Re-Member Your Story

Note: I'm excited to summarize the message brought today  by our new parish associate, Rev. Dr. Martha Greene.  Make sure you don't miss her powerful message at UPPC.org or UPPC.org/media.  
--Pastor Mike
We all have stories.  And we're usually the protagonists in our own stories, too.  But of the billions of other people in the world, we know so few of others' stories.  It's humbling.  And the collective story our nation and world have been telling since about February of this year has grown increasingly discouraging, first with the reality of Covid-19, but then the death of George Floyd and subsequent outrage.  In so many ways, this just isn't the story we wanted to tell.  

In times like these, when we're disoriented, it becomes all the more important to re-member the story of our lives.  To re-member is to "connect that which as been cut off."  It is the opposite of dismember, actually.  And we must remember not only our personal stories, but the grander narratives of which we're a part.  This includes the ongoing story of the Bible.  The story recorded in the Bible is a complex epic that can intimidate any reader, certainly the first-time reader.  But it is a story worth reading, and remembering, and it can help us remember who we are, and whose we are.

As Joshua and the Israelites entered uncharted territory, Joshua 8:31-35 records a moment when they paused to build an altar to God and remember the grander story of which they were a part.  This moment of remembering is significant for several reasons.

1) Battles can wait.  In the midst of Joshua's campaign for conquest, they paused in the midst of battle.  There are very few stories that tell of a pause in the middle of wartime to tell stories!  One that comes to mind is the famous Christmas Truce of 1914.  But in the case of Joshua, one of the remarkable aspects of this hiatus was the company they kept: native-born Israelites, foreigners, and women and children, too.  All were included in the remembering of God's covenant through Moses.  A foreshadowing of  God's covenant renewal foretold centuries later through Jeremiah, and fulfilled even centuries more later through Jesus.

2) New stories can be written.  They weren't only remembering, but also writing anew.  Yes, God made a covenant with the Israelites, those twelve tribes of Hebrews who had been enslaved in Egypt.  But even here, so shortly after Moses' death, God is already starting to stitch together the later narrative that would include the whole world in his covenant.  Pastor Martha gave a powerful example of her husband's ancestors' history of slave ownership, but of their choice even today to tell a new story because of what they've learned from the old.

3) Life is not a zero sum game.  A zero sum game is one in which you must lose if I am to win.  We can't both win, right?  And the US culture at present is putting enormous pressure on citizens to choose sides, and by golly it had better be the winning side.  But whose side is God on?  This moment on Mount Ebal may have conjured a recent memory for Joshua, of his encounter with the "commander of the army of the LORD."  "Whose side are you on?" Joshua asked.

“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”  (Joshua 5:13-15)

What a humbling moment, to realize that our prayer should be that God is on our side, but rather that we might be on God's side.  

If you are weary of the battle -- the battle against Covid-19, or the political battle it causes, or the battle against injustice, or the political battle it causes -- let this story of Joshua encourage you to pause and remember your story.  In particular, the story of God's call to, and covenant with, you.  Moreover, God's call to others, even the whole world, to himself.  Remember, he even loves and calls out to those you might consider your enemies.  

If nothing else, remember the story of Joshua on Mount Ebal, or Jesus' sermon on the mount, or the visions of John of the fulfillment of God's kingdom...and become the story.

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