If we don’t learn from history we are condemned to repeat it. As a history major in college this was one of my favorite sayings. And there is a lot to learn from history that we don’t want to repeat. For example, back in 1929 researchers at Princeton University claimed that they had turned a cat into a telephone by hooking the auditory nerves of two cats together with electrodes. This story gives new meaning to the phrase hello kitty doesn’t it? Hello Kitty fans just remember that forgiveness is a command of the Lord.
Speaking of cats, Pope Gregory the IX, who was Pope of the Catholic Church between 1227-1241 A.D declared that cats were to be associated with Devil worship and thus they were exterminated in droves. Unfortunately, Gregory didn’t know at the time that the bubonic plague was spread by rats and not cats. And when he ordered the extermination of cats he caused the spread of rats which spread the bubonic plague killing millions of people in the thirteenth century. If only we could figure out time travel so we could send a cat phone back in time and warn Gregory of his mistake. But if we did that Gregory might not be able to call the whole thing off anyway. Because with a cat phone there is a good chance that the cat will catch your tongue.
In life there are things that are hidden from us until we have an epiphany a eureka moment where the veil is rolled back and we come to understand life in a new way. This can be with history, science, our everyday lives, and even with our understanding of the Bible. When this new understanding comes we see our lives in a new way. We experience hope. The hope of a new world with new possibilities. We also experience sorrow and sadness as we come to see the sins of our past that we didn’t see before. We wish we could invent a time machine and go back in time to undo those mistakes.
But at least for now the option of going back in time is closed to us. The only option that we have when the veil is rolled back, when the Epiphany comes, is to step out in faith, and attempt to make a better world, a world where cats are not turned into telephones and where millions don’t suffer because of the misguided decisions of a few. Our only option is not to get bogged down in regret but to press on towards victory.
And in our passage today God’s people are on the verge of their first major victory since the LORD delivered them out of Egypt. We remember how God delivered his people out of slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand, with signs and wonders. We remember how God provided bread from heaven for his people as they wandered for forty years in the wilderness. And while I logically assumed that the manna stopped at some point, since it doesn’t rain food anymore, except in children’s books, and even there you are only guaranteed spaghetti with a chance of meatballs, I didn’t realize the Bible described the point at which the manna stopped. But here it is in Joshua Chapter five. To quote our text, “ While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel , but they ate of the fruit of the land.”
Transitions can be scary. They can make us feel vulnerable. They can make us feel naked and afraid, not knowing what is coming next. And here we find one of the biggest transitions in scripture. God’s people move from miraculous provision from the sky to miraculous provision from the fruit of the land. Perhaps we don’t think of growing food out of the ground as miraculous. But that is simply because we have gotten used to it. If the manna had never stopped falling from the sky eventually we would have taken that for granted as well. In our passage today we see the lull before the storm. We see the rest before the battle. For in the next passage, God’s people will go up against their biggest challenge yet, the walls of Jericho, which was more of a military garrison, than a civilian town. And I believe in this moment of transition, in this shift of God’s provision, in this expansion of God’s mission for his people, there is good news.
The Good news: When we become vulnerable warriors we shall take hold of the promises of God. We become vulnerable warriors by.
- Becoming circumcised
- Becoming Rooted.
First, we become Vulnerable Warriors by becoming circumcised. In the Old Testament circumcision was an outward sign by which God set apart the men of God’s people from the surrounding nations. But in the New Testament Paul tells us that both men and women are circumcised with a circumcision not of human hands, but by a circumcision of the heart, made possible by Christ’s victory on the cross. God has pulled back the covering around our hearts and made us a new creation in Christ Jesus. This inward circumcision is represented by the outward sign and seal of Baptism. In our Baptism we say to the world that we are willing to be buried with Christ so that we might rise with Christ. And you can’t make yourself much more vulnerable than being buried and dying. To trust that God has a plan and a purpose for our lives requires the courage to expose ourselves to the unknown. As the LORD said to Joshua as he lead God’s people into the promised land, “ Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I sower to their fathers to give them.” Brene Brown, a well known researcher on vulnerability points out that our English word for courage originally meant, “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” And yet we cover up our hearts because we are hurt, wounded and ashamed.
We all have our ways of numbing that inner pain. But as Brene Brown points out to numbing negative emotions also numbs positive emotions. To be circumcised by Christ is to open our hearts up to trust. To trust that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not over come it. To trust that darkness is as light to God and he can call us out of the depths of our shame and give us a new name, the name of His Son ,Beloved Child of God. To be circumcised by Christ is to open our hearts to the fellowship of the saints which binds us together as one body with many members. To be circumcised by Christ is to be rooted and built up in faith and to be rooted in the community that God has placed us in.
