We’ve been looking at the history of the Israelites and the transition between the wandering of the wilderness and the land of promise. And last week I began with the disclaimer that the only way for us as Christians to look at the book of Joshua, with all its violence and colonialism, is through the lens of the nonviolence and peace of Christ, who said “turn the other cheek.” Through that lens, I want to finish up the series today with the famous passage that I read a few moments ago: “Choose this day whom you will serve.”
A powerful word. In the midst of the myriad of spiritual options we have today, it is a meaningful word to us today. But I want to look back at the world in which those words were spoken, for I think Joshua’s command becomes even more powerful when seen through that context.
Walter Brueggemann describes Joshua’s choice as one between the gods of scarcity and Yahweh – The God of abundance. He traces the history of the Israelites through the Exodus up to this point, through these two options:
The gods of scarcity or the God of abundance.
The god of the closed fist. Or the God of the open hand.
From the beginning, the Israelites had this choice between the gods of scarcity and the God of abundance.
It began with Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s god was the god of scarcity. He said “there will come a day when we don’t have enough. When we might run out. So we have to be ready. We have to be afraid. We have to hoard.” And it came from the assumption that we really never have enough. And the Israelites had learned how to worship the gods of scarcity, and so they took those gods into the desert with them.
But in the desert, they found again the God of abundance. And the God of abundance fed them. Gave them water. Gave them protection. Gave them direction. And so they worshipped the God of abundance. For a while.
And then, the gods of scarcity crept back in. The people were receiving the gift of food, of manna on the ground. But some were worried. Some said, “there will come a day when we don’t have enough. When we might run out. So we have to be afraid. We have to hoard. We have to take enough manna for not just today, but also for another day. Or week.” And so they tried, and took more manna then they were commanded.
But it didn’t work. Obeying the gods of scarcity is usually a losing proposition. And this was as well. For the manna rotted, and got rancid. For the God of Abundance had told them “I’ll give you enough. There will be plenty.” And so they depended on God. And there was plenty.
But before long, the gods of scarcity began to whisper once more. As the people of God began to move into the Promised Land, God commanded that the people share the land, share the spoils. However, the gods of scarcity whispered to one of the Israelites, A’chan. And they told him “there will come a day when you don’t have enough. You might run out. So you need to be afraid. And you have to hoard.” And once he took the riches from battle, and hid them away. Instead of sharing with the community, he stole them away.
But the God of abundance answered A’chan. And said that there will be enough. And there is enough for everyone. And the Israelites learned from the failure of A’chan that the God of abundance would provide.
So, by the time that we get to the end of Joshua, he makes this option a clear one. He gave the choice between the gods of scarcity and the God of abundance. The gods of the closed fists, or the God of the open hand.
Joshua knew that the gods of the Canaanites were gods of power and virility and war.
And he knew that the God of abundance.
The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
The God of “enough for everyone.”
Would care for them in the land of Promise that lay ahead.
And finally, the people got it, too. Listen again to what they say to Joshua:
“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…therefore we also will serve the Lord.”
Theirs was a loyalty based on history.
It was gratitude based on abundance.
It was thanksgiving based on memory.
And it is a model for us, too, on the dawn of a new year coming.
I told you last week that tonight is the five year anniversary of our time here at First Baptist. And the passage from Joshua helps me to pause, and listen to the God of abundance, and share today with you five things that I am thankful for. Gratitude based on abundance. Thanksgiving based on memory.
I have been blessed to work with a phenomenal staff. Dottie bragged on the music staff and I would agree. We are blessed with a music staff that is competent, creative, and committed. Beyond Jim and Evelyn, we are blessed with folks that you don’t get to see as ofter: a bookkeeper in Holly Grassy and a custodian in Buddy Langford who are great at their job and great to work with. And the ministry staff here at First Baptist has been absolutely incredible. I am thankful for Sandy, and Patrick, and Meredith, those who have gone on to different places and callings. And let me tell you how blessed I am to work with Joe and Cheryl and Cody and Amelia – our staff meetings on Tuesday are like jumping up on a surfboard and riding a wave of creativity and passion and vision. And it is a blast. Finally, anyone who has been around a church for more than about half an hour knows that the person who is really in charge of the church is the office manager. And let me say without equivocation that Jenny Purvis is one of the best.
Number two. We get missions. I have talked in the past about the three R’s of missions: Refill. Relieve. Reverse. And I think this church is one of the best that I have been a part of that understands all three. We understand the importance of Refill: giving to those funds and mission projects with generosity, because we know that sometimes someone else can do it better. And our missions giving and generosity prove it. We understand the importance of Relieve: getting personally involved with missions, rolling up our sleeves and feeding the hungry and hosting the homeless and caring for those in need. And our work in Family Promise and our food pantry and LINK prove it. And we understand the importance of Reverse: trying to work to change the structures that create suffering in the first place. And our work with Justice Matters proves it. We get missions. And I am proud to be a part of a church that gets it.
Number three. We like to try new things. I don’t think I have been a part of a church that has been so innovative and creative. You have created an innovative way to do church. Using the Spiritual Leadership Team model is a new way that responds to the ways that people participate today – and to the prompting and leading of God. We have created an innovative way to lead spiritual formation. You worked to create a teaching model that takes advantage of the ministry triangle of Central and Ottawa and KU. A church that is 159 years old has had to learn to be innovative and creative. There is no way that we would have survived this long if it weren’t for the fact that we have been flexible and ready to change over the years. And it has been a blast to listen together for God’s spirit’s leading over these last five years. And I look forward to continuing to be creative with you.
Number four. We have fun. I’ve already talked to you about how fun it is to work in our staff meetings. I can tell you about laughing until I cry at staff relations meetings. About finance committee meetings with Travis Cooper’s dry sense of humor. About laughing and rolling on the floor with kids from Family Promise. And this. I don’t know if you have sat back and noticed this, but just about every Sunday, as soon as the final benediction is over, there is a handful of folks who leave pretty quickly, either to get to work or get kids home for lunch, or beat the Methodists to Free State. But then there is this huge group of folks who just hang out. And stay and talk. And don’t leave. They’re having fun. And it is one of the best things about this church.
And finally, I think that we trust each other. I have often said, in the midst of the challenges of the last five years, that a church who doesn’t trust each other will split over the color of the drapes in the parlor. But a church that does trust, that talks to each other like adults, that doesn’t avoid the hard conversations, that doesn’t talk about each other in back corners and back rooms, that church will withstand a lot. One hundred and fifty nine years of a lot, to be exact. And, sure there are some who do that other stuff, but they are the outliers. And they don’t do it all the time. The trust that we have with each other is huge.
Five reasons to be grateful.
I choose God of abundance.
The God of the open hands.
We can always look around and think that there is scarcity…
Or we can look around and see what God has given us. And is giving us. And will give us in 2015 and beyond. As we celebrate our 160th year, we can choose the gods of scarcity. Fear. Anxiety. Or the God of abundance.