We Need to Get Things Straight

Has the hustle and bustle of daily life ever pulled your focus away from the big picture?  If you have struggled with priorities, then today’s first reading from the book of Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18, is for you.  We Need to Get Things Straight.”  August 26, 2018.


The man squatted down, closed one eye, and held up his putter to check the line.  Then, to the amazement of his golfing partners, he stood up abruptly, walked the entire length of the green in the opposite direction of his ball mark, stepped onto the fringe facing the road along the golf course, took off his hat, and covered his heart as a funeral procession slowly passed by.  His buddies kept quiet, too, and as the last car with its brights on and little flag on the hood disappeared around the corner, they said, “That was very respectful of you!” He replied, “It’s the least I could do. It’s our thirtieth wedding anniversary tomorrow.”

Have you ever wrestled with priorities in life?  Has the hustle and bustle of daily life ever pulled your focus away from the big picture?  Are you ready to stand before God and claim, “I have always kept you number one in my life when I was making choices about how I’d spend my time in school, how I’d conduct myself when dating, how I’d spend my money”?  If you have struggled with priorities as I have, then today’s first reading from the book of Joshua chapter twenty-four is not just for me but for you; “we need to get things straight.”

Regarding what God did

Picture a general who did not sit in headquarters with his feet on the desk, moving his men like pawns, and shrugging off the brutal death tolls of battle, but who joined his soldiers on the battlefield, crawled with them on the front lines for years, and led them to victory after victory, now gathering his troops and addressing them for one final, farewell speech.  This was Joshua, who had been given the tough task of taking an untrained, untested army of soldiers and leading them in fighting fierce warriors and in tearing down walled fortresses.

Now, at the end of his career, Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem (dead center in the land).  He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel.  Amazingly, Joshua did not talk about himself.  “Look what I did. Look how I led you. Look how I have been a role model for you.”  No! He was not self-oriented or self-focused. He directed the people to God. “Look what God did for you!  He chose Abraham to be the father of a great nation, gave him descendants, provided for that family’s protection and propagation in Egypt.  When their status changed from welcome guests to worked-over grunts, he sent Moses to deliver your parents and grandparents from slavery, brought you here, and has beaten back your enemies.  You have watched massively thick city walls crumble in front of your eyes just by following the Lord’s command to walk around the city. You have witnessed the Lord’s clever battle plans unfold to rousing success.  You have watched in jaw-dropping wonder as God made the sun stand still to lengthen the daylight so you could finish cleaning up a battle.” Joshua knew that all he had, all he was, all he did, all he hoped to be depended on God alone and what God did.  Joshua got things straight.

Has it happened to you?  Every once in a while, something strikes you up side the head, causing you to evaluate your priorities.  Maybe you’ve been a good student and sailed through several years of school on your charm and natural smarts, but all of a sudden you reached the end of a semester and discovered a C+ on your report card!  Maybe you’ve enjoyed athletic competition, but an injury ended your career. Maybe you’ve had good health for years, but the doctor found polyps or a lump. Maybe someone you really care about said, “Enough’s enough!  I’ve forgiven your weaknesses and foibles and lived with intermittent improvements. But you are not consistent. Either you address what’s pulling you down and away from me, or our relationship is over!” If you haven’t had an experience like that, you probably will.  It’s shocking, and it makes us evaluate, “What really counts? My record, my trophies, my performance?” No! God through Joshua helps us get things straight.

What counts more than anything else is what God has done for us.  He delivered us from being stuck in the slavery of sin. We don’t have to make bricks and build Satan’s pyramids any more.  God has taken us through the waters of baptism and led us to the promised land of his love. God made his Son stand still in order to be beaten and whipped and deserted so we wouldn’t be.  God knocks down the walls of temptation. God gives us battle plans for Christian living. No matter how far we have strayed, no matter how badly we have goofed up our priorities in the past, there still is hope because God helps us get things straight by directing us first and foremost to what he did, to his mercy.

