Today's sermon was preached by Rev. Marissa Danney, a hospital chaplain and chaplain educator at UCSF.
Scripture: Joshua 24:1-15
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Esau…
These are names, and they are names that evoke a story.
Now, Joshua is hoping here, that there are “ears to hear”
Him re-tell the story
The “history” of God’s liberating relationship with the Israelites
The word “history” coming from the greek histor and historia,
Meaning “to know” and “narrative”
Joshua is certainly hoping,
Here on his death bed
And here at Shechem, a significant place
- Abram’s first camp in the promised land
- Jacobs first camp upon his return to the promised land
… Yes, he is certainly hoping that those he has gathered
will have ears to hear this
carefully placed retelling
that they might “know the narrative” anew
Joshua is speaking to the ears of the leaders of the people of Israel
He is retelling this history of God’s liberating faithfulness
on his death bed
much like Moses did in Deuteronomy
in the hopes that ears will hear and hearts will change.
For it appears that the Israelites have, again,
Begun to worship other idols.
Joshua is seeking to bend their ears,
And bend their hearts
to re-covenant with the God of liberation.
The Hebrew Bible or Old Testament
Is filled with stories that follow this pattern:
God covenants with the people
The people break the covenant
And God re-covenants with the people.
And so here is Joshua, speaking on behalf of the God of liberation,
Asking the people to re-commit themselves.
If you keep reading beyond the passage that Martha read today
You will find out that the people, indeed,
Did choose to re-commit with Joshua and his family
to worship God above all else
Hearts did change as the stories were told
The people Israel remembered God’s steadfastness
In relationship to them.
This is where I see this story from ancient Israel
Connecting with us, today
Because we too seem
to so easily stray from our covenant to worship God alone
We are so tempted, like the people Israel,
To stray to worship other “gods”
“gods” that give us a sense of security
…even if it's a false security.
We can make a “god” out of almost anything that moth and rust
destroy… Can we not?
There are the false “gods” of financial security,
The false “gods” of being liked…
I’m sure we could come up with a long list
Of where we so easily and temporarily “lay our treasures” and worship.
Joshua’s message for Israel at the end of his life
And his message for us remains:
God has been faithful in the past,
And will be in the future,
faithful in covenanted relationship with us.
Why is it so hard for us to remain faithful to God?
Because while God is faithful in relationship with us
The nature of relationship is this:
that it changes our hearts
And change… almost every time… is scary.
Our God calls us to be in a covenant in which
we are continually willing to be changed.
What courage that takes!
To covenant in relationship with this relational God,
This God who called to Abraham, Moses, Sarah, Rebekah, Joshua, and so
This God who calls to us doesn’t call us to simple sacrifices
But to turn our very hearts over in relationship!
And to have our hearts turned in the process.
And this is why I believe our faith is so characterized with these stories
Like this one that Joshua recounts here:
stories of people turning away from God after having been liberated!
Because to be willing to be changed by relationship
Requires courage and re-commitment,
To open our ears
And when we open our ears
our hearts will be changed,
And when our hearts change,
…Our feet must follow.
As Joshua so wisely knows.
Lawyer and author, Bryan Stevenson, in his book Just Mercy,
Seems to know something about this too.
He has dedicated his career, since the 1980s,
to working with prisoners on death row, or with life sentences – both
adults and children,
In individual cases and on the systemic level, he continues his work
to make US law more just.
Stevenson knows something about the power of story, like Joshua,
For as I have read through, story by story,
Allowing the ears of my heart to hear…
I have been changed – changed to no longer trust that the laws
instituted and carried out across the country are necessarily just.
That my privilege protects me from having to know
And that so many, so many people
Particularly with black, brown, or indigenous bodies
Carry the weight, trauma and knowledge…
The true history – the “knowledge of the narrative”
Of US systemic injustice.
As we listen to Joshua’s retelling of God’s liberation
Of the oppressed Israelites
May we be reminded
That this liberating and relational God
is always tuning God’s ears to the cry of the oppressed
And as followers and those liberated by God,
calls us to do likewise.
Let us re-covenant with God
Remembering the stories of God’s liberation and steadfastness,
And re-committing to God
By opening our ears to the stories of the oppressed
And allowing our hearts to be changed.
All over this country, you may hear the call to “say their names.”
The names of black, brown and indigenous people
Killed by the US culture of White Supremacy
In the very system meant to protect them.
We are asked to “say their names”
Not just to know names, but to
“know the narrative” of their stories
And our hearts are changed.
May God continue to speak to us through human story,
And may we have ears to hear
That our hearts might be changed,
And that we might re-covenant to be followers of the God of liberation,
our feet following in action,
That these names too may become stories of liberation in the world.