Sunday at St Andrew's

Sunday 7 March 2021

Morning Worship 10 am on Zoom  

(Third Sunday of Lent)

‘Choose you this day’

Joshua 24. 1-15

Speaker: Phil Rodd

Series: Joshua: ‘No Failing Words’

 

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Welcome to this service at St Andrew’s Eaton

New starts are always a time for looking back and for fresh commitments going forwards.

We come across one such new start as we conclude today our series of services focusing on the Old Testament book of Joshua.

God’s people have taken possession of the promised land, and a new life awaits them.

The perfect moment to pause, to remember how God has faithfully led them through many toils, dangers and snares thus far,

and to rededicate their lives to following him.

Across the centuries, Joshua’s call comes afresh to us today: ‘Choose this day whom you will serve’.

 

As we begin, let’s pray that God will still our hearts and minds and speak to us in this time today.

 

INTRODUCTION                

Leader: Grace, mercy and peace

             from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

             be with you

All:        and also with you.

 

Leader: Let us pray.

All:        Come, Holy Spirit,

fill the hearts of your faithful people,

and kindle in us the fire of your love;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

HYMN: Above the voices 

 

CONFESSION AND FORGIVENESS

Leader:   Our Lord Jesus Christ said:

The first commandment is this:

‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,

with all your soul, with all your mind,

and with all your strength.’

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

There is no other commandment greater than these.

On these two commandments 

hang all the law and the prophets.

 

All:        Lamb of God,

             you take away the sin of the world,

             have mercy on us.

 

             Lamb of God,

             you take away the sin of the world,

             have mercy on us.

 

             Lamb of God,

             you take away the sin of the world,

             grant us peace.

 

Leader:   Compassion and forgiveness belong to the Lord our God,

though we have rebelled against him.

Let us then renounce our wilfulness and ask his mercy

by confessing our sins in penitence and faith.

 

Wash away all my iniquity       

All:        and cleanse me from my sin.

 

Leader:   Lord, have mercy.

All:        Lord, have mercy.

 

Leader:   Against you, you only have I sinned     

All:        and done what is evil in your sight.

 

Leader:   Christ, have mercy.

All:        Christ, have mercy.

 

Leader:   Create in me a pure heart, O God,      

All:        and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

 

Leader:   Lord, have mercy.

All:        Lord, have mercy.

 

Leader:   May almighty God,

who sent his Son into the world to save sinners,

bring you his pardon and peace, now and for ever.

All:        Amen.

 

HYMN: Jesus Strong and Kind

 

FIRST READING

John chapter 2 verses 13-22

Jesus cleanses the Temple

 

This is the word of the Lord.

All:        Thanks be to God.

 

PSALM 19

 

All:        Glory to the Father and to the Son

and to the Holy Spirit;

as it was in the beginning is now

and shall be for ever. Amen.

 

SECOND READING

Joshua chapter 24 verses 1-7a, 13-15

The Tribes Renew the Covenant

 

This is the word of the Lord.

All:        Thanks be to God.

 

SERMON (Phil Rodd)                   

‘Choose you this day’

Joshua 24

 

I wonder how many of you have done some research into your family trees.  Or maybe you’re aware of a close family member who’s done some research.  It’s quite a business these days, isn’t it – with various online platforms granting us access to untold resources.  All for a fee, of course.  It’s been the same in our family recently – naturally enough, with Mum having died – the last of her generation.  And my brother and my daughter have set to.  And we were all hoping for some hero to emerge from among all the Rodds, Stennings, Rankilors and Mohrstadts.  Well, that’s what people usually hope for when they begin their research, isn’t it? – some hero among their forebears?  But this time, all that was discovered was the sordid life of a philanderer great-grandfather – a bigamist, actually – and a great-great-grandfather who had a sugar plantation in Cuba at the time of the 19thcentury uprising - so almost certainly he was a slave-owner.  That wasn’t a great fact to uncover at a time when much of the world was being convulsed by the Black Lives Matter protests.  And it was a bit of a blow, when we were hoping for something more positive to emerge from the annals of history.

