Reading: Joshua 5 and Luke 1:67-79
Preacher: Celia Kemp
Hinneni, here I am;
hinneni, here I am, with you s3ll;
Hinneni here I am, trus3ng in you.
O Lord, in thee have I trusted; let me never be confounded.
(Book of Common prayer of the Episcopal Church USA)
I am in the lovely position of coming after both Ralph and Gemma’s wonderful sermons where they dealt with some of the thorny questons about Joshua and colonialism and the
current war in the Holy Lands – Gemma’s is online and if you missed it highly recommend you go back and watch it – which frees me up to go through this chapter on its own terms.
If after watching that you want more content on Joshua and Australia’s settler colonial history, there are three talks online I recently gave for Eremos called “Springs, Snakes and
Shimmering: Christ as a way in the wilderness?’ and the second one is on Joshua 7, Australia’s settler colonial history and the Rev Dr Djinyini Gondarra.
But I am not going to talk more about that today.
This statute is by the British Sculptor Antony Gormley – who I really love. He also did a box of fog which I was in London for and it was claustrophobic and memorable and not a bad metaphor for how I find the world quite a lot at this time. He sculpted the statues across lake ballard – a salt lake in WA. And metal men across London – the metal men in the hills north of Alice remind me of his work – I think of him quite a lot when I am walking amidst those.
I talk to a gentle priest on the phone once a month, last week she pointed me to this photo and she said how much it had moved her. This statute is standing in a crypt below Winchester cathedral. The crypt floods and when it does his hands fill with water. But otherwise he continues to stand as he always did.
She said she felt we were entering difficult times. Like the waters are rising. And this statute spoke about how to be amidst that. She thought we often reacted from the top of our head to hard things – a fight or flight response you could say – and we needed to learn to resist that so we could find our wisdom about a way forward from a deeper place.
I can be an anxious and panicky person and I have been thinking about my own, and our collective, responses to fear.
Questions: What do you fear at this Cme? When you are afraid are you tempted to immediate fight or flight in ways that you later regret? How do you find a deeper place to
The Israelites had problems with a panicky fight or flight response. They had first approached the promised land 38 years before. Last time they were overcome by their fear of the battle ahead. Numbers 14 describes them panicking and – in a mixture of flight and the wrong sort of fight – saying it would be better to be dead, but failing that their plan B was to overthrow Moses and find a leader to take them back to slavery in Egypt.
And so they did not enter the promised land. Joshua and Caleb were the only two who ‘held their nerve’ on that first approach, and the only two that remain and the book of Joshua describes the next generation.
We are now in Chapter 5 and they still haven’t started, well, fighting. The actual sword on sword fightng only starts at the end of Chapter 6. A LOT of Joshua is preparation. Chapter 5 is all preparation for battle. But is not exactly how we might think that would go. Chapter 5 starts with a look at the psyche of the people already living in the promised land. And they are terrified.
This is very helpful for the Israelites – then as is now a lot of what matters in battle is psychological – but the credit is not theirs. We are told it is entirely because stories have spread about what God has done. NOT because, well, the Israelites are intrinsically scary themselves. And that makes sense – there are a lot of them but they are a landless people who are about to face many kings who live in walled cities with stockpiles of weapons and with much experience of fighting.
Chapter 5 then moves to the Israelites. At the end of Chapter 4 they come up from the Jordan and camp at Gilgal and set up some rocks together – which I love – to remember the crossing of the Jordan. And now they are actually here – in the promised land – the culmination of hundreds of years of longing. And it is a bit surprising what they do next. You might think they would have a sort of rousing pre-war camp with military drills and men revving each other up or whatever blokes do to prepare for battle. Instead Joshua chops all the men’s foreskins off. At what becomes, appropriately known as the ‘hill of foreskins’.
That is to say he incapacitates all his fighting men. They are not able to really walk, let alone fight, until they heal. The Israelites are already vulnerable and this makes them incredibly vulnerable. Why this, then?
This war is not about the military might or clever tactics or strength of the people at all. It relies entirely on the action of God.
And so what matters, more than anything else, is that God’s people are obedient to him unlike the generation before.
There is also this intriguing comment that the circumcision ‘rolled away’ the reproach or shame of Egypt – and so the place is called Gilgal.
When a people are oppressed they feel much shame. And it is incapacitating. When people stuff up and realise it they also feel much shame. And it is incapacitating.
These people are carrying a long generational history of both sorts of shame here. And God deals with it.
