Recommitting and Reconciling
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
Today we recognize how the leaders among us have made an impact on our lives. The ways in which leaders, who are just as much human and mortal as we are, can change how we live together as a society. On the long path of healing, I believe the Holy Spirit speaks to us to recommit to God, thus looking beyond ourselves and our own interests. Joshua was a warrior and leader for the people of Israel who started serving at a young age. He saw Israel grow and change over many years and he knew them while they were wandering in the wilderness at war and without peace. At the point of this passage, he is advanced in age and holding his people to the same commitments they made many years ago; to serve and follow the Lord. Effectively Joshua was giving his retirement speech in front of all of the tribes of Israel and every leader within them. “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’”
What I find interesting is the choice he’s offering them. He isn’t forcing them to follow God. For many leaders, the one with the most power, resources, or influence gets to rule. However, Joshua shows his people that God has always been faithful to them and as leader, Joshua returns that faith as a choice not an obligation nor a mandate. His example is his strength. The declaration of independence was signed in one of our earliest capitals, Philadelphia. The nation of Israel recommitted themselves to God in one of their earliest capitals, Shechem. The comparison isn’t exactly the same but the action makes a definitive statement. The act of a people to declare, here and now we hold certain values above all else, we abandon other values that don’t resonate, and our will guide us moving forward.
I feel like the passion and conviction for God that the Israelites displayed in this passage is lying underneath the surface for many churches in our country. It’s lying dormant and may reawaken from a strong catalyst. The last several years has drawn out a range of emotions for our country. The last week in particular really moved people to some extremes. I was in a Zoom meeting last week and for our devotion we offered a few words on how we were. Some said exhausted, frightened, unsurprised, hopeful, worried, and determined among other responses. Some major events have called us to action and awakened the passion and conviction for justice, love, and mercy that we let fall idle. For many, they can now breathe again from being so tense for so long. For others, their tensions are just getting worse. Many of us frame our relationships with others in terms of winners and losers.
We come to realize that building our lives on a basis of winners and losers leaves a fracture that cannot be fixed without compassion and hard work. What’s fascinating about the gospel is how in Jesus’s death, he did not get the vote of his people, his followers felt great shame, he was powerless and division and blame became the norm. But in Jesus’s resurrection God chose him, gave him all power, authority, glory and honor, and we are all united in him. There is the understanding that we are justified; we are reconciled to God through Jesus. But we are always recommitting to this in our reconciliation with others. Even after Jesus rose again, he sought to reconcile Peter—Peter do you love me? Feed my lambs--Jesus sought to repair that relationship for the division felt when he abandoned him. Jesus showed us the hard work and compassion needed to help unite a divided people while offering us unimaginable grace. May we receive and offer this grace freely.
The affirmation of faith for today comes from the Brief Statement of Faith, from the book of Confessions. “In 1983 the two largest Presbyterian churches in the United States reunited.” Those were the PCUS and the UPCUSA. The Presbyterian churches of the north and south had split over the issue of segregation and after many years of toil, disagreement, prayer, and reconciliation, the two churches reunited, not without lingering pain. Just as Joshua did with the people of Israel, we continually recommit ourselves to God with the whole Church. We confess our faith beyond just our own beliefs, beyond our own congregation, beyond our presbytery, synod, denomination, or any limitation we can place on ourselves. To be blunt, we can’t only be concerned about our own survival or flourishing. We seek to commit to trust God and to care for creation regardless of how it benefits us. More importantly God unites us with one another not only to remember but also to vision. From the book of confessions, “No confession of faith looks merely to the past; every confession seeks to cast the light of a priceless heritage on the needs of the present moment, and so to shape the future”. We recall the past understanding that we now prepare for the future.
“As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.” The understanding we live by is that the Lord is risen but has yet to return. Last week we dove into a bit of the book of Revelation which describes the coming--or in Greek the Parousia--of the Lord. This is what the bridesmaids
prepare for. This is why we must reawaken our alertness. We tune our minds to the conviction of the Spirit. We pray to be ready when danger arises. We may have emergency services for fires, auto issues, food shortages, legal troubles, health scares, and others but how prepared are we for spiritual emergencies? Is our world shaken when the society shifts around us? We’ve seen how drastic changes can catch us off guard. The Lord came 2000 years ago when there was political turmoil, social unrest, and religious division. Jesus warns us to be ready for even greater shakeups. The Lord is coming at a time unknown to us. In our commitment to God and one another, in prayer and in everything we do, may we be ready for his coming. Thanks be to God.