TEXT: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
“Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)
As Joshua called the people of Israel together to remember and to decide, so—on this Sunday before Remembrance Day—are we called together, to remember, and to decide. Today, we remember the drama and tragedy of war: the sacrifices made by so many; the pain and the loss; the comradeship and the closeness; the high hopes and dark fears; pervasive evil and enduring goodness. We remember the ultimate victory of one side, and the crushing defeat of the other.
And if we look closely at what we remember—and consider honestly the history to which those memories point—we are struck by the truth of the statement that human history repeats itself. Therefore, today, as we remember, let us also meditate upon yet deeper things: those things in this world that divide families, groups, peoples, and nations one from the other. Let us ponder the need not only for peace, but also the need for the justice upon which lasting peace may be built; the justice which shows mercy to those seek it—and even to those who do not.
The value of remembering—for some—lies strictly in telling the story: in sharing what is important to them; in working out the good and the bad, the joy and the misery, which they have encountered. For others, the value of remembering lies in examining the lessons of history. For still others, remembering is a matter of honouring and evoking the emotions and feelings that spring from humanity at its best—laughter, joy, tears, peace, outrage, forgiveness, humility, determination.
Remembering is good. But remembrance is also a call for decision on our part; and without the decision—without the deciding that we are called to do—our remembering has little power, and less purpose.
In today’s Old Testament reading, Joshua recounted the story of how God had dealt with the children of Israel: how the LORD had chosen Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and promised them a land; how he had remembered Joseph in Egypt, and raised up Moses to deliver the people; how he had led his people safely from the clutches of Pharaoh and watched over them in the Wilderness of Sinai; and how, finally, he had brought the 12 tribes across the Jordan and into the promised land, driving out their enemies before them, and giving them a country that they had not laboured for, grapes and olives that they did not plant.
Joshua tells the story. He remembers. Then he calls the people to understand what has been remembered. And he calls them to make a decision: the decision to choose to follow and be true to the God who gave them life—or to choose to follow in the path of the nations around them and to worship their gods.
The people respond to this challenge by reciting back to Joshua the story as they remember it: how God worked miracles to set them free and although other nations surrounded them, the Lord protected them wherever they went. Then they say to Joshua that—like him—they will serve the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob; the God of Moses; the God that has been so good to them.
Today, we are called to remember: to remember not only all those who suffered and died, but also to remember the cause for which valiant men and women have struggled throughout the centuries—namely the good of not only their own nations, but of the whole world. And—most importantly—we are called to choose.
When Joshua reminds the people of their history—of their experience—and then demands that they choose which God they will serve, he warns them that this is no easy decision. He tells them that there is a cost involved, the cost of total commitment; and that should they falter—should they put their hand to the plow and look back; should they attempt to live with one foot in the Kingdom of God and the other in the world of idols—then God himself will turn against them, even though he has been good to them in the past.
Today, we remember—and we are called to choose. We are called to choose this day much the same thing Joshua called upon the people of Israel to choose. We are called to choose life or death; to choose God and the things of God—or to choose ourselves and the things of this world; to choose selfish advantage rather than common good.
The message for us is the same as the message to the children of Israel. It is the same message that every veteran of every battle with this world’s evil can tell you. And the message is this: those who forget—those who choose to ignore the call of God, and to instead be like everyone else—to be people who look after only themselves; who seek privilege instead of justice; who opt for political expediency rather than truth; who elevate any earthly thing as a value above that of the will of God … these are the souls who are lost!
Should we follow other gods: should we value our own prosperity while ignoring the poverty of others; should we desire our own comfort more than we desire to help others; should we prefer the peace of endless compromise to the hard work of standing up for the truth—and standing up against terrorism and against oppression … then we will surely perish!
Today, we are called to choose the things of God—to do justice, regardless of the cost; even though it may cost us our own lives. But if we do not—if we choose something else, something which may be easier—but is not right—then not only will the sacrifice made by so many others on our behalf be in vain, but their memory will be dishonoured even as we pin poppies on our lapels and lay our wreaths and sing our hymns.
The Kingdom of God—the Kingdom that is distinguished by joyful peace; by freedom from pain and death; by love that knows no boundaries; by abundance that knows no limit—this Kingdom demands our all. We are called to give ourselves completely for the sake of what is right. May God grant us courage to offer nothing less. Amen.