Two questions to start us off this morning: 1) How many of you were here six years ago??  And 2) Are the old things the best things? I have been sorting through my “stuff” recently – I’m sure you know what I mean by “stuff” … the backs of those cupboards you’ve not got to for ages!  And I made a surprising discovery which raised these questions.  But first, let’s look at our reading.   

Our reading today is from Joshua, when the Israelites invade Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, successor to Moses.  Under Joshua, the Israelites cross the Jordan, cause the downfall of Jericho, fight at Ai and are challenged by Joshua to consider who they truly serve. He begins by reminding them of all the things the Lord has done for them, where they’ve been, how the Lord has been on their side.  He reminds them that they are living in a land that the Lord has enabled them to take over and live in, though it’s actually the land of the Canaanites, they can reap harvests they’ve not sown, they can live in houses they’ve not built.   

By reminding them of what the Lord has done for them, it will also serve to re-warm their hearts to follow the Lord, seeing what a great thing he has done for them. That gathering of the peoples is like what we do when we gather here on Sundays, it reminds us of what the Lord has done for us, and hopefully rewarms our hearts to choose to follow God’s way for our lives.

So then Joshua urges the people to follow the Lord, and not to follow foreign gods.  The Israelites will have seen quite a few of those by now throughout their travels from Egypt to the Promised Land.   He knows how difficult this will be for them, because it’s been hard for them in the past.  So, in effect, he gives them an option:  “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, choose for your selves this day whom you will serve”.

Joshua himself leads from the front and declares his decision: “As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”

The people reply as one, ”We would never leave the Lord to serve other gods.”Joshua hears their promise but challenges them again: “You may not be able to serve the Lord.”  

Joshua asks the people three times altogether if they will follow the God of Israel, and three times the people declare they will.  Joshua is only too aware of their fickleness, their human weakness, just like ours.   When things were good, it was easy to follow God, but when things got difficult, the Israelites were prone to complaining and turning away from the things the Lord asked of them.  Joshua reminds the people God will not tolerate any turning away from him, and tells them they must throw away anything of foreign gods they have – telling them to yield their hearts to the Lord.  Joshua knew it would be easier to say yes when they were all together, but much more difficult when they were back in their homes, going about their everyday business. 

For us, we too are well intentioned when we come to Church on a Sunday and join in with all the prayers and songs declaring that Jesus will be the centre of our lives, but then go home and find ourselves quite overwhelmed by something in our lives, not exactly forgetting God is there, but in some way forgetting to take him and his assurances of his love and care into those situations in a way that truly brings some comfort and reminder of God’s love, not matter what.  Our good intentions to choose to have Jesus at the centre can go out the window.

Which brings me to my questions at the start:  were you here six years ago, are the old things the best?  As I said, I have been sorting out at home, and I came across a folder of envelopes, all with names and addresses on them – the names of some of you who were here six years ago!  My intention that day was for each of us to write down ways we would choose to be more God-centred in our lives with intentions or actions that would help us.   My intention at the time was to post them back to you six months down the line … but when I got home, I too was overwhelmed by the next things to be done, and they never got posted back.  So if you did one of those six years ago, you will get it back today!  There was one with my name on it, and I just had to have a look.  Oh dear, the things I’d written down have been written down any number of times since (and probably before!) when I’d had a similar challenge, or chance to reflect on my life in one of those life, death, the universe and everything moments.  On the one hand, it made me sad that I was still battling with the same things, but as I thought about it some more, I realised I’d made a bit of headway with all three things, some more than others, and I’d not given up trying to make progress with any of them.

Were these old things the best?  Well, not necessarily the best, but not a bad idea either – their message to us now can be an encouragement  and a challenge, both good things at least.

Two thoughts occurred to me: The first was a toddler in mid tantrum, the ultimate rebel, unable to hear the parent’s reasoning and unable to receive their consolation and love, which actually went on all through the tantrum … and toddlerhood!  We can be a bit like those toddlers when we’re disconnected from God, or he seems to be hidden from us in a fog.  And then I thought of the love of God expressed in 1 Corinthians 13: Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  That is our Father God’s feeling toward our toddler times when we ignore or reject him, in our own humanness, in the circumstances of our own lives.  He loves us through it all, always hoping we will sort ourselves out this time, celebrating the smallest progress in becoming more mature, willing us to choose his way which

will be the right way for us in the scheme of our life that he sees in its entirety, and we can only glimpse a fraction of.  Of course, there is also the fact that when we do meet God face to face, we will have to account for all our choices, how much easier to have chosen the right way.

There are two more things, this time the things we sing about this morning: firstly, the amazing grace of God’s love, the assurance of his blessing, and secondly our desire to know him better, and as we do, to rejoice in his provision for us and the whole earth.  So after the service, I’ll hand out the envelopes to those who were here six years ago.  Maybe you have been able to make great headway with what you wrote, in which case share it with someone to encourage them to see how God really does work in a 2023 life in Amington.  If, like me, there is still a way to go, keep trying!  There was an old anti smoking campaign slogan years ago that I liked: Don’t give up giving up.  As Christians we shouldn’t give up trying to give up on the ungodly ways in our lives. 

For those of you who weren’t here six years ago, you could try the same exercise for yourselves today.  Write down two or three ways you want to improve your service of God, put iy somewhere safe, and look at it again in a few month’s time.  Hopefully you will be able to celebrate some success, but above all renew your determination to choose the way of God for your life.

Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.  I hope we can say with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  And remember, God’s love always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.  And at the end, the three that remain are faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is? Love, of course. May the Lord bless us, and may we choose his way to follow on our earthly journeys, and know his unfailing love for us.  In the name of Christ, Amen.