 

The surprising grace of God

 

It might appear that Joshua was going down a similar path – a rather foolish path - at the beginning of the final chapter of the book that bears his name.  All the battles are done, and the Canaan, the Promised Land, lies open before the Israelites, ready to be settled.  Apparently, a gift from the God who’d brought them all this way.  And, in verse 1, we’re told, Joshua summons all the Israelites ‘before God’.  And off he goes on his long sermon: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River Euphrates.’  We imagine a long hymn of praise for their ancestors – campfire stories of heroes of old.  But no - for Joshua continues: ‘Long ago your ancestors… lived beyond the River Euphrates, and worshipped other gods.’ 

 

Well, that’s a bit hard! - certainly if you were hoping to find heroes, heroes of faith, among your ancestors – as perhaps the Israelites were hoping!  There’s a similar tendency, I think, in our current popular Christian thinking, to look on Abraham and the other ‘stars’ of the Old Testament as if they’d always been, you know, good, solid, helpful types, who any sensible God would certainly take a shine to.  Interestingly enough, there are ancient Jewish non-biblical texts – legends that speak of the wonderful deeds of Abraham at almost every stage of his life. 

 

But it’s all rubbish.  Why?  Because, Abraham and his clan had originally ‘worshipped other gods.’  And because they worshipped other gods, they needed the intervention, the rescue, of the one true God.  And the one true God took Abraham - an intervention of unexpected and unimaginable grace.  Nothing to do with Abraham emerging out of the slough of paganism by some kind of innate virtue – but everything to do with the hand of a gracious God drawing him out, pagan sinner as he was.  The same God who, in his grace, would draw each one of us into the light and freedom of the worship of the one true God.

 

The gradual pace of God

 

The next thing that Joshua goes on to say, continuing God’s words in verse 3, still speaking of Abraham, is this: ‘I [God] gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac…’  Which, if you think about it, is very odd.  ‘I gave him many descendants’, and then ‘I gave him Isaac’ – just one little descendant – and according to the Genesis accounts, it took about 25 years for that one descendant to show up!  Joshua goes on next to mention Esau and Jacob – the squabbling brothers born to Isaac, who take a further 20 years to arrive.  

God doesn’t appear to be in much of a hurry, does he?!  He’s not driven by human timetables – and there certainly isn’t any second hand on any of his clocks!  God did, in the end, multiply Abraham’s descendants, but he did it slowly – in his time, in his way, in his wisdom.  And this is so often God’s way – and we need to learn to discern it, in order, perhaps, not to lose sight of his faithfulness – working very often less across the days, than across the decades.  

 

It reminds me of that poster that used to appear behind the counter of many a garage where you’d take your car in hope of a quick fix; and the poster had three cartoon-like characters, all laughing wildly, and clutching their sides, as they exclaim in unison, ‘You want it when?!’  But perhaps this poster is more of a parable for those of us who drum our fingers at the slow pace of God’s faithfulness – this God for whom ‘a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day’ (as we’re reminded in 2 Peter 3).

 

The mystifying ways of God

 

But let’s allow Joshua to continue his sermon for us; and as he continues, immediately he has another surprise in store for us concerning God’s promises – his covenants.  Verse 4b: ‘I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his family went down to Egypt.’

 

Which is odd, if you think about it.  Because why should Esau and his family, from the non-covenant line, get their inheritance, while the son of the covenant-line, Jacob, and his descendants get to go down to Egypt, where eventually only great suffering and the humiliation of slavery awaits them?  The chosen ones, in other words, get the rum deal, while others just take life easy.  

