NovemBer 8, 2020, Scripture Readings and Sermon
Message from Rev. George Porter
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.
“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lorddrove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.
Hear my teaching, O my people; *
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable; *
I will declare the mysteries of ancient times.
That which we have heard and known,
and what our forefathers have told us, *
we will not hide from their children.
We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord, *
and the wonderful works he has done.
He gave his decrees to Jacob
and established a law for Israel, *
which he commanded them to teach their children;
That the generations to come might know,
and the children yet unborn; *
that they in their turn might tell it to their children;
So that they might put their trust in God, *
and not forget the deeds of God,
but keep his commandments;
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Sermon: George Porter
The Lord requires: ‘to love mercy, do justice and
walk humbly with God’.
It is probably self-evident to say that we are in times of great uncertainty. At this point, we still don’t know the final outcome of this week’s election. We don’t know when the immigration process will move forward. We’re still in the midst of a global pandemic, which has thrown us all into uncertainty.
Times of uncertainty are not, however, anything new in history. Most of my pastoral ministry has been in small, rural parishes. In every church there were plaques with long lists of people who were killed in the First World War and another with those killed in the Second World War. Tradition says that the end of what has been called ‘the Great War’ came at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.
November 11th came to be observed, therefore, as Armistice Day. In 1932, this became Remembrance Day in Canada, and in 1954 it was renamed Veteran’s Day in the United States. These changes were meant to be more inclusive of everyone who has served – and especially those who have died – as ‘defenders’.
World War I – the so-called ‘Great War’ was to be ‘the war that ended all war’. Obviously it was not. The times when there hasn’t been a war of some sort somewhere are few indeed. Does that mean those who served failed? Does it mean that those who died, died in vain?
Well, we are still here. We are still remembering and saying: ‘Lest we forget’ and We will remember them’.
It’s a challenge to remember without nostalgia. It’s a challenge to remember without romanticizing or glorifying war. William Tecumseh Sherman famously quipped: ‘War is hell’.
It’s a challenge to remember those who went through hell – so, so many who went through hell and so many who never came back. It’s a challenge to remember those who went through hell in the hope that no one else would ever have to. Although in a very different context, the Christian scriptures say that ‘no greater love has anyone than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends’.
We’ve been talking a lot about heroes lately, and surely those who were willing to put their lives on the line – so very many to cross over that line – are heroes. We remember them and honour them, even though many did un-heroic things (sometimes unspeakably atrocious things). We remember them, even though their own memories – those who lived – were forever filled not just with thoughts of glory and camaraderie but with scars and deep unhealed wounds and post-traumatic stress.
To remember is to honour the sacrifice without ever forgetting or minimizing the tragedy and awfulness of war itself. To remember is to honour service and to honour sacrifice embodied in those who served and sacrificed.
Those of us who are Christians cannot remember, however, without remembering another who gave his life on a Roman cross, who gave it not just for a country or nation – not even just for his own people – but for the world. He gave his life on a Roman cross not for abstract ‘rights’, as we have come to use the term, except for the right of freedom from sin and from the fear of death, and for the freedom to serve by taking us a disciple’s cross to bring the good news of god’s unspeakable love to everyone, without exclusions and discriminations – even to ‘enemies’.
He gave his life on a Roman cross to demonstrate the unspeakable love of God that made for reconciliation and peace with God – with the goal of shalom (the wholeness of salvation which is often truncated in our theologies to a ticket to paradise but really meaning so much more). In the end he gave his life on a Roman cross to plant the flag – to place the eagle staff – of a Kingdom the apostolic writer described as ‘love, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit’.
We who are called followers – disciples – we who eat and drink the sacramental meal ‘in remembrance’ – are called to a warrior way. It’s not the same as those we remember today who were called to service and to arms, but as those remembering the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (himself a martyr of war): ‘Nicht durch Zertrümmerung, sondern durch Versöhnung, wirt die Weld überwindern’ [not through conquest, but through reconciliation, will the world be overcome]. We are called as ambassadors of that reconciliation, with God making God’s appeal for reconciliation through us.
The words of the prophets – beating swords into ploughshares, spears into pruning hooks, weapons into instruments for peace, where no one learns war anymore – ring in our ears and in our hearts. The great Lakota leader, Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake [Sitting Bull] said that a true warrior ’is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, for children – the future of humanity.’
In my ears that sounds remarkably like the words of the Hebrew prophets – words Jesus applied to himself – words the apostles used to guide and shape the ministries and missions of the first Christian communities. They are words that remind us that our calling – our vocation – is in the very real world, not in a sort of sentimental ‘churchianity’, content with clichés, slogans and tokens of spirituality, but as the gates of the Kingdom of God in our midst – gates against which the forces of darkness (and indeed, the very forces of hell) cannot prevail.
But at the same time, as gates thrown wide to welcome those who come. It’s the great call of the prophet Isaiah who said: ‘Ho! All who are thirsty, come for water. Even if you have no money, come buy food and eat; buy food without money, wine and milk without cost. Why do you spend money for that which is not bread, your earnings for that which does not satisfy? Give heed to me, and you shall eat choice food and enjoy the richest viands. Incline your ear to me; harken, and you will be revived, and I will make with you an everlasting covenant ....’ This call is echoed in the Revelation to come to the feast table of the Lamb of God who gave his life that we might live.
As Bruce Cockburn sings: ‘So all you stumblers who believe love rules, stand up and let it shine’. Come from every language, tongue and nation! Come stumbling! Come crawling! Come walking or dancing! Come wheeled or carried in by friends! Come to the city of God, learning what the Lord requires: ‘to love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with God’.