“So now, revere the LORD. Serve him honestly and faithfully. Put aside the gods that your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and serve the LORD. But if it seems wrong in your opinion to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Choose the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But my family and I will serve the LORD.” – Joshua 24:14-15 (NRSV)
I was scheduled to preach on November 9. I usually go to the lectionary text for the day because I can be sure to pick something that wasn’t used the prior week. If you aren’t familiar with the Revised Common Lectionary, it’s a rotational schedule of readings over a three-year cycle. The reading for the week includes an Old Testament, Psalm, Gospel and Epistle reading. The purpose is to guide pastors through a wide berth of Scripture over three years.
I have a love / hate relationship with the lectionary.
I appreciate that the lectionary pulls together four texts that have some relationship with one another. I appreciate that it encourages preaching the breadth of Scripture. What I don’t appreciate so much is that it excludes large swaths of Scripture – usually the parts that are difficult to deal with.
For example, the lectionary text for November 9 included Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-22. What is omitted in verses 3b-13 is the recitation of how God led Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Canaan, how the Israelites ended up oppressed in Egypt, how God led them out of Egypt and into the wilderness, and how God gave them victory as Israel settled in the Promised Land. This recitation isn’t very exciting – certainly not as exciting as Joshua’s famous statement: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” And how Israel agrees to the same.
As I considered this text, though, I was drawn to the omitted verses.
I led him around through the whole land of Canaan. I added to his descendants and gave him Isaac. 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. Then I sent Moses and Aaron. I plagued Egypt with what I did to them. After that I brought you out. 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. 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. You lived in the desert for a long time.
Then I brought you into the land of the Amorites who lived on the other side of the Jordan. They attacked you, but I gave them into your power, and you took over their land. I wiped them out before you. Then Moab’s King Balak, Zippor’s son, set out to attack Israel. He summoned Balaam, Beor’s son, to curse you. But I wasn’t willing to listen to Balaam, so he actually blessed you. I rescued you from his power. 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. I sent the hornet before you. It drove them out before you and did the same to the two kings of the Amorites. It wasn’t your sword or bow that did this. 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. – Joshua 24:3b-13 (NRSV)
In the “missing” verses, Joshua recounts God’s first call and promise to Abraham and how it had been fulfilled in the experience of those gathered at Shechem. It was the story of how God keeps promises and goes through tremendous lengths to do so. It was the story of how God’s plans include an “us” that transcends our own lives. It was the story of a God who leads, hears, liberates, protects and loves. It was the story of God’s abundance when our eyes see only scarcity. It is the story of God’s faithfulness – even before we are faithful to God.
And it is an invitation for us to be faithful in response.
It is easy to declare faithfulness when standing in the Promised Land. It is more difficult to live faithfully when the way is unclear, when you are exiled from your home, when you are oppressed and treated as less than human, when you are tempted, when you are attacked, when you can’t see the promise being fulfilled. The story left out of the lectionary is the story of our daily lives. It is from this place and these experiences that faithfulness is learned.
Faithful and loving God, indeed your ways are not my ways and your thoughts are higher than my thoughts. So often, I can’t see further than the day I’m in, and I forget that this day is the day that you made. Help me to rejoice in it. Let me never tire of hearing the stories of your faithfulness – help me not to dismiss them as someone else’s story or irrelevant events that happened in the past. Because you are a part of these stories, they become my story, too. Great is your faithfulness. Regardless of whether I am in Egypt, the wilderness or the Promised Land, may I choose faithfulness today and each day. Amen.