of the imagination.
So too, when Paul addressed the people of Ephesus who - a few short years before had founded a new church - it was a time of crisis - a time of choosing. The hostility to the new religion was so great that if discovered a believer faced almost certain death. Jesus had but recently departed Planet Earth - to return to The Godhead from whence he had come. And Paul convinced them. Explained to them that the fear of death was fear no more, and that though it seemed to be a world filled with spiritual choices, in reality there was only one choice and it was between Good and Evil - Truth and Lies. Again - with the benefit of hindsight - it can seem as though the outcome was inevitable - it was not. Survival of the new doctrine hung on a razor’s edge. Fortunately for us Paul prevailed and the church survived though Rome did not.
It seems to me that we are again at such a crossroad. A time of choices. The outcome is uncertain and the future is hazy. It is hugely tempting to believe that it has already spun out of our control and that what we believe matters little. But it would be wrong. Now more than ever what we do and what we believe is critically important.
Faith does not exist in a vacuum. It is intimately connected to how we live and how it feels to be alive. It seems to me that each of us faces these fundamental choices all the time. Are we kind to those in need? When we encountered that person who was seeking comfort - did we set aside our own troubles and listen to them? Do we recognize that each of sets an example and that our example can serve to inspire others? When we speak of important things are we sincere or are we just repeating things we’ve heard or read?
I think that’s what Joshua meant when he spoke of sincerity and faith. We cannot partly worship God and follow Christ sometimes and not others. The future - both personal and collective - is ours to make. Nothing is inevitable. History has shown us this again and again. We are the People of God and we worship God in sincerity and faithfulness.
And all God’s People did say...
Sunnyside Reformed Church
48-03 Skillman Avenue
Sunnyside, N.Y. 11104
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed