Inspired by Micah 1:3-5, 5:2-5a, 6:6-8
As I mentioned last week, at this point of the story of God’s people, as we journey through the great stories of the Hebrew scriptures this Fall, the once unified kingdom of Israel has split in two, each with its own king. And they have gone through many kings now, as this story is about a hundred years after last week’s story of the healing of Naaman. This week’s story comes from the southern kingdom of Judah, but it’s really not much of a story, as it is a sampling of the prophet Micah’s reaction to what the kingdom was going through.
These are uneasy days for the southern kingdom. There is a tension in the air that can be felt by all. There are news reports of some very troubling things happening all around them, as well as within their borders. Troubling times indeed. First off, they heard that the northern kingdom had fallen and their capital city Samaria was under siege. They are also hearing reports that the Assyrian empire was growing like wildfire, able to consume the mightiest of nations, and they were at their doorstep.
And there was the little kingdom of Judah, with Jerusalem as her capital, in the midst of all this chaos, with kingdoms literally crumbling all around them. So many questions were probably swirling around their heads. What can we do? Should we fight? Will God come to our rescue even though God didn’t rescue the northern kingdom? Should we just give up and count our losses? Not to mention questions like, why is this happening to us? Why are there so many threats all around us?
What did we do wrong? And that’s where the prophet Micah steps in. Because according to Micah, they knew darn well what they did wrong. But part of a prophet’s job is being a truth teller, and so that’s what he does. Way back when the kingdoms were still united as one, under King Solomon’s reign, they were warned not to worship other God’s. Stick with me, was God’s plea. I’ll remain faithful to you, God said.
But what do they do? Worshiped other gods. I mean, when your own king is doing it, why not? If the top dog can get away with it, why can’t we? And so they did, for hundreds of years. And now the prophet Micah steps in to remind them, that this was never the way it was supposed to be. So, this book starts out full of judgment on them. The whole book, by the way, is very short, you could read the whole thing easily in one sitting. But Micah is full of surprises. Which makes sense because Micah’s God is full of surprises.
Micah does not remain in judgment over them. Would he be justified if he had? Absolutely! They broke the first commandment! Have no other gods! They broke that over and over again! Forget the other nine, they couldn’t even get past number one! Now God, through Micah, could have easily said, I’m done with ya’ll. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me…for hundreds of years, well, shame on me! I’m out! And what could be their defense? There was none. But like we all know, God is full of surprises.
Micah pairs his judgment with hope. Which probably sounded crazy! Here they are, in the midst of chaos, kingdoms crumbling around them, an enemy empire breathing down their neck ready to consume them, and Micah has a word of hope? Huh? But, let’s keep moving through our reading. From where are they supposed to look for hope? From where is it supposed to come from? Bethlehem, Micah says. Bethlehem? Even Micah has to add that this is the least significant place in the kingdom! Talk about surprises! I mean, this would be like if California was in the midst of a statewide crisis and the governor asks me—because, you know, prophet, pastor, we’re all the same—asks me, where will relief come from Pastor Ron, and I say, Penryn. Even the governor might say, Penryn? Where’s that?
That’s how ridiculous this idea of hope from Bethlehem was! It’s only claim to fame was that it was where King David was born. That’s it! Other than that it was barely a speck on a map. And you know, when the chips are down, when you’re in a tight spot, when the enemies are circling round you, and you ask for help, you’re expecting a better answer than Bethlehem or Penryn! Right? By the way, my apologies to the great people of Penryn…all 831 of them. I feel bad for making them the butt of a joke. It had to be somebody though!
Anyway, there was very little hope that could be gleaned from this news. But Micah continues, a ruler is gonna come from Bethlehem, whose origin is from remote times, from ancient days. Ok, at this point I’m wondering what Micah is smoking. But he continues, things are going to get worse before they get better, and by better he means a baby of peace. A baby? We don’t need no baby Micah! And we surely don’t need peace right now! We need a warrior Micah. Someone to put the Assyrians back in their place, once and for all! But Micah doesn’t budge. And how can he? His message of hope is from God!
And so there they are, on the edge of despair, with this cryptic message of hope, wondering what to do. You don’t have to read too many headlines these days before despair begins to flirt with you. Just the other day there was a tragedy that hit too close to home for many of us. As I’m sure most of you have heard, late Wednesday night a lone gunman opened fire in a Thousand Oaks bar and grill that was hosting a college night event. Many students from California Lutheran University were in attendance.
Twelve were killed, including an officer, before the gunman took his own life. CalLu is where we took a van load of our youth to attend the Western States Youth Gathering two summers ago, becoming a place very special to us all. Tragedies like these, the political climate of our nation, global warming, nations at war, terrorism, our mental health crisis, there is a lot going on in our world that could easily lead us to despair. What are we to do? How can we make things better? If we’ve done something wrong, how can we make it right?
That’s the question that the people of Judah ask Micah at the end of our reading. With what should we come to God with, they ask. With our generous offerings? Do we have to offer our children? In other words, you name it Micah and we’ll do it! Micah looks them dead in the eye, probably shaking his head, and says, you already know what to do—and you’ve known for a long time now—but sure, I can remind you again, “do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.” So what if the world looks like it’s about to crumble around you! You still got work to do! So go do it! And let me worry about the rest, says the Lord!
Because of course I still need you to work for justice because you live in an unjust world, says the Lord! Of course I still need you to embrace faithful love because you live in a world filled with so much hate, says the Lord! Of course I still need you to walk humbly with me because you live in a world that values pride and egomaniacs, says the Lord! I need you, says the Lord, to deliver hope to a hopeless world, even when, especially when, you have none for yourselves, because maybe, just maybe, in delivering hope, when you are hopeless, you will find some for yourselves in the process!
And yet, God had big plans for that little town, right? As we sing this next hymn, try your hardest to not think of Christmas, I know, that’s going to be hard. But what I want to do, is think of God’s big picture, the big picture that we cannot see. And think of that big picture as your source of hope when you can’t find it anywhere else. And know, that nothing will stop God’s big picture—nothing. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Inspired by 1 Kings 3:4-28
Since last week’s story of King Solomon and the two women, to today’s story of the healing of Naaman, God’s people have had some tumultuous times. To be fair, there were some high points too. Solomon builds the first temple for the worship of God in Jerusalem. It was a marvel of riches and architecture. He had an interesting encounter with the Queen of Sheba in his pursuit of international relations, but that’s about where the highlights of his reign end. He had many wives and many concubines. However, his greatest of sins was that he eventually turned away from God and began worshipping other Gods.
By the time of his death, the kingdom just couldn’t stay together and it split in two, a Northern and a Southern kingdom, Israel and Judah, each with their own king. They go through many kings, and along the way God sends them prophets, to help guide them and/or correct their misbehavior. Although, as one of my seminary professors put it, once a prophet was called onto the scene, it was usually already too late. These prophet’s stories and messages will be the focal point of our readings from now through Advent, before we finally get to our Gospel readings.
Today’s story from the book of 2 Kings comes from this time of God’s people where they find themselves in the midst of these many kings, one after another. This particular story comes from the Northern kingdom of Israel. It’s an interesting little tale, the significance of might be easy to overlook. So, the prophet Elisha, not to be confused with his predecessor Elijah, hears about a neighboring king’s army general, Naaman, who is in need of healing.
But how that finally gets to Elisha is quite interesting. Now keep in mind, all these nations are in constant friction, wars and battles and raiding parties are constantly breaking out. And so, a young Jewish girl finds herself captured in one of these skirmishes, and is sold as a slave into the house of this powerful army general, Naaman. She hears of her master’s ailment, and what does she do, she immediately thinks of a prophet in her homeland that can heal her.
She does not think, “Oh good, maybe this will kill him and I can get free!” She does not think, “I’m just going to keep my mouth shut because drawing any attention to myself might cause me harm.” She does not think, “It’s not my place as a slave to think I know better than my captors.” To be fair, she may have had all those thoughts but did she act on them? No. She goes out on a limb, at personal risk to herself, and speaks up, for the benefit of her slave master.
Now, we could assume she did this hoping to get a reward, but those thoughts come from our privilege of having never spent a night in captivity, let alone slavery. So why did she do this? The simple answer is that she was practicing the tenets of her faith—lessons like the golden rule; like caring for the less fortunate, like loving your enemies. She did not see her captor, her slave master, no, she saw a person in need, and she knew how to help, and so she did.
The next stop for that message was Naaman’s wife, because the slave girl couldn’t go directly to Naaman of course. And again, I wonder what the possible implications might have been for his wife to bring this idea to him. Though she had more freedom, as she was not a slave, she was a woman, and in that day and age that meant that she didn’t have much of a voice, not to mention she was thought of as the property of her husband. But like the young slave girl who worked in her home, that did not stop her from taking the risk, from taking a leap of faith, and speaking up for the benefit of her husband. And maybe her faith ancestors taught her that too, though of a different religion. And so she shares this message with her husband.
The next stop for this message of healing is to the king himself. And if you think there was no risk to Naaman here, think again. He has to go to his king and ask him if he can go to another king, an opposing king, for help. Think about what’s being said between the lines here: You O king are not powerful enough to help me. Our gods are not faithful enough. Our religious leaders are not capable enough. So, can I go and ask your rival on the other side of the border for help? His king could have easily drawn his sword and killed him for treason were he stood and no one would have batted an eye. But instead, the king simply says, Sure, I’ll even write a letter for you. And so this message of healing moves on to the next person. The king of Israel.
Only this time, the message comes into the hands of an unwilling recipient. The king of Israel is not too happy to get this message. He immediately assumes that this is some kind of game that his rival is playing, that this is some kind of trick, or just trying to get a reaction out of him! Why, well, because this king had trouble thinking of others needs before his own. It was all about him. Isn’t it odd that most of the people from another religion in this story were the ones acting more merciful than this king?
Now, the message could have died right then and there with Israel’s king, ending in war between these two nations. But somehow, it does not. The prophet Elisha hears about it, and sets the king straight. He sees this as not only a teachable moment but as an evangelistic moment as well. How else are people going to know about our merciful God if we don’t show mercy? And so, after Elisha calms the king down, they invite Naaman to Elisha’s house.
Now this could be a trap but Naaman is probably desperate at this point, so he goes to Elisha’s house, in search of healing. And then he gets another surprise! Elisha doesn’t even come out and greet him when he gets there! No hello, no howdoyado; Elisha sends his messenger to give him instructions. And the instructions are simple, go wash in the Jordan River seven times. That’s it! Naaman takes issue with this. Not just because he feels like he’s being snubbed by this supposedly all-powerful healer, but because if washing in a river is all he had to do then why couldn’t he have done that at home!
So, from all of that, this is what really stood out to me. That message of healing, had to pass through many hands. It had many opportunities to fail along the way. But it did not. It succeeded, thanks to many unlikely hands, from some very surprising places: the young Jewish slave girl, the wife of Naaman, Naaman himself, two rival kings, and Naaman’s slaves.
All of these people had to carry that message of healing in some form, whether they knew it or not, in order for Naaman to be healed, sometimes at great risk, none of whom are likely candidates to help out in a healing, and yet they did. All Saints Sunday is an opportunity for us to not only remember loved ones who have died, but also an opportunity to acknowledge those in our lives who have carried the message of God’s healing love for us, the many hands that the message was carried by, especially those hands that no one would have suspected.
Maybe they’re a relative that wasn’t necessarily a big churchgoer, and yet, God still chose them to communicate God’s healing love through. Maybe they’re a childhood neighbor who everyone else thought was kinda cranky but you knew better, which allowed God to communicate God’s healing love to you. Maybe they’re a child, maybe your own child, someone the world would say that you as an adult should be teaching, and yet, they have been chosen to communicate God’s healing love to you.
