As for me and my house ...
In worship today at APC, Pastor Stephen preached on Joshua 24:1-15 (NIV), which comes at the end of this week's reading in "The Story." Basically, Joshua gives a brief retelling of the Israelite's history, from Abraham's selection as the father of God's people, through Egypt, the wilderness, and finally into the promised land, all the while telling of what God has done for the people. Included in that was a retelling of how the former residents of the promised land had been driven out. by God.
The sermon focused on the idea that assimilation was one of the greatest challenges facing the Israelites as they moved into the promised land. There was a real danger that they would begin to fall away from God, worshipping along with the Canaanites, Jebusites, and all the rest. That's why those people had to be eliminated. He then moved on to talk about our current culture, and how we find ourselves in a similar situation -- surrounded by people who don't hold the values that we aspire to. I was fine with that as far as it went, but I had a real problem with what came next. He started talking about things like Sunday mornings, which used to be devoted to church attendance, being instead taken up by sports and other activities. He brought up education, which he said was originally an action by the Protestant reformers so that the common folk would be able to read and understand the Bible, but now God was banished from school. There were several other examples as well.
All of those things he discussed are certainly true, and I agree that many of them are indicative of a culture entirely focused on the self, with no regard for the other, but I still had to almost physically restrain myself from standing up to argue with him during worship! I wanted to tell him that he was missing the point. He seemed to focus on the idea that the problem was with "those people" who weren't living according to Christian values. Of course, I agree that Christian values (at least as I understand them) are a good thing, and I'd like to see more people live by them. But I think that Stephen missed an important nuance in the text. Verses 14-15 read
“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.”
It's not about controlling what others do, or say, or believe. Joshua understands that he is in control of only himself.
My takeaway from this is that we are responsible to act with integrity, honoring what we believe in, and we are to act as a public example of what we believe to be the best way to live, but we are not here to force our beliefs and values on others.
To be completely fair to Stephen, the end of the sermon did focus more on the idea of living our our own beliefs, and not so much on the idea of imposing those beliefs. He also brought up other social justice type issues, not just God in schools and Sunday morning scheduling. I have a great deal of respect for Stephen. He is a man of great personal integrity and honesty. I may have had some issues with this particular sermon, but it certainly got me thinking and involved, as they almost always do.