Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

Matthew 25:14-30

At the end of his life, Joshua gathers the people of Israel at Shechem to renew their covenant with God. This is their moment to choose whom to serve, because there were other gods to be had. Their ancestors served gods in another land, each  with its own name and image. This land used to belong to the Amorites, a people who had their own names and images for the Holy.

Now, the people of Israel were claimed by Yahweh, whom we name as “the Lord.” This Lord was a god of storms and wilderness, and he had a habit of breaking into people’s lives with a call from the unknowable void. He was unpredictable, like all the Holy, and the people he called had been led through strange lands for many years. But the Lord led Israel up from Egypt into freedom, and into this land they now occupied.

Now it was time to resubscribe to this covenant. The land was conquered, and it was time to set up a new country. Each country had its gods, but who would Israel’s gods be? What would the Holy look like here? Joshua telegraphed the right answer even as he asked the question: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The Lord deserved the people’s worship, seeing as how he’d saved them from slavery and brought them into this land.

The people gave the right answer – and Joshua immediately tried to talk them out of it! He said, the Lord is holy, a jealous and unforgiving god. There’s no way you can measure up as his servants. He said that this god is fickle with grace, that even though he loved you once, he will turn away from you if you sin. This was at least a test of sincerity, Joshua asking if the people would serve the Lord even if he were not very nice. The people still say yes. It turns out that they were no more successful than the rest of us, but they say yes to this call.

Compare their response to that of the steward in the reading from Matthew, who is entrusted with her master’s property and buries it. The master is a lot like Joshua’s god – harsh, uncharitable, and jealous (in that Hebrew sense). The steward expected that the master would hold her accountable for the property whenever he returned from the journey. She also knew that trading was risky, and there would be consequences if the property was lost. I’d be afraid.

The steward is afraid, too. She buries the money for later, basically hides it in the mattress. When the master returns, she gives the master what was his. But the master wanted an increase, and he calls the steward wicked and lazy. He pronounces her a failure at the simple management of gifts. The steward feared her master’s harshness, and so those fears are realized. Her idea of who the master was made her unable to do as she had been asked. She couldn’t do anything.

How often does our perception of what God is do the same thing to us? How does our image of God stop us from serving joyfully, creatively, and productively? When is our God about fear, not freedom? When do you see yourself defending and hoarding God’s gifts? How does your picture of God encourage that kind of caution? It’s not that we shouldn’t respect God and care for the gifts we receive, but the master here didn’t feel that his gifts were cared for. He felt they were wasted in fear.

Joshua can be proud of the people for choosing to serve the Lord who is so hard to serve. They served in fear, not in grace and love, but they did it as well as they could. Even the fearful steward could have earned basic interest on the master’s money. Would that have been enough? Were the Israelites perfect servants of God? No, but this was a start, the beginning of service.

Many generations of servants followed this group of people, many people serving as well as they could. God blessed their service and showed more of Godself, showing a new self to each new person. No two visions of God are quite alike, because God shows different sides of herself to each of us. At the same time, churches, traditions, and pastors have been telling you who or what God is. It’s all too easy to stand up here and tell you who or what God should be and so how you should serve that God.

But what about the God you know? How would you serve that God? Not the God you’re supposed to know, because that’s the God of your parents, your Sunday School teachers, your pastor. Learn from this God, who has spoken to us and called us into life. Just don’t mistake it for all there is of God. God is showing you more of himself today.

Every day, God shows us just a little more of what God is. That’s why our service to God alwys falls short. Yes, the successful steward made five more talents for the master, but then she had ten talents to watch over and serve with. God always adds to our service as our abilities to serve grow. A new image of God becomes real to us in the service of the God we knew. God is always just ahead of us, not stuck in the images we previously found God in.

So how can we all serve the God we know, together and as individuals? We all bring different gifts to this church, and we’re each called to serve God as he has shown himself to us. We see God differently, we might feel called in different directions, but yet we are one church. I could say “as for me and my house, this is who and what God is,” but that’s not true if it comes from me. I can’t know your God – not because I or you are wrong, but because God is so much bigger than that. I have to serve God, and you have to serve God, and we can trust that God is leading us to serve together.

Amen.

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