August 26, 2012



                                                     Sermon delivered by the Reverend Father Bill Smith
                                          at Holy Faith Episcopal Church, Port St Lucie, on 26 August 2012
                                             Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures: Joshua 24: 1, 2, and 14-18
                                             Reading for the Epistle:                                  Ephesians 6: 10-20


Very early in his career as the leader of the Israelites, just prior to the siege of Jericho, Joshua had been confronted by a stranger with a drawn sword.  Joshua had enquired of the stranger who he might be and what were his intentions, whether he was a friend or a foe.  The stranger had said that he was neither.  He was neither opposed to the people of Israel nor was he allied to them.  He described himself as the Commander of the Armies of the Lord.  Up until this point, Joshua had probably assumed that that was his job, but clearly he would have been mistaken had he thought so.  He quickly got the message, and he fell on his face there and then and paid homage to this stranger.  Then Joshua asked what he should do, and received what might have sounded like a strange reply, had not Moses been given the same command at the beginning of his commission.

“Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is Holy Ground!”

All that the writer says after this is that Joshua did just that.  There is nothing further in the Scriptures regarding this episode.  As had been the case earlier with Moses, the Lord wanted Joshua to carry out a mission and in order to do that Joshua had to be declared to be holy, and it was Joshua and not his sandals that was to be declared holy, so Joshua had to stand bare-footed on the Holy Ground and so become holy by direct contact with Holiness.  The rest of the Book of Joshua is an account of how the Lord God, working through the man whom he had endowed with his Holiness, achieved great things for the Israelites. 

Our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures this morning recounts an incident at the end of Joshua’s mission.  The land had largely been claimed for Israel and Joshua’s mission as the Commander of the Armies of the Lord, which he had clearly become, was drawing to a close.  Now he challenges the people of Israel with a question similar to that which he had addressed to that stranger with the drawn sword.  In brief, Joshua asked them, “Whom do you serve?  Are you with the God whom I serve, or are you going to go after other divinities?” 

Clearly, Joshua recognized among those whom he had been leading an all too common tendency to turn away from the Lord God.  On the one hand, some of the people still hankered for the old ways, what Joshua calls the gods of their ancestors.  On the other, there were those who all too easily were striving to follow the latest fad in religion, what Joshua calls the gods of the people in whose land you are dwelling.  What Joshua saw as only too obvious was that the people were seeking to worship a divinity with which they were comfortable, and that this figure was little more than an idol, even if not a material one, rather than the indescribable Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. 

In writing to the Ephesians, Paul spells out quite plainly, if picturesquely, what is required of those who claim to be worshippers of the Lord God.  He describes the necessity of putting on what he calls the whole armour of God, and for Paul this meant truth, justice and peace.  It meant accepting the faithfulness of God, the salvation of Jesus, and the Word of God spoken from the beginning by the Holy Spirit. 

It all sounds so simple, but as Joshua well knew, and as Paul indicates in this passage, it never has been that simple.  And it has not been simple because even those who claim to serve the Lord God of our Saviour Jesus Christ often do otherwise. 

Jesus once indicated that you can tell the sincerity of worshippers by examining how they spend their money.  We could add to this that people reveal what it is that is truly important to them by how they spend their time and how they use their God-given talents.  It was true in the time of Joshua. It was true in the time of Paul, and it is still true today.  Perhaps in our sophisticated, urbanized, technological society we have too much money and too much time. 

These days are very different from the days of Joseph and Mary in rural Galilee as they strove to raise their five sons and who knows how many daughters.  The parables of Jesus are based on what he saw in his parents’ home as a child.  He saw how his mother would get up every morning even before dawn to draw water from a nearby spring while it was still cool.  He saw how she would grind sufficient grains of wheat to make the flour with which to bake the daily bread, adding in some older bread to provide the leaven to make the new batch rise.  He saw how she swept out the house each day, and especially if something precious was missing.  He saw how she took wool at shearing time and spun it into thread and then wove the thread into cloth with which to make garments for her family, and how she laundered those garments.  He saw how his father laboured on the family plot, especially at seed time and harvest, how he prepared the soil and sowed the seed.  And when he was old enough he would have gone with Joseph to help a newly-married neighbour build a new dwelling and have seen how important it is to build a house on a rock and not on the sand of a dried-up river bed.  And yet his parents still had the time to teach their children the ways of their people and the lessons of the Scriptures, which they passed on by word of mouth as generations of their ancestors had done before them.  And when his grandparents became too old and frail to fend for themselves, he would have seen how Joseph and Mary had found the space to accommodate them and the time to care for them. 

I don’t wish to paint an idyllic word-picture here of how things were then.  But I would suggest that Joseph and Mary passed on the truth of the Lord God of their ancestors rather than the propaganda of modern-day politicians and, regrettably, preachers.  They showed justice for their neighbours by co-operating with them, especially at harvest time, but also in emergencies such as childbirth, the establishment of a new home or at the time of death.  They practised love, the self-sacrificing love described by the Hebrew word hesed and the Greek word agape, by pouring themselves out on behalf of the neighbours, their children and their aged parents. 

In our generation, in our comparatively comfortable society, most of us have more than enough to buy the services of others to do the sort of things that Joseph and Mary did and had to do.  We have the money and we have the time to do other things and many of us use that money and that time and our God-given skills to do things to please ourselves – and in doing so we turn ourselves into petty gods, serving our own interests and worshipping other so-called divinities, the stars and superstars of sport and entertainment.  

Like so many of Joshua’s contemporaries we chase after the latest fad and fashion.  I am not saying that it isn’t nice to have some of these gadgets, but who needs it all?  We had no television growing up, but now it’s old-fashioned not to have a set in every room, including the toilet; indeed we must have a multiplicity of communication gadgets in our pockets and pocketbooks.  As children, my parents fed my sister and me on vegetables and fruits from the garden – much, I suppose, as had Joseph and Mary in their day.  Now we go to the supermarket and buy vegetables and fruits from all manner of exotic places, and we go the pharmacy to buy vitamins to supplement what is missing in those fruits and vegetables.  I could go on and on, but I suspect we all get the picture.  But saddest of all, while we are all too busy watching the latest comedy or the latest police series on television, or the latest reality show, our children are neglected and several generations have never heard from their parents’ lips the wisdom of the ancestors and the good news of the Gospel of salvation, of the faithfulness of God, and of the Word of God spoken by the Holy Spirit. 

Let me close by daring to ask each of you and myself as well – what is the god you truly serve?  At baptism we were declared to be holy, but do our lives really demonstrate to the world around us that we are indeed holy, dedicated to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?  Or do they reveal just how decadent are the lives we actually live within a decaying society? 

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