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September 30th, 2018

There’s no “I” in “TEAM” and no “me” in “JESUS.”

Joshua 5:1-12

That nose of mine

I took a long weekend last week, and since I came back to church on Wednesday people have been asking, “What happened to your nose?”

Some of you have seen Facebook pictures of me climbing a ladder to install my Gutter Pro gutter guards. No, I didn’t fall off the ladder. Others have seen the pictures of our daughter Jeni and me when we installed new floors upstairs in our home last weekend while Linda was babysitting our grandson in San Francisco for a few days. I used four different power saws – a table saw, chop saw, circular saw, and jig saw, and no, nothing flew off the saws into my face. All my fingers are intact as well.

The damage to my nose occurred toward the conclusion of the floor project when I was moving furniture back into place. I had hired some guys to help me remove the old carpet and move furniture around so I could have open floors. I did not realize the wood-framed mirror on top of one of our dressers was not attached. When I put the dresser on the dolly the mirror came crashing on my face.

Linda asked me if I was going to put a bandaid on it today. No! I’m proud of this mark. It identifies me as a Do-It-Yourselfer. What marks you as a follower of Jesus?

The chapter you wouldn’t miss

As we make our way through the book of Joshua, we come to a chapter that you wouldn’t miss if it weren’t there. Last week, we looked at the miracle of crossing the Jordan River in chapters 3 and 4, told by the story-teller with a lot of suspense and drama. Having settled temporarily east of the Jordan, the Israelites are told to follow the ark of the covenant to the edge of the Jordan. When they get there with a great deal of anticipation and fear, they find the river raging at flood stage. No one tells them what to do for three days. They just stare and wait.

Joshua tells them that God is going to get them through the river on dry ground. This is going to be a Moses-like miracle that will validate Joshua’s leadership as they prepare to take the land. The priests step foot into the flooded river valley and… nothing happens! Nothing they can see, anyway. Often when God is at work we can’t see the evidence immediately. The river stops at that moment by God’s intervention, but it stops 18 miles upstream at Adam. There were minutes or maybe hours before the flow stopped enough for them to cross. After they crossed, they set up two stone monuments with river rocks so they would never forget what God did. They would need to recall this moment during the battles ahead.

One of the most spiritually vulnerable times is just after God intervenes. You see God do something really amazing, and you’re immediately at risk. You might get lazy about your faith. You might get disappointed when God lets you face difficulties.

You expect the next thing for the Israelites is to go on the offensive and head to Jericho. That’s what happens – in chapter 6, but not yet. From God’s perspective and from the Israelites’ perspective, they’re not ready for Jericho until after chapter 5.

Chapter 5 opens in Canaan after the Israelites crossed the Jordan. In Rahab’s story, we already learned that during the past forty years the inhabitants of Canaan had heard about the parting of the Red Sea and how the Israelites had completely destroyed the kings and cities east of the Jordan. They were already terrified (1:8-11). Some of them, or at least Rahab, had come to believe in the Israelites’ God. She wanted to be on the right side, on the living side, when this was all over.

Now we learn that the crossing of the Jordan has only added to the terror. Remember, the flooded river bed was dammed 18 miles upstream. God performed this miracle not only for its impact on the Israelites but in full view of the people who lived in that area. “All the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the LORD had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over,” and “their hearts melted in fear.” One might have expected them to go on the offensive, but “they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites” (5:1).

Circumcision… again

Joshua 5:2 says, “At that time the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” The “flint knives” were probably made from obsidian, a glass-like rock made from volcanic lava that cools quickly and does not form many crystals. It can splinter into very sharp pieces, so it doesn’t need sharpening like metal. Native Americans used it for arrow heads and swords. It has also been found in the Israeli Negev desert. Most likely the Israelites had gathered it during their wanderings.

Since this is a family-friendly service, I’ll describe circumcision as an operation some boys have on their private parts, usually within hours or days after they are born. About 80% of American baby boys are circumcised. The percentage is higher in Muslim countries and lower in Europe and South America. Circumcision was practiced in Africa and some other places even before the Jews adopted it.

God had told Abraham to circumcise every male in his family (Genesis 17), and from then on every baby boy was to be circumcised at 8 days old. This practice has continued for Jewish people even to modern times. The Bible never says why this particular act should identify a Jewish man, but it may have something to do with dedicating his manhood to God. Every part of us belongs to God, including that personal and private part that joins man and woman. Circumcision is personal and irreversible.

