‘Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’
The challenge for decision and commitment in today’s text became so clear to me one day last week. It happened as I read both an ancient writer and a contemporary one. The ancient writer was St. Augustine (A. D. 354-430) and the contemporary one, Peggy Noonan, in a column in The Wall Street Journal. Both seemed to me to be saying the same thing as they lamented something that had been lost in their respective nation and culture, and the need to take a stand against that loss.
It was my reading of St. Augustine that first got me to thinking. In his Exposition of the Psalms he is writing in a world that has been turned upside down because of the sacking of Rome by the Vandals in A. D. 410. The invincible imperial city that everyone called the Eternal City had, in fact, fallen. The unthinkable had happened, as with Rome’s fall it seemed the earth’s very foundations had been destroyed. The known world tottered and collapsed, and along with it the old certainties and values. Christians were blamed for Rome’s fall as paganism and decadence metastasized through the culture. In the midst of his crumbling world Augustine wrote words that spoke to me last week:
“At a time when there is so much variation in moral standards and such appalling decadence, keep strict control over your home.”
Yes, I thought, there is “much variation in moral standards” in our world today, and “such appalling decadence” in government, media, entertainment, and academia. But like Augustine’s pastoral appeal to his flock, we can take charge in our homes and what goes on within our four walls. I may not be able to change Washington or Hollywood or Wall Street, but I can change how I do things.
Augustine’s words simmered on slow burn within me throughout the day; it was in the evening, when I read Peggy Noonan, they took fire. In her column “This Is No Time for Games”, I felt she echoed Augustine! Like Augustine, she lamented a great nation and culture falling apart. She knew that it was no time for playing games. Noonan wrote:
“Pretty much everyone over 50 in America feels on some level like a refugee. That’s because they were born in one place—the old America—and live now in another. We’re like immigrants, whether we literally are or not…But everyone over 50 in America feels a certain cultural longing now. They hear the new culture out of the radio, the TV, the billboard, the movie, the talk show. It is so violent, so sexualized, so politicized, so rough. They miss the old America they were born into, 50 to 70 years ago. And they fear, deep down, that this new culture, the one their children live in, isn’t going to make it…We are increasingly strangers here, and we fear for the future.”
In point of fact the old Roman culture and state didn’t make it! A new Christianized cultured slowly emerged in its place. Our own nation and culture shows signs of not making either, but Christians can take their stand! We can make a difference with our lives and homes! In the maelstrom of “much variation in moral standards” we can live God’s Scriptural standard and be examples to our kids and grandkids. In the midst of “such appalling decadence” we can be God’s salt and light in our world. I cannot change everyone and everything, but I will change me!
That night after reading Augustine and Noonan I climbed into bed but couldn’t stop thinking. I kept thinking of our need for leaders and remembered Joshua, the great leader of old. In Joshua’s farewell message to the nation of Israel he told them that it was time to take a stand! It was no time for neutrality!
In today’s Scripture text Joshua is standing on a hill at Shechem challenging Israel to serve only the one true God. He tells them that it’s time to throw down the gods they served in Egypt, along with the seductive gods of their new home in Canaan. It is time to choose. Then Joshua defined his own life and choices with the statement: “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
It was to another generation of Americans, in another critical hour, that the poet James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) called for decision:
“Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light…
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”
Grace and peace–Tim
Photo by t-bet