Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
It’s always a privilege to welcome new members into our congregation. Not only because we already value their participation and friendship, and because each one will add so much to the life of our church family over the years. But also because as each group of new members stands up in front of the church and makes their promises, the rest of us have an opportunity to be reminded once again what being part of the Church is all about.
I’ve been privileged to have wonderful conversations with Chris and Liz and Linda over the last few weeks, and with each one had an opportunity to talk about those questions they just answered just a few moments ago. First, a question about turning away from evil, renouncing it, actually, a wonderful old fashioned word that reminds us there are things in this world we need to stand against, just as there are things we need to stand for. Then a question about turning toward Jesus as Lord and Savior. And two questions that ask us in greater detail about being Christ’s faithful disciples, or followers, questions we are fortunately able to answer by saying, “I will, with God’s help.” (Because heaven help us all if we had to be faithful on our own!)
Ultimately, it’s about choices. Choices that lead to occasions like this one, with public statements of faith. But also less public choices every day of our lives about what is important to us, where our priorities lie, and above all, whom we will serve.
Both of this morning’s Scripture passages remind us that the ancient Israelites chose to follow Yahweh in a world with plenty of other gods competing for their attention and allegiance. In the case of Joshua, the Hebrew people who had wandered in the wilderness for forty years on their way to the promised land have finally crossed the Jordan river and entered the land of Canaan. Keep in mind, that land was already occupied by worshipers of other gods. In addition, the text indicates the Hebrew people themselves in some cases seem to have drifted back toward worship of ancestral gods at this point in the story. So we find this covenant ceremony in chapter 24, in which Joshua seeks not only to unite the 12 tribes of Israel as a single people, but also to commit them to worshiping Yahweh, the God of Israel.
In the case of Micah, the context is the southern kingdom of Judah during the divided monarchy, a few hundred years later. Micah spoke out against all kinds of corruption and social injustice in his day, and uttered bitter oracles against the city of Jerusalem, the seat of religious and political power. Yet he held out hope for forgiveness and restoration, as we see in beautiful, comforting prophecies like the one we read this morning. Since military victory or loss was sometimes understood at that time to be an indicator of the power or impotence of a people’s god, faith in Yahweh sometimes wavered when powerful enemies like the Assyrians bore down. But Micah steadfastly called his people to faithful worship of the one true God, through it all.
Of course competing gods continue to abound today. It’s all too easy to worship power, money, conformity, or to idolize athletes and film stars. I suppose if we were to be brutally honest, some of us even give a fair bit of allegiance to our smart phones! (Can’t you just imagine an alien from a distant galaxy wondering: what are these little devices to which earthlings are so utterly devoted?) On a less facetious note, many of us quite understandably prioritize our families and friends and our work.
The point is that none of these things is worthy of our ultimate allegiance. Tempting though it may be to let a variety of things move higher and higher up our priority lists, not one of them is meant to be our Lord.
In the midst of so very many choices, the challenge Joshua issued to his contemporaries echoes through the ages: Choose this day whom you will serve. And our new members this morning have chosen, by declaring Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior. Just as each of us has chosen this morning too, by entering this sanctuary to worship that same Lord.
The prophet Micah put it this way: “all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.” (Micah 4:5) It’s a fascinating exercise to look around and think about who, or what, the folks around us are actually choosing to serve, whoever they may profess as Lord. In the name of which god, exactly, are they walking, as they consult stock market tickers and celebrity twitter feeds as if seeking an oracle from the Lord? Granted, it’s a humbling exercise too, when we pull out the mirror and start looking carefully at our own priorities. Which is why, again, we promise to be Christ’s faithful followers only “with God’s help.”
One of the best reasons for being part of a congregation like this one is that we can call each other to account when it would be all too easy to get off track. Simply by turning up on a Sunday morning, think of all the wonderful reminders we receive, to reset our priorities. We are called to worship, remembering in humility that God is God and we are not. We are reminded of our flaws, as we confess our sins, and then assured of God’s forgiveness, because God’s grace is sufficient for our every weakness. We read the Scriptures together, so that we will have words of God’s truth ringing in our ears, and lodging in our hearts, as we head out the doors to a world that plays by a very different script. In passages like the one we read today from Micah, we also hear God’s promises. And I don’t know about you, but in a world filled with violence, war, terrorism, it does my heart good to remember that swords will one day be turned into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks. Weapons that take life will be transformed into tools that give life? The sooner the better, please!
As each week’s service continues, we then pray to the God who meets us where we are, and knows our every need. We pray for others, too, remembering that we are beloved children of God, but by no means God’s only beloved children. We offer money, and time, and talent as gifts of gratitude to the God who has given us so very much. And throughout each service we sing hymns of praise, again remembering that God and God alone is worthy of our worship.
So in a sense, every act of worship can be a smaller scale choice that supports a far bigger choice. The same could be said for every generous act of offering. Every devoted form of mission or service. Every thoughtful act of compassion.
As for me and my house?
In a world greedy for power, status, fame, I choose a Lord who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and teaching us that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.
In a world that encourages us to be selfish, I choose a Lord who calls us to reach out to others in his name, for whatever we do for any of God’s children, we do for him.
In a world wracked by violence, I choose a God who promises that instruments of violence will one day be turned into agricultural tools.
Above all, in a world too often in despair, I choose the God of resurrection hope.
Choose this day whom you will serve. Let’s be sure to choose wisely. And then let’s live like we mean it. Amen? Amen!