Circumcision is a guy thing, of course, but here’s where you have to place this story in its historical context. This was a very male-dominated era – not just among Israelites, but among other people. Only men fought in wars and occupied positions of leadership with rare exceptions. If the man was circumcised because he belonged to God and God’s people, so did his family.

The word “again” (2) is important and a little puzzling, but it seems to be explained by the verses that follow. Apparently circumcision had been practiced while the Jews were slaves in Egypt (5:5), but not since that time. We’re not told why they hadn’t been. I’ve heard and read lots of theories this week, but it must not be important because the Bible doesn’t tell us why they hadn’t. The reason for “again” seems to be that they restarted the practice of circumcision that had been suspended.

Joshua (and, we presume, some other older men who assisted) circumcised every man under the age of 40, those who had been born since they left Egypt. This included most of the soldiers. Circumcision for an adult in particular can be painful, especially in the hours and days following the procedure. And remember, at that time this wasn’t done with anesthesia or pain block of any kind.

Mass circumcision of the soldiers was an act of faith and obedience on the part of the Israelites. It was a test of their faith. The people all around are paralyzed with fear, but the Israelites probably don’t know that. They may think they’re going to be attacked at any moment.

The Israelites needed to be reminded that they belonged to God, and circumcision was that mark. An Israelite didn’t have to drop his pants to show everyone, but he knew whose he was. He also knew he was part of the group of people who belonged to God. All of the men and boys were circumcised that day.

Verse 9: “Then the LORD said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.’ So the place has been called Gilgal (“roll away”) to this day.” Centuries of slavery had made it embarrassing to be one of Jacob’s descendants. It was followed by decades of wandering in the desert. Slavery drains your identity and dignity. It was true then, it was true in the American South, and it’s true for any addiction or enslavement. When someone or something else owns you, you think you’re worth nothing. What was your Gilgal – the place where God rolled away your shame? Or are you still looking for it?

The people of Israel now sit in the Promised Land. They stand tall because they are, together, somebody — a nation, a people who belong to God. If they forget, they just have to look down at their bodies. They bear the mark that says, “I belong to this group of people who belong to God. Don’t ever call me a slave again.”

Remembering and anticipating

The other reason for the mass circumcision, in addition to the fact that it hadn’t been done before and that they all needed a common bond, was that it was time to celebrate the Passover. The Law said that no uncircumcised man should eat the Passover, so it’s possible that the Passover had not been regularly celebrated in the wilderness either. That too is puzzling to me, but the Bible doesn’t explain if or why that was true. Some commentators think that the whole relationship between God and Israel, the covenant itself, was suspended in the wilderness. But God still guided them with the pillar and cloud, and still provided daily manna, so we don’t know for sure.

It’s significant that they arrive in their new land at Passover time. Passover is the most important of the Jewish feasts. It recalls God’s deliverance from Egypt when the firstborn male of each family died as the tenth plague finally persuaded Pharaoh to let God’s people go. The Israelites were spared the death of their firstborn if they slaughtered a lamb and placed the blood on their doorposts. Then they ate the roasted lamb in a quickly prepared meal with bread that didn’t have time to rise. From that time until now, Jews remember God’s deliverance with a meal that includes roast lamb, matzah (unleavened bread), and bitter herbs to remind them of their slavery.

We learned in the story of the crossing of the Jordan that the people crossed during the spring harvest, when the Jordan was at flood stage (3:15). Now we learn more specifically that they crossed into their new home just before time for Passover. But something’s different about this Passover. The Lamb isn’t even mentioned, although that doesn’t mean they didn’t eat lamb.

What’s mentioned is the bread, because for the first time they can eat bread made from grain in their new home. In a miracle of timing, the very next day the daily manna stopped. It was the spring harvest and there was grain all around so they could eat “the produce of the land.” Their new home was already providing for them.

We would never have missed Joshua 5 if it weren’t in the Bible, but now that we’ve seen it, notice how important it is!

1. New beginning: God has given his people a new home and a new life.
2. Normal food in the normal way: No miracle manna. Plant, cultivate, harvest.
3. Private symbol of belonging: Circumcision is personal, but it’s corporate.
4. Remembering what God did: Passover recalls God’s deliverance.
5. Togetherness: Only together can they win their physical and spiritual battles.

