March 31, 2019

2019 March 31

Lent 4- Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger


So…we have a bit of a moral conflict. The Bible and our Judeo-Christian history are full of moral conflicts. These conflicts are aspects of faith that we could simply ignore, but like conflicts in our personal lives, ignoring them never really works and sometimes makes them worse.


The Old Testament Reading from Joshua is beautiful and full of hope as these 4 sentences stand alone:


  • God has rolled away the disgrace of Egypt from the Israelites.
  • The Israelites kept the Passover – their most important religious observance to this day – in Gilgal.
  • The manna finally ceased. It was no longer needed because:
  • They ate the produce of the land of Canaan that year.


After 40 years, the Israelites had finally landed in the Promised Land. They could now rest and give due thanks to God.


But they didn’t.


Just one short paragraph later begins Chapter 6 of the Book of Joshua. It is the beginning of the occupation of the Land of Canaan.

Whichever way you read it, the
majority of the Book of Joshua is
God-sanctioned genocide.


This is part of our history as Christians. This is one of our moral conflicts.


It is important to point this out because the Book of Joshua shows up in the Sunday Lectionary only 4 times in the 3-year cycle. Of those, 2 are the same part of Chapter 24 with one of them a bit longer. The other one is a couple of chapters before today’s reading. All of them focus on the promise. None of them include how that promise comes to fruition. We are never challenged on a Sunday morning about this fundamental moral conflict in our history.


The text that follows the brief celebration of the Passover that we just read about has often been used as an ideology around claims to foreign lands and the legitimacy thereof. Three facets of such an ideology, which have been extracted, amalgamated and weaponized throughout the centuries, are:


  1. The other residents of the land – usually natives – are demonized, characterized as inherently evil. In many instances, these residents don’t follow YHWH, and the invaders can further demonize the residents because it’s either YHWH or the highway.
  2. This eventually leads to the legitimization of violence and massive brutality “without caution or embarrassment”, as one commentary put it. The violence is justified as God’s mission, and God wants the enemies destroyed – it’s YHWH or the highway.
  3. Once the demonization of the residents, and their destruction and submission through violence ordained by God is complete, God’s vision for and promise to the invaders is Mission Accomplished.


Now, if this sounds familiar, it should. This ideology was used to legitimize the Crusades. This ideology was used to legitimize the colonization of The Americas for 400 years. This ideology was used to legitimize the colonization of Africa and parts of Asia. And so on.


The ideology is not unique to those of Judeo-Christian heritage. Demonizing enemies and employing “legitimate” violence in order to subjugate peoples and commandeer lands has been utilized all over the world, in both large and small ways.


But of course, we are now enlightened, and this sort of ideology doesn’t get employed anymore, at least not by European nations and the United States. Right? Of course not!
One of my commentaries had this to say about the Book of Joshua:


This sentence of destruction on a population, civilian and non-aggressor, and expressly commanded by YHWH, presents the greatest moral difficulty in the book for modern readers.


While that is certainly true, we must also have moral difficulty with this ideology that we are still perpetuating. The same ideology exists today in the United States, perhaps not so strongly tied to the Will of God. Referring to Mexicans as “murderers and rapists”, African counties as “shitholes”, and chanting “The Jews will not replace us” are all ways to demonize another culture.


One of the major differences today, unlike in Joshua’s time, is that we are equipped with scientific facts about what makes a person a human being and the genetic differences between races.


  • We have sociological and cultural studies that help us better understand how communities of mixed cultures can live peaceably together.
  • We have the data that shows that undocumented immigrants are no likely to commit violent crimes than the citizen population.
  • We have the economic data that shows that undocumented and documented immigrants put far more into the economy and the US Treasury than they take out.
  • We have scientific data that shows that ethnic Jews are not genetically different than white Europeans.
  • We have census data that shows that Jews make up about 1.7% and Muslims 1.1% of the US population, far fewer than could possible “replace us”, whoever “us” is.


The demonizing propaganda in the time of Joshua was much easier to achieve without such data. With such data, our theological perspective, which mandates that we love all humankind as ourselves, is strengthened so that we can live out the Gospel. … Yet, we choose to ignore that information and the mandate when it is convenient or when we feel vulnerable.