 

It’s a conundrum which turns up over and over again in the Bible.  I love that long chapter in Hebrews, chapter 11, which is a long hymn to the faith of those who conquered kingdoms, shut lions’ mouths, escaped the sword and routed foreign armies.  Oh yes – I’ll have some of that!  Proper victorious Christian living!  That’s what God does for those who have faith in him!  

Except Hebrews 11 continues: ‘Others were tortured, they were stoned, they were sawn in two, put to death by the sword, they were destitute, persecuted and mistreated, and lived in caves and holes in the ground.’  Because, rather surprisingly, that too is what God does for those who have faith.  Is that victorious Christian living?  Maybe not as we’d expect it.  But according to Hebrews, it’s as much a distinguishing feature of the Christian life as conquering kingdoms and muzzling lions.  

 

We’re told plainly in Psalm 30, that: ‘Weeping may endure for the night.’  And the Bible never glosses over the perplexities, and God never hides the rough spots.  And because God is open about this, we can trust this kind of God.  

 

And as we were hearing in our Lent course this last week, this is the kind of God whose dealings with us should take us beyond the ‘transactional’ and towards the ‘relational’ – ‘transaction’, meaning ‘You do that for me, and I’ll do this for you’; ‘You pray this prayer and I’ll give you what you want’.  OK, up to a point.  But when we enter into relationship with God, we learn to worship him because of who he is, because we sense his hand of grace on our lives and on those around us even when he stops answering every prayer; we sense his presence perhaps even more when things aren’t going our way.  

 

It’s not long now till we come to Easter, and we read again the post-resurrection accounts from the gospels.  And you know, one of the reasons I find those accounts so utterly believable is because of three words at the end of Matthew chapter 28, where we’re told of the disciples’ meeting with the risen Jesus – the three words being: ‘But some doubted’.  And those words tell me that Matthew has nothing to hide; if he was trying to con me, he wouldn’t admit anyone having any scruples as to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection – and certainly not any from among the inner circle of disciples.  Mathew is candid with us.  He’s honest, and he has nothing to hide.  So I can trust him to tell me the truth.

 

And such is our God.  He’s open enough to tell us plainly that within the story of his grace, it won’t all be rose gardens, and we will meet with darkness.  We won’t relish that darkness.  But a God that truthful, can be trusted to hold us in the darkness.  

 

A logical commitment

 

One more lesson to draw out from Joshua.  But I don’t really need to draw it out, because it strains at the leash to be heard: the call to choose.  As Joshua stridently challenges the people: ‘Choose you this day whom you will serve’ (verse 15) – those pagan gods, or the Lord, Yahweh, the true and living God.  Because, says Joshua, there is a choice to be made.  You can’t sit on the fence.  

 

I enjoyed what our ‘Start!’ course said about this choice.  In a short ideo, the presenter took us to the high street optician, and showed us the lenses, that slot in and out, with the optician asking, ‘Is it better this way, or that way?  Is it better with the lens, or without it?  With or without?’  

 

And we have to ask ourselves whether it’ll be better to live our lives… with God, or without God.  Is it better to face tests and trials, danger and darkness, with God, or without God?  Is it better to go through sickness or depression, loneliness or mocking, with God, or without God?  Is it better to face family breakdown, divorce, to grow old and to lose lifelong friends, with God, or without God?  With God, or without God?

 

God won’t cudgel us into choosing him.  But he does invite us.  And I hope that what you’ve heard during this series in Joshua will encourage you forward – not trying to be good, but to be who you truly are, as you follow this God who invites us to go deeper with him, as you follow this God who can be trusted both to hold us in the darkness, and who in his grace might just be leading us out of darkness.

 

A version of this talk in video format will be available on the St Andrew’s channel on YouTube, from later on Sunday 7 March.  

 

HYMN: All I once held dear 

 

PRAYERS (Margaret Smith)

Every day we see pictures – on our TV screens, in newspapers, or just as we go about our lives. The psalms speak of hills and valleys, streams and deserts, storms and clouds. In our prayers today please would you use your imagination as we come into our Heavenly Father’s throne-room.

