Worship Reflection Sunday, November 12, 2023

“Unshakeable Love”

November 11, used to be called “Armistice Day.” because on November 11, 1918, at 11:00 in the morning, the guns on the Western Front fell silent. It was the first step toward ending World War I. When I was in grade school, if November 11, was on a school day, we all stood next to our desks in silence for a minute at that hour to remember and honor those who fought in that war. It made a lasting impression on me. We also always bought red poppies, and my mother would recite in “Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses row on row.”  In 1954, Congress passed a law changing Armistice Day to Veterans Day. I remember going down to the Korean War Memorial downtown with Inee and Marilyn Yoon for a Veterans Day celebration. I am glad we did that. I think it is important to honor people who have served in the military and who are serving in the military and their families. We don’t have to honor war. But we can pay tribute  to veterans and their families and to people who are enlisted. Let me invite us to take a minute of silence now.

It is just by coincidence that the book of Joshua is in the lectionary for today. For those of us who have not read the book of Joshua recently, let me refresh your memory. The book is a war diary. Moses has died and Joshua is the new leader. The name Joshua means “God is deliverance.” The first 12 chapters of the book recount all the ways God delivered Joshua’s enemies into his hands. In Chapter One, God promises Joshua, “I will be with you. I will help you… I’ve commanded you to be strong and brave. Don’t ever be afraid or discouraged. I will be there to help you wherever you go.” And everywhere Joshua goes cities are destroyed and enemies are annihilated, and land is expropriated. God is the God of Israel and the wars are holy wars. It’s the ultimate God is on our side story.

In Chapter 13, we learn how the land is divided up. Moses divided up the land east of the Jordan River. Now Joshua will divide up the land west of the Jordan River, the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. In the closing verses of Chapter 23, Joshua reminds the people: “The Lord is our God. He gave us this wonderful land. . . .  If you start worshiping other gods, it will make the Lord furious. He will start getting rid of you.” Then in Chapter 24, Joshua calls together all the leaders and all the judges and all the officials and all the people in what we might call a covenant assembly. Joshua gives the people a message from the Lord beginning with the story of Abraham and then Moses and flight from Egypt. In verse 11 and 12, the Lord says, “I helped you defeat all your enemies. They ran from you not because you had swords and bows and arrows. I (the Lord) made your enemies run away. . . Now you live in towns you did not build. You eat grapes and olives from vineyards and trees you did not plant.” 

Then in verse 15, Joshua tells the people they have to make a choice–If you don’t want to worship the Lord, choose right now! For me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” And all the people say, “We will never stop worshiping the Lord. The Lord is our God.” Then he asks them a second time. “Will you obey the Lord?” and all the people again say, “Yes, the Lord is our God.” Then he asks a third time. He tells the people, “The Lord is fearsome. If you turn your back on the Lord, the Lord will turn against you…. The Lord will wipe you out.” But the people shout: “We won’t worship any other gods. We will worship and obey God.” 

This pattern of repetition, asking the same question three times, is like using the superlative. Answering this question is the most important thing you will ever do in your life. Now that the people have pledged their obedience, Joshua tells them to go home and get rid of all the idols. And he makes a book of laws. And he builds a monument to memorialize the event so that the people will never forget what they have promised. And they sign a covenant.

Let it be said, the book of Joshua is a very disturbing book. If there ever  was a time when nations could wage holy wars, that time is long gone. The world cannot afford holy wars. President Kennedy was right when he said, “We have to put an end to war, or war will put an end to us.” President Eisenhower spoke  the truth when in his “Cross of Iron” speech he said, “Every gun that is made, every warship that is launched, every rocket that is fired, is in the final sense, a theft from those who are hungry and not fed, from those who are cold and not clothed. . . . This is not a way of life at all. Under the cloud of threatened war it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.” 

War is not a lasting solution to any problem. It is important to claim this sacred space as a place where we intentionally practice other values. To make the confession that Christ died, and Christ will come again is not offering a “pie in the sky” someday, some way, something will change. It is to remember that war is not inevitable, world empires are not unshakeable. Origen of Alexandria, an early Christian scholar who lived between the years 185 and 250 CE called upon Christians to wear the breastplate of love and the helmet of hope and replace the weapons of the world with the gifts of Christ–a loaf of bread and a cup of wine. With these gifts Christ showed us how to turn spears into pruning hooks and swords into plowshares.

When Joshua led the people across the Jordan River, he was taking them into uncharted territory. He was leading them into a future that was not like anything they had experienced before. Last Thursday  Joan and Sally and I attended a covenant ceremony at First United Methodist Church that involved 30 congregations and more than 700 people to start a new ministry called “Justice Together.” Justice Together is the new name for the DART ministry. The delegates at the meeting said for the coming year they will focus on the issues of homelessness and mental health. The community organizers spent a year listening to people in congregations like ours to build this organization. Now the Justice Together congregations will begin researching the best ways to address the issues of homelessness and mental health. 

Here at Pine Valley, we said that we are not ready to join the Justice Together ministry because we have identified LGBTQIIA+ as our priority for the coming year. If you want to use biblical images, this issue is our Jordan River. Our challenge now is to start building coalitions that will move us from being allies to becoming advocates. I’m going to suggest to you that if we are going to cross this river, we need teams, even two or three people can be a team. One team will contact state legislators and track legislation and identify key legislators, the way Carmen did last year. Other teams will identify what we can do to educate ourselves on issues of human rights and especially Queer rights. Another team will work with Camp Sunflower. Another team will create links with community groups already working on these issues. We have ten people working on the fundraiser for Camp Sunflower. The morning discussion group is going to take up the General Assembly resolution called “An Invitation to Oppose Anti-Trans Legislation and Affirm the Dignity of Transgender and Gender-Diverse People” and see how this might apply to us. We will see how this priority intersects with the work of Justice Together. These are just my ideas. What really counts are your ideas. What do you want to do? What are the next steps as you see them?

I imagine that Joan, Sally, and I will continue to track the work of Justice Together and give you updates. They are working in a different vineyard.  

In the Christian tradition, Jesus is the new Joshua. Instead of leading a holy war to kill all his enemies, he waged a campaign of unshakeable love for all people. He started a movement that continues to shake the foundations of seemingly  unshakeable systems of power and domination.

Perhaps the most important thing we can learn from Joshua is that he saw the world as a place of divine revelation. He was utterly convinced that in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, he believed that God is active in the world, and ultimately, we are accountable to each other and to God. Let me rephrase that. We are accountable for the ways in which we let love and hope shape our lives.