Bread – I Swear

July 26, 2010


Readings for Monday, July 26th
    designated by the Book of Common Prayer:
    Joshua 24:16-33; Rom. 16:1-16; Matt. 27:24-31
    Psalms 56, 57, 58, 64, 65
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In Joshua today, Israel has taken much of the promised land.  Joshua has told the nation to pick who they will follow, saying one of those immortal lines "But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15b.

In response to Joshua’s question, the nation Israel responds "We too will serve the Lord, because He is our God." Joshua 24:18b.  In response, Joshua warns them that God will be angry if they don’t fulfill their oath, their promise to follow Him and then tells them, as a first step, to "throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel."  Joshua 24:23.

So far, so good.  However, in the middle of this event, Joshua says to the people "You are not able to serve the Lord.  He is a holy God; He is a jealous God.  He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins."  Joshua 24:19.  The people respond "yes, we can and yes, we will" (paraphrased).  Joshua points out that they are witnesses against themselves by their empty promises, their "I swear," and he predicts their downfall.  Joshua ends by noting, however, that Israel "served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel." Joshua 24:31.  But we know what happened after that.

The people swore their oath of obedience, but they never once invoked God’s power to help them keep that promise.  In spite of Joshua’s warning that they were not "able" to serve the Lord in their own power, they continued to swear and to act under their own power.  That worked for a long time – as long as it took for the people who had actually witnessed the miracles and had the moral authority to reinforce the promise lived; once these leaders died, the people went astray and a large portion of the rest of the Bible (the Prophets) is devoted to Israel’s meanderings.

The people were told to throw away the "foreign gods that are among you." Now we don’t know from this reading in Joshua what happened, but do really believe they did?  After all, their "I swear" of obedience began in disobedience – Israel never completely destroyed everyone in the promised land as commanded by God and Israel never took all of the promised land which God told them to take.

When we as Christians said that we believed that Jesus Christ was the son of God, risen from the dead, and that we trusted in Him as our Lord throughout eternity, we swore.  Have we taken to heart what Joshua said about our swearing to serve the Lord?  Have we thrown away our foreign gods – such as money, prestige, honor, position, power?  Have we recognized the truthfulness of Joshua’s statement that "You are not able," and in response look minute-by-minute to the Holy Spirit for guidance, courage, strength, perseverance, wisdom, discernment, and power?  Do we recharge our batteries daily in the powerhouse of prayer, in the powerhouse of relationship with God?

If you are like me, you probably said "no" to these questions.  If you are like me, you rely too much on you and not enough on Him.  If you are like me, you think "I can" and act most of the time like we don’t need God.  If you are like me, you still have a bunch of foreign gods stuffed into our hiding places.

There is another swearing which occurs in today’s readings.  In Matthew, Christ is presented before Pilate, Pilate says that he is not guilty, and the nation Israel says "Let His blood be on us and on our children!"  Matt. 27:25.  This swearing does not involve a promise but a cursing.  To paraphrase, "We swear that we will take responsibility for killing God."

But although the Israelites in the Old Testament and the Israelites in the New Testament might very well say that it was in their own effort that they swore what they swore, in each we can see the hand of God.  In the first, in Joshua, the hand of God let the people swear their obedience to God in their own power, only to show us throughout history that Joshua was right, we can not serve God without supernatural help.  In the second, in Matthew, the people thought they were swearing a curse upon themselves, but the hand of God made that curse a blessing — the blood of Jesus must be upon us if we are to be able to serve God.

Are you inclined to swear to a promise or a cursing today?  If so, know this – you can’t deliver on your promise in your own power and God can and often does take what you intend for evil and turn it into good, take your curse and turn it into blessing.  So we return to what we already know – to be an effective Christian I must depend upon, I must trust God.  And we discover what we should be swearing about today – "God, I swear that I will trust you, follow you, and serve you now, not in my own power but in the power of the Holy Spirit."  Amen.

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