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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Joshua 24:1–3, 14–25

Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.

Now 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.” Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for 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; and 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.” But 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. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” Then 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.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. (NRSV)

When I read this, I thought, “Hold on, I’ve heard this conversation before.” And I have. It was when I was in sixth grade, and I wanted a dog.

MOM: “If you want a dog, you have to take care of it. A dog is a big responsibility.”

ME: “I want a dog. I know it’s a big responsibility, and I’ll take care of it.

MOM: “You can’t have a dog, because I know you won’t take care of it; and as for me, I will have to take
care of the dog.”

ME: “No, I promise. I’ll take care of the dog.”

MOM: “OK, you promised. And I’ll remind you that you promised.”

And so we got a dog. And of course, I screwed up with caring for the dog, over and over again. (unlike, say the Israelites, who never ever had any problems with God after they made their promise. Yeah, right.) And I got reminded. And I got resentful and blamed the person who reminded me.

So, was I lying when I promised to take care of the dog? No, I fully intended to do what I said. At that moment, I wanted to do it. I was looking forward to doing it. I was as honest about my desires and intentions as it was possible to be. It was only later, when my actions had to cash the check my mouth wrote, that I found insufficient funds for that transaction.

And so the Israelites also meant it, at the time. Just like we Christians say a lot of things, and mean them at the time. And, often times, we all come up short when it comes time to make good. And when someone says, “Hey, you’re not keeping your promise,” we respond not by keeping our promise but by getting angry and defensive and resentful.

Maybe, sometimes, we should just try feeding the dog.

Lord, it’s easy to promise and hard to deliver. Remind us to let our yea be yea, and let our actions prove our words. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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