Proper 26A

October 27, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 23:1-12

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary

    Joshua 3:7-17

    Author: Scott Hoezee

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    As Frederick Buechner once observed, Moses was a hard act to follow.    Joshua 3 indicates that maybe even God felt that way.   Even almighty Yahweh seemed to know that if Joshua was going to gain acceptance in the eyes of the Israelites, God was going to have to do something on the dramatic side to make it clear to everyone that Joshua was Moses’ heir in every meaningful and important sense.

    Of course, you have to wonder if even Joshua felt a bit in Moses’ shadow and if even this crossing of the Jordan more-or-less kept him there for the time being.   After all, through Moses God had parted a whole sea and then drowned Pharaoh and company behind the Israelites for good measure.   This time . . . well, it was a river and there was no hostile army behind the people in the kind of hot pursuit that made everything that much more urgent.   Granted, the river was at flood stage (thank goodness for that at least!) but maybe Joshua worried this whole spectacle had the air of “cheap imitation” about it.    (Moses has parted his seas and Joshua his . . . well, his streams.)

    Probably he didn’t think that but even if he did, he need not have worried.  For those with eyes to see, this was the working of Almighty God, the Creator of this whole world who could—precisely because it all came from him and belonged to him—make that creation do pretty much whatever he wanted.   In this case, he made a river at flood stage stop flowing so the people could get across it easily and with dry feet and with children and small animals protected from harm as well.

    It was a neat trick and a fine miracle but what’s instructive about the text of Joshua 3 is how Joshua frames it.   Yahweh tells Joshua, “I am going to exalt you, Joshua, in the eyes of the people.”   But for his part, Joshua does not let the spotlight fall on himself at all.  Instead he makes it abundantly clear that God was doing all of this and that the key lesson the Israelites were to take away from this was not how great Joshua was but how great God is and how this action will help the people know for certain that God will do exactly as he promised in driving out the people from the land of Canaan so that the Israelites will be able to call it home.

    It’s a curious tag-team here: God wants to exalt Joshua, Joshua wants to exalt God; God wants the people to know that Joshua is his new #1, Joshua wants the people to know that they are God’s #1 people and he will fight for them.

    There are, of course, lots of ways a preacher could go with this story.   At this point in the Year A Lectionary sequence, this is but the merest snippet of the Joshua narrative that the Lectionary kind of chunks out of the larger Book of Joshua.  (The Lectionary even does the somewhat odd thing of stopping the reading well short of the dramatic and meaningful setting up of stones in the middle of the river as a perpetual memorial to Yahweh’s work there that day).   This snippet of the story doesn’t make sense unless you can locate it within the wider narrative arc and sequence of this book and although the story itself is dramatic and memorable, there’s not lots and lots of textual material to go on here.

    But perhaps there is something about that interplay between Yahweh and Joshua—the way each defers to the other, the way each promotes the glory of the other—that is worth pondering.  One of the best insights we Western types can gain from our Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers is the image of the Trinity as a community of perichoresis, of a wonderful intermingled dance of life and light and delight.   In the West, we draw a triangle with big bold lines to represent the relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   The East draws a circle.   We make it all about logic and propositions and proper boundaries.  The East makes it about a dance, a divine choreography as each Person in God constantly defers to the others, moving in and with and through each other in a circle of mutual service and zest and life.

    This reminds me of Richard Lischer’s depiction of his Lutheran congregation in Illinois and their favorite stained-glass window: it was a triangle with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each on one point of the triangle and with the Latin words “Non Est” etched along each leg of the triangle.   As Lischer said, it was as though that Trinity Window was staring down at the congregation to say, “Any questions!!??”   Maybe we are sometimes a bit overly analytical and calculating in the West!

    There is something lyric to the idea that God has great enthusiasm for us, that God wants to work in and through us as he did with Joshua, that he wants to see us flourish and be validated.  But there is something also quite wonderful about the idea of our joining the divine choreography (as Joshua did) by being invested in helping God to shine and be displayed in all his glory.   In Joshua 3 God tries to defer to Joshua to make his name great.  Joshua responds by deferring to God so as to make God’s Name great among Israel.

    And somehow in this little tidbit of interaction between Yahweh and Joshua we see a vignette of a deep dynamic of our very lives as human beings before the face of God: it really is all about service and humility and love, even for God and certainly for us!

    Illustration Idea

    In her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gilead, Marilynne Robinson shows her narrator, 76-year-old Rev. John Ames, pondering the enormous love he feels for his little 7-year-old son. At one point Rev. Ames writes to his son, “There’s a shimmer on a child’s hair, in the sunlight. There are rainbow colors in it, tiny, soft beams of just the same colors you can see in the dew sometimes. Your hair is straight and dark and your skin is very fair. I suppose you’re not prettier than most children. You’re just a nice-looking boy, a bit slight, well scrubbed and well mannered. All that is fine, but it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.”

    Maybe loving God is like that–it begins with the sheer delight we take in the fact that God exists at all. It begins in the wonder we feel when we try to wrap our minds around that Trinitarian mystery of three who are somehow still just one. It begins with having enthusiasm for the God who created such a galaxy of wonders and who then loved us enough to plunk us down smack in the middle of it all. God arranged it so we could enjoy the splendors of a juicy Bartlett pear, taste the oakiness of a sparkling Chardonnay, have our hearts quickened by the lyric, liquid melodies of the Wood Thrush. We begin by loving the sheer existence of God and we go from there.

    “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” That’s what Jesus said. And Jesus is the same One who taught us to call that God “Our Father.” And how we yearn to love and be loved by Father. Few things plague us more than the sense that things are not right between our parents and us. That’s a motif throughout literature. In many stories there is the figure of the ne’er-do-well, the son cut off by his father. Maybe they had words. Maybe their split was bitter. And then the day comes when the old man dies, and yet the estranged ne’er-do-well finds it impossible to resist the urge to ask, “Did Papa mention me before he died?”

    Some while back I heard a story relayed by Ernest Hemmingway. Once in Spain there was a personal ad that ran in the classified section of a newspaper.

    “Paco, meet me tomorrow at noon at the Hotel Montana. All is forgiven. Love, Papa.”

    And the next day the police had to be dispatched to deal with the mob of 800+ Pacos who had shown up at noon at the Hotel Montana. Hemmingway wanted to show the popularity of the Spanish name Paco, but at a more wrenching level, this reveals the universal hunger to connect with our origins, with our parents, with our Father.

    The Eastern Orthodox wing of the Church has long pictured the inner life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a kind of dance. From all eternity the three persons have twirled in and through and around one another in a divine choreography of life and light and joy. God invites you to join the dance. He wants you to share the joy of his life. He’s waiting for you. He loves you. He wants you. Once you discover how much God wants you, you may find what you’ve been wanting all along.

  • The Lectionary Psalms +

    Psalm 43

    Author: Doug Bratt

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

    Author: Stan Mast