Hymn 745 For all the saints who from their labours rest
Reading Joshua ch 24 v 14 – 25
Hymn 518 Father hear the prayer we offer
Today we take time to remember those who lost their lives serving our country. They had a choice, and they chose to serve. It was not easy for them, they faced terrible conditions, they saw horrific sights, they lost friends and comrades, but still they served, not knowing if their efforts would bring about victory. We are grateful today, for the men and women who served their country, those who gave several years of their life to answer the call, those who were injured as they fulfilled their duties, and those who made the ultimate sacrifice. We also think of the families at home who waited anxiously for news of their loved ones. War is not just about soldiers fighting, it also involves families and communities.
In our Bible passage, Joshua warns the people of Israel that there are hard times ahead. They will need to stay together as a people, but most of all they will need to be faithful to God. Joshua outlines the way that God had delivered them from the Egyptians. How he led them through the desert, and how God went before them to defeat the people who resided in the land that God had already given to the people of Israel. Joshua emphasizes that it is only through God that they have accomplished this. Joshua challenges the people to make a commitment to continue to follow God and serve him
We are faced with that same challenge today. Joshua says to the people, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.” In these difficult times, are we willing to rise up to the challenge of serving God? First of all, Joshua uses the phrase, “Now fear the Lord.” We would interpret the word fear, as respect, reverence, showing awe and wonder to God. There is also humility, as we consider the work of God’s hand, the creator of the planets and universes, the roar of the sea and the roar of the lion. These are powerful images in our world but they are just a pale shadow of the power at God’s disposal.
We need to have a right attitude towards God if we are going to serve him. God needs to be the focal point of our life. We shouldn’t fit God in around the other things in our life. We should fit those things in around God. Can you imagine a soldier going to war looking at his diary to see if he was available that day. Joshua knew there would be temptations when the people settled in the Promised Land. They would learn the ways of the people who already lived there. They would be tempted to take up the local customs, and they would be enticed to worship other gods.
To the challenge that Joshua put to them, the people replied, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods.” But Joshua was not convinced. He knew what trouble the Israelites had been to Moses, because of their rebellious spirit. Joshua warns them, and says, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God.” This is no trifling matter that Joshua is talking about. It goes right to the heart of who the people of Israel are. They are God’s chosen people, they are to be a light to the Gentiles, an example to them, a blessing to them. Too easily the people respond to Joshua by saying, “No we will serve the Lord.” The people of Israel have a choice and they have chosen to serve God.
What about our country? We have been a Christian nation for roughly 1,500 years. We have a tremendous Christian heritage. We have gained so much from putting God at the centre of our nation. Of course, there have been varying degrees as to how much we have acknowledged God in Public Life. There have been varying degrees as to how much we have expressed the true nature of God in our society. But structurally we have the set up of a Christian nation. But as a people we have wandered away from God to follow other gods. Although we have the form of a Christian country, God is no longer central to our society. He is someone we turn to when disaster strikes. Most people in our country today live their lives with no reference to God. It doesn’t make them bad people; it just means that God has less influence on their lives and on our society. It means that as Christians we need to stand up for our faith.
We need to nail our colours to the mast, and continue to call our nation back to God. We need to express God’s transforming love in our lives, to show people what God can do. What would the men and women say, who lost their lives in the 1st and 2nd World Wars, about their sacrifice, and about where our nation is today? One of my favourite TV drama’s is, ‘A Very British Coup’. A British Prime Minister has lost one of his closest friends, and after the service at the graveside, he says to his Press Secretary. “The dead, they ask the best questions, and we are answerable.” They call us to account. “What have you done with the hard-fought freedom we gave you?” Are we using this freedom for the benefit of others, or are we squandering it on ourselves? In the same way, the Christian martyrs of this country can ask the same question. “What have you done with the Christian heritage we left you?” Have we used their sacrifice to advance Christ’s kingdom, or have we squandered it? But Jesus asks the most important question of each one of us. How have you responded to my sacrifice on the cross? Has my transforming love changed you forever, or do you take my sacrifice for granted and live your life as you please? We cannot take for granted the sacrifice of those who lost their lives serving our country, and neither should we take God for granted.
We remember them – silence
Hymn 696 For the healing of the nations, Lord, we pray with one accord
Hymn 645 Will your anchor hold in the storms of life