The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Transcribed from the audio
In the name of the one true and living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Choose this day whom you will serve. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua makes a bold statement and a bold challenge to the Israelites gathered at Shechem, reminiscent of the same challenge that Moses made at Mount Sinai to the gathered Israelites: “Who are you? Who do you claim? Who will you serve?” Joshua makes it clear to the Israelites who are just at the precipice of really seriously settling into the long-awaited Promised Land, that they have a penultimate choice to make. He makes it very clear in the back-and-forth with the people of God that it’s not a simple saying “yes.” That it is more deeply and more profoundly a sense of allegiance, identity, and service that dates back to Moses and the Ten Commandments when the Sinai Covenant was made. He’s saying you’ve got one more opportunity here to opt in or to opt out.
The covenantal relationship of God and God’s people is foundational and it is part of our inheritance. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann posits the view that the covenantal relationship of God with Israel is perhaps the central and defining theological affirmation in all of the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. And I would say it is, in fact, foundational, central, and affirming. One of the things that we learn from that covenant relationship and that we experience in our own lives is that God, the great I AM, the creator of all things, is not some distant isolated deity. This is a God who is desirous of a relationship. “I will be God and you will be my people.” We build our foundation on that Sinai Covenant and as Christians we affirm the new covenant as posited to us in the life of God in Christ.
And this may seem a little unorthodox to you, but I would ask you to get your red prayer books back out. For those of you who were in worship last Sunday, we had the opportunity to do precisely what Joshua has invited the Israelites to do which is to reaffirm our covenant with God. As Christians, we do that in our Baptismal Covenant that we reaffirmed last Sunday. So, turn to page 304 and you will see there the Baptismal Covenant that many of us attested to last Sunday. And I just want to review this with you for a minute because it seems pretty foundational to you and me and our relationship with God and God in Christ.
If you move to the bottom of page 304 you’ll see the beginning of five things that we affirm as followers of Christ. It’s after the Creed. We affirm that we will continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread which we celebrate each Sunday with the Eucharist, and in the prayers. We affirm that we will persevere in resisting evil and whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord, renew our covenantal relationship with the God of all creation. We affirm that we will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We affirm that we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; and we affirm that we will strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.
You may not realize when we all reaffirmed our Baptismal Covenant that we build that on the Sinai Covenant, the covenant that Moses implored the Israelites to adhere to, the covenant that you just heard from Joshua gathering the Israelites at Shechem. Well, we’re were not exactly at Sinai here and we’re not at Shechem; but we are at Mount St. Alban. We all just affirmed and attested to that last Sunday and renewed it and reviewed it this morning.
From a practical standpoint, how do we live that out, recognizing that it’s not just an affirmation, a sense of allegiance, but it is our core identity and it is the light and the lens through which we seek to serve, just as we read it in our Baptismal Covenant? And as I was reflecting and praying on the applicability of these things in our lives today I was reminded that many of the choices and the decisions we make early in our lives affect the arc of our life. Sometimes those choices are really fairly simple. They tend to be, in some instances, black-and-white things. Some things are a little more subtle; some a little more, much more seductive. And gosh knows, we know about false gods living in Washington, D.C.: money, power, prestige, position. We just got a huge dose of reality on that with the last election cycle, but I won’t go there.
We are not unfamiliar with the false gods that would seek our allegiance, our identity, our service. And as I was thinking and praying about just a practical example one came to mind in my own life—I don’t normally use myself as an example, but I really felt called to do this. I don’t know why. Perhaps it will be helpful to one of you here today or worshiping online. And it was a very serious choice I had to make early in my young adult life.
When I was in my 20s, I was in a very serious relationship and I had to choose whether or not I would choose to spend my life married to a man whom I loved very much. He was a good man, a generous man—smart, funny. There were many reasons to say “yes,” but ringing in my spirit was one thing where we differed fairly dramatically and that was my core allegiance, identity, and the lens through which I serve. I was even then a very committed Christian and my church life and my church community were at the core of my being. And that was not the case with this man and he actually resented the time I spent in church and with my friends in church. And it was a hard decision, a painful decision, and one with some loss represented in that. But ultimately I decided I had to say “no.” I felt like I didn’t really have a choice. If I was to be true to the core of my being I had to choose to serve the Lord. It was extremely painful at the time.
Perhaps some of you have had to make choices like that in your lives. If you have, I encourage you to share them, just as Psalm 78 tells us to share our narratives, to share our stories, our walks on this faith journey with the next generation and the generation to follow. I think it is when we witness to the power of God and God in Christ in our life that we help illumine those paths and those choices and decisions for others. Now, in my case, happily some years later I didn’t have to make that choice when I said “yes” to John Cope, who had at the core of his being, faith and allegiance and identity and service to God in Christ.
My friends, these things matter. Sometimes it means having to leave a job, leave a relationship, but when we do that, we walk into the fullness and wholeness that we find as followers of God in Christ. It’s our choice to make. And it’s not a choice we make once, forever. It’s a choice, frankly, that faces us every single day. Who are you? Whose are you? Who do you serve? And it has been my experience, and I hope yours, that when you’re really clear about that in the choices that you make, that your life is joyful, meaningful, purposeful, one of light and life and love. Reflect on your journey. Share it with others. And each day, I hope, that when you are asked to choose, you will joyfully and prayerfully say “yes.” Amen.