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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, August 17, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Joshua 24:1–2, 14–18    

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. “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.” (NRSV)

“God of our weary years, God of our silent tears” begins one of the most well-known hymns brought to the church by African American Christians. More than a century after the composition of James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the song still speaks to the difficult journey to freedom and liberation from racial oppression. Even as its words reflect grief and struggle, the song inspires new generations with confidence and hope.

Joshua finds the Israelites needing a similar stir of confidence in their own identity as they prepare to cross the Jordan River in search of their own freedom. A wandering people, subject to the rules, preferences, and practices of other societies, the Israelites are finally on the cusp of having a land of their own. Now, with a new life awaiting them on the other side, they must make a choice—by what loyalties, convictions, and values shall they now live?

To aid in their discernment, Joshua turns their attention to the past. He recounts the story of the Israelites’ redemption, reminding them of how the Lord won their liberation from hostile and predatory political powers. Though no longer captive politically, by uncritically embracing the ways of these powers and their gods the Israelites risk cultural bondage. To choose the Lord meant to remember the story of wandering and Exodus and to resist the lure of rival stories and destructive customs found among the great powers and their gods.

In both our individual and our common life, choosing the right story is critical. With each new season or circumstance, how we tell the story of our past shapes our future. Where was God present and active in our struggles and triumph? How can we let go of harmful feelings and misplaced loyalties from our past that threaten our future? As the story of our journey unfolds, may we, like Joshua, choose God’s story of hope over fear.

God of our weary years and silent tears, thank you for joining us on our journey, helping us to face struggles and challenges with resilience and hope. Fill our minds with memories of your redeeming presence in our lives so that we may, with courage and joy, choose faithful witness to your enduring love. Amen.

Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Minister for Evangelism

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