This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 1 (Most recently Oct 12, 2014)
Summary: I found the subsequent verses (16-24) just as, if not more, fascinating. Joshua does not simply offer them the promises, but also the consequences and challenges of following God. Do we do the same in our preaching? This text challenges me: Do I preach the consequences of not serving the Lord as much as I preach the benefits of serving him?
But if this is reading too far ahead, the preaching challenge of this text remains: Can you preach the necessity of worshipping the Lord without preaching decision theology?
More practically: What are the other gods out there today? Who are the gods of old and the gods of the new?
ירא ("yarah" meaning "fear", 24:13) This word is translated as fear, revere and obey in various translations. How we translate this word? This linguistic question rests on a theological question: what does it mean to fear the Lord? We are back in the Ten Commandments and Luther's explanation of the first commandment: "We are to fear, love and trust God above all things."
Fear could be understood more in terms of reverence -- be in awe of the Lord! I think this is something that we need to preach and inculcate in our parishoners. We often, post-enlightment, reduce the miraculous nature of God. God still does wonders and the church must proclaim this.
However, in vs. 20 Joshua suggests that not worshipping God has extremely negative consequences, including punishment by God. More than respectful awe is meant by the word "fear" here. As a pastor, I see people all the time motivated by their fears: fears of being alone, fears of being scorned, rejected, poor, dead, the list goes on. I discover that people are often profoundly motivated by their fears. When we fear God, his consequences, his judgment above all things, in this and I would argue in this alone, do we find true freedom. What we fear will be our God.
עבד ("ayved", "serve, worship or be slave", 24:13) This verb shows up throughout the Exodus narrative. Who will the people serve? Pharaoh or the Lord? It is interesting that all these words are related: serve, be slave, worship. To worship is to serve, even be slave to; there is not thought of worship that does not entail obedience.
The Exodus narrative is done, but as the people enter the promise land, at stake is who the people will worship. Before it was Pharaoh; but now their options are the gods of old or the gods of the new. This reminds us that a) there will always be alternatives to worship of God; b) we will always be worshipping some god or another. Atheism is not really possible.
רע ("rah" meaning "evil", 24:15) There is a great expression here, "If it is evil in your sight to worship the Lord." For some, worship of the Lord will be unacceptable, even among God's people.
בחר ("bakhar" meaning "chose", 24:15) It is interesting that the people cannot choose the Lord. They can only choose to worship other gods. Even when Joshua declares his loyalty (seemingly a passage that gives evidence to decision theology), the Bible still does not want to say that we can choose God. We have free will -- to turn away, but that is it.