Joshua 5:9-12 — After the Israelites cross the Jordan, the disgrace of Egypt is over, the manna stops and the people eat the bounty of the land.
Psalm 32 — I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’, and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21 – We once saw Christ from a human standpoint, but no longer. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. God reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself. So we are ambassadors for Christ. For our sake he made him to be sin, who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 – The Lost Sheep and the Lost Sons
Sing Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer. The third stanza alludes to Joshua: “When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside; death of death and hell’s destruction, land me save on Canaan’s side. Songs and praises, songs and praises I will raise evermore…”
Sing Amazing Grace, which ties to the younger son: “I once was lost, but now am found…”
If you would like some reflections on the story of the Lost Sons (Prodigal Son), the entire season of Lent 2013 was devoted to this parable. We used Timothy Keller’s book, Prodigal God.
- Lent 1C: The People Around Jesus
- Lent 2C: Two Lost Sons
- Lent 3C: Redefining Sin
- Lent 4C: Redefining Lostness
- Lent 5C: The True Elder Brother
- Easter: Redefining Hope
My comments this year will focus on the text from Joshua.
First, though, let me mention a factoid for Texans. Remember the Alamo? Well, that was on this day, March 6, 1836. And it was a Sunday. Sam Houston had said the Alamo was not strategically important. He ordered Colonel Travis to abandon and destroy it. Travis disobeyed orders. 182 Texans (only 31 of whom had been born in the U.S. by the way) chose to defend it anyway, against 2,000 angry Mexican soldiers. General Santa Ana flew a red flag: No Prisoners. William Travis and Davy Crockett died alongside Jim Bowie (not David Bowie), inventor of the Bowie knife. This could lend itself to a sermon on the futility of war. Choosing your battles. Maybe even taking a stand when the odds are against you.
Crossing the Jordan to the Promised Land
Once Joshua and the Israelites had crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, they were told to get twelve stones out of the Jordan, one for each of the twelve tribes, and place them in their camp, as a memory. This kind of standing stone memorial was common all over the world, even dating back into the Neolithic era (10,000-2500 B.C.). Think Stonehenge. Standing stones are used to commemorate important moments, divine appearances, battles, and are the precursor of our gravestones.
The Israelite men had been circumcised in Egypt, but not in the wilderness. Most of the original slaves had died in the last 40 years. And so, once Moses had died, Joshua and the people crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, and made camp, Joshua ordered all the men (600,000?) to be circumcised. (See Joshua 5:1-8.) Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago professor Ralph Klein invites us to imagine 600,000 foreskins piled up. This wouldn’t have been easy. It had to have been painful for older men and, without sterile conditions and antibiotics, infection was a real, life-threatening danger. These men couldn’t have been happy campers. The text says they remained in the camp until they healed. They called this camp Gilgal. It is at this point that our text for the day starts.
Gilgal (Heb. גִּלְגָּל) means circle. The plural, circles, is gilgalim. The camp was possibly named that way because of a circle of standing stones. In a play on words, YHWH says to Joshua, “I have rolled away (Heb. giluthi) the shame of Egypt.”
The shame that is rolled away is not just the shame of slavery, but also the shame of a foreign, can I say, pagan, society. An uncircumcised society. Circumcision came to be the way the people of Israel distinguished themselves from the societies around them. It was the sign of their covenant with God.
For Christians this cannot help but evoke images of rolling away the stone, which rolls away the shame of sin and death.
While in Gilgal, they celebrated Passover, their Independence Day. They ate the crops of the land, and stopped eating manna and quail, which had been given them in the wilderness. Klein tells us that the Israelites kept a jar of Manna in their sanctuary, as a kind of relic, so that future generations would recognize that their ancestors had survived in the wilderness only because of Yahweh’s providential hand (16:32-34). Food is not to be taken for granted.
Many of us are focusing on world hunger this Lenten season. What relics or icons do we need so that we recognize God’s providence? God has provided enough for the entire world. We don’t have a supply problem. We have a distribution problem. What relics or icons do we need to not take our own food for granted? How do we see food as both gift and trust? The preacher can use this as a jumping off point for addressing the stones to bread issue raised in the Lent 1 Temptation Story.
If you are preaching on the Lost Sons (Prodigal Son), there are plenty of connections. The lost people of Israel are welcomed to the Promised Land by YHWH. The shame of their past is wiped away in circumcision. They feast on crops, leaving behind the manna of the wilderness. Likewise, the lost son returns home after journeying in his own wilderness. The shame of his past is forgiven in the embrace of his father. They feast on the fatted calf, leaving behind the pig slop of his former existence. God does the same for us.
We can also consider, in the crossing of the Jordan, the possibility of an allegory for death and resurrection. Just as the Israelites passed through the waters of the Jordan from slavery in Egypt and the wilderness into the Promised Land, so by the cross of Christ and through the waters of baptism, we will one day pass from the slavery and wilderness of this world into the promised land of eternal life.
Ralph Klein suggests the great hymn, Guide Me Ever, Great Redeemer. The third stanza alludes to Joshua:
When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside;
Death of death and hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs and praises, songs and praises I will raise evermore.
I will raise evermore.