Pentecost – Proper 16
Joshua 24: 1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34: 15-22; Ephesians 6: 10 – 20; John 6: 56- 69
THE REV. JAMES M.L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Who do we serve?
That’s not meant to be a rhetorical question. Really, who or what things do people serve?
As the variety of the answers suggests, we serve many different things. There is a lot out there in the world that is competing for our time, for our allegiance, for our service.
And in the midst of all those things (our families, our relationships, our obligations, our guilt, our addictions) – in the midst of all that, we find God. Does God demand that we be obedient and serve? Does God say to us “you owe me twenty hours this week!” I don’t believe God does.
But there is clearly a choice we make everyday about our priorities, what we will serve. This is a timeless part of the human condition. The story we hear in the book of Joshua this morning, is the story of a line being drawn in the sand, where a decision needs to be made. Joshua asks the Hebrew people, “who are you going to serve? Are you going to serve God? OR are you going to serve something else?” Joshua asks this question as he is nearing the end of his life.
He grew up following Moses’ leadership, helping to deliver the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. As Moses grew older, and eventually died himself, Joshua was the heir, the next leader of the Hebrews, who would lead them into Israel. Today, we draw near to the end of the story, and Joshua, near death, tells the people “Hey you have a really important choice to make. If you are unwilling to serve God, then you need to figure out who you are going to serve, and then Joshua quoted the ancient Hebrew prophet Bob Dylan, who said “you gotta serve somebody.” You have to serve something.
This is a choice we all make – but it’s not a choice that we make once in our lives and then it’s like (phew!) “glad we got that over with – now we can go back to living our regular lives.” This question Joshua asks – that is a question we answer every day. Sometimes we are aware we are answering it, other times I think we answer it unconsciously. But it doesn’t matter, because either way – this question – who are we going to serve – is at the center of who we are.
For a long time if I were asked that question, the answer I would give is “God, of course!” But the reality was that was mostly a lie, because what I was really interested in serving was my own ego. That’s what I wanted to serve because I wanted to be liked, I wanted people to think I was successful, funny, that I had it all together. Which of course was a lie. I did not then, and do not now, have everything together.
I learned that if my answer to Joshua’s question was “myself” meaning I am going to go out today and look out for myself first, others second, and God last, then that is a very effective recipe for a spiritual nightmare. I believe that deep down inside a person who serves themselves first (and regrettably, I can speak from personal experience) there is a deep sadness that is cleverly hidden by false happiness, and by silent shame. Conversely, the person who answers “I will serve God” alternatively, is not promised an easy life, or a life of comfort. But they are promised a life of integrity, a life that is spiritually uplifted and strong.
In the mean time, as you consider Joshua’s question of “who are you going to serve: God, self, paycheck, stock market, fear…” what will help you most is your prayers. Pray to God everyday asking for God’s direction. Ask God to help you answer that question everyday with the answer that brings life and vitality and wholeness and health, and that is answer is God.
To choose to serve God means offering ourselves to other people in ways that sometimes feel uncomfortable, are sometimes inconvenient, and to be vulnerable in wondering if we are even doing the right thing. In spite of all that, think in your own lives, you own families, your own jobs, how would they be different if you choose God’s service instead of serving selfish ambition, comparing yourself to others, or just acquiring more things? That’s not easy to do – but make no mistake, nowhere in the Bible does it ever say serving God is easy or convenient. But honestly, what is worth having that comes easy or conveniently?
Take a Post It note, write on it this question: “Who am I going to serve today?” Put it somewhere – your car, your wallet, a mirror, refrigerator. Anywhere you will see it. This is the most important question in our lives, and how we answer it determines not only our quality of life, but also our capacity to love and be loved. AMEN.