“Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, 31 as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the Book of the Law of Moses—an altar of uncut stones, on which no iron tool had been used. On it they offered to the Lord burnt offerings and sacrificed fellowship offerings. 32 There, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua copied on stones the law of Moses, which he had written. 33 All Israel, aliens and citizens alike, with their elders, officials and judges, were standing on both sides of the ark of the covenant of the Lord, facing those who carried it—the priests, who were Levites. Half of the people stood in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had formerly commanded when he gave instructions to bless the people of Israel.
34 Afterward, Joshua read all the words of the law—the blessings and the curses—just as it is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including the women and children, and the aliens who lived among them.”
Are you fully recuperated from the holiday season? Isn’t it odd? We look forward to a few extra days off of work around Christmastime and the New Year, yet part of us is glad when we can return to work and get on with life. We need a vacation from our vacation.
Few times of the year (or life) leave us as busy as we are in late November through the beginning of January. We simply don’t have the time to get done everything we need to get done. Yet it all somehow works out just fine in the end, doesn’t it?
Have you ever found yourself so busy that you started making excuses for missing church? “I’m too busy with school” or “I’m too busy with work” or “I just moved to a new area” or “There are too many projects around the house.” Or how about this one I heard a while back, “I’m busy building my new house (actually, THEY weren’t building the house; someone else was building it for them). I’ll start going to church when I move in.”
I’m reminded of a parable Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God. In it, many people were invited to a great banquet. But people found silly excuses not to attend. One person had just bought a field that needed inspecting. Couldn’t it wait until later? Another wanted to try out his five new yokes of oxen. Couldn’t it wait until later? Still another had just gotten married and was busy adjusting to married life (and also likely the blessings that go along with marriage). You can read about it here.
All of these excuses sound pretty petty when matched up to what was going on with Israel in our Scripture reading. Fresh off a victory God had given them over Jericho (the walls came tumbling down!), the Israelites sent an army into the interior of enemy territory to attack a city called Ai. After a brief setback, Ai was destroyed. The entire nation of 2 million people—soldiers, women, children, and the elderly—marched further into the interior to a city called Shechem, which was situated in a small, amphitheater valley between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim. There, right in the middle of enemy territory, with enemies on all sides, what did Israel do? They took time out of their conquest of the land God had promised them to hold a special ceremony—i.e. they set aside time to worship. Isn’t that amazing? With all that work yet to be done. With the clear and present danger of peoples greater and stronger than they. With houses that had yet to be built/occupied and fields yet to be claimed and harvested, they stop to worship. They trust that God would provide, that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they put other, more ‘important’ things on hold. Those things would get done eventually. It was ok to pause. Their first priority was God.
And were they obliterated for this strategically foolish move? Did they starve for lack of crops or suffer for lack of permanent residence? No. They prioritized God in their lives. And God blessed them through their decision.
As our heavenly Parent, God wants nothing more than to spend time with his children (Can anyone fault him for that?). And right now, that happens most decidedly as we find God in his Word, the Bible. For it is in the Bible where God most decidedly reveals what he is like through his interactions with his people. It is in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper where we personally experience God’s sacrificial forgiveness. He is the God of absolute justice. He is the God of absolute mercy. He is the God of absolute wrath. He is the God of absolute love. And nowhere and in no one is this more clearly revealed than in his Son, Jesus Christ.
This same Jesus says, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) No doubt, life is busier these days than it once was. There doesn’t seem to be enough time to accomplish all we want to do. So what a great promise God holds out for us! It’s ok if we take time out of our lives for God. When we put his kingdom—including time for worship—at the top of our list of priorities, God is going to make sure that we are provided for. Things will get done. He will bless us. He has shown himself to be a God of his word in the past. He will be a God of his word with us too.
One of the many things we offer at St. Peter’s is a collection point for the Brandon, WI Food Pantry. Members and visitors are invited to bring non-perishable food items to church and drop them off in the entryway before our Sunday service. If you would like your donation to meet the specific needs of the food pantry, please use the following list as a guide:
Needed: Toilet paper, canned soup (tomato, chicken noodle, cream of mushroom), canned fruit, cereal, bar soap, shampoo.
NOT Needed: Canned vegetables, fresh produce, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:15-17
“Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. 2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.”
Forty years. The past forty years had been building up to this moment. After wandering through the barren wasteland of the Sinai Peninsula, then traveling around far to the south of the Dead Sea, through more harsh, arid climate, the Israelites were on the doorstep of the land God had promised to them—a land “flowing with milk and honey.”
