On the Team 1

August 26, 2018 Speaker: Matt Benton Series: On the Team

Passage: Joshua 24:1–24:18

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So y’all know how I’m gonna start this sermon, right?  This sermon series is called “On the Team” so you know where I’m going at the beginning, right?  I’m gonna take you back to my old playing days.  When I strode out onto the diamond, a young boy of summer.  Back to days spent playing at Wrigley and Yankee and Three Rivers.  Yes, I’m taking you back to my time in Little League.

My first little league teams were all coached by the same guy.  I got randomly put on his team the first year and then for two more years he was my coach. And many of the same kids were on the team year after year.  They became some of our family’s closest friends growing up.  And pretty soon I wasn’t just playing baseball with them but basketball and soccer. 

But then one year I decided I was going to try out for a level above where that coach was planning to have his team.  I was trying to go up to the majors, that’s what they called it in Little League.  And I made it, I made a team on that level.  But that meant I wasn’t on that team with my original coach and my friends.  And while I was proud of being able to make the majors and I was proud that my new team would go on to win some championships, there were a lot of moments when I missed being on the team with my original coach and my friends.

When you’re a kid, or at least when I was a kid, and playing sports so much of who your friends are, so much of your life is based around what team are you on.  I had rivalries in school based on what team we were on in soccer or in little league.  I’m not sure what this says about me, but there were kids I didn’t like for years, I mean well into high school, because when we were 11 and 12 they were on a rival baseball team.  What team you were on meant something, decided things for you, even years after. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but decisions I made years ago about what teams to be on or not be on probably defined a whole lot of my life.  The decision to try out for the majors instead of staying with my original coach and that team.  The decision to play on the football team in middle school.  The decision to go out for the wrestling team in high school.  I didn’t start high school wanting to be a wrestler.  I went out for that team as a way to stay in shape for football and because some of my friends were gonna do it too.  But being a wrestler wound up defining a lot about my character and who I am.  It taught me mental toughness, it taught me to trust myself, it taught me how to compete and how to be resilient.  Going out there on the mat by yourself against one other person who is by himself, that changes you. 

Looking back I can see how those teams impacted who I am as a person today.  And part of what we are talking about with this is choice.  How our choices wind up defining us.  Maybe you didn’t play sports as a kid.  Thank you for indulging me this morning.  But there are clubs you joined, groups of people you joined, jobs you took that wound up defining portions of your life.  Maybe you were a Girl Scout or a Boy Scout.  And the troop you joined determined your friend and peer group.  Maybe you were on the dance team or in band.  However you decided to spend your time and what group of people with whom you chose to associate wound up having profound implications on your life. 

We are defined by our choices, or at least we are defined by some of our choices.  Oftentimes in ways we don’t see immediately or in ways we aren’t aware of when we make the choice.  But hopefully when we mature in life we come to see that some choices define us so that we are ready when clearly defining choices present themselves to us.  Today you are going to be offered one such choice.

But first I want us to look at a popular Scripture. I want us to look at a Scripture that can be found in framed art and quilted pillows in many a home.  I want us to look at a Scripture that adorns mantle’s and foyers.  I want us to look at a Scripture that serves as a defining call for many families.  We are going to look at the end of the book of Joshua.

But first some context.  The book of Joshua is the first book in the Old Testament after the first five books called the Pentateuch or the Torah.  For Christians in the New Testament there is a special place held for the four Gospels above the rest of the New Testament.  Like all Scripture is Scripture, so its not like Jude is garbage, but there is a first among equals quality that the Gospels have both within the New Testament in the whole Bible for Christians.  The same is true for Jews and Torah.  The first five books of the Bible are held slightly higher within the Jewish tradition.  Now for Christians in the New Testament there’s the Gospels and then the other books are like ok what are you going to do about it, so it is in the Old Testament. There’s Torah, the story of God’s being for Israel, choosing them among the nations to be His people and how God saves His people from slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and leads them to a land flowing with milk and honey.  And Joshua, Judges, and the rest of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament are ok what are you going to do about it.  So Joshua is the story of how the Israelites take conquest of the Promised Land. 

Joshua outlines how the Israelites move in and how God is faithful to the promise that they would inhabit the land.  God is mighty and powerful again and subdues and defeats all of Israel’s enemies, all the people who had control of the land God promised to Israel.  But taking a land is one thing; building a society is another.  And so at the end of Joshua there’s one thing left unsettled: how will Israel be, how will they live into being God’s people living in the Promised Land?  And as an answer to this question we get the following passage at the end of Joshua.

Joshua 24:1-18

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. 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. But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his family went down to Egypt. “‘Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I afflicted the Egyptians by what I did there, and I brought you out. When I brought your people out of Egypt, you came to the sea, and the Egyptians pursued them with chariots and horsemen as far as the Red Sea. But they cried to the Lord for help, and he put darkness between you and the Egyptians; he brought the sea over them and covered them. You saw with your own eyes what I did to the Egyptians. Then you lived in the wilderness for a long time. “‘I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I gave them into your hands. I destroyed them from before you, and you took possession of their land. When Balak son of Zippor, the king of Moab, prepared to fight against Israel, he sent for Balaam son of Beor to put a curse on you. But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand. “‘Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you—also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’ “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. 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.” Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 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. 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. ”

So Joshua gathered all the people of Israel together and he went about explaining all that God had done for their ancestors. All that God had done for Israel. All that God had done for them. How he was with them calling Abraham and promising to make of him a great nation.  How God kept the promise alive through Isaac and Jacob.  How God had been with Israel through a famine, granting them salvation through Joseph in Egypt.  How when the Egyptians oppressed the Israelites, God heard their cry and delivered them from their suffering.  How God saw them trough wandering in the wilderness.  By the way, if you want a cliffsnotes of the first five books of the Bible, that’s what Joshua is giving you here.  God has done all of this.

