Ears to Hear, Hearts to Change and Feet to Follow

Today's sermon was preached by Rev. Marissa Danney, a hospital chaplain and chaplain educator at UCSF. 

Scripture: Joshua 24:1-15

Michael Brown

Tanisha Anderson

Tamir Rice

Natasha McKenna

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.

Spoiler alert!

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.

So, why?

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

many more…

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.

And so,

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.

Eric Garner

La’Vante Biggs

Breonna Taylor

George Floyd

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.


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First Presbyterian San Anselmo is a progressive, inclusive Christian community blessed with meaningful worship, people who care for one another, diverse ministries for all ages, and a passion for justice and service.


(415) 456-3713


72 Kensington Road

San Anselmo, CA  94960


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