What about you?
Sunday, August 23
Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
I love Joshua’s bold proclamation of his faith. “As for Me and My house, I will serve the Lord”….and his challenge to the people… “What about you?”
Peter was faced with the same question. “What About you?”
Jesus had just given a sermon about communion with God that is hard to understand even AFTER the resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit. It was too hard for some of Jesus’ followers- and they left. Jesus asked his disciples, “What about you?”
Peter has been wrong before and he’ll be wrong again as the Gospel continues – but he gets it right this time. He basically says, “Where else would we go?” Peter has listened to Jesus tell his story – and God’s story and he realizes that he has received a gift, a gift of faith. In his simple, straight-forward way, Peter speaks for all the disciples when he says, “We have come to believe.”
Both Peter and Joshua are making statements of faith that will direct other choices, choices about how they live their lives. Joshua then challenges the people of Israel: What about you?”
But before he asks that question, Joshua reminds the people who they are. He reminds them that God has chosen them to be his people. He tells them their history, their story. He reminds them that God has led them out of slavery in Egypt, that God provided for them in the wilderness and that God has called them to be God’s people.
After he has told the people their story, and his story, as a leader, he sets the example. He declares his faith – and commits his whole household, “As for me and my household we will serve the Lord.” But, then, perhaps because he is growing old and will not be there to lead them, he challenges the people to make a choice for themselves. There's a line from an old Bob Dylan song, “You’ve got to serve somebody.” Joshua knows that too – the people will be serving someone or some thing. So he challenges them. What about you? “Choose this day who you will serve.”
The people eagerly commit to serving the Lord. But Joshua knows these people – and he wants more than lip service. So Joshua reminds them that there are other gods out there – and that they will be tempted to follow those gods, the gods of another culture, another people, another way. He even told them that there will be times in which they will fail to follow God. There will be times when it is hard to follow God. But the people say, “We are witnesses”. We will follow.
What about you?
You and I are reminded as we read the Words of Scripture of God’s story and God’s promises to be our God – and that we are to be God’s people. The children helped remind us that at baptism, God has chosen you and me- each one of us - as God’s child and has marked on your brow the cross of Christ. So we are reminded of who we are – and whose we are. We are reminded that God keeps God’s promises to us, promises that Jesus made after the resurrection to be with us always.
But… What about you?
Every day you are given choices to make. Like the children, some of the choices are not “life choices.” The Greek word for this is: “adiaphora.” It really doesn’t matter.
But sometimes, ordinary choices DO matter. As we traveled as part of the sabbatical this summer, we had to make some choices - we saw a lot but try as I might - we couldn't do and see everything. So we made some choices, such as often traveling by train. Some train trips were simply transportation - to get to where we were going, with the added benefit of getting to watch the scenery - or get some extra sleep. But I had heard that the train ride from Oslo Norway to the fjords was not only transportation - but was, arguably, the most beautiful train ride in the world. So, after we got on the train, I told my family – don’t rest on the train this time. The scenery is going to be beautiful. But...no sooner had I said that, than we went into a very long tunnel under a mountain. Some scenery.
After we got out of the tunnel, however, the mountains loomed up ahead, the valley was green, waterfalls tumbled out of the rocks from both sides and a beautiful river rushed along beside us. It was simply gorgeous. We all started taking pictures. Completely awe-struck, all I could do was praise God for this breath-taking beauty. But sometime in the midst of my revelry, I looked at the rest of the passengers on the train. Their eyes were not glued to the windows. I was marveling at the mountains. But the locals on the train did not see them. They were sleeping.
I simply could not understand how they could NOT wake up to see the beauty in front of them. How could this awesome beauty become “ordinary?”
The "state religion" of Norway is Lutheran. But statistics say that fewer Norwegians are identifying as Lutheran - or even Christian. This despite living in this heavenly beauty and despite - or maybe because the church belongs to the state. But it puzzled me. Seeing this beauty, how could they not simply stop and praise God?
A few days after I returned home, a friend, not knowing that I was wrestling with this question, sent me this poem:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes –
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
— Elizabeth Browning
What about you? Will you take off your shoes in awe as you see the ordinary world around you on-fire with God’s blessings? Or will you sit round the bush and pluck blackberries – receiving God’s blessings but clueless/ oblivious to the wonder of the creator.
God's blessings come - whether we see them or not. But when we have been given the gift of faith, and when we know the story and are reminded of God's story - like Joshua and the people of God in our first lesson and like Peter and the disciples in the Gospel, then our eyes can be opened to see God's presence in our world.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, you have heard the story of God. On Sundays at worship, we keep coming back to hear it again not only so that we can hear about what God has done in the past -- but so that we have eyes to see God's presence in our present day lives. And because we have heard the story of God and have eyes to see that the Holy Spirit dwells with us and in us, we, like Peter and like Joshua profess our faith.
But like Joshua wanted for his people, I want for you - each one of you -- that your profession of faith be more than just words. The faith that we profess is not simply words, but a commitment that we are choosing to serve God - and not someone or something else. There were lots of gods to serve in Joshua's day -- and I would dare to say that today there are even more gods: things/people/activities that want to be first in your life. So choosing to serve GOD means that the choices that we make - everyday choices as well as "big life choices" are all made to reflect the one who made us, created us and choseyou to be God's own.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, just as Jesus asked the disciples and Joshua challenged his people - so I challenge you. What about you? As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. We will serve Jesus. What about you? Who will you serve?
Before my Sabbatical, I would probably have said "Amen." But I don't want anyone lulled to sleep - and miss God's presence. So when I ask again, Who will you serve? I want to hear, loud and clear: We will serve Jesus. Who will you serve?
C: We will serve Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
August 23, 2015