Last Sunday we heard Joshua stand up and say, "Choose this day whom you will serve ... As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!" How bold! How inspiring! We put this up on plaques and sell them in Christian bookstores. But we don't often read what came after.
Part of the problem is, Joshua never commissioned a leader to follow him. Joshua was Moses' successor, but he never found a successor for himself. It was a different time; the Israelites were in the land now, scattered throughout Canaan and each (as verse 6 tells us) working on cultivating his own inheritance. Perhaps they didn't need a centralized authority anymore. Maybe Joshua thought that a group of elders would be enough for this settled people. Maybe he figured that they had all committed themselves (see Joshua 24) to follow the Lord, and that would be passed down the generations. Whatever Joshua thought, once his generation died out "another generation grew up who did not know the Lord." The Israelites began to go after the local gods, the gods who you worshipped if you were concerned about getting enough rainfall for your crops, the gods who promised you the good life. They abandoned the God who had brought their ancestors out of Egypt, who had given them this Promised Land, who had made a covenant with them at Sinai.
Not so different from our own times.
Take Lutherans, for example. In the early 1990's, a study of Lutherans in America indicated that there were approximately 13 million self-identified Lutherans in the United States. Totaling the Lutheran denominations' membership added up to about 8 million who had their names on the membership of a Lutheran church. And of all these, about four million ever attended a worship service. So, according to the statistics, the "average" Lutheran never attends church. A generation of Lutherans has grown up that does not know the Lord.
This is not so different from the general population. There is a generation within easy commuting distance of the churches in this country that doesn't have a clue about Christianity, about Jesus, about the gospel. They are contentedly living lost lives without a clue what they don't have.
Joshua and his generation bore the responsibility for passing on the covenant to a new generation, and they missed it. The church of Jesus Christ bears the responsibility of passing on the good news of a relationship with Jesus to a new generation. This good news will not take hold of them because of our political statements, our doctrinal stances, our policies. Preaching will reach a very few who happen to visit worship on a given Sunday. Sunday School and Christian daycares and schools will reach a few.
Like the Israelites, we are scattered, trying to take advantage of all the blessings God has given us. We are more focused on God's promises to me, and not enough focused on God's call to us as a people.
If the average Christians don't get a sense that God is calling them to live like salt and light in the world, to love people who are far from God, to build life-giving Jesus-focused communities that are like candles in the world's night, we will fail in the trust God has given us. People are not drawn to church buildings. They are drawn to churches -- that is, to groups of Jesus-centered people who live the life of Jesus in the world.