Maybe a stranger, maybe a pet, maybe a song, maybe a cool Autumn breeze at sunset. God’s healing love can come from anyone and anywhere—all we have to do is be open to it, especially when it comes from the most unlikely of places. During this next hymn, please come to any of the tables and light a candle in remembrance of our loved ones who have died before us, and also in acknowledgment of God’s healing love from the most unlikely of places sometimes. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Inspired by 1 Kings 3:4-28
Since last week’s story of Bathsheba, we actually have not skipped a whole lot as we journey through the great stories of the Bible this Fall. King David eventually dies, but not before much turmoil within his family. With the guidance of Bathsheba, before he dies, King David chooses her son Solomon to succeed him on the throne. Still a young man, Solomon becomes king of Israel, and has his first encounter with God, which is where our story picks up. We find this new king at an altar, offering one of his famously extravagant sacrifices to God. At night, God appears to Solomon in a dream and says, “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you.” Now, I told Debbie to do her best Robin Williams as the genie in Aladdin impression when she read the voice of God for us, but I don’t know what happened!
Seriously though, that’s the first thing I thought of when I read this story. “So, God is granting wishes now?” And this is purely a side note, although this would make for a great, if not amusing sermon. But we do treat God like a genie in a bottle sometimes don’t we—hoping God will grant our wishes that we lovingly call prayers? We all do it from time to time. Don’t pretend like you don’t! Trust me, we have worse behavior than that for God to get bent outta shape over!
But back to our story. God offers to give him anything and Solomon surprises everybody by asking for wisdom! Now, I know this guy is a Bible character that the writer looked up to but I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when he asked for wisdom! Like, come on Solomon! You’re killing me here! He could have had anything! I’ll be the first one to tell you right now that I would not have asked for wisdom, which is probably why that’s the one thing that I should ask for!
But no, I’d ask for something way more practical like having my school debt forgiven…sooo that I could tithe of course! Or I’d ask for good health…sooo that I could get to know my grandchildren of course! I’d find some way to try and play the system. Right now some of you are probably thinking, and this guy’s our pastor? Hey, ask the call committee members, perfection was not on my resume when I interviewed for this position two and a half years ago. But I digress.
So apparently, God was pretty impressed with Solomon’s request. God basically says, you could have asked for long life, money, or power, but instead you asked for wisdom…so I’ll give you everything! And then my skepticism of Solomon came out again and I thought, wait a sec, did he know God would react that way and that’s why he asked for wisdom? Well played Solomon, well played. Regardless of his motivations, things worked out pretty well for this new king, at least at the time.
God makes good on those gifts to Solomon and he turns out to be extremely wealthy, very wise, and very successful as Israel’s king. Well, until he wasn’t. It doesn’t take long before we learn that he is just as flawed as the two previous kings; so flawed in fact, that his sins actually contribute to the kingdom splitting in two, making him the third and final king of a united kingdom of Israel. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s back up and focus on this gift of wisdom that Solomon asks for.
And that’s exactly what happens, and Solomon is able to give the baby to the rightful mother. It’s such a dramatic little scene, very theatrical, which is one of the reasons why I love these stories so much! So, let’s explore wisdom a little more deeply. What is wisdom? Now, I’m not going to presume to answer a question that philosophers have been asking for thousands of years in this one little sermon. But if we’re going to get something useful out of this story, then I do think we need to get some kind of handle on what exactly wisdom is, specifically this kind of wisdom.
Because I think there are different kinds. There is a practical wisdom, which I would call street smarts, or just plain ol’ common sense, like learning not to put your hand in fire, or telling your spouse what you really think of that outfit. If you take a look at the book of Proverbs, which is full of wise sayings, it tons of these more practical kinds of wisdom, like this one: “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan.” No kidding? Thanks Proverbs!
Here’s another one, “Watch your feet on the way, and all your paths will be secure. Don’t deviate a bit to the right or the left; turn your feet away from evil.” Really, Proverbs? Watch where I’m going. Stay away from evil. Well I’m glad you’re here to tell us these things! The book is full of this common sense practical wisdom! But that’s just one kind of wisdom.
