The Sunday Sermon – March 6, 2016
Scripture: Joshua 5:9-12
Rolling Away, Rolling On
On this fourth Sunday of Lent, we pivot. We have crested the hill and are heading down. We have turned the corner and can see Jerusalem and just beyond the city, on hill called Calvary, a cross.
Lent is forty days, not counting Sundays, before Easter. This is the Sunday between days twenty-two and twenty three. Actually past the midpoint, are we, but there are two Sundays behind and two more Sundays ahead of us after this morning. And then, the events of Holy Week, ending as it does with betrayal, denial, and crucifixion. But … all of this happens – the second half of Lent, Holy week, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday – all of this happens as the days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer, the trees are beginning to bud, and the flowers are starting to bloom.
That last will provide some beautiful adornment for our cross on Easter morning, but … Every year I wonder about this Lenten journey of ours and my epistle in our March Newsletter this year shared a bit of my concern. Our Easter morning can only happen after our Lenten journey is complete, literally and figuratively. And our Lenten journey is only half over – the easy half, too. Oh, on Sunday mornings, I will continue to search for those places in our lives and in our world most in need of the hope, and joy, and peace, and love of God, so that we may reveal them, bring them into the light, and transfigure them for the good of ourselves and of our world. Coming face to face with ourselves so that we may “cleanse the Temple” that we are, the locus of God on earth. Coming face to face with our fears, the “Herods” in our lives, that we may overcome their tyranny and live fully. Reconciling ourselves to one another and our world that may be truly open to the experience of God in this place and far beyond. So, we’ll continue our Sunday journeys, but … How can I, how can we, effectively keep our focus on the empty, incomplete, and perverse parts our lives when it’s light again at seven o’clock in the evening and the early flowers – snowdrops, scilla, and daffodils – are opening up.
Well … we can’t. We can’t ignore the beauty of late winter and early spring as we journey to the cross, shrouded as it is in betrayal, denial and death. We can’t do that, and we shouldn’t, I’ve come to believe. We shouldn’t make our lives drab in come “counterfeit respect.” Nothing could honor God’s incredible creation less than to pretend that we are anything more than what we are: men and women struggling to figure out what in the world betrayal and denial and crucifixion mean to us when life is so … beautiful.
We can’t ignore the beauty of the world, and we shouldn’t deny the goodness of God, during Lent (or any other time of the year). But we should pay closer attention to what’s happening in our spiritual lives in these weeks, alongside all the beauty of creation and the revolving, circling world. We should … And it’s not too late.
This morning, we hear from an Old Testament lectionary reading out of Joshua and we engage all of this – memory, ritual, and awareness even in the midst, actually exactly because the ancient Israelites were in the midst, of promises fulfilled and futures secured. Joshua and the Israelites have just crossed the River Jordan and entered the promised land. After leaving Egypt and traveling through the wilderness for forty years, they have arrived in the land of milk of honey. Earlier verses make it clear that not a single member of the wilderness generation entered the land: “The Israelites traveled forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation … who came out of Egypt perished.” A new generation has taken the stage. Israel has crested a hill, turned the corner, and pivoted to face squarely their new life. And the Lord speaks …Listen for the Word of God:
Read Joshua 5:9 … “The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.”
The wilderness period is officially over. Something new is about to begin. Lent, of course, reflects the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness in our Gospel stories, which in turn mirrors the forty year wilderness journey of the Israelites that comes to an end in our hearing this morning. Upon Jesus’ return form the wilderness he began to teach and preach that the Kingdom of God was “at hand.” This, too, mirrors the end of the wilderness journey for the Israelites and their return to the rituals that assure them of God’s presence with them. In the verses that precede our own, the ritual of circumcision, a prerequisite for any gathering before God, was resumed. And in the second verse of our passage, the Passover began again.
Read Joshua 5:10 … “While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the Passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho.”
The second Passover is recorded in the book of Numbers, but no other Passover meals are recorded until this one in the book of Joshua. It may have been that the Israelites maintained the custom, but given the admonition that “no uncircumcised shall eat,” it’s not as likely. That ritual want’ happening in the wilderness.
What is special about the renewal of the Passover ritual for the Israelites and what is “preachable” for us this morning is, what we read next:
Read Joshua 5:11-12 … “On the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.”
On the day after the Passover, on that very day, they sample a new cuisine, which tastes like the beginning of a whole new life to them. The food opens their eyes to wonder about their journey and their dependence on one another and the giver of all land, and food and life. At this pivot point in their lives together, something more profound than a new land is offered to the people.
The manna that they have survived on for so long, that has sustained them for so long, has required neither settlement nor work. It merely needed to be gathered. The promised land, however, will require development. They will need to play a role in their own lives, in the nourishing of their bodies and their spirits, dare we suggest in their own salvation that they have never had to paly before, this new generation. God is with them and will continue to provide, but they have crested the mountain, and turned a corner that requires of them something new: participation.
Like Joshua’s Israelites, we too must take an active role in our journey. Our “way of being” in this land requires prayer, mediation, confessions, repentance, and reconciliation. It short, it requires Lent! Beautiful as “all around us” is, we are called to participate in this season of reflection, in this search for those places in our lives and in our world most in need of the hope, and joy, and peace, and love of God, so that we may reveal them, bring them into the light, and transfigure them. Fortunately, it’s not too late. We are halfway through this season, but that leaves the second half still ahead.
The Lord says to us, ‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt” – of all that has held you in bondage and servitude, in anger and fear.
Perhaps you felt it when I first read that verse. The language in this opening of the passage from Joshua propels us forward across centuries and generations to another time and place where God once again rolls something away – a stone that covers the entrance to the greatest disgrace of all in our lives: the tomb. We know what’s coming, and that’s a wonderfully beautiful, glorious reality for us. But we still have the opportunity of Lent in the weeks ahead.
So, while we are camped here just beyond the midpoint of our own wilderness journey, let us “keep” our meal together. The table is set before us that we, too, may recognize our salvation even as we journey through our wilderness. It’s not too late.
“Today, I have rolled away …” The Word of the Lord … (Thanks be to God.)
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / March 6, 2016