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"Mugwumps"

Joshua 24:1-2,14-18

Rev. Alan Taylor

Pentecost 12, Proper 15, series B
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Aug 19, 2012 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

The message this morning is based on the Old Testament reading from the Book of Joshua.  Joshua, you may recall, was the successor to Moses.  He and Caleb were the only two Israelites who finally entered the Promised Land, mainly because, when everyone else feared their enemies, Joshua and Caleb trusted that God would fight for them and subdue their oppressors.

The reading for this morning takes place at the very end of Joshua's life.  He's 110 by this time.  He's fought the good fight of faith.  He's run the race.  He's finished the course.  Now he leaves final instructions to the people of Israel.  From chapter 24 come those words that rather well known by most of us.  "And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

A favorite cartoon of mine depicts a pastor standing at his closet contemplating what to wear to work.  His closet is filled with black shirts, all with white tab collars.  The caption at the bottom of the cartoon reads "decisions, decisions."

We make all sorts of decisions, all sorts of choices in our lives.  Some of our choices are easy to make.  Some are so easy we consider them mundane.  We don't even give them much thought.  In fact, some of our choices are so mundane they actually are made by other people on our behalf.  When I go to my favorite coffee shop, for instance, the barista pours my coffee just the way I like it before I even get to the counter. 

There are, however, choices we make that are much more difficult for us.  For instance, choosing to change jobs is often very difficult, perhaps, in part, because we are sometimes hesitant to leave something we know for something that we don't know.  The unknown is often a bit frightening to us. 

Sometimes our choices are so life changing we find ourselves nearly paralyzed, unable, as it were, to make a choice.  These are the kind of choices that often leave us procrastinating, afraid to choose, mugwumps, if you will. 

What, you ask, is a mugwump?  Well, "according to the encyclopedia, the term is originally from an Indian language.  It became famousóor at least commonóduring the presidential campaign of 1884. A newspaper editor picked it up, and soon everybody was using it.  Teddy Roosevelt gave it a definition that is perhaps most easily remembered: "A mugwump, " he said, "is a bird that sits on a fence with its mug on one side and its wump on the other."  It is someone who can't make up his mind." 

Life's easy choices we make without giving them much thought.  They just seem to happen.  The difficult choices, however, often involve hours of thought and prayerful deliberation, and yes, sometimes procrastination.  Fortunately, God has given us our reason to enable us to make even those difficult choices.  He guides our reason by His Word and the Holy Spirit who moves us to choose those things that are pleasing in His sight.  Whether we make the right choice, or, the wrong choice in a given situation, God bears with us with gentleness and longsuffering, always guiding us toward His will.

Joshua made the most important choice anyone can ever make.  He chose to serve the Lord.  Not just him, but, he and his whole household.  It is important to note, however, that Joshua isn't saying he choose to believe in God, or, to follow Him.  The fact is that's a choice we don't have the capacity to make.  God chose Joshua, even as He chose you and me.  He chose us and by the power of His Holy Spirit, working through His Word, He gave us faith that we might believe in Him, that we might love Him and follow Him down the path that He sets out for us in life. 

Joshua had been called by God and given faith through the power of His Word.  Still, like the rest of us, he made a choice everyday of how he would live his life. 

Would he serve himself?  Or, would he serve the Lord?  Would he serve mammon?  Or, would he serve the Lord?  Would he serve his sinful passions?  Or, would he serve the Lord?  Joshua was emphatic in his choice.  He said, "you serve whom you will, but, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

Since we've been brought to faith in Christ through our baptisms, we are confronted with that same choices every day.  Whom will you serve today?  Will you serve yourself?  Or, will you serve the Lord?  Will you serve mammon?  Or, will you serve the Lord?  Will you serve your sinful passions?  Or, will you serve the Lord?

We know how we want to answer those questions.  We know the choice we want to make.  The problem is, even with the best of intentions, we fail to serve God as we should.  We're mugwumps is what we are.  We have our mug on one side of the fence, and our wump on the other.

Fortunately we aren't alone in our condition.  As it turns out, St. Paul was a mugwump too.  Early on in his ministry he boldly confessed "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I live in this body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me." 

Paul's confession, at least in substance, was a lot like Joshua's confession.  Joshua said, "he and his house would serve the Lord."  Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ."

And yet, Paul also says elsewhere "the good that I would do I don't do, but, the very evil that I hate, this is what I do."  Paul was conflicted.  Not because he didn't want to serve and follow Christ.  Rather, he was conflicted precisely because he did want to serve and follow Christ. 

As a child of God, bought by the blood, the suffering and the agony of Christ, we too are conflicted.  Our desire is to please our God.  Thus, we confess everyday with Joshua, "as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."  But, we identify all too well with the sentiments of Paul, "for the good that we would do we don't do but the very evil that we hate this is what we do."

Fortunately for us, God loves and forgives mugwumps too.  For such as us Jesus was given unto death.  He and His house served the Lord with a perfection that is credited unto us, unto you.  The Father sees you then, not as someone who makes a choice that he never fulfills, but, as one whose life is good and pleasing in His sight. 

Years ago I wrote a sermon while on vicarage at Christ Memorial in Houston.  My vicarage supervisor, Pastor John Fritz, returned it to me with just a few words written at the top of the first page.  Those words were "never forget the active obedience of Christ."  Those words have stuck with me. 

What he meant was that we often think of the Gospel simply as Jesus' passive obedience, whereby He allowed Himself to be crucified for our sins, as was prophesied "He opened not His mouth" in His own defense.  Without a doubt that is the Gospel.  The Lamb was lead to slaughter and His life was given for you.

As a result of Jesus' passive obedience God forgives mugwumps like you and me.  But, He also sees us, He sees you, not as someone who sits on the fence, his mug on one side and his wump on the other, but, as His holy and righteous servants, clothed in the perfect obedience of His dear Son.  Thus, what the Father says of His Son He says also of you.  "This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."  Such is the grace of God that moves us to confess "as for me and my house we will serve the Lord."  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +





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