22. December, 2014Sermons No comments

Nov. 9 sermon by Fr. Jim Gordon

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody.

In the name of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

It’s not often one get the opportunity to begin a homily by quoting Dylan, but considering the Old Testament reading this morning, these opening words from “Gotta Serve Somebody” are, in fact, apt.

We touched on Joshua briefly a couple of weeks ago, and it’s worth saying a bit more today. Joshua was Moses’ hand-picked successor. Or I should say, God’s hand-picked successor to follow Moses, a successor that Moses helped promote and train and guide.

In the books of Exodus and Numbers, Joshua is portrayed as a strong warrior and a faithful man of God. And at the end of the book that bears his name, he’s also shown as a pretty good orator. I say “shown” because the book of Joshua is not considered by most scholars to be absolute factual history. For one thing, the events portrayed in the book happened in the 13th century B.C. and most scholars believe the book was written, or at least given its final form, seven centuries later about the time the Babylonian captivity came to an end.

That’s not to say that the book of Joshua is fabrication — the ancient Israelites had a rich oral tradition with which they passed on their beliefs and practices. But it is to say that

what we’re supposed to take away from the Book of Joshua is not so much history as theology. And the theology of the end of t he book is simple: You’re gonna have to serve somebody. It may be the devil. It may be the Lord. But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

The various and assorted people of Canaan worshipped and served a panoply of Gods, most famous among them Baal, the storm god; Dagon, god of crop fertility, and Molech, god of fire.

And when the Israelites entered Canaan they came into contact not only with the inhabitants of the land but also into contact with their deities. The ancient Hebrews are considered the first practicing monotheists, but their conversion to a belief in one God didn’t happen overnight. So as they heard from the people of the land about their various gods and what they could accomplish, one can imagine an Israelite saying:

“We like to mix and match; we like a little insurance. Why put all your eggs on one basket? Sure, Yahweh’s our guy, no question, none at all. But, on the other hand, if my crop doesn’t look so good, would it really hurt to put up a little stone monument to, say, Dagon, god of grain? Would it?”

The answer is, well, no, it wouldn’t hurt at all — it wouldn’t hurt if Yahweh, like Dagon, is just a myth. But if he’s not a myth. If he’s real — and all of the Israelites within the sound of Joshua’s voice, and beyond — had reason to know he was real, then it could hurt a great deal.

Because the Lord, as Joshua tells the people, the Lord your God is a jealous God. Why is this so? Personally, I think it’s because he IS real. He not only exists; he IS existence itself. Nothing came into being without him. So for the people of Israel, whom God rescued from slavery in Egypt, to treat Him as though he’s on a par with something that doesn’t even exist …

Trying to imagine how God “feels” about something is dangerous ground but bear with me.

We’ve probably all been in a situation where we have first-hand knowledge of an incident. Saw it with our own eyes, heard it with our own ears. We know the truth of it.

But somebody comes along and disputes what we know to be the truth. Then maybe a third person comes in to mediate the dispute and treats both stories equally, gives them both equal weight, looks for a compromise and maybe imposes one, just to be “fair.” Even though we’ve given him reason to know us and trust us.

In those situations, how do you feel? You KNOW the truth, even though it’s disputed. And every point in the discussion that the mediator grants to your opponent feels like a dagger in your heart. Because your story is real, and the other story is not.

So consider God, whose name, he tells Moses, is I Am that I Am, who is the ground of all being, consider God being thought of in the same way as an imaginary Canaanite fertility god.

There’s a passage in the First Book of Samuel that perhaps gives an indication of how God feels about this. In it, the Ark of the Covenant is captured by the Philistines and taken to a temple of Dagon. The next morning, the Philistines find the image of Dagon lying on the ground, prostrate before the ark. They set it back up. They didn’t get the message. The next morning they again find Dagon lying prostrate before the ark, but this time with his head and arms severed.

The Lord your God is a jealous God, Joshua tells the Israelites, so, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and truth.” We will, the people say, but Joshua knows the people he’s been leading and he won’t accept their first protestations of faithfulness to Yahweh. Nor will he accept their second. Joshua makes them say it a third time: “The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” So then and only then does Joshua make a covenant between God and the people.

There are no temples to Dagon in Far West Texas — as far as I know — but there still are dangers to our fidelity to God. There’s career, money, food, appearance, sports, sex, booze and drugs, ego, pride, any number of things that we might fixate on. There’s also the god of getting along — that’s the god that makes you say in the company of non-believers that, “I’m not a fanatic; I’m sure Christ isn’t the only way to God. We like to mix and match. We like a little insurance. Why put our eggs in only one basket?”

Why? Because while there is wisdom — sometimes great wisdom — in other faith traditions, Jesus tells us, echoing the great statement of identification that God gave to Moses: “I AM the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Some of the people of Israel wanted to serve Dagon and Yahweh, or Baal and Yahweh. Some of us want to serve serve God and mammon; God and lust; God and ambition; God and other people’s opinion of us.

I just said there’s often wisdom in other traditions. Let me give you an example. “Whatever we put our attention on will grow stronger in our life.” That was from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and what he said is accurate.

So with your attention, with how you spend your day, with how you think your thoughts, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and faithfulness.”

For with your time and your attention and maybe with your heart, you’re gonna have to serve somebody. It may be the devil, it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Amen.

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