Regarding what we can do

God had helped the Israelites conquer and settle the land of Canaan.  Then through Joshua he offered a proposal, “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness.  Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.  But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.”  This has raised confusion for some.  Can we choose to be with God or not? The answer is “No” and “Yes.”  No, we can’t choose to get into a connection with God’s love in the first place.  Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16).  But yes, once he puts us in his love, we can choose to remain with him or not?  We can choose to be more or less thankful. God had put the Israelites “in” his love.  Now through Joshua he asked, “Are you going to follow me or not? You couldn’t do anything to get into my family of believers any more than you could do anything about being physically born into the Israelite family.  But you can do something to go out.” Think of it like this. Let’s say you wanted to go to the symphony but couldn’t afford a ticket. Someone gave you a free pass. You didn’t do anything to get in, but you can leave early.  So, God made this proposal to the Israelites, “Do you want to leave early? Do you want to follow me or not?”

God asks that same of you and me today.  To get things straight, start by looking at what God did, and then listen to his “ask” every day, “Choose whom you will serve.”  How do we respond? Looking at what God has done for us, how else can we respond other than as Joshua and the Israelites did when they looked at what God did for them?

So, here come the words of Joshua, which can serve as a motto for getting things straight, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”  Those words were a promise to himself, to his family, to the rest of the Israelites nation, and to God to get things straight.  How did Joshua do? We don’t have further details, and this promise was spoken near the end of his life. We know, of course, that Joshua was a sinner just like us, but his life is beautifully summed up in a brief epitaph in the next Bible book.  Joshua … the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten (Judges 2:8).  He promised, “I will serve the LORD,” and he was buried as a “servant of the LORD.”  No big fanfare, no lengthy eulogies about his greatness and accomplishments.  He was a servant of the LORD. What an honor! What high privilege! Who could ask for anything more?

The Israelites picked up on their leader’s example.  Their response after hearing God’s proposal and their leader’s promise?  Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! …  We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.” They promised to get things straight.  How did they do? You don’t have to read much farther in your Bible to find the answer.  After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors … the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD” (Judges 2:10-11).  They failed to keep their promises.  What they did was sin and goof up their priorities.

“I promise I’ll study harder.”  “I promise I’ll quit that bad habit.”  “I promise I will change and focus on your needs and the needs of our family over my own.”  “I promise I’ll show up on time.” A year ago, we made promises to support God’s work through our church so that we can use the money currently spent on mortgage and interest payments for additional pastoral staff to help us reach more and more people with Jesus’ love.  Later this year we’ll be diving into a national effort in our church body to bring a friend to Christmas. The goal is to invite a million people to Christmas. We make the promises, but how are we doing? If you’re like me, you don’t want your record published because it’s not only embarrassing.  It’s damning. What are we going to do about that? How can we get things straight so that what we do matches our promises? How do we get proper priorities? There is only one way to do that. We need to get on our knees every day and thank our God that he not only cleans the slate of our broken promises and bad performance but also empowers us to change and to be consistent in promise-keeping.  He does that by guiding us back time and time again to his promise-keeping, to his Son’s cross and empty tomb. Go there daily, and you’ll get things straight.

Two teenagers were arrested. After booking them, the police sergeant told them they were entitled to a phone call.  Sometime later, a man entered the station and asked for them by name. The sergeant said, “I suppose you’re the lawyer?”  “Nope,” the man replied. “I’m just here to deliver their pizza.” Priorities?

Last Sunday during the Bible study in the Third Ward, the Bible writer took us by the hand and led us across the Kidron stream into the Garden of Gethsemane and then into the courtroom where Jesus stood on trial.  Jesus’ disciple, Peter, trailed behind. In spite of clear warnings, he did not get things straight and denied his Lord. As Jesus was being dragged from one courtroom to another, he looked at Peter, and tears streamed down Peter’s face.  What was in that look? Disappointment, sure, but also mercy, “Peter, I am going to suffer and die not only because of you, but for you.” The Savior looks at you and me the same way, “In spite of your sin, I have always loved you and always will.”  Get that straight, and you’ll get things straight. Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on August 26, 2018