The Dwelling Place - Sam Buehrer - Sylvania UCC - Aug262018
August 26, 2018
Sermon “The Dwelling Place” August 26, 2018
by Samuel Buehrer
15Now 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.” 16Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” 19But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” 21And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” 22Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” 25So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.
1How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
2My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
3Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
4Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Selah
5Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.
7They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.
8O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
9Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed.
10For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.
11For the Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.
12O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.
Sermon “The Dwelling Place” August 26, 2018
by Samuel Buehrer
Where do you call home? How many places over the course of your life have you called home? Over the course of my 50 plus years, I have lived in 13 different places that I have called home. Of these 13 different places, I shortest time I lived in one was five months and the longest was 18 years. Of these 13 places, only one did I not have a voice in choosing the place and that was the one that I was born into and lived there until I left for college. I have fond memories that are tied to each of these thirteen of these “dwelling places.” During the period that I called each place my home, to use the words of the Psalmist, my soul longed for and indeed fainted for that place for each those places provided me a home, a place of rest and a place of renewal.
In the Psalm for today, as the Psalmist considers God’s dwelling place, the Psalmist gives voice to being at home in that place in the same way that I would give voice in being at home in those places where I have made my dwelling place over the years. But the Psalmist goes further than just considering home a physical place where one lays their head at night, the Psalmist looks to that place where one lays one’s spiritual head for a time of rest and renewal. It is one thing to call a place home where one lays down to rest for physical rest, but when one has a place to lie down for spiritual rest that is something other and far greater. For where one finds spiritual rest, that place is not bound by space or time, and as a result nourishes the spirit and the body far greater than any physical home can do.
Essentially today’s passage in Joshua give voice to that place where one can find spiritual rest. Leading up to the story we read today, is the culmination of the dramatic story of the journey from slavery in Egypt, being led by Moses through the wilderness (via Sinai where the ten commandments were received) to the land of promise. The main character is Joshua, who took over the leadership from Moses, Moses that fierce leader whose confronted Israel with a huge either-or, between choosing life with God or death by following ways other than God’s ways (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). Now many years later as the people are finding a home in this new land of plenty, the Promised Land, Joshua reiterates again the same choice between life or death. For Joshua can see that the place where they are living is so plentiful, that the people can be easily seduced by its riches. Joshua is afraid that the people will be tempted to embrace the alternative gods just as they did at Mount Sinai when they bowed down to the golden calf. We too live in a similar time to the people under Joshua’s guidance, we too live in a land of plenty and as a result find it easy to turn from a reliance upon God to a reliance upon our personal wealth with is tied to money and things. For instance, one symptom that shows we have turned from God is when we spend a great deal of our valuable time and money trying to keep up with our neighbors. When how we live our life becomes about appearance, essentially Joshua would say that we have chosen death rather than life. Knowing how deadly that can be for one’s spirit, Joshua challenges the people to break out from that deadly death spiral and to choose life by choosing to follow the One who can lead us to life.
Many years ago, there was a member in the congregation I served who worked for a fortune 500 company. He was gifted in finances and business sense and was tasked with turning failing businesses around. He was paid quite well but he also moved about every two to three years. On one occasion he told me that in the upscale neighborhoods where he lives, about every third house has a BMW in the driveway but if you went inside the house there would be little furniture other than a folding table and chairs on which to eat and a few chairs for sitting. At Christmas time, the family would host a party and call a rental place who would outfit the home with furniture to make it looked lived in. When the party was over, the furniture was removed and no one was invited into their house for another year. Talk about choosing death and living an empty life, literally.
Returning to the text, Joshua asks the question, “Who will you follow? Will you choose life or choose death?” The people choose life, but Joshua suspects that their choice is not heartfelt. He suspects that their response is similar to those of Confirmands who say yes that they are choosing to follow in the way of Jesus when their yes is really only said because that is what mom and or dad expects them to say. I know that temptation because I was one of those Confirmands. But I know that there is always hope that at a later time the Confirmand will choose life as I have done. Joshua challenges the first response by informing them that this God they are choosing is going to require a life-commitment that will impact every dimension of their life, not just their spiritual life but also their social, their political and their economic life. The God that they are being asked to say yes to is an “all or nothing” God. This God is a God who has little patience for those who sing praises to God for one hour on Sunday but then act as if that God has no bearing on the rest of their lives. The God that Moses, Joshua, and later on the prophets and Jesus presented to the people was a God that was committed to neighborly justice and the organization of the economy that included a major concern for the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. This God’s concern for justice and for the poor and powerless was in direct conflict with the people’s tendency to think only of themselves and to accumulate all that they could for themselves with little concern for the other. Not much has changed over the past 3,000 years.
Lest one thinks that the words of Joshua do not apply to us today, I share with you a conversation that I had with a colleague who was serving a progressive church not unlike Sylvania UCC. This colleague shared that she was caught by surprise one day when in conversation with a long-time member of her congregation, a businessman, the conversation turned to that of morality. When the pastor asked this church member of how his Christian’s beliefs impact not just his spiritual life but also his business life, the member responded that the two are completely separate. He said that what he does in his spiritual life is one thing, but what he does in business is something other. Since that conversation, I am no longer surprised when I discover a long-time church attender who believes that one’s faith had no bearing on the decisions one made in business or in politics for that matter. I now have a better understanding of how great the pressures are that even people of faith fall prey to the belief that this God that we preach about Sunday after Sunday has no bearing on their lives other than during the hour they spend in worship on Sunday morning or the minute they spend in prayer prior to eating a meal. It appears that we preachers have failed in our preaching for several decades.
Now I understand more fully why Joshua challenged the people and did not accept their first easy ascent. I suspect that like my colleague and myself, Joshua was aware that the people did not realize that God was asking them to make a commitment that involved not only their spiritual life, but also their business, political and social life as well. If they were going to proclaim their willingness to follow this God, then they were agreeing to measure all of their decisions, spiritual, business, political, and social by the standard, of loving the neighbor as they loved themselves. In their day, the main question that Joshua was putting to them was how from this point on were they were going to treat the poor, the widows, the stranger or the foreigner. Joshua was clear that this question was not just a spiritual question but also a social and political question. The same holds true for us today. When asked whom will we follow, we need to be aware that the answer to that question will have more consequences in our live than just spiritual ones. If we are honest in our response to the question as posed by Joshua, then we must be willing to allow that question to affect every aspect of our lives. If we covenant to follow this God of mercy and of justice, then we must act mercifully and act justly in all of our decisions, not only in our personal life but also in our business decisions. If we covenant to follow this God of mercy and of justice, then we must allow mercy and justice to be our guide in all of our decisions when it comes to our politics. If we covenant to follow this God of mercy and of justice, then we must be merciful and act justly in all that we do with no exceptions.
It is no wonder that Joshua was hard-nosed with his people. The choice that he was putting before them was costly and more demanding than they had imagined it to be. But Joshua also knew that if the people chose wisely and were willing to follow the harder way, the more demanding way, that choice would not only lead to life but to a fullness of life that the people could not imagine. If they chose to follow this God of life, he knew that they would find that their dwelling place was with God. He knew that if they lived into this covenant then it would not be long before the words of the Psalmist would become their own words, “My soul longs, indeed it faints for the dwelling place of the Lord for that has become my home.”
Note: The basis for this sermon can be found in the writing of Walter Bruegemann in ON Scripture, Joshua 24, 2011.