“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.