March 31, 2019

Recollection and Reconciliation

March 31 “Recollection and Reconciliation” Joshua 5:9-12  •  Psalm 32  •  2 Corinthians 5:16-21  •  Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

This past week has certainly been very interesting. We have been on Spring Break, but I haven’t spent much time relaxing. On Friday of last week, our daughter and I packed up the car and headed to Kennewick, mostly to celebrate her birthday with my Mom, who has the same birthday. We stopped at Starbucks in The Dalles, where I bumped into our previous District Superintendent, David Nieda. He was travelling with his daughter to Walla Walla for the Youth Convocation of the PNW UMC, and he invited me to join him for a Table Talk at Kennewick 1st UMC, where we discussed what is going on with our denomination, presented by Mary Huycke, the DS from that Conference. One of the people there was my favorite teacher from high school, who I hadn’t seen in over 30 years. Even after all this time, he still talks to me like a teacher: “David, what do you think? Speak to me!” My favorite part of meeting as the people of God is listening to people tell their stories and trying to discern where they are coming from and what motivates them. Lent is a time when we do this corporately and individually. Even when we are supposed to be on vacation, there is still a sense of movement: physically, emotionally, spiritually. Whether we leave the house or stay home and watch the news, our world is always changing, and we are always changing, whether we are aware of it or not. Some mornings we wake up and wonder how we got to where we are, where did all our time go? Some day soon each of us will leave this world, are we ready for what God is preparing for us next?

You can’t help but think about where you have been when you go home and see how much things have changed. Kristen and our son joined us on Sunday, after we had gone to church, sitting in my favorite place from childhood, up in the balcony. We met my sister’s family for an early dinner and then went to my parent’s house for cake and presents. For the next couple of days, we went to the usually places to shop and visit over coffee. On Tuesday morning, I got up early and headed for the coast, while Kristen and the kids later picked up the dogs at the kennel and went to Yakima to visit her aunt. My journey took me over White Pass, which was beautiful even though not yet fully green, with Rimrock Lake still frozen over and snow everywhere. My destination was Bay Center, Washington, to one of my old churches, where we listened to a bishop from Uganda tell us about his ministry and were invited to support it. His focus is on moms and childbirth, in a place where the death-rate is high for both moms and newborns. He was very eloquent in his British-accented English, calling us to serve Jesus and save the lost. We also served as witnesses as one of the locals was formally accepted into his church, as she prepares to join him at his church in Africa as a missionary. While there, I was able to visit a couple of my former parishioners who did not come the service, before going to Astoria, one of my all-time favorite places, as I headed back to Portland. It was a time to reflect on where I have been, the people who have touched my life, and where I want to go next.

Our lives are made up of many journeys, many beginnings and endings, as we head towards our final passage from this life into the next. We struggle to make sense of the present, and hopefully can make enough sense of the past to recognize the importance of each step that got us to where we are now. To understand our passage from Joshua, we need to read back a little. Joshua has just led the people of Israel into the Promised Land. Moses is dead, as are everyone else who could have remembered their time in Egypt. Joshua leads a new people into what is essentially a new land, their ancestral lands which they are seeing for the first time. They have crossed the miraculously dry bed of the Jordan River, and have placed memorial stones for each of the tribes to mark this historic day. Soon they will go back and conquer the city of Jericho. But first, they must celebrate the occasion, for it marks a new day for the people of Israel. After the long journey out of Egypt, they take time to remember where they have been, and prepare for what lies ahead.

Our reading skips over why the people have stopped at Gilgal. During the 40 years in the desert, we are told, the people stopped the practice of circumcision, and the first thing God does when his people arrive back home is to renew this practice. So, they have stopped to circumcise all the males, and allow them time to heal and rest up. Certainly, this is not something to be done as an adult, but as an infant, so we won’t remember it! But the occasion is memorialized in our reading. Not only did this ceremony signify their renewed relationship with God and how that would determine their future, it also was a time of cleansing from the past. We read:

Then the LORD said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt." So the place was called Gilgal, as it is today. (Jos 5:9 CEB)

The name “Gilgal” sounds like the Hebrew word for “roll away.” We too, through baptism, prayer and confession, receive God’s forgiveness of our sins so that we can move on to what God has in store. As we too look back at those significant times and places of our lives, this passage is a significant memory for the people of Israel, one we may overlook as we read next about the conquest of Jericho and other more exiting and vivid stories. During Lent, we often focus on the regrettable things that we have done, but we also remember the regrettable things that have been done to us and seek to let go of their hold on us. Lent is not a time to just feel guilty or bad about ourselves, rather we seek to be healed and grow from our mistakes and bad experience. If we don’t learn anything from them, the suffering and hard road we traveled through is wasted.

And so having renewed a right relationship with God, they celebrate the Passover at Gilgal. The next day, we are told, God stops providing the manna for his people to eat, and for the first time, they eat from the crops of the land of Canaan. At this point in the narrative, they have not yet claimed any of the Promised Land as their own, tribe by tribe, but certainly they must have felt like they had finally arrived, not only to their homeland, from which they have been exiles from for so long, but as a people who have come into their own, all grown up, finally able to eat of the fruits from their land. Certainly, they must also feel anxious about what lies ahead, the battles and missteps, but also of God’s promises being fulfilled. Perhaps they felt kind of like they were leaving the home they grew up in to strike out on their own. Perhaps they were glad to finally be at the end of such a long journey, but a new adventure was just beginning. However, this doesn’t mean that God has set them loose to fend for themselves. If you think this reading has been less than exciting so far, listen to what comes next:

When Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up. He caught sight of a man standing in front of him with his sword drawn. Joshua went up and said to him, "Are you on our side or that of our enemies?" He said, "Neither! I'm the commander of the LORD's heavenly force. Now I have arrived!" Then Joshua fell flat on his face and worshipped. Joshua said to him, "What is my master saying to his servant?" The commander of the LORD's heavenly force said to Joshua, "Take your sandals off your feet because the place where you are standing is holy." So Joshua did this. (Jos 5:13-6:1 CEB)

Now that’s more like it! And immediately after this, the city of Jericho is taken.

Wouldn’t things be easier if God worked this way with us? Not the wandering for 40 years in the wilderness part; but the coming to us in a way that makes us immediately flop down and worship? Too often, we only recognize God’s presence in hindsight, or the still small voice we hear in prayer or in nature, but we are often too busy and distracted to hear it. We are more like the prodigal son, not realizing how good we had it until we have screwed everything up. But God is always waiting for us to return, too, whether we have sinned willfully and rebelliously, or if we have just been lazy or stupid. We may think that we got up this morning and decided to go to church, as if it were our decision, but it is God who calls us back, even when we haven’t done anything that is disappointing to him or us. God calls us here to spend time with him and with each other, receiving God’s grace in the measure that we need it today. We come today not knowing or even expecting a word from God, but he knows what we need and provides it.

But perhaps you come feeling like you have been the prodigal kid, not living up to God’s standards or even your own expectations for your life. God is waiting for you to come to him, asking for forgiveness, a new start, the guidance only God can give. Jesus died on our behalf so that we could have new life now and a place with him later. During these 40 days of Lent, we too are on a journey to the Promised Land, already on the edges perhaps, waiting for God’s marching orders for where we are to go next. We don’t need to go through the rite of circumcision, thank goodness, but we do need to circumcise our hearts, cleansing ourselves and making room for God to enter in. We remember where we have been, celebrate what God has done for us, and prepare for the journey ahead.

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