The Beautiful and the Broken

November 9, 2014

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25; Psalm 78:1-7

“The trouble with our God-stories” writes Debie Thomas, “ is that they are both beautiful and broken. Both essential and dangerous. In this week’s Old Testament reading, Joshua and the Israelites exchange dramatic God-stories of their own — vivid narratives of their ancestors’ experiences with Yahweh — and their exchange culminates in a moment of decision: “Choose this day whom you will serve,” Joshua challenges his followers. “Whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
The stories Joshua and the Israelites exchange in this passage are painful for modern readers to deal with. They include unsparing descriptions of plagues, drownings, curses, and genocidal conquests – descriptions edited out of the readings for today, but you can read them, right there in the text. While they celebrate a God who protects his children, they also describe him as tribalistic, wrathful, and violent. When the Israelites answer Joshua’s challenge with a hearty decision to serve God, they base their decision on a God-story that makes me cringe: “The Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”” (Debie Thomas,
“But here’s the dilemma: we are called by God to tell our stories. “We will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done,” the Psalmist says in this week’s reading. God commands each generation to share its stories, so that many generations yet unborn will “set their hope in God.”
How do we faithfully but respectfully share our God-stories? How do we untangle beauty from brokenness in the stories we tell and hear?” I think Debie asks us an important question – a question that may be particularly important on this Sunday between All Saints, All Souls and Remembrance Day. All three of those special days are about remembering. All of them are about sharing our stories, re-learning the experiences of previous generations and passing them on to our children. But what will we pass on? That’s the question, isn’t it? There is much of what we remember this week that we do not want to pass on. We certainly don’t want to pass on the dangerous combination of economic hardship, megalomania, nationalism, ethnocentrism and militarism that combined to produce the two World Wars and far too many wars since. We want to pass on instead, the values of courage, sacrifice, and service exemplified by the men and women who served and continue to serve on behalf of their nation and for the sake of the world. We want to pass on the stories of brother helping brother, of women serving selflessly, of soldiers and civilian support workers who stand strong in the face of evil and bring it to an end.
The problem is, we can’t tell one half of that story without telling the other half as well. That’s our dilemma with so many Biblical stories, and it is the dilemma of our own stories as well. There is beauty and brokenness in all our living, and as we tell the stories we need to highlight and celebrate the beauty and recommit ourselves to naming and mending the brokenness, wherever and whenever we can.
As we reflect on these stories, we ask again, “What will we choose: life or death? Whom will we serve: the God we know in Jesus, or some other authority or false god? When I say false gods, I mean even those Biblical images of God that do not reflect the loving Father and Merciful Judge we know through Jesus’ words and deeds. They are Biblical, yes, but I’m going to dare to challenge that aspect of Scripture and say that while those images are what the people of Israel held at that time, in the light of the revelation of Jesus, we find them now to be false.
We have seen very recently what happens when people serve an image of God which is not worthy of devotion. We have seen how a narrow, tribal and limited view of whom God loves and who God doesn’t, who God embraces and who God rejects, who God treasures and who God condemns – we’ve seen that manifest itself with the atrocities committed by ISIS and we have had to call again upon our Canadian soldiers to confront evil. We have seen it in the tragic deaths of Patrice Vincent and Nathan Cirillo at the hands of radicals who believed their actions somehow served their God. We have also seen bravery and compassion once again displayed: by the bystanders who came rushing to the aid of those injured, by the Sergeant at Arms, Kevin Vickers, who stopped the Ottawa shooter and saved the lives of who knows how many? We tell these stories, and we remember not only the beautiful, but the broken – and we commit ourselves to being a part of the healing and renewal of humanity in the name of our God, whose name is Love.
At the end of the service today in the CE Hall you’ll have the opportunity to watch a short video of some images of our Canadian military, both veterans and those serving still, set to words and music. The video remind us of our commitment as Christian people to tell our stories wisely, and to choose well who and what we will serve. This beautiful presentation was put together by Neil Parker, United Church Chaplain with the Canadian Forces in Comox. This is his gift to us, on behalf of the troops he serves. We will all respond to it differently, as our story, and the story of our faith, and the story of Canada’s soldiers intersect. It reminds us of both the beauty and brokenness in our lives – the beauty and brokenness we recognize as we approach our national Day of Remembrance. I hope it will touch you, and teach you – and I hope the Scriptures for today and the video we will watch will remind us all how important it is to pay attention to the stories we tell. Amen.

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