24 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.
2 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. 3 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, 4 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.
5 “‘Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I afflicted the Egyptians by what I did there, and I brought you out. 6 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. 7 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.
8 “‘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. 9 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. 10 But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand.
11 “‘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. 12 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. 13 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.’
14 “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. 15 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.”
16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 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. 18 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.”
19 Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”
21 But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”
22 Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”
“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.
23 “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”
25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws. 26 And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord.
27 “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.”
28 Then Joshua dismissed the people, each to their own inheritance.
Today, we celebrate the 4th of July, America’s day of independence. We celebrate this day in all kinds of ways - hotdogs, fireworks, family gatherings, parades and various displays of our patriotism. Most of us are proud and grateful to be citizens of the United States. The question is – do we feel the same amount of pride in our heritage as Christians? Do you put as much effort and pride into celebrating your faith as you do your country? And an even deeper question, do you confuse the two? Do you conflate your faith with your patriotism? I have been guilty of this in the past. I have often thought of the USA as God’s chosen country, better than the rest. But when I pray about this idea, I realize that God does not favor us over any other place on earth. Oh, I know on this Independence Day, when patriotism is running high, I am stepping on many of your toes. Bear with me. Do we live in a great country? Yes! Are we fortunate to have the freedom, wealth, and liberty, and immense opportunity afforded to us as Americans? Yes! Does God love our country and its citizens? Yes! But to say God loves us more is just wishful thinking, and in fact arrogance. God does, however, expect a lot more of us. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48) We have been given a lot. But we have also taken a lot.
The people of God had entered the Promised Land. It was finally theirs, after 400 years of captivity in Egypt, 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, and the conquering of the land beyond the Jordan. Israel was born, the chosen people in the Promised Land. The question is, would this land be theirs, or would it be God’s? Would they use their gifts and resources to serve God or would they forget who got them there?
Joshua gave those people, the same choice God gives each of us, “Choose this day who you will serve…. but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Do your home and your resources belong to God? Does your freedom belong to God? Do you think of your life, possessions, and liberty as gifts you should honor or things you have earned? This makes a difference in how you use what you have.
God has given you freedom, citizenship in a great country, resources, opportunity, and life. But God does not love you any more than God loves our neighbors in Guatemala, Somalia, North Korea, China, or Iran. So be patriotic, love your country, and be grateful that you live in such a place. But don’t think yourself or this place as superior to any other on earth. Instead, find gratitude for your gifts and ask God this day, July 4, how can I use what I have been given to serve God’s kingdom, God’s purposes and God’s people, no matter where they live.
God of all, Thank you for life, opportunity, freedom, and the grace you give me each day. Remind me that I am fortunate to live in such abundance and show me how to use what has been given to me to serve others. Help me not think of myself as superior, but rather live in gratitude and humility as a witness to your grace and mercy. I give this day, this life back to you. May you use me to bless others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.