Sermon for August 22, 2021
How many of you remember your Confirmation Day? For me it was sometime in the spring of 1967. My parents had me wear a white shirt with a bow tie. Myself, and my 30 or so other classmates were given white robes to wear. I really looked nerdy with my black rimmed glasses. The church was packed to capacity as all the confirmands processed into the church. We did not read Bible verses or faith statements. But one thing we did do as a class. The pastors wanted the class to sing; and so we sang the hymn: “O Take my Hand Dear Father and Lead thou Me.” As a class we confessed our faith using the words of the Apostles’ Creed. And then asking God to help and guide, each one promised to “serve all people following the example of Jesus”. And then came the prayer for the power of the Holy Spirit: “Father in heaven for Jesus’ sake, stir up in us the power of the Holy Spirit, confirm our faith, guide out lives, empower us in their serving, give patience in suffering, and bring is to everlasting life.” The Confirmation prayers guide us not to forget that faith, trust in God, is accompanied by serving God.
The first reading from Joshua almost sounds like a Confirmation service. Joshua is the leader after the death of Moses, and he led the people of Israel into the Promised Land. Joshua gathered all the people: VIPs as well as the common folks. Joshua preached a sermon that was all about the grace and deliverance of God that went all the way back to the call of Abraham. By the way they gathered at the city of Shechem where hundreds of years before, Abraham had built an altar to worship God. God rescued the people from a terrible bondage in Egypt. When the people were scared God fought for them. When the people were hungry, God provided provision. Even when the people grumbled and complained, God did not give up on Israel, but fulfilled the promise of bringing them over the Jordan and into a land of their own.
After example after example of God’s faithfulness, Joshua paused in his address. “Now therefore revere the Lord and serve him in sincerity and faithfulness, put away the gods your ancestors served and serve the Lord.” The word “serve” was used nine times in the lesson today.” Think of today as an opportunity to renew the confirmation vow to serve the Lord. We are to revere the Lord which means to worship God with thanksgiving for God is our maker from whom all blessings flow. We are to serve God with sincerity. We are not to think of serving the Almighty as a negotiation tactic: “Lord, I will serve you if you give me this, that, or whatever I want”. We are not to serve with ulterior motives like showing off how religious we are before other people. We serve God with faithfulness. We do not quit serving the Lord when we think we have done our share. The faithfulness, the love of God never ceases so in response we are called to be faithful in our serving, summed up in the words “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” The current COVID crisis has really put the church, the faithful to the test. We are tired and if we are not careful there is the danger of love thy neighbor changing into “Lash out against thy neighbor”. In the Psalm today we prayed: “Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord delivers them from everyone.” The righteous are those who seek to do right by the Word of God. But life is not always smooth, sweet, and simple. We can be perplexed and wonder, like Job in his troubles, why God was picking on him. It is not realistic to expect a trouble-free life as people of faith. What we are to expect is deliverance. This is our prayer: “The righteous cry, and the Lord hears them and delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who spirits are crushed.” Before a funeral there is the custom of meeting with the family for prayer. I always quote and pray those verses. Grief is hard, loss is painful, death is troubling, but with the Lord there is deliverance. Deliverance is God walking with you during the dark valleys of life, never alone. The name of Jesus means “one who delivers, one who saves”. If you are tired and fit to be tied by the COVID crisis or other trouble, Jesus has found you. His arms of deliverance are reaching out to you. Jesus will receive you and not reject you; may you take his hand and be lifted by the strength of his love. Jesus, who calls us to serve, is ever Lord, Savior, and Servant.
Joshua challenged the people to “put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the Lord.” We think of gods of ancient times often represented by animal figures. Remember how Israel got into big trouble by fashioning a golden calf and then worshiped it with the gall of saying this was the god who rescued them from slavery in Egypt. Worship of various gods in various shapes is not ancient history. Think of the god in the shape of a cell-phone, the god of technology that will deliver us from all our fears. Think of the god in the shape of a dollar sign, “money makes the world go round and round.” Think of the god of a nation’s flag, the danger of love of country superseding love for the true God, who made us and loves the people of all nations. Now it is true technology, money, and country are other gods only if we make them so.
It has been said that the human mind is a veritable idol factory. We can imagine we have our mental closets hidden with gods that we sometimes take out and place our reverence, love, and trust. Every Sunday we begin with a prayer of confession and forgiveness, which in a nutshell is confession of our idolatry, how our false gods, whatever they may be, have led us to sin against God in thought, word, and deed.” How important to hear the words of the Second lesson, “Be strong in the Lord and the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places.” This is cause to pause: our struggles are not against the flesh and blood neighbors you think are morons. The enemies are spiritual forces of evil which is behind all the turmoil in this world. We are not able to stand against them with our own wisdom and strength. The struggle is persistent and relentless so what can we do amid all the evil in the world, and even in our own hearts? Hear we listen to the apostle Peter today: “Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.” The full armor of God is to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of John Jesus said this important promise: when he is lifted up on the cross, the ruler of this world, Satan, devil, power of evil, is cast out. The victory over sin, death, and devil has already been won for us by Jesus. And although the cosmic forces of evil still cause trouble and struggle, they cannot win. Clothe yourself with Jesus Christ, and the victory is your blessed assurance through his death and resurrection. Jesus speaks for you and me words of eternal life, which means his promise to be with us always, and guide us each day with forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. The evil powers of this world cannot stand our wardrobe: putting on the Lord Jesus Christ and rejoicing in the blessed assurance: for it is by grace that you have been saved through faith, which is not your own doing, for it is a gift of God. As a result then we seek to revere and serve the Lord, which the Bible says we are newly “created in Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
Joshua told the assembled people, “It is decision time: which god are you going to revere and serve? As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” A commentator said this Bible verse is familiar and we may even have it in our homes as a plaque on the wall, or something of needlepoint on a pillow, and she even said she saw this verse on a shower curtain. But then she gave a good piece of advice as to where to hang this verse in your home. She said put in on the door facing you as you leave in the morning for school or work, or any time you leave the house for shopping, visiting or errands. So may this verse remind us before we set foot out into the world where we face challenges and contact with others, whom do we revere; whom do we serve, our merciful God who sent us Jesus, our deliverer, ever with us with words of eternal life.