November 12, 2017
By John Partridge*
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 Matthew 25:1-13
There’s a tall tale about a soldier who wanted to stop the fighting during the American Civil War, and as he thought about how he could go out onto the battlefield and address both sides, he dressed in a Confederate jacket and Union Blue pants and boots. But as he went out onto the battlefield, rather than finding welcome, he discovered that he was being shot at from both sides and quickly had to choose which side he wanted to run toward to find safety.
In a similar, but much more serious bit of history, we remember when Emperor Nero began a focused persecution of Christians in Rome and many of them were hunted like animals. During that time, some people, after their arrest, were given the opportunity to recant their faith in Jesus, swear allegiance to the Emperor, and save their lives. Some did, others refused and were burned at the stake or worse. But history records that in some circles, the church felt that there had been a benefit to their persecution. Despite the fear and the terror, the some people believed that the church was stronger in the end because the people whose faith was half-hearted had all left, and those that remained behind were, in their assessment, true believers. Today we acknowledge that some people with real faith in Jesus did what they felt they needed to do to save their lives and the lives of their family, but it remains an interesting perspective and this might be something we want to keep in mind as we read our scripture this morning. We begin in Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 as we hear Israel’s leader, Joshua, address the people and ask them which god they really want to follow.
24:1 Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.
2 Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. 3 But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants.
14 “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. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”
19 Joshua said 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. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”
21 But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”
22 Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”
“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.
23 “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”
25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws.
Joshua tells the people that they are not able to follow God because our God is a holy and jealous god. If the people were to forsake God and serve foreign gods then the God of Israel would bring disaster and would bring an end to them. Choosing to follow the God of Israel was not something to be taken lightly. One of the most powerful things is what Joshua says next: “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The point that Joshua makes is that the true heart of the people is what is important. God wants to know, where your heart is and God insists that if you choose to follow him, that you follow him whole-heartedly. Joshua warned that following God but keeping an alternative in reserve, “just in case,” was a recipe for disaster. Not only would God not accept such half-hearted devotion, God would bring disaster upon those who did so.
And, just in case you were thinking that the God of the Old Testament seems harsher than the God that we see in the New Testament, Jesus doesn’t cut us any slack either. In Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus tells us this story:
25:1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
This story takes a little background to understand completely, but even if you don’t know the background, you should still understand the core of the story. In the time of Jesus, much like we learned in the Christmas story of Mary and Joseph, young men would be betrothed, or contractually pledged, to be married to a young woman. After the betrothal, the young man would generally return home with his father, continue to learn a trade, and at the same time begin building an addition on his father’s house where he would eventually bring his bride and start his own family. And so, for a year or more, the bridegroom would be working, earning money, and building their future home. When it was all finished, and the wedding feast prepared, only then would the bridegroom go back to the town where the bride was waiting for him. The bride, and her friends had no idea what month, or what day, and certainly not what hour that the bridegroom would return. Except that, one of the groom’s friends or some family member might run ahead and shout a warning that he was coming.
And so, although they had months, perhaps even years, to prepare and to plan, five of the bride’s friends just grabbed a handy lamp from a tabletop at home and ran out into the night to await the arrival of the bridegroom. The other five, had planned more carefully. They had thought about the coming of the bridegroom, and they had prepared for the eventuality that he might come in the middle of the night, that he might be delayed, or that the trip to the wedding feast might be longer than they expected, and so they had prepared in advance. These wise young women were fully devoted to their friend the bride, and they did everything in their power to make sure that they didn’t miss her special day.
And Jesus says that those who were not prepared were locked out.
The warning in both stories is the same. Half-hearted devotion, or half-hearted faith, half-hearted preparedness, or however you choose to name it, is an open invitation to disaster.
Our God is a holy God; he is a jealous God. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, or serve money, or power, or your own selfish desires, or in any other way serve God half-heartedly, it will be a half-hearted disaster. God will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, even after he has been good to you. We all need to look in the mirror from time to time and ask ourselves if we are giving all of ourselves to God or whether we are holding back something… “just in case.”
May we, just as the people of Israel did, rededicate our lives to God and give him…
…our whole heart.
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U You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.