There is a deeper wisdom, a longer lasting wisdom, a divine wisdom, a kind of wisdom that I don’t think scripture fully appreciated until Jesus enters the picture—because this divine wisdom is a wisdom that is tempered in love. Now, I’m not saying that there’s no love in the Hebrew scriptures, far from! And we definitely get glimpses of this kind of divine wisdom that is tempered in love, like in this story of the two women and a baby. But I really believe that it comes to its fullness, in the life of Jesus.
Hold that thought, and let’s first take a deeper look at what I’m talking about using today’s story. How does Solomon know that the real mother will reveal herself in this challenge? Is he just the gambling kind of person? Is he just hoping for the best here? No, it’s because he understands the love factor in this scenario. He knows that the love of the real mother will be unstoppable. Maybe he knows this because of the love of his own mother, Bathsheba. Or maybe he learned it from God. Wherever he learned it, it was more than just his knowledge of human behavior.
You can have all the street smarts in the world, all the common sense, all the knowledge, all the facts, even faith and hope as Paul puts it in First Corinthians, but “the greatest of these is love.” And speaking of Paul, he dedicates the first three chapters of his first letter to the church in Corinth, to what topic? Wisdom! He writes, “In God’s wisdom, God determined that the world wouldn’t come to know God through its wisdom. Instead, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching.” I thought that part was funny.
He continues, “Jews ask for signs, and Gentiles look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called—both Jews and Gentiles—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom…Christ became wisdom from God, for us.” And what’s most significant there, is that Paul connects wisdom with the crucifixion, God’s ultimate act of love.
It’s this love factor that bridges the gap between knowing right from wrong, to making decisions for the common good, for the betterment of those around us, even when, especially when there’s a cost for us—that’s a divine wisdom, the kind of wisdom that we see the Hebrew scriptures slowly progress towards, but coming to fruition in Jesus. Here’s a modern-day proverb to help us, from Desmond Tutu, a South African Anglican archbishop, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”
Common sense, common decency, tells us to just stay put and keep pulling people out of the river. It’s safe, and it’s working. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right? Besides, what if we go upstream and whatever is making people fall in the river, causes us to fall in too! No, no, no, no, we should just stay right here where it’s safe and just keep pulling people out of the river, and just call that our good deed for the day.
However, it is the people with divine wisdom, wisdom with a heart, wisdom tempered with love, that stops to think, “Maybe we should take the risk, and go find out why people are falling into this river in the first place?” And maybe even take it a step further to ask, “I wonder if they need help?” But that way of thinking, that kind of wisdom, cannot come without love—because love often comes from a place of sacrifice, and that sacrifice is often of our own safety, or at the very least of our own feeling of security. Here’s a real-world example of this. Immigration policy is a hot topic in our nation today, particularly where our southern border is concerned.
Now, a worldly wisdom would tell us to have strong borders, to keep our nation secure, maybe even to build a wall. That seems logical. Especially since so many people are trying to get into America. I mean, it’s been a tried and true tactic for nations across the globe for thousands of years. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? However, if we use a divine wisdom, the wisdom with love factored in, a sacrificial love, not just love for us but love for others as well, we see immigration policy from a different angle. A divine wisdom causes us to ask, “I wonder why so many people are trying to cross our border?” And maybe even to take that a step further to ask, “I wonder if they need help?”
That’s just one example of where we could apply this divine wisdom. How might our attitudes change if we applied that divine wisdom everywhere? Think of all the hot topics in the world today. I won’t list them for you. How might our perspective be changed if we were to incorporate a wisdom that is tempered in love? How might this love factor change the way we approach, not only issues, but people, in our world today? God is not calling us to apply a worldly wisdom, there is already plenty of that out there.