This type of ideology, using God’s Will or some sort of other excuse of superiority, is hard to dismiss when we feel entitled or threatened. And it contradicts our other values. Many of us value strong local and national communities, diversity, egalitarianism, social mobility, meritocracy, and we are generally humanitarian in our beliefs. One author writes:


Clearly an overt policy of violence and rejection is no viable matrix for a community of sharing. It is this deep contradiction between the brutalizing violence of Yahweh and the Torah provisions of Yahweh for justice that lie at the heart of biblical faith. It is evident that Israel is aware of this contradiction, but it remains pervasive throughout the text in any case.


And the same can be said of us today. Despite our values system and all the positive data, we stray away from what we know is right. So, we defy our own values and become a bit like the Elder Son in today’s Gospel reading, who believes himself to be treated unfairly. He justifies his anger. He has no concern for his brother. He feels threatened and vulnerable, so he lashes out. Why should we be giving all our resources to this lazy boy? He is disobedient and has brought prostitutes; he will take my job, and he is dangerous, and you just opened the border and let him in! But getting angry and justifying why I am more important than another never works for very long.


Like every time in world history and present, we find the employing of this strict ideology of looking out only for ourselves and justifying violence or injustice as God’s Will doesn’t work.


  • It’s not working in Syria.
  • It’s not working in the Sudan.
  • It’s not working in Burma.
  • It’s not working on our American Indian Reservations.
  • •    It’s not working in the Holy Land – the very place which the Israelites are overlooking in today’s old testament reading.

It’s a faulty, misguided and

unholy ideology.


So, what do we do with the invasion of the Holy Land as part of our Judeo-Christian history? Conveniently, the violence and genocide have been removed from our Lectionary, so we can ignore it. But you chose me as your priest, and I won’t let us ignore what makes us uncomfortable. And we have been given a pathway to restoration in Jesus Christ.


The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most famous stories in the Bible. Like every story and all of Jesus’ parables, we can learn so many different ways to live a holy life just by looking at each parable a little differently. The joy of Jesus’ parables there is always a God/Heaven/Kingdom figure and there is always a human figure. And that human figure can be you as an individual, us as the St Stephen’s Family, or the society we live in and which we exert influence through our words, money, votes and actions.


The central message of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, though, is that as individuals, as a Church Family and as a society, we can turn back to what God’s Will really is, and that is to live together in love and charity, in peace and harmony, to learn from one another, and to look out for one another – the be a community of sharing! When we see that we are living out this unholy ideology of demonizing groups of people and suggesting, committing, or permitting violence toward them in order to advance our own purposes, we can turn back to God’s ways, and we can be reconciled.


All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.


We are entrusted with the
message of reconciliation.


As Bishop Mary told us, the Church is the only organization committed to reconciliation. As Ambassadors for Christ, we must learn from our wretched past – however often it was repeated – and work toward a reconciled and loving future.


Here, again, is that Relational Courage that Bishop Mary wants us to explore this year: the kind of courage it takes to be in relationships that may take work. Seeing groups of people who are different from yourself, with whom you struggle to find any commonality, and who you believe to be less than yourself cannot be justified by your faith, even with the Book of Joshua. Instead, we must employ the Relational Courage it takes to reach out to those in need, embrace those who are not like us, and practice God’s Way of Love. Beyond the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus shows us that we must welcome those who are not like us. In His parables, Jesus uses those who have been demonized to make His point that Love is the way:


  • The Good Samaritan
  • The Canaanite Woman whose daughter had a demon
  • The Samaritan Woman at the Well
  • The Tax Collectors
  • The Adulterers The Untouchables


All the tax collectors and sinners
were coming near to listen to
Jesus. And the Pharisees and the
scribes were grumbling and
saying, “This fellow welcomes
sinners and eats with them.”


Jesus shows His love to them all. As Christians, we follow Jesus, not the Pharisees and the Scribes. As Jesus’ followers, no person or peoples are to be demonized, violence used against them or our desires placed above their needs.


The Bible presents us many moral conflicts. Let’s address these moral conflicts and learn from them so that we do not repeat them. Let us be agents of the reconciliation that Christ has given to us.

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