“On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people and established just rule for them at Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in God’s Instruction scroll. Then he took a large stone and put it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord.”
This is a big thing that Joshua has done. The sort of thing that will be remembered for years to come. The kind of thing that will be a reminder to the people of what has happened.
A lot of Christians today use part of this passage as a reminder. You might have recognized verse 15, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” We heard it a little different in the translation read this morning, but I’ll bet most of us still heard that popular verse. How many of you have something in your home that says, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord?”
Why is it important that we remember this? Why was it important for the ancient Israelites?
I want us to think a little bit about what we talked about last week. Do you remember what I said about why the Ten Commandments were given to God’s people?
Yahweh gave the Commandments to the Israelites out of concern that they stay in right relationship with God and with each other. The purpose of the the Commandments is to keep God’s people on track. To remind them of their mission to show the world who Yahweh is. To remind them that they are blessed in order to be a blessing to others.
This thing that Joshua does here also serves to remind God’s people once again who they are and what they should be doing.
In today’s scripture we find Joshua gathering the twelve tribes of Israel because he’s got a few things to tell them. Joshua became the leader of the Israelites after the death of Moses. Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from the mountain and God’s people agreed to follow the Law, binding themselves to Yahweh. Now under Joshua, Yahweh’s promises have been fulfilled and the people are in the Promised Land.
The tribes have been in the Promised Land for a little while now—they’ve become comfortable with where they are. They’ve divided the land up and each of them has their own part. But as we know, getting comfortable can lead to complacency. It’s all too easy for the people to forget the journey that brought them to the Promised Land. And it’s really important that they don’t forget.
Joshua is old and close to dying. So he delivers a rousing speech to the people gathered there recalling the good deeds of Yahweh and reminding the Israelites that they are now reaping the benefits of the Lord’s activities on their behalf. Joshua encourages them and reminds them of who they are and where they’ve come from—and of the commitment they’ve made to Yahweh.
Joshua has supplied another memorial to keep the people on track, a covenant to remind them of what they’re about, to keep them moving in the right direction even though they’ve now settled down in the Promised Land.
So what can we learn from this? Where can we draw parallels? Well, an obvious parallel is that those of us who are members here at EMC are signing our membership covenant today. What can we learn about our covenant from the story of Joshua’s covenant?
God’s people needed something to keep them on track, to guide them as they join Yahweh on the mission to bring the good news about who Yahweh is to the world. The Commandments were in place as a reminder of the importance of being in right relationship with God and with each other. And now Joshua is taking the time to remind the tribes that they have joined Yahweh on a mission to save the world, that they are blessed to be a blessing. He has added “words in God’s Instruction scroll” and put up a large stone in the sanctuary.
Joshua made a covenant for the people so they would be reminded to stay on track, just like Moses did with the Commandments.
Our covenant does the same thing. So even for those of us here who are not members of EMC, this covenant being signed today by members recommitting themselves to EMC serves as a reminder to stay on track, to be in right relationship with God and with each other, to keep moving in the direction of Jesus, to actively join Yahweh’s mission.
Like the ancient tribes of God’s people who needed to be reminded of how they got where they are, we too can look back and see how God has led us to where we are today. Our covenant reminds us of our past and encourages us to also move forward, honoring the commitments we’ve made to God and to each other.
All of you, for one reason or another, have found yourselves here at this place, Emmanuel Mennonite Church. Some of you were here in the very beginning. Some of you have come very recently. Others of you joined somewhere in between. Maybe some of you are still deciding whether or not to hang around. That’s okay. We want to walk with you as you figure that out.
But you all have a reason for being here—and that reason is that in some way or another, EMC makes sense to you. These people, this way, this denomination—whatever it is, you are here.
So our covenant is serious because we are serious about who we are and what we do. We are here together for a reason and we’re willing to stand together and state publicly that EMC is important enough to us that we want to be members here. We commit ourselves to growth in Christ, to living the life that Christ has called us to live.
And more than that, we want to commit ourselves to this local gathering of Christ’s body and its stated mission. We commit to loving each other as Christ taught us to love. We commit to be here regularly. We commit to pray for our church’s ministries, to support those ministries both financially and with our time. We commit to giving and receiving guidance and direction from one another. We commit to the relationships we have with organizations and churches we are affiliated with—and to the global church in all its diversity.
This covenant is a statement of who you are in the midst of us.
It is a statement that you are a follower of Jesus and that you aren’t finished learning and growing.
It’s a statement that these people standing around you (and a few who aren’t here today) are who you want to stand with as we “strive [together] for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up.”
So this is my inspirational speech to you. This thing that we do here is important. It means something. Don’t take it lightly. For your part, live up to what you are agreeing to in this covenant. Be reminded of who we are and what God has done for us.
As we prepare to come on up here and sign the covenant, you might be reminded of your baptismal vows—this is a similar statement. As such, it is our tradition that membership (and therefor the signing of the covenant) is reserved for those who have been baptized and have made the public decision to follow Jesus. If you have not been baptized and would like to be, please come and see me or Pastor Kim. We would love to talk with you about baptism. And if you have been baptized but have not been a member here at EMC before, we also ask that you would come and talk with us before signing this covenant. This is a part of the process that is part of our tradition.
We are a covenant people. Together we covenant.
Those of you who wish to renew your covenant membership with EMC, please read aloud with me:
To grow in Christ, and to better live the life to which Christ calls me, I commit myself to this local gathering of His body, Emmanuel Mennonite Church, and to its stated mission, to Christlike love of all its members and attendees, to regular church attendance in worship, to prayer for those whom our ministries touch, to financial and active support of our ministries, including our ministry to the world, to the compassionate giving and receiving of counsel among all members and attendees, to the strengthening of our relationships with our affiliated organizations and churches, and with the worldwide church, by the grace of God and for God’s glory. Amen.