What God is calling, is pleading for us to do, is apply a divine wisdom, a wisdom with love factored in. And what might be our motivation to do so? Because God has already used the love factor on us. When God looks at us God does not use a worldly wisdom to see with us. No, God uses God’s own wisdom, and therefore does not see us as just the faulty people that we are, but as the children of God that we were called to be. All thanks to the love factor. Amen.
Inspired by 2 Samuel 11:1-5, 14-18, 26-27; 12:1-10
Before our story that we read, it covers Israel’s desire to have a king, like every other nation has. Apparently, they were tired of the temporary leaders that helped them out during the book of Judges, and so they thought the answer to their woes was to have a king. The prophet Samuel warns them that this is a bad idea, not to mention disrespectful to God, their current king. But they continue to gripe about it, something they’re experts at, and so Samuel gives in and anoints Saul as their first king.
Unfortunately, Saul is less than stellar as their king. Not only were his approval ratings low, but he turned out to be a bit mentally unstable, or at least that’s the way the author portrays him. And so, Samuel anoints a new king, the same boy who defeated Goliath; and this new king has a promising start. However, it doesn’t take long to discover that he is not much of an improvement over Saul; which brings us to our sad tale we have before us today: the rape of Bathsheba.
By this time in the story, he was already, as one scholar put it, a collector of women. He had numerous wives from all over the place, all simultaneously of course, as well as numerous children. The way scripture describes it, you’d think every place that this king went had a Wifemart for him to shop at. But in spite of having more wives than any one person could need, when he sees Bathsheba, he must have her—one more woman to add to his collection. And even after he inquires about her and finds out she’s married, it does not stop him. What the king wants, the king gets. And so, when Bathsheba’s husband is away, he takes her. And this sin of the king’s marks the beginning of the end of his reign, and more importantly, his humanity.
However, I would like to focus our attention on Bathsheba, something that history has not done much of, at least not in a positive light. Like so many victims of sexual assault, she is placed in the background of a larger story, in this case, a king’s story. However, she has a story of her own, and there are enough Biblical clues to flesh that out a bit. I find it fascinating that the author does not condemn her in any way.
Right from the start, the sin of this story is placed solely on the king’s shoulders. Bathsheba is introduced as a law abiding citizen, which is why she is bathing after her monthly period, an act required by law. Even the fact that she is doing it where she can be seen by the king is explained by the author. The king wasn’t even supposed to be home! He was supposed to be on the battlefield, where any other good king would have been! But this king was not.
And so, he takes her. This particular kind of crime against her personhood is often thought of as a crime of anger, or sadism, or just plain old lust. It is none of those things. This kind of crime is a crime of power—exerting power over another person, for a variety of reasons but power is the driving force. Take this story as an example. Could Bathsheba have said no? Could she have resisted? Possibly. But at what cost? Her life? Her freedom? Her family? We don’t know for certain that she did not already have children with Uriah. If she did, they would have been at risk too.
Whatever the cost, it’s safe to say that it was too high. That is the kind of power that he exerted over her, to have his way with her—power that he wielded as a weapon. His position as king alone was power enough over her. This was a man that she probably already knew, as her husband was high enough in the king’s army to have a house so close to the palace. And so, this king was familiar to her. Bathsheba has attended dinners with this king and her husband. She has seen her husband, whom she respects and loves, bow low to this king in honor and respect, time and time again. All of this is what is rooted in his power over Bathsheba. So to say that she was an adult, or that she knew better, just doesn’t cut it—and certainly doesn’t appreciate the nuances of this heinous crime.
As if Bathsheba’s violation wasn’t enough for her to bear, the king has her husband killed, so that he can have her all to himself, anytime he wants. More power wielded as a weapon against her. The king allows the appropriate time to mourn for her husband. How considerate. And then he takes her into the palace as his wife, to live out the rest of her days at the place of the crime against her, with the perpetrator of the crime against her, as a constant reminder for the rest of her life. And I want us to just take a moment to consider the strength that it must have taken; the courage that it required of her; the toll it must have cost her.
