“I will not serve”.

When we hear that phrase, we probably think of someone refusing a request to join a committee or perhaps to run for public office.

But that phrase has a long history. According to tradition, it was uttered by Satan long before creation. The devil refused to be obedient to God, refused to follow God’s will. He rebelled against God and so was cast from heaven.

“I will not serve.”

Those words could have been spoken by Adam and Eve. The Lord created them, gave them life, put them in a wondrous garden, and then told them to serve him by caring for creation and following his commands.

But as we know, they went their own way, rather than God’s way. They refused to let God’s will direct their lives. The devil, who refused to serve God, convinced them to follow his rebellious example.

“I will not serve.”

In Sunday’s First Reading (Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b), Joshua assembles all the tribes of Israel and challenges them to renew their covenant with the Lord. Joshua reminds them of all that God did for his people from the time of Abraham through their deliverance from slavery in Egypt to their entrance into the Promised Land.

Joshua then tells them to “decide today whom you will serve …. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

In response, the people answer, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the service of other gods … we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.”

The challenge that Joshua placed before the people of Israel is the challenge that confronts each of us every day – “decide today whom you will serve.”

Satan gave his answer to that question, and he persuaded Adam and Eve to answer the same way. Today, Satan is still whispering that answer into our ears – “I will not serve.” He persists in urging us to make his attitude our own: no one, not even God, can tell me what to do!

Yet doing God’s will, serving God as he asks, is the essence of Christianity. Jesus showed us what God expects of us. Jesus gave us a perfect example of how a faithful child of God is to live. He taught us to pray that God’s will would guide our lives as it perfectly guides the life of heaven. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Many times, each day, we are faced with the decision that Joshua put before the people.

Will we serve the God who created us and revealed himself in Jesus, or will we serve the gods worshipped in our society? The culturally approved gods that tell us that we know what is best for us, that we are the masters of our lives, that we are the arbiters of truth, that we are the judges of right and wrong, that we dissolve into nothingness at death.

As we hear Sunday’s First Reading, Joshua stands before us challenging us to decide today who we will serve.

The choices we make, the actions we take, the words we say, all give our response to that central question, “Who will you serve?”

© 2021 Rev. Thomas B. Iwanowski