Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 9, 2008

2008.11.09 “Choose!”

Central United Methodist Church

Pastor David L. Haley


Joshua 24: 1–3, 14–15

November 9th, 2008

“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.  Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, 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: 14 – 15, The New Revised Standard Version


With the election Tuesday of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, it has been quite a week in Chicago, has it not?  And not only in Chicago, but across the country and around the world. 

After the announcement and celebration Tuesday night in Grant Park (who was there?), Chicagoans woke up on Wednesday to the giddy realization, that – for better or worse – the next President of the United States is going to be from here. The Secret Service has descended in force to Hyde Park, enforcing a six block perimeter around Mr. Obama’s house, that I wouldn’t try to breach, if I were you.

Not all Chicagoans will be pleased. Thursday morning in the Loop, for example, a couple in a car took another lane to pass a line of black suburbans, only to find themselves cut off with weapons drawn and pointed at them. The driver was seen to nod his head and acknowledge, “Obama.”

Personally, I look forward to seeing Air Force One flying over on the way to O’Hare, since it’s too big to land at Midway. I guess we Chicagoans will have to get used to a new reason for traffic jams on the Kennedy other than the Bears, the Cubs, the Auto Show, and no reason at all, as it was last night at six o’clock.

Our Parish Administrator, Bob Reid, was kind enough to give me a reprieve and allow me to write my Link article not on Monday, before I knew the results, but on Wednesday, after we knew for sure.  If you’ve gotten your Link you’ll know that I reflected on the historic significance of the occasion, especially for African Americans.  I doubt there was a dry eye among any African-Americans Tuesday night, and if I was any measure, not among anybody else, either. 

Others point out that the election had not only great significance racially, but generationally. Eighteen percent of the electorate who voted Tuesday were younger voters (not that much more than 2004) but what was significant was that they overwhelmingly voted for Obama: 66 percent to 32 percent.  Heather Havrilesky, writing in Salon Magazine on Friday (November 7, 2008), went so far as to pen “An Open Apology To Boomers Everywhere:”


“Dear boomers: We’re sorry for rolling our eyes at you all these years. We apologize for scoffing at your earnestness, your lack of self-deprecation, your tendency to take yourselves a little too seriously. We can go ahead and admit now that we grew tired of hearing about the ’60s and the peace movement, as if you had to live through those times to understand anything at all.

But when we watched Barack Obama’s victory speech on Tuesday night, we looked into the eyes of a real leader, and decades of cynicism about politics and grass-roots movements and community melted away in a single moment. We heard the voice of a man who can inspire with his words, who’s unashamed of his own intelligence, who’s willing to treat the citizens of this country like smart, capable people, worthy of respect. For the first time in some of our lifetimes, we believed. . . .

Suddenly it makes sense, what you’ve been trying to tell us about John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr . . .”

Lest you think I’m only going to talk about the election, it just so happens that this theme of generational transition is exactly what’s found in the Scriptures today, in the Old Testament book of Joshua, chapter 24.

I hope you have been listening through the summer to the Old Testament readings. In those readings, we have read through all the way from the OT patriarchs, such as Abraham, to Moses, ending today with Joshua.  Not this year, but perhaps in 3 years when it comes around again, I look forward to preaching this as a series.

Today that sequence comes to an end, with the challenge of Joshua to the next generation. Amazingly, his words of the necessity of CHOICE sound as relevant today to us and to contemporary generations, as they did to the people of his generation.

If you were to backup and read the entire book of Joshua, while you will find many inspirational stories, you would also find some quite reprehensible stories as well. The Book of Joshua is about the conquest of the Promised Land; the problem is, as with Native Americans in America and Palestinians in modern day Israel, there were already people living there. So the book of Joshua is a bloody and brutal story of conquest, domination, and even genocide, where men, women, and children were killed. It reminds us that not everything in the Bible is to be copied or commended, even when done for theological reasons. Like us, for better or worse, sometimes their theology was shaped by their politics and sometimes their politics was shaped by their theology.  That can be a deadly brew.

What is commendable for us today are those words of Joshua in chapter 24, verses 14 – 15, which still sound through the ages: 

“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. Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, 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.”

Like Tuesday, it was a generational moment.  There was the generation of Moses, who saw the promised Land, but only from a distance. And there was the generation of Joshua, whose job it was to possess the promised land, and now must pass the work on to the next generation. Will they honor the covenant? Will they adhere to Yahweh, or flirt with other gods? Choices must be made, and the future hangs upon them.

        To demonstrate the power of these stories, in the African-American community, these words have not been only an ancient story of “once-upon-a-time.” If Dr. King was the Moses generation, who saw the promise from a distance but didn’t get there himself, then all those who followed, including Barack Obama and us, are members of the Joshua Generation, the generation whose work it must be to bring about the realization of the promise.

