Joshua 24: 1-2, 15-18    Ephesians 6: 10-20    John 6: 56-69

I was pleased to discover this morning that we had a reading from Joshua because and we don’t hear much from the Book of Joshua in the lectionary and, as you probably know by now, I don’t mind tackling the Old Testament. After all, we hear from the Old Testament week in and week out but we tend to focus on the New Testament don’t we? I suppose that is inevitable because it is of course in the New Testament where we find Jesus. However, those Old Testament readings are there for a purpose. Jesus would have known them and he is presented in the Gospels as having a very high regard for the Scriptures. Clearly they still have value for today. I will touch on the other two readings but, firstly, what does Joshua have to say to us?

Joshua isn’t an easy book in places: perhaps that is why we don’t hear from it very much. It is nestled in between Deuteronomy and Judges and it basically tells the story of the Israelite’s conquering of the land of the Canaanites, the Amorites and a whole load of other –ites, killing them or driving them out and taking possession of their land. Perhaps the most well known part is the collapse of the walls of Jericho at the sound of the ram’s horns. 

It is when you read Joshua in the context of what follows in Judges that you begin to realise that, actually, the book is prone to exaggeration and hyperbole. Remember, history is always written by the victors! Actually, it was written a long time after the events to try and glorify the activities and to glorify God, because the Israelites thought God was always behind them in their battles. Certainly their drive and motivation they attributed to God and, if nothing else, the book of Joshua reflects the power the Israelites believed God had in their lives.

It is when you see the book in that light that it is possible to draw a few lessons from what it has to say to us today. As always it is important to read around the passage as set and, doing that, one of the first things to acknowledge is that we must never think our work for God is done, until our life is done. Verse 29 of Chapter 24 tells us that Joshua kept going to the age of 110 but he was still an inspiration to others; still a role model. 

All of us here can be that to somebody else: all of us can talk about our faith, our experiences, our journey, what events have happened in our lives down the years culminating in us being here, together, this Sunday morning and - importantly - how the hand of God has shaped those events. Let’s not be afraid to speak out. Our friends in Maulden Baptist Church are very good at asking ordinary people to give their testimonies of their faith and witness. They can be very moving and they are always inspirational. Perhaps that’s something of which we should do more.

What you also did not hear this morning are verses 2b to 13. In those, Joshua summarises what God had done for him, his people and their Fathers before him. He exhorts them to continue serving God, in gratitude and favour. Again, isn’t that what we ought to be doing, every day, wherever we find ourselves? 

Joshua puts the matter quite plainly: "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve”. There is no ambivalence, no indifference; it is a straight choice. That is what it comes down to. Joshua clearly and publicly nails his colours to the mast: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”. It is a reminder that we must be willing to swim against the stream. We mustn’t do as the most do but as the best do. The Israelites who faced this stark choice from Joshua certainly agreed with him; they said: “Far be it for us to forsake the Lord”.

This is their deliberate choice and, again, a few verses further on from our passage, in verse 25, Joshua binds them to it by a solemn covenant. He even sets up a monument of it in stone. So we have the unequivocal decision and the permanent record of it. Don’t we have that right here? Just look around. Is not this very building the monument of our - and our forefathers’ - solemn promises of serving God? Can we sit here now - in 2012 - and deny those promises? We can’t, can we? So, let us draw strength from that background, that history, from our own journeys, our own testimonies and, when we go out from this place, let us not leave God here, let us take him with us, out into the world. Those words still hold good today: “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord”.

You will remember from the reading that there were references in it to other gods. Well, that is something else which still rings true today, doesn’t it? You know, one of the corollaries of this being the Church of England, by law established, is that it does not exist just to serve us, who attend here regularly or only those who have been baptised or confirmed. This church is here to serve the whole parish of Maulden, some 3,000 souls. How many are here this morning? 30? Where are the other 2,970? OK, knock off a few for those on holiday, those from other denominations or other faiths, perhaps some housebound, some working but that still leaves an awful lot of people. What god or gods are they worshipping right now? Do they know about our God? Have we actually told them? 

When I was looking at what the various commentaries had to say about these words from Joshua, I found one which said: “the worship of God is so highly reasonable, necessary and beneficial and the service of idols so absurd and vain and pernicious, that if it were left free for all to take their choice, everyone in his right wits must out of necessity choose the service of God, before that of idols". 

A bit pompous in its language but what it comes down to is “Far be it for us to forsake the Lord”. Now, it takes less then three seconds to say that but, as we’ve learnt, a lifetime to fulfil, right to the end. How do we do it? Even many of those Israelites who said that in the book of Joshua had, by the time of the Judges, weakened, lapsed, fallen away, started to idolise other things. How do we do it? How can we take our stand and remain firm?

This, of course, is where the reading from Ephesians comes in. Remember what it said? “Be strong in the Lord and his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand”. 

This and what follows in that passage isn’t just inspirational, it’s motivational. What we’re talking about is spiritual strength and courage to face the devil’s schemes. Resist him and he’ll flee. If we give way, if we give him an inch, he’ll gain ground, he’ll take a mile. Sadly, we don’t have the service of Compline here very often but if you know that beautiful night office you’ll be familiar with these words from 1 Peter Ch 5 v 8 “Your adversary the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, seeking for someone to devour. Resist him, strong in the faith”. 

When writing that letter to the Ephesians, Paul clearly sees it as a struggle, a fight requiring armour and shield and sword and helmet and breastplate. 

Oh yes, the Christian armour is made to be worn. and what sustains us in this commitment, this fight, is nothing less than the bread of life. This, of course, is where the passage from John comes in. Actually, the bread of life is a sermon all to itself - half a dozen sermons in fact! ISuffice to say for now that what Jesus is talking about is food for the soul, “spiritual food”, which will satisfy the hunger for “eternal life”.  It’s also, of course, all linked in with the Lord’s Supper and is one of the seven great “I am” saying which appear in John’s Gospel.

Let’s recap very briefly on what we’ve talked about today. Perseverance; God’s hand in shaping our spiritual journeys, making us role models; the need to inspire, to motivate; making sure the right God is worshipped; the armour to fight the devil and the sustenance underpinning everything which can only come from Jesus, who we meet right there, at that altar and will meet there again in a few minutes’ time. All the tools are there, ready, available. 

“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve”. I hope we can all respond to that: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”.

© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire July 2016

This sermon was originally delivered in the church of St Mary the Virgin, Maulden, Bedfordshire on 26 August, 2012