“. . .The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey. . . “ Joshua 24: 25,( NRSV)
The choice of a leader for a people is an event of great moment. We in the United States just went through something like that, and are not quite done with it yet to be sure. There’s still the process of certifying the results after counting the ballots is done. This will culminate in the inauguration of a new president, or a re-elected one, whichever will be the case, on January 20, 2021. Something stands out in this whole process this time around. In the middle of a pandemic, our people went out to the polls in droves – rich and poor alike, young and old, men and women to cast their ballot, because they believe, and they are right, that the privilege of making a choice in who is going to be the leader of the nation at any given time is sacred and cannot, nor should not, be taken lightly. The result was the incredible participation of millions many times over similar instances in the history of this country since its founding back in 1776 or 1778, depending on your point of reference.
In the case of Israel, they never had the luxury of choice with regard to the change in leadership. Moses, their long time leader out of Egypt and into the promised land, did not get to enter that promised land with them. When he died in Moab, he was laid to rest in a grave nobody now knows where. Joshua arose to take his place to lead the people of Israel. Joshua was a protégé of Moses, who had trained him for leadership, and he was “full of the spirit of wisdom” as a result of Moses’ example and mentorship.
And the Israelites obeyed him as they did Moses before him.
Now it is a wise leader that sees the need of, and enables his people to have “ownership” of his leadership over them. It is even more so when that takes place, meaning the peoples’ ownership of his leadership – in a manner that is tied with their commitment and covenant with God. This takes place in churches as well, specially in traditions where the pastor is “appointed and sent” to the congregation by the Bishop or denominational leader. This is particularly timely for those of us at Covina UMC, where we just recently received our new Pastor in the person of Rev. Lily Villamin. In traditions where pastors are “called”, the congregation gets to make the choice before the pastor even gets to the congregation. Nevertheless, taking “ownership” of a new leader’s role or leadership involves not just accepting and receiving new leaders fully and supportively. It also involves our reaffirmation of our faithfulness, discipleship and commitment before God, individually and as a whole congregation. Collectively.
It was not enough that the people accepted Joshua for their leader, after Moses was gone. Joshua saw
to that. For beyond his personal leadership loomed the peoples’ need to see the hand of God in their personal and national life. He was able to wisely guide them to a point where, as a people, they fully made their recommitment by boldly affirming, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.”
John Wesley, aside from being the founder of Methodism, is also known widely for the Covenant Prayer Service which he wrote. It was first used in 1755 in London in a service with 1800 people. It is used extensively in Methodist tradition churches during end of the year watch night services. Other denominations use it as well. The core of the whole service, which runs rather long for our modern standards, is condensed in the following: “Lord, make me what you will. I put myself fully into your hands: put me to doing, put me to suffering, let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and with a willing heart give it all to your pleasure and disposal.”
The prayer goes to the heart and meaning of our discipleship and commitment to our Lord. It challenges the best in us in not merely trying to be religious or “spiritual”, enough to be consciously guided by the Spirit to “do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” Like Israel, churches and individuals, as well as nations, including ours specially at the beginning of something new and significant, are called to recommit to the foundational values that make us who we are as people of faith, nations, or nation.
Rev. Dr. Ben Vinluan
UMC Pastor, Retired