Our reading in Joshua today takes place at an interesting time in salvation history. To place it in context for you, Israel has just crossed the Jordan River and about to take possession of the Land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Much has happened. God has freed the slaves from Pharaoh, He has protected Israel from Egypt’s armies, He has provided manna and quail when Israel hungered, He has provided water in the desert when Israel thirsted, He has given the torah to Israel, He has punished Israel at various times for its unfaithfulness, He has even caused the first generation to die off as punishment for the unbelief in the face of those who possessed the Land the first time they got here, and He has provided a successor to Moses. I have skipped a few events in their history, but you should get the idea. So should have Israel. God is in the business of keeping His promises. He may not keep them in the way we want or expect; He may not even keep them in the time frame that we prefer; but God keeps all His promises.
In response to God’s faithfulness, Israel has tried to respond faithfully. Immediately prior to our reading, all the men in the camp have been circumcised. If the book of Numbers is to be believed, nearly 600,000 men have been snipped right before today’s reading. That is why the hill in that location was called in Hebrew the “Mount of Foreskins.” Although the torah has taught them to circumcise every male child on the eighth day, that part of the torah has been ignored. Funny how we men do that, isn’t it ladies? And they have also gathered to celebrate the Passover, the reminder to them as a nation that God passed over them when He slew the firstborn of Egypt, right before Pharaoh freed them.
On this fourth Sunday of Lent, it is good for us to reflect how our lives are mirrored in the story of Israel. Each of us gathered here, at least those of us who are not visiting, has a story or some stories of God’s miraculous provision in their lives. I have heard story after story of healing, of monetary blessings, of the clear presence of angels, of words heard, and other miracles in your lives during the course of my six years here. Most of you can point to His supernatural hand at work in your lives, and rightly so. We serve a God who does sometimes choose to act in a way which leaves no doubt that it is Him providing. Think of the manna. Remember the quail. Ponder the water from the rock.
Of course, God does not always work supernaturally. As Israel learns, God often uses what is happening in the world around His people to meet their needs. The difficulty comes from trying to figure out which events are happy coincidences and which ones are His handiwork. Clearly, Israel knows that both the manna and quail and the produce of the Land are from God. The manna had no other possible source and so was easier to discern, but the Land is a bit different. How did they know He provided? He told Abraham and all their ancestors that they would possess the Land in the future. Now that it was coming true despite the odds, they knew it was God fulfilling His promises to their ancestors.
You and I face the same dilemma, yet how often do we decide it was not God who provided. How many times have you or someone you known attributed a “cure” to a misdiagnosis? By that I mean how many of us here gathered were diagnosed with a particular health issue only later to discover the issue is no longer there? More often than not, we buy into the doctors insistence that something was wrong with the original diagnosis rather than believe that God hears and acts on our prayers for healing. Better still, how many of us here gathered have failed to discern that found or delivered funds were really God giving us our daily bread? It is far easier to think that the IRS just figured out its mistake, that a loved one just happened to be thinking of us and our need and dropped an envelope with a check or cash into the mail, than to accept that God cares for us and our problems in the here and now. I could go on and on, but in this we are no different than Israel. Do you not think people were insisting that it was blind luck that they had been freed? That it was “a conspiracy” formulated by Moses to keep power among his friends and cohorts?
One of the promises of this passage, brothers and sisters, is that God is aware of our needs and that He is not only aware but will act to meet them. He is our loving Father in heaven. He is not some cosmic force, some handcuffed god, some figment of our imagination. He loves us dearly. And He will meet our need. Sometimes He does so in the exercise of extraordinary works of power. At other times He does in the mundane.
That, of course, leads us to another promise. You may have cancer and need a cure. I may be poor and need a winning lottery ticket. Each one of us gathered here today has a perceived lack or need and its “solution” already formed in our own minds. The problem is that what we perceive as needs, He might not agree. And fortunately for us, He is always right. When He chooses not to meet a “need” we have identified, there is a reason. Either we have misidentified the need or we have not asked in accordance with His will. How do we know?
Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.--God spoke these words to Joshua to remind him of what was accomplished that day in salvation history. The shame of slavery has been removed by God. They are from that point on a free people. With that freedom comes responsibilities such as the right worship of Him, the right love and service of one another, and those other bits of the torah from which we began the service today. That rolled away should speak to us even today. To what were we enslaved? Sin. What was its consequence? Death. What was rolled away to signify to us that God had acted in salvation history to remove our disgrace? The stone on the tomb.
Brothers and sisters, each one of us gathered has already been freed. Those of us who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior have had the disgrace of sin and death rolled away from us. He has paid in full the consequence of our sin. He died that we might live, and live abundantly. And, lest we forget, it is the same Lord who promises you that your disgrace that your sin has been rolled away who promised the same to Israel. And it is the same Lord who promises that abundant life, even if death rears its head in our lives, who promised the Land flowing in milk and honey to Israel. And it is that loving, all-powerful God who promises to meet your real need.
Brothers and sisters, we are now winding down this season of Lent. In two week’s time we will immerse ourselves in the Passion Narrative. In three week’s time we will celebrate intentionally His victory over sin and the grave. But today, this day, we are called to reflect. This day we are to remember that He has rolled away our shame once and for all. This day, we are called to remember that we are a freed people, a freed people called to worship the One who freed us and to lead others to His freeing cross and saving embrace. Brothers and sisters, this season of Lent I have tried to be intentional in calling us to worship God and to seek a closer, deeper relationship with Him. Have you been intentional? Where in the ordinary has He met your needs? Where in the ho-hum humdrum of your every day existence has He met those important needs and you failed to see His provision? I ask it not as one not among you, but as one seeking the same answers. In a few moments, those few of us gathered will celebrate the saving work He has done for us in the remembrance of the Eucharist. Why are we not bursting with people joining us? Why is it others do not know His saving work in our own lives? Have we, like the elder brother in the Gospel parable, come to take our Father’s love and provision for granted? Have we forgotten the deserts in which others in our lives dwell? Have we forgotten that this meal signifies, in only the barest, shadowiest form, the feast that is to come when we cross the Jordan and from glory to glory? Do we not believe that we have been delivered and had our shame rolled away? Hard questions, to be sure, but then walking with our Lord in faith was never meant to be easy. And, remember, it is Lent. If we cannot reflect on such questions during this season, then when can we?
And never forget this: if in the course of your discernment to the answers to such questions you realize that you have been blind to His provision or deaf to His call, there is no need for you to live in disgrace. He has born the consequence of all our failings and rolled away all our disgrace. All we need to do is repent, turn back to Him, and prayer eyes to see and ears to hear. The rest, as it has always been since the days of creation, up to Him.