But it was a new land, a strange land, a dangerous land. While it would one day be their home, for the time being, they would be unwelcome strangers in unfamiliar surroundings. Left to their own devices, the world around them would’ve eaten them up. The Canaanites, who lived in the land, were brutal, aggressive, and depraved people who, among many other sins, practiced child sacrifice.
Once they crossed the floodwaters of the Jordan River, how would the Israelites know where to go? The answer: The LORD would lead them. The ark of the covenant was the visible representation of God’s invisible presence. It was a reminder to Israel that the LORD was with them. When they weren’t certain where to go, all they had to do was follow the ark.
Here is a good lesson for all of God’s people whenever they enter new and uncertain territory in life: Follow the LORD. It could be a change of schools, like heading into high school or moving on to college. It could be moving away from home to a new city. It could be starting a new job. It could be a change in life circumstances—declining health, a debilitating injury, the loss of a loved one, etc.
We need this reminder. It’s easy to forget to follow the LORD when we are busy with entering a new territory of life. And when we don’t follow, one of two things happens. Either we ironically forget the one who blesses our success in the new territory of life, or we struggle precisely because we have not remembered our LORD and his commands and promises.
Let us remember God’s promises. He will never “leave us or forsake us.” (Deuteronomy 31:6—words spoken to Israel just before entering the Promised Land) He promises that when we follow him, we “will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) He promises that when we follow him, we are blessed. (Psalm 128:1)
“If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; 24 though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” (Psalm 37:23-24)
“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.”
As I was preparing for my upcoming sermon on Luke 3:1-6 on December 2nd, 2018, my attention was drawn to these two verses. For a while I seriously considered going into greater depth on them. I even had a good two hundred or so words typed out. But alas, I recognized that it would’ve interrupted the flow of the sermon, and so those words met the delete button. I didn’t even hang on to them for this little devotion.
One of the many accusations leveled against the Christian faith is that the stories we hold to are nothing more than fiction, fairytale, or myth. More often than not, though, these dismissive arguments come from people who may have a strong gut reaction against the Bible, but have not arrived at their conclusions through any serious legwork. Had they done the legwork to investigate the Bible’s claims, they would agree with numerous trial lawyers (Craig Parton being one of them), who have said that both the internal and external evidence for the Bible’s claims passes the bar for reasonable doubt. Some trial lawyers have even gone on to say that they have won convictions with less evidence that what there is for the central truth claim about Christianity: That Jesus rose from the dead.
Legwork…That’s what stands out to me in this reading. At the onset of Luke’s gospel, Luke makes this statement: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” (Luke 1:1-4)
I absolutely LOVE the historian in the person of Luke. In preparing his letter—his account of the life and ministry of Jesus—for Theophilus, he wasn’t content with hearsay or the passing down of stories, the latter of which was common in oral societies. He investigated—i.e. he interviewed eyewitnesses, corroborated stories, got his facts straight.
One of the fruits of that labor was pinpointing the time when John the Baptist began his ministry. It was in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. And then he goes on to list another four local rulers. Taking these statements and pairing them up with other, non-biblical ancient documents that we have, we can say with certainty that John’s ministry began either in the year 28 or 29 A.D.
And here’s the great thing about this. It’s not fairytale. Verse 7 says that crowds came out to be baptized by him. Matthew’s gospel reports that people from all over the region went out to see him. Even the religious leaders of the day, Pharisees and Sadducees—i.e. his enemies—could not deny Luke’s report about John.
This is what I value so much about my faith. It’s rooted in reality, not mere philosophy or speculation. It isn’t something that a small group of people conjured up in their minds for the sake of prosperity and gain. The Christian faith is not divorced from history. It’s a part of the history of God’s people—in the days when Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census (Luke 2:1); in the days when Tiberius was Caesar of Rome (Luke 3:1); in the days when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea (Luke 3:1)—a claim Bible critics disputed for centuries until evidence of Pilate’s existence was unearthed at Caesarea Maritima. It is HIS-story: The history of God becoming also man. The history of his teaching and his miracles, both of which even his enemies couldn’t deny. The history of his crucifixion and resurrection.
What is this SO BIG for me? It gives me confidence: Confidence that my faith is not based on a lie or deception. Confidence that I’m not backing the wrong horse. Confidence that “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness…” And so “On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.” (CW 382)