Last week I asked, who are the saints? Now I want to ask, who do you serve? What do you live for?
Today we hear from our ancestors in the faith, the ancient Israelites, after that patchwork conquest of Canaan, before they settled down. This is the children of the generation who saw God’s mighty works in Egypt and Mount Sinai, who followed the pillar of flame and smoke, who fed on the bread of heaven, whose clothes never wore out all those 40yrs in the desert. God had shown His great love and mercy, shown that He fulfils His promises to Abraham, bringing these people out of slavery and delivering them into this paradise of a promised land. Now who did they serve? Their ancestor Abraham had been an idolater before God called him to Shechem (Genesis 12:6-8). Abraham’s grandson Jacob, whose wives had been idolaters but abandoning their false and powerless gods again at Shechem where Joshua is now speaking (Genesis 35:2-4). The great grandsons of Jacob, brought out of Egypt to Sinai worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32). Now Joshua rereads the Law, the Word of God, to His people. Fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and faithfulness (24:14).
And so to us here, Fear the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in sincerity and faithfulness. You know what He has done for you, not just His suffering and death for your sin all those years ago, but His constant love for you throughout your life, despite your failures. Now if you don’t want to, if it’s evil or wrong in your eyes, choose who you will serve. Those things you used to serve, money and alcohol, pleasure and productivity. Those things that trapped you. And you know better than anyone else those things you desired, you devoted yourself to; those things you have wanted and relied on more than the Triune God. Or choose to chase after the things our Australian society worships, perverse sexuality, aggressive nationalism, … You who have been joined to Christ Jesus in Holy Baptism, in Holy Communion, choose who you will serve.
Hopefully, we respond like the Israelites, knowing the good Jesus has done for us, and the wonders He has promised you; ‘far be it from us that we should ever forsake the Lord to serve other created things … we will serve the Lord, for He is our God.’ As I’ve been listening to you and you to me, we have confessed just this already about seven times in our response to God service today. This is your confession as a Christian, that you rely on Jesus only, that you live life united with Him for the benefit of others, that we all together desire what the Holy Spirit gives us, we want what the Lord wants. But then what does Joshua say? You are not able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God.
In yourself are you holy? Do you everyday reject what is against God, and live for what is good? Do you always strive for what is true and right? Or have you lied, deceived someone, have you ignored the needs of another, the homeless down the street, the sick in hospital, even your friend, your children, your spouse? Do you rely on coffee or alcohol instead of Christ’s strength? Do you drink more than pray? Does your life look no different to those around you who hate or reject our beloved Christ? Do you not want to live better, to as Paul says, die to sin and live to God in Christ (Romans 6:11)? Do you fail to live up to God’s holiness, failing to serve Him? In short do you sin? … I a poor helpless sinner, as Luther wrote, ‘we are beggars this is true’.
But are we those 5 foolish virgins (Matthew 25:3)? Begging for oil then shut out from the feast? No, Jesus Christ came to save sinners, you can be sure He came to save you. Just as Joshua said, by yourself, without the Holy Spirit, you cannot serve God. Yet you have the Spirit, who is that oil. Just as He came down on Christ at His Baptism, He promised that He has come down on you at yours. Rely on Him, the gifts He brings and all the promises of God to you in Jesus. This is that oil. You have them, don’t neglect it like the foolish virgins; forgetting the promises and left outside in the weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:10; 22:13). Receive the Holy Spirit well, and receive the salvation won by Jesus through Him. Tend to these gifts, hearing again God’s promise to you, in the Bible; again the way of the New life we have been given, exampled by the saints; again confessing the truth of both our failures and our Heavenly Father’s love for us, in His service to us every Sunday. To not neglect meeting together as Christians, to pray, to thank God, praise His great love and power, to be holy even as Christ makes you holy. Encourage one another with the promise of God. Just as Jesus died and rose again; all of us, who are united with Him by Holy baptism and Holy Communion, have been promised we will be with the Lord in peace forever. In short, as people saved in Jesus, you belong to Him, live for Him and serve Him in all you do. You are a witness.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, now to life everlasting. Amen.
Pastor Joseph Graham.