Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
There once was a people who worshipped many gods. They worshiped the god of the weather, and the god of the polite conversation, the god of the doormat, the god of that’s always how we’ve done it. They worshiped the god of coffee, the god of their favorite pew, the god of their cute little church building. Sometimes they bowed down before the god of fear. That god made them give respect to money. That god caused them to blame themselves and each other every time a member or pastor went away. That god made them think of the worst possible scenario. That god took all their energy.
But one day a little child came in and asked for a drink of water. The next day a teenager skateboarded outside their door. A woman asked if she could walk her dog on their grounds. The next day, someone came in hungry, someone came in who was living with his family of 5 in their car in the 95 degree heat, a family came in with a child and no roof to protect his holy little head. The next day, someone came in who’s family member was taken away by the government. The next day was Sunday and they read the scriptures they had always read. But somehow they heard differently than they had in a while. They began to remember who they were. They realized that little child was Jesus at their door, and so was the skateboarder, the dog-walker, the hungry person, the whole houseless family, the immigrant. All of these were Jesus, at their door, crying out for relationship, for justice, for love.
They began to remember that they were once thirsty, that they needed a safe place to hang out with friends after school, that they needed a place to spend time in nature with animals, that they were once hungry, that they once didn’t know where they would sleep and put their little children to bed on the seat of a car. They remembered they had once fled persecution in another country. They remembered how God led them out of slavery, and protected them, and provided for them, parted the sea for them, and led them through the wilderness to build trust and relationship between them.
The people remembered the God of freedom and they started to act out of love and generosity. They gave out water at their church and at community events. They had conversations with the teenagers. They blessed the animals and the people that came to them. They fed the hungry day after day. They provided safety for a car camper here and there. They educated themselves and marched for the cause of the immigrant in their midst. They built relationships in their community. They became what they were, the body of Christ, united with all God’s people. They stood strong, though small, through many storms and struggles. The were leaving their old Egypt slavery behind, their old gods, and embarking on a journey of learning who they really were and who God is.
Sometimes those old gods appeared and pulled at them. They felt that nagging fear. They felt that call to go back into their shells. They worried about their aging building. The sometimes did what was easier, instead of doing what was right. The complained now and then. But they put one foot in front of the other and not only did they remember, but God remembered them. God forgave them their shortcomings, and trained them, prepared them, loved them, challenged them.
God gave them gifts. God gave them gifts of truth-telling, of open hearts, of compassion. God gave them practical gifts of leadership, of storytelling, of persuasion. God gave them gifts of passion for justice. God constantly gave them food and drink of his own body and blood. God gave them protection of armor, of shields, of breastplates, of belts, of helmets, and of shoes. All this protection was to make them ready to proclaim the Gospel of peace, even while flaming arrows were attacking them.
This good news of peace, was not the kind of peace one makes bowing to the powers that be, the oppressors, the abusers. But instead it was the good news of peace for those who knew no peace, who were harassed, spit upon, looked down on, blamed, shackled. This was not the peace of a doormat who crumbled before the whims of the strong and greedy. This was peacemaking for the sake of the small ones. This was peaceful resistance. Of all the gifts that God gave them, God did not give the gift of a sword, but something much more powerful, that of new life, so that swords were meaningless against the people. This abundant life could not be destroyed.
God gave them the gift of God’s own self, God’s son among them. God humbled himself to walk this earth like any of us, and show us how close God is. This was offensive to many, that God invites the people to eat his flesh and blood, to give up power, to give up control, to be in unity with others who are different. Because they were so offended, the people arrested him, beat him, humiliated him, murdered him. God gave everything God had, God’s power, life, example, dignity, even God’s only son, absolutely everything. Finally, God gave them eternal life, abundant life, the invitation to die to the old ways, the old gods, the old fears, and walk in newness of life.
So the people took these gifts and they stood. They stood against the forces that defy God. They stood against hate, greed, violence, discrimination, and fear. They withstood. They joined with others in raising their voices on behalf of those no one ever listened to. They stood with refugees in courtrooms. They stood with prisoners denied any dignity. They stood with children as their advocates. They stood together despite differences of opinions. They were there for each other. They stood firm. They didn’t give up. They weren’t swayed by evil arguments or by fear. The stood firm in what was right. They stood, on their feet, planted, watchful, rooted, alive.
They saw some who were not so rooted wander away. And they knew they had a choice to follow suit. But in another way, this was a false choice, because of who they were, because of who God is. They said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Where else would we be that is true and hopeful?” So they stayed. And God stayed with them. And though they experienced the mystery of the Gospel, they couldn’t explain it. They could only live it and invite others to join them in living it in the body of Christ, in community, with the Divine, alive.
The people braced themselves to lose everything. They expected to be resisted until they fell. They resigned themselves to death. And still they stood for what is right. They stood for the vision of the Kingdom. They stood by God who had stood by them. And instead of death, they found themselves very much alive. They found they were not limping around, but they were vital. They knew their neighbors and had built relationships. They had partnered with churches and organizations that had energy to give. They could be real with each other and say what God had put on their minds to say. They found themselves being transformed. And they found their world was being transformed. People saw their example and no longer thought all churches are the same, in it for the false gods. People saw each other as people. People who had been pushed around found their own voices. The body of Christ grew. God’s vision began to be lived. There was no perfection. There were still troubles to be worked out and more work to do, however the people became the body of Christ that God made them to be, not just the church, but the neighbors, the needy, the partners, all standing together, equipped, real, powerful, abundant, living, vital.