At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites a second time.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives, and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath-haaraloth. When the circumcising of all the nation was done, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. 9 The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12 The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.
Lent Sermon, Week 4 Year C
Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried is the story of a company of army men in the Vietnam War, written from the perspective of a narrator who is a former soldier and now a writer, reflecting on his experiences in the war. He writes,
The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were p-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wrist watches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum…and two or three canteens of water…
They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing–these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice barely restrained, the instinct to run or freeze or hide, and in many respects this was the heaviest burden of all, for it could never be put down, it required perfect balance and perfect posture. They carried their reputations. They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to.
They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.
In the fifth chapter of Joshua we find God’s people in the process of entering into the land of Canaan. They have spent forty years wandering in the wilderness- forty years of setting up and taking down tents, and altars, forty years of shuffling things around in bags, hefted on shoulders, hoisted on beasts of burden, packing and unpacking, setting up and taking down. They have carried their lives like this- bundled, disheveled, like an overnight bag stretched to bear the weight of a trip around the world- for forty long years, forty years that has been both space and non-space, both place and non-place, both home and not home. They have been stuck in between what was and what will be for forty long years, and above all what they have carried is the weight of a hope long delayed.
And now Joshua has led them across the River Jordan and into the land of Canaan, just as Moses once led them across the Sea of Reeds and out of Egypt. They have made their first steps into this new land, but they are not yet settled. There are things to be done, things that will help them transition from a wandering people to a settled people. Two things, in particular: the boys are to be circumcised, and everyone is to celebrate the feast of Passover.
It is, perhaps, an odd request, and yet both actions speak of belonging- one of belonging to a tribe, and the other of belonging to a story. Circumcision places these boys in the same company as their forefathers- marked by God, set apart. And Passover reminds everyone who has traveled through the wilderness about the story of how they got there, and who got them there, and who got them through. Both actions speak of belonging- one to a tribe, and one to a story. And sandwiched in between is a declaration by God: “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.”
Because God knows we cannot move forward with all the things we are carrying. God knows we have become ourselves beasts of burden, saddled and yoked with the weight of our pasts, heavy-laden with regret and sorrow and missed opportunity. And if we are to be people who can truly come to settle in a new promised land, the things we carry must be set down. And yet, we cling to them. We clutch them like tattered and beloved wallet photographs, as if these failures were our friends, or worse, as if these failures were our worst enemies who demand in masochistic fashion that we keep them near our chests lest we forget what kind of people we are. And we believe them.
But God comes to us now as God came to them then and says, “I have rolled away from you the disgrace.” Because God knows disgrace has this way of not staying in one place but seeping into all these other crevices of our lives. It follows us even after we cross a dry riverbed in miraculous fashion. It nips at our heels even as we gather manna in the morning. It nags at our conscience, even as we try to take steps forward, to make choices different and better than the ones we made before. Disgrace rolls over us like low hanging cloud cover, rolls in like an ominous thunderstorm, stretching across our skies as far as we can see. It can suffocate us, if we aren’t careful. It can diminish our view ahead. It can mock us with cackles of inferiority until we feel we cannot move anywhere, until we begin to believe we are stuck being who we are and where we are, forever.
So God comes to us in this place of disgrace and says, I have rolled it away. You belong to my tribe. You belong to my story. You belong to me. And when you belong to me, you stand as one without disgrace.
And so we must ask ourselves: If God has rolled away our disgrace, why are we still carrying it?
Jesus tells the story of a son who asked his father for his rightful inheritance, left home and squandered it all within months. And then a famine hit. One day, hungry, as he was feeding pigs, which was now his livelihood, he realized he was worse off than the hired hands who worked for his father. And he thought to himself, I could go home and put myself at my father’s mercy and ask to be hired as help. And so he did. But when he was still a ways off, his father saw him coming, and ran to him. And the son said, “Father I have sinned against heaven and you, and I’m no longer fit to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired hands.” But the father called for his servants to bring his son a robe, and a ring, and sandals, and then they took a fatted calf and killed it for a celebratory feast in the son’s honor.
Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace.
Psalm 103 says, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
God knows. God remembers. God knows that the Israelites were weighed down in slavery, their cries and prayers for deliverance rising like panic smoke signals from the crash site of their despair. God remembers their fear as they outran Roman soldiers across the dry passage through the Red Sea. God knows they grumbled when they got the very freedom they had asked for, whined when they were given all the food they needed morning after morning, complained that it tasted bland and wished to return to the food of their captivity. God knows they quarreled amongst themselves, defied their tired leaders, rejected the law, gave up on the promise. And God said, Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt, all those things you carried from slavery into the wilderness, and all those things you are trying to carry from the wilderness to the promised land. I have rolled them away. I have set it down. You are free, and unburdened.
The prodigal son’s father said to his servants, “Bring the best robe and put it on (my son). Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet. Then go and get the prize calf and kill it, and let us celebrate with a feast.”
And Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
If God has rolled away our disgrace, why are we still carrying it?
Joshua 5 says that the day after they celebrated the passover, where they remember how the angel of death rolled through the streets of Egypt and yet passed over their doors leaving them unharmed, the day after this passover feast the manna from heaven ceased to appear, and they ate instead the produce of the promised land. They ate the food of promise the first day they were free of their disgrace. The feast of promise was set out before them. They were welcomed home, welcomed in.
I don’t know the things you’re carrying tonight. But what I do know is that God has rolled away your disgrace, and you are forgiven. If God has rolled away your disgrace, why are you still carrying it?
As we near the feast of Easter, we remember that God has rolled away even the disgrace of death from us. We are free. And we are God’s. So let us put down those things we are carrying, that we might also feast on the food of promise. Amen.