Today’s Message – A Word of God
Joshua 3:7-17 & 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13
Holy Spirit to touch my lips, open our hearts & transform our lives Amen.
The thing about drawing the sermon from the Common Lectionary is that it creates discipline – you can’t just opt for easy passages or favourite ones.
As we were saying in the Ladies Bible Study a couple of weeks ago – Faith is hard, understanding the ‘word of God’ is hard and even understanding a God of compassion, love and mercy can be hard – especially in the Old Testament, and especially although not exclusively if you are not a Hebrew.
So it is with the Joshua reading set down for today – we can’t do much cherry picking with this, ignore the violence.
God, here, is the conquering warrior who has favourites. Indeed, God is not seen at all in being with the natives of Israel – the Canaanites, Parizittes, Hittites, Hivites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. They will also be dispossessed or slaughtered.
I wonder if the belief of a favoured race was in the thinking used by Cortez against the Aztecs, Pissarro against the Incas, Columbus against the West Indians, Hitler against the Jews, the cowboys and ranchers against the American Indians or the early explorers in Australia against the Carpentarians, Murrayans and Palawa Tasmanians?
It doesn’t sit well with us – we might instead focus on the miracle of the opening up of the Jordan river so the Israelites could cross – God’s providence, God’s miraculous power, a miracle that harkens back to the opening of the Red Sea (some 40 years earlier). Although to be honest, the Jordan is not much of a river, even at its widest.
I want to leave you this morning with something I found in the second reading that may help us today. It’s just a little thing, but it speaks of the need to read our Bibles carefully, to look at different translations or even to read commentaries and go to Bible Study – which I hope most of you do.
While the NIV and NRSV Bibles say in verse 13 – ‘the word of God which is at work in you who believe.’ In Greek there is no definite article ‘the’ so it is written as ‘a word of God’.
Now sometimes in Greek where an abstract noun is used or a name and especially the name of God, then the definite article is not used.
However, how might our reading of Joshua be informed if we read ‘in this is a word of God’, rather than ‘this is the word of God’ – that might involve us to do some work in our faith journey.
I think Paul is actually heading towards this in his letter to the faithful in Thessaloniki, that it is not just reading the words and understanding all of them by human constraints – or by our own justifications, but hearing the words in our hearts, our spirits – for what God wants us to hear.
And this takes work, and meditation and prayer and discussion so that, at some point in time, we can renounce the violence and bigotry and come to Paul’s conclusion that ‘you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, a word of God’ (verse 13).
Indeed, our lectionary Gospel reading today is one of my favourites but rather than preach on it – we just might meditate on it- as a clarion call for all Uniting Church people to be the prophets, to be the truth tellers and to be the ones who stand up and from time to time exhibit a little righteous anger.
The reading we will see is a dramatic presentation of Matthew 23:1-39.
Today was also Gideon Sunday and because we had a guest speaker from the local Gideons Camp, today’s message is a short one.