And I also want to take this moment to acknowledge the millions of women in our world today, including in this great nation of ours, who have been sexually assaulted, and have had to endure life afterwards, who have had to keep moving forward afterwards, whose stories have been placed in the background afterwards, whose names have been ignored. I’m not sure if you noticed but even over the course of this short story that we read today, Bathsheba’s goes from being referred to by name, to being referred to as “the wife of Uriah.”
But this is not the end of her story! Our author records that she went on to fight for her family. Bathsheba and the king have a son named Solomon who she attempts to raise to be the kind of king that her people needed. Though Solomon was not the king’s oldest son, he was by far the most qualified, as the king’s other sons were too busy fighting amongst themselves, even plotting each other’s deaths. And so, Bathsheba fights for her son’s right to claim the throne. And she succeeds! She gets to see her son, a product of a crime against her humanity, ascend the throne. What a proud moment that must have been for her.
The last story that we get of Bathsheba comes in the next book of the Bible, 1 Kings. It’s a moving little scene about one of the former king’s sons still vying for the throne. She protects her son from this usurper but that’s not what moved me. When she enters the throne room she is referred to as the Queen Mother. And when she approaches her son, he descends his throne and bows low to her, as he helps her to her own throne that he has placed to the right of his—such a seemingly simple gesture that could easily be overlooked, but is swollen with meaning.
To finally, after all those years, be given respect, let alone acknowledgment of her humanity and value. This is the last image we are given of her, sitting on the Queen Mother’s throne, next to her adoring son. If only all women’s stories could have such an ending—which is why it is so important for us to give them room to lift them up. Because like Bathsheba, they are not just stories of victimhood, they are stories of survivors, they are stories of strength and courage, they are stories of resilience and fortitude, they are stories of warriors; and they are stories with names—names that we should not allow to be forgotten.
Bathsheba is referred to once more in the Bible, but unfortunately not by name. At the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, she is listed as an ancestor of Jesus, as the “wife of Uriah.” Even after all the years that had passed between her and Jesus, they still could not use her name. We can do better. May we give women’s stories the room to be told, may we give them our ears to listen, may we give them our hearts to believe them, and may we give them the respect to remember their names. Names like Bathsheba, Queen Mother. Amen.
Inspired by Joshua 24:1-15
So we have to start by asking that now familiar question, “How did we get here?” Especially because, since last week’s reading of the Ten Commandments, or vows as we called them, at Mt. Sinai, we have fast-forwarded through quite a bit of Israel’s history. To sum up, after they left Mt. Sinai, they continued on their journey through the wilderness to their new home, Canaan, the Promise Land, “a land flowing in milk and honey”, as scripture describes it. But it takes them forty years to get there.
On the way, their whining and complaining never ceased, testing God’s patience at every turn, including, but not limited to, still having trouble giving up their old Gods, after all these years. They finally make it to the border of the Promise Land, where Moses gets to see it from afar, but dies before he’s able to enter it. His protégé, Joshua, takes over as leader of the Israelites, and is tasked with moving them into Canaan, their new home.
|"The Children of Israel Crossing the Jordan" by Gustave Dore|
And then had the nerve to attribute these genocidal tendencies to God! How convenient, right? Every nation the world has ever known has a dark chapter or two in their history, and the Israelites, our faith ancestors, were no different. America has slavery as one of its dark chapters; Germany, the Holocaust; South Africa, apartheid. But it’s not just nations that can have a dark chapter. The Catholic church has the inquisition. And our very own Martin Luther has his extremely anti-Semitic writings.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not excusing the Israelites by saying, “Well, everyone has done this!” But if the Bible teaches us anything, it’s that, from cover to cover, it is chock full of example after example, of how God’s people have broken the Ten Commandments, and if the Bible was still being written today, our dark chapters would be in their too. Why? Because the more our sin is revealed, the more God’s grace is revealed. Why?
Because we believe in a God that loves us unconditionally, as that is the only kind of love that works with us humans who continually make bad choices. And our religion, has spent way too much time covering that up, rather than celebrating it. Think of the time and energy that has been spent on trying to make us look like we somehow deserve God’s grace, that somehow we have earned it, that somehow Christians are a better breed of humans, when that couldn’t be further from the truth!