All About Jes-US!

Pastor Paul and I have said repeatedly that we have to be careful about taking Old Testament stories and applying them to ourselves. They all have meaning, but we have to be careful to use them correctly. Not all of the promises of God to Moses, Joshua, or the children of Israel here or later in the New Testament are about us. But the New Testament makes two very clear connections to this passage.

Baptism is our circumcision. Baptism is the way we say, “We belong.” It’s a shame that baptism has become such a symbol of divisiveness in the church because it should be a symbol of our unity. Christians are baptized at different times (infancy, childhood, on profession of faith) and we are baptized with different amounts of water (usually sprinkling or immersion), but what’s important as that there is one baptism. Baptism does for us what circumcision does for the Jew – it marks us as one of God’s people. It’s a “we” thing, not a “me” thing.

There are differences between circumcision and baptism. Circumcision is something you do. Baptism represents what God does. Circumcision is an outward sign that you have on your body the rest of your life. Baptism is something you remember in your mind and hold in your heart. Circumcision was for boys only. Baptism is for men and women and boys and girls. There’s no male and female in Christ.

The Lord’s Supper is our Passover. Jesus himself made that connection. We don’t recall being freed from a physical slavery. We remember being freed from a spiritual slavery, the slavery to sin and the devil and the world. Passover involves the annual slaughter of a lamb. The Lord’s Supper recalls the once for all sacrifice of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the whole world.

We live in an age where you constantly hear, “Be who you are.” The Christian message is “Be who we are.” It’s not that this removes all your personal identity. God still works with your personality, experience, and gifts. But the Christian faith is not a solo journey. Most people who falter and withdraw do so because they never connect.

You are baptized into a church family, where we love you, accept you, and promise our love, support, and care. Communion is like a family meal. We all sit at the table together and remember that we are all separated from God but that Jesus’ body and blood made it possible for us to be one with God and with each other.

One of the reasons we have this quarterly combined service is to remind us that even though we might have different preferences for worship – style of music or preaching, even the time we come to church – we lay that aside from time to time and say, “I want to be with my whole church family.” It’s not about me, it’s about us.

You remember what Jesus said, don’t you, on the night he was betrayed? In the Upper Room he told his disciples, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). It’s the “us” that marks you as belonging to Christ. It’s not your personal prayers or knowledge of Bible reading or ability to defend the faith or lack of bad language or even your service out in the world. It’s your proactive determination to accept, forgive, love, and serve other believers.

If you attend worship but are not connected in relationships, you need to know that showing up in a church service once a week rarely changed anyone’s life. It’s getting involved in the messiness of real human relationships, the place where you learn grace by receiving grace, that changes you. I hope Corinth is a place of extravagant grace. We don’t require everyone to belong or serve in a certain way, but we do urge you to connect in ways you can “belong” and “serve.”

If you “belong” to classes or groups, but don’t serve, remember that the reason God gives us relationships is not for ourselves; it’s so that we can do his work in the world. What God has called us to do can’t be done unless we all serve together.

If you “serve” but are never part of a group where someone serves or teaches you, you’re basically saying you don’t have anything to learn from someone else. You’re also not remembering the power of us. You need the humility of being in at least one group where you’re not in charge, where someone else can lead you, love on you, help you. If you only like to serve and not be served, you haven’t captured “us” yet either.

Some of you “belong” and “serve” at every opportunity, and you’re at risk of burnout. Churches will eat you alive if you let us. It’s not intentional, but we are an organization of volunteers seeking help for what they do. Don’t say yes to everything you’re asked to do. Choose strategically the places where you belong and serve.

You’ve often heard that there’s no “I” in Team. There’s no “Me” in Jesus. It’s not Jes-ME; it’s Jes-US! He binds us to one another in his gospel. Yes, Jesus wants a personal response of faith from you. But he wants you in a group of believers where you can lay down your personal preferences and needs, where you can serve and be served, where you can have a sense of belonging.

Remember this one thing: it’s not about you and it’s not about me. It’s about the Lord working in each of us individually and through each of us in each other. It’s our willingness to be together and serve together that causes us to grow in Christ. It’s about Jes-US! Amen.

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