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Thank you to Up Ahead for sharing the gift of music with us. Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and Steve’s prayers for this week.
A Children’s Time video can be found here.
In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Joshua 24: 11-18
Music: Take Up His Song; Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying
The other day, the kids and I were listening to a podcast about the song “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”, and whether the walls of Jericho really could have been blown down by the trumpets of Joshua’s army. I’ll save you the time and tell you that the answer is: probably not. You’d need over 400K trumpets to achieve the 177 decibels required to crumble rock and, if you could achieve it, you’d literally blow the heads off of most of the trumpeters in the process.
It was a funny coincidence, then, that this week’s lectionary included a passage from the final chapter from the book of Joshua. What we hear today is Joshua’s farewell before dying, and with his last words he reminds his people what God has done for Israel. His dying wish is to ask his people to turn away from other gods and serve God alone.
In the same passage, we also hear the troubling idea that God has brought Israel to the Promised Land largely by defeating all the people and kingdoms that had lived there before Israel arrived. In addition to the citizens of Jericho, seven tribes are listed as having been subjugated not just by Israel, but by God. Perhaps the most disquieting passage is when Joshua, speaking for God, says to Israel, “I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant.”
The passage is troubling for two reasons. First, it describes destruction and death not only as righteous, but even as divinely ordained. Second, it describes occupation and illegitimate gain as blessed by God. Texts like this disturb us because we know how many times the rallying cry, “God is on our side” has resulted in war and strife. We know how many lands were occupied and people subjugated by the expansion of Christianity at the hands of the Roman Empire? In our own nation, we know well the painful legacy of Residential Schools, which were initially thought to be a fulfilment of God’s mission.
So, why read a scripture like this? Why not simply leave it out, skip over it? There is, of course, the old chestnut that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it, but scripture is more than simply history; it is a living story. How do we reconcile ourselves to these kinds of texts?
One of the most helpful things I learned on this topic was from Jerry Shepherd, a Hebrew Testament professor. He said that most scripture passages should not be read on their own, but in relation to others because, often, another passage will offer a corrective for the first, or provide a different perspective on the same issue. His point was that no passage of scripture should be interpreted out of its context, either within the book of the Bible in which it occurs, or within the larger context of the story of faith.
So, in response to today’s text, we might first turn to the books immediately following Joshua, in which Israel tries, often unsuccessfully, to make good on what God has given them. Unfaithful to God, they are delivered into the hands of their enemies; after a time, the first earthly kingdom is established and enjoys a golden era under David, but is also soon divided and defeated. In short, while God is often described as Israel’s champion, Israel is just as often described as a people who are fallible and who frequently lose their way. This doesn’t negate God’s blessing or Israel’s faith; rather, it places them within a larger context: our struggle to love God, and the universally human struggle to love our neighbour as ourselves.
We might then look to the prophets – like Ezekiel and Jeremiah – who warned against earthly power and advocated for the way of God, which is peace; or like Nathan, prophet to King David, who counselled humility and warned the king against triumphalism.
As people who follow Jesus, we also look to him, to see how he sought to fulfil God’s promise not only to Israel, but to all people. As we heard last week in the Beatitudes, Jesus turns the world’s normal assumptions upside down, preaching that the meek, not the mighty, are blessed by God, and that peacemakers are children of God.
And finally, when we take one large step back to view the story of faith not just in its parts, but as a whole, we see the story of God’s redeeming love: creation, relationship, deliverance, wisdom, redemption… and the faithfulness of God through all things. For us, Jesus is a revelation and continuation of that eternal story: a love which doesn’t take for itself, but gives of itself for others; a love which lifts up the down-trodden, restores the lost and the least; a love which seeks abundant life for all.
Each year on this Sunday, we remember the many Canadians who lost their lives defending us and others against the kind of triumphal thinking that foments violence, invasion, occupation and war. We remember also those who have returned wounded and who live with the hidden scars of war. And we are also learning how to remember the victims of war, the innocent caught in the fray, and those who have never known peace.
This week, we rightly honour the courage and sacrifice of those who have gone before us, who helped bring us safely to this time and place, and who have sought those gifts for others. What our scripture for today suggests is that for us to inherit such a blessing does not secure our righteousness. Rather, it suggests that we, like Israel, are entrusted with a sacred responsibility, which is to give thanks for our blessings and to be a blessing to others.
It now falls to us to address the legacy of colonialism, which is systemic injustice. It falls to us to ensure for our neighbour those things we know and enjoy: security and dignity, access to care and education, freedom from want and discrimination. As a friend of mine recently wrote, “Should nations aspire to greatness? Greatness is a self-aggrandizing vanity. To be loving, generous, just, joyful, kind, forgiving: these are gifts of the Spirit.”
Last week, Jenny’s mother and I were talking about the American election. We admitted, with many others, to feeling helpless and at the mercy of what happens to our southern neighbours. We quickly agreed, however, that while there is literally nothing we can do about politics in the US, there is plenty we can do in our own neighbourhoods, provinces and country. The call to justice and peace cannot be drowned out if we are committed to doing what we can, with what we have, where we are.
As we remember the self-giving of those who have gone before us, we must remember that we are also forging the path for those who will come after us. So we must ask, what will the generations that follow us remember about our part of the story? For we who have arrived at this moment, who have been delivered to this time, what will be our testament, our faithful response to God’s vision of justice and peace for all? How will we honour what has been secured for us and share it with those still longing for that same security? What will be our legacy, our reply to the wrongs of the past and present, our chapter in the story of faith? Amen.
God of peace and justice, God of yesterday, today and tomorrow, we come before you to remember and to give thanks. On this Remembrance Sunday, we remember those who served so we might live in a place where there is; peace with justice, liberation from oppression and hope rooted in rights and freedoms. We also give thanks for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, all who were wounded in body or spirit and all who served and sacrificed for others.
God of tomorrow, we come before you holding firm to the dream of a day when the pleas of all who strive for peace with justice will be heard and fulfilled. We long for the time when our warring madness will end and we will beat our swords into ploughshares and our spears into pruning hooks, to convert our weapons of war into instruments of healing and hope and to have a time when our children learn of war no more.
God of this day, we are mindful of the blessings in our own lives and we give thanks for all of that is good in life. Holy One, we also know that we live in an unsettled time. Our brothers and sisters to the south are feeling divided by their election rooted in underlying issues that exist here too. Our neighbours in Europe are entering deeper lockdowns because of Covid, our environment is suffering. We ask that you help us see there are others who stand with us and put their shoulder next to ours to engage in the good work you have placed before us in our own lives, in our families, our circles of influence and the national and global context.
We continue to pray for those who are working to solve the long term problems we face; whether they be scientific, medical or those working to create a more caring, compassionate and egalitarian society so that all may know your blessing and your creation will truly be at peace and in harmony.
Be with all of us this week, especially with whom we are close and those who are in need. We pray for those who are sick in body or spirit, may they find wholeness and healing.
We pray for those who are grieving. Grant them strength and comfort for today and the days to come.
We ask all this in the name of Jesus, our brother who teaches us to pray, Our Father, …. Amen.