given on Sunday, August 25, 2013
Last week I shared one of the biggest keys to understanding the Old Testament that I have found to date: the Jewish people were selected from all the peoples in God’s world to serve as a holy people with the purpose of being priests. This was what God told Moses, and the scripture today is part of Joshua’s story.
Moses died after leading the exodus from Egypt. God told him he would not be able to see the new land, and Joshua was to take the people into the new land. Joshua obeyed God and became a great military leader for the Israelites as they took the land for themselves.
The stories of the Old Testament are filled with graphic descriptions of military battles, violent encounters, physical mistreatment of almost anybody—parents, brothers, wives, children, concubines, friends or in-laws. Not to mention that when a battle ended, the winners do horrible things to their prisoners.
Joshua’s story begins with the fall of Jericho. The Lord’s commander gave Joshua instructions and he obeyed. For six days the Israelites walked around the city once a day. Then on the seventh day, they marched around it seven times and when the trumpets sounded, they shouted, and the walls tumbled down. Joshua obeyed God; the people obeyed Joshua.
Another Old Testament story, but again it is filled with destruction. I have struggled to understand how God could use such destruction to spread a message of love, so I find myself at a loss. If I study the history and the culture of the times, I find some relief because these violent behaviors only reflect what the world was at the time.
But—and this is a huge but—if the Israelites were to serve as priests to the world, what was the message they were to spread? There certainly was the Law, first just Ten Commandments that make so much sense, but then the priests started adding more and more and more laws. Life became legalistic and living a life without breaking the laws became difficult.
There has to be a key to understanding the Old Testament. Why is it so important to read these books? What is the bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament? What is the connection between the Old Testament and the 21st century? There has to be a bridge between the stories and life today.
My frustration over the question for the week kept me searching. Why should we read the stories of all the murder, trickery, violence, pestilence, and cheating of all types? Why should we read stories where the value of women and children seem so undervalued? What is the message to today’s Christians?
The news interrupted my thinking, this week. The reports from Syria that chemical weapons were being used on their own people just did not make sense. Why? Then came the visual reports: Hundreds of people dead, many children. No gunshots. No blood. Just dying and dead people everywhere. Mass graves. Crying mothers and fathers. So many children wrapped in shrouds, dead. A baby held by a man wrapped in a shroud with the number 11 on it, a cherub face wrapped in white.
Suddenly I realized that I was looking at a picture that mirrored Old Testament stories. Hundreds of men, women, and children were dead, slain with the sword in Jericho, in Ai, in city-state after city-state, thousands of years ago. How could such horrors be happening now in the 21st century?
My struggle to make sense of this surfaced off and on all week long. I thought I had known what I was going to say this Sunday, but then the plan failed. What was the bridge that connects us to the Old Testament stories? How could I take those stories and connect it to our world? Then only one word—obey.
Over and over in the stories of the Old Testament, the word obey is included whenever the leader, the king, the priest, the soldier, the shepherd, the mother obeyed God. The bridge between all the stories and today’s Christian is obedience.
The horror of news stories that circle around us day after day seems to illustrate the failure of people not obeying God. How can today’s Christians live without obeying God? When we fail to obey, we fail God. It is so easy to listen to the stories, sitting in our comfortable homes, and shrug it off.
Again I struggle to understand how to share what is in my heart and my head. The readings from the Old Testament, the knowledge of the Greatest Commandment, and the Great Commission I accept as a Christian should cause me to act. But how am I to act?
What a challenge! Today’s Christian seems to be trapped by society. In our country, the very fundamental Christian values that are written into our foundational documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, are challenged. In our communities, the laws handcuff Christians—or so it seems, but stop and review God’s law.
God’s law can be practiced because all other laws fall under its umbrella of love. Love one another; no other law really is needed. I challenge any law to supersede God’s law. Even in schools, God is present. The civil law says we cannot teach, force, or spread our religion, but that is not necessary. If we obey God’s law, there is no law that can be broken.
The bridge between the Old Testament and today is named Obey. If Christians can continue to obey in any way that they can, then God will take care of us. What is happening in other corners of the world do affect us. The killing in Syria causes us pain and triggers prayers for God’s will. The damage caused by natural disasters activates Christians into damage control using all the resources they can—and prayers. God’s law is being followed.
This weekend while serving the community during our fair, we will love one another. We will obey God. The law is so simple, so why can we not spread the word. The church is not just a building, the church is the people who open the doors, step outside, and love one another in any manner that they can.
Surely as we meet and greet our guests this weekend, let’s be sure that we are sharing God’s love with each one of them. Let’s invite them to join us and discover how simple life can be if we only obey God’s law. Let’s find the ways to reach out and help others to discover God on a daily basis. We are the bridge between others and God if we walk the bridge named Obey ourselves.
Dear loving God,
Open our minds to understand the stories of old.
to live your law of loving one another.
As we listen to the news of the horrors in our world,
hear our prayers for your intersession.
When we are face to face with those who are lost,
give us the words, the actions, the resources
to serve as a bridge between you and them.
Keep us centered on demonstrating your law in action
so others may know your love, too.
In our lives, guide us along the bridge named Obey,
so we may join you in eternal life. –Amen