Now I want you to think about your own life. Where has God been?  What has God done for you?  What has God saved you from?  When has God delivered you?  How has God proven himself to be almighty, when has God proven himself to be all loving? When has God shown up for you, ministered to you, healed you?  When has God proved himself to be real in your life?

There’s a line in here that refers to the recipients of God’s action, the recipients of grace, that I find so beautiful, so profound, and so challenging at the same time.  It always stops me short.  After saying everything God has done for the Israelites, God says this:  “You did not do it with your own sword and bow. So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.” We are conditioned to believe that everything we have comes from hard work.  That our successes in life are ours and are hard earned.  Now picture this, the Israelites have wandered through the wilderness.  They have gone into battle.  They have fought.  Some have died.  All in pursuit of gaining this land.  And once they have, they’ve achieved everything they’ve been seeking and working for and fighting for and dying for and now God says I give you this land on which you didn’t toil, cities you didn’t build, vineyards and olive groves you didn’t plant.  I give you this.  As one conditioned to believe that everything I have is something I have earned I recoil at that.  Sure I didn’t build the city, but I fought for it.  I conquered it.  I took it. Sure I didn’t plant that tree, but don’t tell me I didn’t work to get that tree.  And here God is basically saying this isn’t yours.  You did nothing for this. 

In the church we talk about God being our provider.  We talk about God being the giver of all good gifts.  But sometimes I don’t think we fully grasp the implications of those statements.  Do you think God has provided you with everything you have ever needed?  Do you think God is the giver of all the good things you have?  Or have you achieved, have you earned?  I think this has an implication on where we are going in this Scripture and in this series. 

Because Joshua continues and we are getting closer to the famous Scripture, the crux Scripture, the hinge Scripture: “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. 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.” 

Here we encounter our choice.  Here we encounter the important choice I mentioned in the beginning of the sermon.  Whom will you serve?  That’s your choice.  Joshua implores his people to love and serve the Lord, to love and serve God.  He says throw away the gods of Egypt and don’t fall into the trap of serving the gods the people they just conquered served. Instead look at all God has done for you and respond by serving him.  Keep his laws.  Stay among his people.  It’s crazy to me that Joshua offers a choice.  And offers it so explicitly.  If you don’t want to serve God, if it’s too hard, if you don’t want to, you can do other things.  And that’s why I think its key to acknowledge whether we earn or we are given.

Hey look, Joshua seems to say, if you think that you earned this land, if you think you earned that vineyard, follow the gods who made that vineyard fruitful.  But if you think God gave you that vineyard, well you had better serve the God who gave you the vineyard.  You’re offered a choice today.  Are you here today because God is in your life?  Is God ultimately responsible for all the good things in your life?  If so, you’d better serve him.

Your choices define you.  At least some choices end up defining you.  Today you’re offered that choice.  Whom will you serve?  What team will you be on?

At any professional sporting event there are two distinct groups of people.  There’s the people who are on the teams competing.  They’re out there putting in work, grinding, doing stuff.  And then there’s the spectators.  There’s people who are there to watch the teams compete. There’s people who are there to benefit from the people who are on the teams, the people who are competing, the people who are doing stuff.

Oftentimes that can be how churches operate. There’s a group of people who do the stuff, who do the ministry, who serve and there’s another group, often a larger group, who are there to benefit from the people that are doing the stuff. We don’t want to be there here.

We want everyone on the team.  We want everyone in the game, we want everyone doing stuff, we want everyone serving. 

At the top I said that oftentimes it’s the teams we are on, the things we choose to do, the people with whom we choose to associate that often define our lives.  What team will you be on? What will you choose to do?  With whom will you choose to associate?  Not only will it define how you choose to spend your time here, but it will define your experience of Church, your discipleship, and ultimately your life. How far are you willing to go in serving God?  How much are you willing to give? 

This sermon series is going to be all about getting on the team.  Finding a way to serve God through the church.  As part of that, we have created a sheet that has the list of a number of our ministry teams.  Along with each ministry team there is a brief description of what that team does and what’s required of you as a member of that team.  You’ll also see the contact info for that team.  Please take this, read through it, pray over it, and try to hear where God is calling you to serve. 

And when you’re ready, along with the On the Team sheet you’ll see a player card.  Fill out the player card with your name, contact info, what team you’d like to serve on and any other ways you think you could serve the church and turn that into the offering basket, showing that you are willing to offer your time and talents in service to God. 

God offers us a choice.  We get to choose how we serve, whom we serve, and the things and people we surround ourselves with.  Choose this day whom you will serve.  Let us pray.

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