Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 12, 2014
First Christian Church
Every presidential election is always kind of a silly season in America. People hear what a candidate says and it becomes fodder for the opposing side for weeks. Certain phrases enter the body politic and are remembered for years after the election. And this is not a modern phenomenon. In 1884 as Grover Cleaveland was running for President, allegations surfaced that he had fathered a child out of wedlock. His opponents began chanting “Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa?” After Cleveland won the race his supporters fired back: “Gone to the White House, ha,ha,ha.”
In 2012, there wasn’t any chants like that, but there is one phrase that stuck out above all the din. It was something that President Obama said, something that supporters of Governor Mitt Romney picked up and ran with. The phrase is “You didn’t build that.” If my memory serves me correct, the phrase came in a speech reflecting the role of government in our society. The GOP milked that phrase for all it was worth.
Now, this sermon is not, I repeat, is not about the role of goverment or a rehash of the last Presidential election. I’m wary about being partisan in the pulpit, so I’m not interested in talking about politics, at least from this vantage point as a pastor.
That said, this phrase is interesting to me, not because of politics, but because how it lines up with today’s passage. The phrase reminds us that we are not where we are becuase of our smarts, but because God has been with us all the time.
Joshua 24 includes some of the last words of Joshua. He was a protoge of Moses, and when Moses died, Joshua took over. He is speaking to the people after they wandered in the desert for 40 years, after they crossed the Jordan into the Promised land, after the people had battled the inhabitants of Cannan, and after they had set up the beginnings of a nation. It took decades, but the Israelites had arrived in more ways than one.
Instead of kicking back and enjoying their new life, God is calling them to enter into covenant with God. Through Joshua, God recounts the story of the Israelites:
I took Abraham your ancestor from the other side of the Euphrates. I led him around through the whole land of Canaan. I added to his descendants and gave him Isaac. 4 To Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Mount Seir to Esau to take over. But Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt. 5 Then I sent Moses and Aaron. I plagued Egypt with what I did to them. After that I brought you out. 6 I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, and you came to the sea. The Egyptians chased your ancestors with chariots and horses to the Reed Sea.[a] 7 Then they cried for help to the Lord. So he set darkness between you and the Egyptians. He brought the sea down on them, and it covered them. With your own eyes you saw what I did to the Egyptians.
He continues telling them what God had done once they were in the promised land:
Then you crossed over the Jordan. You came to Jericho, and the citizens of Jericho attacked you. They were Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites, and Jebusites. But I gave them into your power.
Then Joshua told them that all of what happened wasn’t because of their acumen:
I gave you land on which you hadn’t toiled and cities that you hadn’t built. You settled in them and are enjoying produce from vineyards and olive groves that you didn’t plant.
Everything that the Israelites had done; winning battles against the different nations, the vineyards they planted, the cities they lived in, the fields they farmed were not done by them alone. Joshua reminds the people that all the good things they had at this moment, came from God. It was God that brought them to this moment. And because God got them to this point, they should give thanks to God. Joshua wasn’t saying that they should just say thanks and move on, no, they were to give thanks to God’s goodness by serving God.
This concept that God is the one who is at work in our lives is something that is hard for our modern society to understand. For good or for ill, modern society is focused on the self. It doesn’t matter what your political orientation is, we all tend to look at our achievements as soley the result of our hard work.
One of my Old Testament professors at Seminary shared his view on how people take communion and how that has changed over time. In the past, the congregants would come to the communion table in fear and trembling. They didn’t even take the bread, but opened their mouths and the pastor would place it on their tongues like a mother bird to her chicks. In modern times, people come joyfully to the table, take the bread and wine and had back to their seats almost skipping.
In the future, the professor envisioned church members stomping down the isle to the communion table. The pastor shakes in fear. These members grab their bread and wine and then stomp back to their pew.
His little tale brought a few laughs in the room, but there was some seriousness about it. It showed how one can go from having a greatful and humble heart to thinking that they don’t really need God and in fact, God should be honored they are doing this.
Joshua was trying to remind his people that their lives are not simply their own. The Israelites were part of something bigger than themselves. They were part of God’s salvation story, God’s attempt to redeem creation from the bondage of sin.
Of course, the Israelites would forget what God had done in their lives. Joshua knew this. But at that moment, the Israelites get it. They will strive to live the life of a servant.
A few weeks ago, I shared that I heard a phrase a lot when I was growing up. It’s phrase you hear a lot in the black church. “God woke me up this morning and started me on my way.” When I was a kid, I had a hard time understanding this. Was God sitting next to my bed and maybe nudging me to wake up?
As I got older, I began to understand what that meant; it means that our lives are not are own. God has done wonderous things for us and our response is a life of service to God and to our sisters and brothers. It’s to enter into God’s continuing salvation story and see how we can model and show what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Hopefully sometime in November, we will have a stewardship drive. Part of that is plan our budget for 2015. But a stewardship drive has to be something more than a pledge drive, but without the totebag. A Stewardship Drive is also about knowing that our lives are not our own. It’s about wondering how we can show thanks to God in our daily work. I hope you will thoughtfully consider that next month. But we have another reminder that our lives are not our own. We are reminded weekly at the Table of God’s ultimate act of salvation: the life, death and ressurrection of Jesus Christ. But communion is also something else. Another word for communion is Eucharist, which is a translation of the Greek word Eucharisto which means: thanks. Communion is a way to give thanks to God for God has done all along and for what God will do
You didn’t build that. Our lives belong to God. God has done great things for us. Don’t forget that. Thanks be to God. Amen.