 

So – let’s picture the season of Spring. Father God, thank you for the beautiful world you have created for us to enjoy. Your word tells us that “the heavens declare your glory”. We praise you, Father, for the colours we see all around us. Forgive us for taking our senses for granted. We pray for an awakening amongst world leaders to the problems of climate change and pollution. Father, show us ways in which we can reduce our own impact on your created world.

 

Lord, hear us in your love. Amen

 

 Many of us saw the TV pictures of the little 9 year old blind boy in Yemen, teaching the other children in a bombed-out derelict school because the teachers were not there. Father God, we were shocked and humbled at this image of this boy determined to continue the education in that school. We pray earnestly for the people of Yemen who have literally nothing, and who face a future of famine, hardship, war and tragedy. Please intervene and turn the hearts of rich world leaders to show mercy and compassion. We pray for our own Government to continue to send aid overseas where it is most needed, and forgive us for our complacency and lack of care.

 

Lord, hear us in your love. Amen

 

Heavenly Father, we have so much to thank you for in the UK – stable government, freedom to live where we wish and to worship, where there is fertile land for crops and annual rainfall. We pray for refugees and those living in fear and under oppressive regimes in Myanmar, Somalia, North Korea and China. We pray for the voice of the United Nations to be heard and heeded. Give our own Government ministers wisdom, courage and integrity to speak out for tolerance and justice. We pray too for our Queen and Prince Philip, especially asking for your healing and strength for him as he continues to stay in hospital.

 

Lord, hear us in your love. Amen

 

Picture in your mind our parish – maybe a particular road or the church and the hall or one of the park and recreation areas. Heavenly Father, as lockdown restrictions are eased and we look to resume our activities as individuals and as a church, we pray for Phil, James and our church leaders as they plan for future services and other activities to restart. Give wisdom as the details are worked out, and for a vision for new ways to build up the community and meet the needs of everyone. We pray especially for Eaton Primary School as it re-opens tomorrow – for the teachers, the pupils and the families, that the return will be orderly and safe.

 

Lord, hear us in your love. Amen

 

As individuals we all have issues which come into our minds. Allow a picture of maybe a person or a situation to come into your mind and then in the silence ask God to shine his light on that picture for his will to be done. ....

A final prayer – May the mind of Christ our Saviour live in us from day to day. May the peace of God our Father rule our lives in everything. May the love of Jesus fill us, as the waters fill the sea. And may we run the race before us, strong and brave to face the foe, looking only to Jesus. 

Amen.

 

The Collect for today

Almighty God,

whose most dear Son went not up to joy 

but first he suffered pain,

and entered not into glory before he was crucified:

mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross,

may find it none other than the way of life and peace;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:

All:        Our Father in heaven, 

hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come, your will be done, 

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation 

but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power, 

and the glory are yours

now and for ever. 

Amen.

 

 

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH

Leader: Let us affirm our faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God.

All:        Though he was divine,

he did not cling to equality with God,

but made himself nothing.

Taking the form of a slave,

he was born in human likeness.

He humbled himself

and was obedient to death,

even the death of the cross.

Therefore God has raised him on high,

and given him the name above every name:

that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bow,

and every voice proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Amen.

  cf Philippians 2.6-11

 

HYMN: Fill thou my life 

 

THE BLESSING

Leader:   God, who from the death of sin 

             raised us to new life in Christ,

             keep us from falling 

             and set us in the presence of his glory;

and the blessing of God almighty,

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

be among you and remain with you always.

All:        Amen.

 

Leader:   The peace of the Lord be always with you

All:        and also with you.

 

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND REFLECTION

 

1. What one thing would make life that much easier for you?

 

2.  What one thing would enrich your life more than anything else?

 

3. ‘Choose you this day’ – with God, or without God?  With God, or without God? 

 

 

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