First Mennonite Church
June 30, 2019
Do I Choose or Am I Chosen?
Text: Joshua 24:1-15
Choices! Choices! Choices! Every day we have to make choices. We have to choose getting up in the morning, what to eat for breakfast, in what mood do we want to face our tasks, the words we use, and in the end who do we want to please. There are a few things we do not have the luxury of choosing. The other day I was driving behind a car with a sticker that reads: “My dog is the only relative I can choose.” We all can figure out what is meant by that. Yes, I could not choose my parents nor my siblings nor the rest of my family. Besides those, there is a whole lot of things I can or must choose.
In the case of our relationship with God, choosing seems to be a little more complicated. On the one hand we are told that God has chosen us, even before our birth. On the other, we are asked to choose to follow or not, Christ. Therefore, based on the words of Joshua to his people and from Jesus to his disciples, we should ask ourselves, “Do I Choose or Am I Chosen?”
The book of Joshua presents a scenario of a full conquest of the land of the Canaanites. (Please be reminded that the book of Judges gives a different assessment about the conquest.) According to Joshua, after the conquest was achieved, a territory was allotted to each of the twelve tribes (Joshua 13-22). In Joshua 24, the great commander, Joshua, summons all the leaders of the tribes and gives a sort of farewell speech and final charge. Joshua begins by recounting Israel’s history, starting all the way with Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor. Joshua names the founders of Israel: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joshua reminds the leaders of the tribes of the oppression their ancestors endured in Egypt and of God’s deliverance, including God’s judgement on Pharaoh and his people. Joshua reminds them of Israel’s crossing the Red Sea on dry land and God’s provisions to Israel during the wilderness journey. But now that Israel had settled on the Promised Land and as Joshua is about to die, Israel must know that God had kept his promise, but possession of the land would depend on Israel’s commitment to YAHWEH.
Therefore Joshua makes his final appeal: “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 challenges the heads of the twelve tribes to revere, serve, and worship YAHWEH alone. If Israel had not been faithful to YAHWEH because of the influence of the pagans beyond the River and in Egypt, among who they have lived, Joshua challenges them to do so now that they have settled in their own land. There should not be any excuse to be unfaithful to YAHWEH. God had delivered on his promise and now faithfulness is expected on the part of Israel. Choose this day whom you will serve, Joshua pleads. Joshua, knowing Israel’s inconsistency, does not immediately accept their promise to obey. Joshua reminds the leaders to know that pleasing God was no easy task. Joshua knows that this God demands more of God’s people. The God of Israel demands much more than just proper worship and ritual; he demands justice within the community. God demands concern for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger, alongside proper religious practice.
Joshua’s words to the leaders of Israel implies that Israel had the option to choose. 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. Can the chosen people have the option to choose loyalty to the One who chose them? Israel was God’s chosen people. In Deuteronomy seven, Israel is reminded that of all peoples on earth, God chose them to be his “holy people” and his “treasured possession” (7:6, 7). Could they choose or were the chosen?
Let us turn to our New Testament passage and we will see that there is a parallel situation there. In John six, Jesus is speaking about himself as the living bread. He says anyone who would like to have eternal life must eat of his flesh and drink of his blood (6:54). I do not blame the Jews who thought eating someone’s flesh and drink its blood was a repugnant idea. So we read that the Jews disputed among themselves and rejected the offer. And verse 60, tells us that from then on many of his disciples turned back and were no longer following Jesus, because they were offended by his offer. Therefore, Jesus turns to his twelve disciples and says to them, “Does this offend you? “Do you also wish to go away?”
Let us remember that Jesus was the one who choose his twelve. Can those chosen choose to reject the one who had chosen them? Can the disciples reject their position of chosenness? Peter’s words to Jesus seem to shed some light to the conundrum we all have regarding our calling by God, which is the question for today: Do I have the option to choose to follow God or am I already chosen by Him?
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” 70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.”
Peter had a very deep conviction that he had been called. Peter realized that following Jesus was no easy task. But however difficult Jesus’ words were, Peter had nowhere else to go find what he has found in Jesus.
If we love classical music we know where to find them. There is Beethoven, Amadeus, Chopin, etc. If you love the visual arts you go to museum or art gallery. If you love poetry you go read Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, Maya Angelou, Etc. And even when there is inspiration in each of these genres of art, there is nothing, which can not only touch our heart but can also connect us to God, as Jesus and his words do. When we allow Jesus’ words to touch the unreached parts of our heart or life, we would experience the life giving force of his words. When we are burdened with anxiety, fear, or guilt, there is nothing as soothing, comforting and reassuring as the words of Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).
When something brings to our mind the inevitability of our very own mortality, there is nothing as comforting and reassuring as the very words of Jesus when he says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). We know deep inside us what Peter meant when he said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Do I Choose or Am I Chosen? Yes, both. God has chosen you and me. In his grace and wisdom, the Lord called us to be his own. In the words of Jesus, No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me (John 6:44), we are given the assurance that our coming to the Lord initiated in the heart of God. God chose you and me. God planned our belonging into his family. But as Joshua and Jesus say, it is up to us how we want to respond to his kindness and his grace. We can choose how we want to respond to God’s deliverance from sin and our adoption into his family.
The words of Joshua to Israelites should be the way we should respond. Joshua said to the leaders of ancient Israel: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” The refrain in Joshua’s command was to “serve the Lord.” To serve the Lord means to worship, to show loyalty, and ultimately, to obey the Lord. Israel had the choice between giving loyalty to the Lord or giving it to the pagan gods of the land they were then inhabiting. These pagan gods were the forces of nature: the rain, moon, sun, and stars. Their cycle provided good harvests and therefore the provisions by which to raise cattle, secure the lives of the inhabitants. Rituals and sacrifices to these elements were intended to appease and to gain their benevolence. For these early sedentary agrarian people, such rituals and sacrifices made sense. The equivalent in today’s mixed economy, the gods that offer us a security are many. Our job that provides us for our living, the savings account, the retirement, investment funds one might have, are seen as ways that ensure our livelihoods. But let us not forget that it can be a temptation to set our trust in these things and not in the Lord.
Let us choose to serve the Lord by rejecting the foreign gods that are among us, and by inclining our hearts to the Lord, the God and Father of Jesus. Let us not forget that we have been chosen, therefore, we should choose to serve, to worship and give our loyalty only to the Lord. Amen!