THE next thing they do are some more collective rituals of remembering.
They share the Passover meal where the killing of an innocent lamb reminds them of the time when God came to save them from a great enemy. Their bit was huddling in houses protected by blood daubed on their doorposts as the angel of death passed over Egypt.
Then they eat unleavened bread to remember how they were led out of Egypt to the red sea, where the armies of Egypt barrelled down on them and God led them through and then
used the waters to destroy the enCre EgypCan army.
And after this they still don’t fight. There is, instead, what you might call a leadership training bootcamp for Joshua. This is my favourite part of all of Joshua.
He stands near the intimidating walled city of Jericho –there is no human way he and his people can get through those walls – and he looks upward and sees a man in front of him with a drawn sword.
Well might he ask ‘are you for us or for our enemies’.
No. Is the answer.
God is not ours like a magic amulet to make sure we win the battles we decide to fight.
There are many attempts to do this in Hebrew Scripture and it does not go well.
The question isn’t so much is God on our side, as to whether we are on his.
And so there is a sort of humbling of Joshua.
Worshipping with his head on the ground and standing barefoot on the earth.
What matters is not his goal semng or his cleverness or his ideas at all, what matters is that Joshua hears and obeys God.
It is only after all this – in Chapter 6 – that Joshua receives his battle instructions.
And they are very strange indeed, it is the famous battle of Jericho conducted by means of liturgical procession and it is God who brings the walls down.
The NT doesn’t do away with enemies – they are repeatedly mentoned in the Benedictus – but they not so much individuals or nation groups, they are variously described as the devil, death and principalities and powers, dark forces that act to oppose the good.
And I think these forces are particularly visible just now – there is much that is difficult in our world at the moment.
In my bible studies this week people were saying that they felt that woe is rising, and with it fear and anxiety of people.
Last Thursday we were discussing our concern about the massive spread of half truths and propaganda, the fault lines that are opening up between people, and the sort of fighting
that changes no one and just pushes us all farther apart.
Quite a lot of social media at the moment feels like sticking a sword into the other to avoid the pain of staying with the reality of what is and the feeling of powerlessness in the face of
it. And in this sort of a time the fight that matters may be the fight to stay together across the widening divides.
I have been struck by how much the preparation of the people in Joshua is of a people together, it is collective.
That is what last Thursdays bible study felt like to me- like instead of standing alone like this chap, we were standing together seeking God amidst rising woe.
And while we do not solve all the things – understatement – the book of Joshua has been strong enough to hold our wrestlings together about the questions and angsts of our time.
And it changes things to remember these stories that show the hugeness of God, the power and action of God which means we don’t have to understand or fix it all. ‘The battle belongs to the Lord’ you could say quoting a song I grew up with.
It frees us to wait and then do our small, necessary but insufficient, thing.
There is also something about being vulnerable with each other and seeing the very real differences between us and liking each other anyway which does raise us up from our shame to stand at our full height.
I wanted to say if not part of a study group consider joining one – we Thursdays, is a wed one Emily runs I hear nothing but good things about, is a high school one too – or starting up
one – if you feel to do this come and talk to Emily or me!
This passage also speaks to what we are doing right now. Meeting as church is no small thing, it is a connection to what they did all those thousands of years ago, and it is preparation to help us stand together against the woe of our own times.And the meal we are about to share together for the sake of remembering is as critical for preparation now as then.
None of this is easy stuff.
There is always a cut –it is internal now, we need to be circumcised in the heart – but it is a wounding just the same.
Being in community is costly – it asks things of us – and it also hurts –Dorothy Day once said
“Christan community is like sword grass in the hand.”
And leadership is more so -it is the opposite of panicky fight or flight– it learning to stand with our own fear and anxiety, and the fear and anxiety of others –which includes absorbing
others attacks rather than reacting in kind – and then speaking and acting- in time – out of what is life for the community.
Humility is not a peculiar habit of self-effacement, rather like having an inaudible voice. It is selfless respect for reality and one of the most difficult and central of all virtues… Humility is a rare virtue and an unfashionable one… Only rarely does one meet somebody in whom it positively shines, in whom one apprehends with amazement the absence of the anxious avaricious tentacles of the self. — Iris Murdoch
And so we are about to collectively remember the death of Jesus where he took on the fear and anxiety and violence of others and made a way where there was no way.
And may it (to quote the Benedictus):
enable us to serve him without fear AND
give us the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of our sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.