It doesn’t take much reading of church history to see why phrases like “holier than thou” or “goody two shoes” or “self-righteous prig” (that’s one of my favorites) or names like “prude” or “priss” or “choirboy”, all get directed at Christians. Because if we’re honest with our history, it’s our own fault, we’ve asked for it. Christianity has a long history of using our faith to elevate our moral superiority over other nations, over other groups, over other religions, over people of color, over women or nonbinary individuals, you name the group and Christianity probably has a history of lording itself over them at some point.
And scholars have offered many reasons why we have a habit of doing this: for power, for wealth, for our egos, but I think most pastors read history and just say, “Oh, that’s because of sin.” And why is our faith even around still, after all we have done wrong in God’s name? Most pastors see that and say, “Oh, now that’s grace.”
However, there could have been a different way we lived out our faith over the centuries, that didn’t include us trying to hide our imperfections. We could have owned them. We could have been honest about our imperfections, about our sin. Not in a “Look what I got away with!” kind of way, but a “This is who we are.” kind of way. Imagine how freeing that may have been for people over the centuries, and today, who were trying to do their best but just kept falling short—for them to hear from us, “Join the club. We’re trying too. And we’re falling short too.” With maybe even an invitation to, “Come and try with us!” But no, we have had this nasty habit of judging others faults, making them feel less than, when we are struggling with the same things. Institutionalized bullying is what it comes right down to.
In a letter to his friend and colleague, Phillip Melanchthon, Martin Luther told him to “sin boldly.” Now this wasn’t Luther giving him an excuse to sin. This is what he wrote, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin.” This was just Luther’s odd way, and yes he was an odd duck, this was his odd way of saying—you can’t celebrate God’s grace until you have first lifted up your sin! And the more boldly you do that, the more boldly you’re going to celebrate God’s mercy! So own it! Own it!
I’ve got an idea for a new motto for Christianity. Imagine someone going to our website, and seeing right on the front page, in big bold letters, “WE SIN…A LOT.” That’s the kind of boldness I’m talking about! Imagine that as a conversation starter! I can hear people seeing that motto and asking, “Umm, if y’all sin that much then how do you even function? How do you even get by then?” And then we can say, “I’m so glad you asked! Let me tell you about a carpenter I know. Great guy! Loved wine. You’d like him!”
If we could be that bold about our sin, imagine how much bolder we’d have to be about God’s grace and mercy! Which brings us to our reading from the end of the book of Joshua. They have finally “moved in” to their new homeland, “a land flowing in milk and honey” which had turned into a land flowing in the blood of those they trampled to acquire it. And Joshua and God take a moment to give them a hard reality check! Because even though things are going well for them right now, they are not going to stay that way for long.
And so they tell them, you’ve got to decide! You’ve got to choose who you are going to follow, God, or your old gods. Which was really another way of saying, you have to choose between your present or your past. You can’t have it both ways. If you want to continue to live in the past then you go right ahead. Make a decision and own it! But you can’t live your life with one foot out the back door and expect to move forward.
God, God’s people, and this world, need you fully here, in the present. And God wants all of you, meaning, all that makes you who you are—all your faults, all your strengths, all your sins, all your good deeds. And God invites you to be bold about all of it. Remember, the bolder we are about our sin, the bolder we can be about God’s grace and mercy. Unfortunately, Joshua did not understand this and gets a few things wrong.
If you keep reading there’s a few more verses to the end of the book where the people tell Joshua that they have indeed chosen to serve God. And Joshua basically tells them no, they can’t, because they haven’t in the past and he sees no indication that they will in the future. But that’s not what he gets wrong. He then tells them that God won’t forgive their rebellion or their sins. But that’s only because he hadn’t met Jesus yet. Thankfully we have, and hopefully, we’re getting to know Jesus better and better every day. Thanks be to God. Amen.