        Senator Obama drew upon this very imagery in January in a speech made to the students at predominantly African-American Howard University in Washington:

“Everyone in this room stands on the shoulders of many Moses. They are the courageous men and women who marched and fought and bled for the rights and freedoms we enjoy today. They have taken us many miles over an impossible journey.

 “But you are members of the Joshua Generation. And it is now up to you to finish the work that they began.  It is up to you to cross the river.” (January 2, 2008)

        After Tuesday, we might think that the river has been crossed, but the truth is, there is much, much, more work to do. Because as we all know, the problems we face are huge, and cannot be solved by just one, or a few, but only by all of us working together.  Perhaps – just perhaps – we are on the forefront of a new generation of idealism, like that launched by John Kennedy in 1960, with his vision of a New Frontier.  Perhaps – just perhaps – we are ready to leave the old gods of the past behind, the gods of distraction and division, to work together to solve the great problems we face?

        And what about in Church?  We who are the older generations, are we inviting, nurturing, coaching – even accommodating – the younger, Joshua generation in the Church? Are we expecting them to assume the work of the church that we have carried for so long; but only if they will do it in the way we’ve done it?  We can’t keep worshiping the “gods” of the past.

What kind of choices are we making? Are we only spending our money – the church’s money – upon ourselves and our generation; or are we trying to invite and recruit and train the next generation not to take over later, once we’re gone (we can’t wait until then!), but now, while we can experience it.

        Here’s an example I was thinking about this week: what if we only had $10,000 to spend? Would the wise choice for our congregation be accessible sanctuary doors for those with difficulty walking; or multimedia projection for the sanctuary, in hopes of appealing to the younger generations?  You see what I’m saying? Even in the church, we have to make choices. (Let’s hope it’s both/and, and we never have to make the choice between them.) 

        Choices must be made.  Can we do that? 

“Yes we can,” the people of Joshua’s generation said.

        But Joshua said,  “No you can’t.”

Joshua knew that sometimes the big choices we make get eroded by the small choices we make, the worship of Yahweh in public gets undermined by the worship of the foreign gods back home in the tents.

Our 21st-century idols may look different from those worshiped by ancient Egyptians, Amorites, or Canaanites.  Ours are gods of things and gadgets and appearances and youth and success, lifestyles and possessions and obsessions and idols that take over our lives. But they perform the same basic function as little statues before whom we bow — they fill up our lives in places where only God should be.  Examples?

  • Do we choose to set aside time every week for worship, even if it means saying no to other now popular Sunday activities such as sports and shopping? 


  • Do we choose to set aside time each day for prayer, even if it means getting up 30 minutes earlier or shutting off Good Morning America?


  • Do we choose to engage in lifelong study of the Scriptures, knowing that what little we learned in Sunday School is inadequate for the intellectual challenge of living as a Christian in a religiously diverse, scientifically based, and ethically complex modern world?


  • Do we choose to band together in small groups with other Christians for spiritual growth and mutual support, on the premise that that may do more to transform us than watching Dr. Phil or reading the latest self-help book?


  • Do we choose to give away maybe even more of our finances than is prudent in tough economic times, when greed rather than giving is the motive of the day?


  • Do we choose to commit part of our already overcommitted schedule to serving others, even if it brings little reward in the form of public recognition, private gain, or personal pleasure?


Those are just some examples of the kinds of choices we must make, which will shape the big picture of our spiritual lives.

What will happen if we don’t choose, or choose badly?  For President-Elect Obama and our mutual future as a country, only time will tell.  For the Israelites to whom Joshua spoke, well, you can read the Book of Judges to find out what happened to them as a result of the choices they made. (Hint: it’s not good.) As for what might happen to us, well, did you ever hear the story of The Zode, by Dr. Seuss?

      Did I ever tell you about the young Zode,

      Who came to two signs at the fork in the road?

      One said to Place One, and the other, Place Two.

      So the Zode had to make up his mind what to do.

      Well…the Zode scratched his head, and his chin and his pants.

      And he said to himself, “I’ll be taking a chance

      If I go to Place One. Now, that place may be hot!

      And so, how do I know if I’ll like it or not?

      On the other hand though, I’ll be sort of a fool

      If I go to Place Two and find it too cool.

      In that case I may catch a chill and turn blue!

      So, maybe Place One is the best, not Place Two,

      But then again, what if Place One is too high?

      I may catch a terrible earache and die!

      So Place Two may be best!  On the other hand though…

      What might happen to me if Place Two is too low?

      I might get some very strange pain in my toe!

      So Place One may be best,” and he started to go.

      Then he stopped, and he said, “On the other hand though….

      On the other hand…other hand…other hand though…”

      And for 36 hours and a half that poor Zode

      Made starts and made stops at the fork in the road.

      Saying, “Don’t take a chance. No! You may not be right.”

      Then he got an idea that was wonderfully bright!

      “Play safe!” cried the Zode. “I’ll play safe. I’m no dunce!

      I’ll simply start out for both places at once!”

      And that’s how the Zode who would not take a chance

      Got no place at all with a split in his pants.



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