To become vulnerable warriors first we must be circumcised, not with a circumcision of the flesh, but with a circumcision of the heart. Second, we must be rooted in the place that God has us. God makes this clear when he commands a second circumcision. To quote the LORD, “ Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time.” This was the generation that wandered in the wilderness why? Because the previous generation had not been obedient. Sometimes there is disobedience in one generation that leads to an effect in another generation. And the question that we have to ask ourselves is not what the problem is with kids these days but how are we going to bless kids these days? How are we going to help kids these days overcome their obstacles. Because that is the choice the Lord gives us. And this requires that we be rooted. Rooted in community. To love Christ is to love his body the local church.
Many people say that I am a Christian but I am not a member of a local church. But the New Testament has no conception of that. To love Christ is to love his body. But many of us have experienced that it is easier to love Christ than it is to love his body. And part of the reason for this we think of church membership as a country club, where we join and get certain rights, rather than a spiritual boot camp, where we are broken down and built up again as one body with many members.
In the New Testament Circumcision is symbolic of both our commitment to Christ and to the Church. The circumcision of the heart says that we have chosen to follow Christ over other spiritual paths. We also affirm that in our baptisms that not only have we died to the world we have become part of the church. It is common today for many Christians to say, “ I have a personal relationship with Christ but not with a local church.”
Though I am well read in the Bible, one of our Elders showed me that I too had fallen into the mentality of thinking of the church as a country club when they recommended the book “I am a Church Member” by Thomas Rainer, to me. Rainer bases his view of what it means to be in the army of the LORD on 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 13. To quote Rainer, “ With a country club membership you pay others to do the work for you. With church membership, everyone has a role or function. That is why some are hands, feet, ears, or eyes. We are all different, but we are necessary parts of the whole.”
Rainer argues what gives us courage to engage in spiritual warfare is God’s Divine love, which is described in 1 Corinthians 13. To quote Rainer, “Can you imagine 1 Corinthians 13 being read at an acrimonious church meeting? In its full biblical context that might be the place to read it. If we could just abide by the principles of the love chapter, we would have completely healthy churches. It would be a revolution! Just look at some of the relational principles of 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs.” The principals of these two verses alone are sufficient to cause a revival in most churches!” Rainer goes on to say,
Yet revival doesn’t happen. Not in our churches, not in our society, not in our nations, because we have not learned the lessons of history. We laugh and look with horror at the mistakes of the past. With 20/20 vision we think we would never be so silly as to fund scientific research that turns cats into telephones, or that we would never be so paranoid as Pope Gregory, getting riled up in a plague of fear and panic, so much so that millions die as a consequence of our decisions or our inaction against such evil. If you don’t learn from history you are condemned to repeat it. And while we recognize the truth of this saying it does not seem that we as humanity know how to apply it practically because we keep making the same mistakes. The vulnerable keep getting sacrificed on the altar of fear. The greatest example of this in the 20th century was the Holocaust. The atrocities of Adolf Hitler and the NAZI regime have led to decades of wondering how six million Jews could be slaughtered in gas chambers? But we much rather fantasize about going back in time and killing Hitler than learn the lesson that history has to teach us today. It is a rather simple lesson. It is the lesson that every vulnerable warrior must learn.
The German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller, became a vulnerable warrior the hard way. To quote an article about him from the United States Holocaust Museum, “Martin Niemöller was born in the Westphalian town of Lippstadt, Germany, on January 14, 1892. In 1910 he became a cadet in the Imperial German Navy. With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Niemöller was assigned to a U-Boat, of which he was eventually appointed the commander. Under the stipulations of the armistice of November 11, 1918, that ended hostilities in World War I, Niemöller and other commanders were ordered to turn over their U-Boats to England. Along with many others, Niemöller refused to obey this order, and was, as a consequence, discharged from the Navy.
In 1920, he decided to follow the path of his father and began seminary training at the University of Münster.
Niemöller enthusiastically welcomed the Third Reich. But a turning point in Niemöller’s political sympathies came with a January 1934 meeting of Adolf Hitler, Niemöller, and two prominent Protestant bishops to discuss state pressures on churches. At the meeting it became clear that Niemöller’s phone had been tapped by the Gestapo (German Secret State Police). It was also clear that the Pastors Emergency League (PEL), which Niemöller had helped found, was under close state surveillance. Following the meeting, Niemöller would come to see the Nazi state as a dictatorship, one which he would oppose.”
For his opposition to Hitler, Niemoller would spend the rest of the war in concentration camps. After, the war ended Niemoller didn’t try to rewrite history and say he was on the right side of history, he didn’t try to cover over his mistakes, because while love keeps no record of wrongs love also rejoices in the truth. He wrote a poem called First They Came, which I feel simply explains how not just how the holocaust happened, but small acts of hard heartedness tend to spiral into hate. To Quote, Niemoller,
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
The test of vulnerability is not whether we listen to those who have gone through the same things we have. The test of vulnerability is not whether we respect those in our same religion, political party, profession, or station of life. The test of vulnerability is whether we have empathy for those we have little in common with. The test of vulnerability is whether we speak up for those who’s vulnerability are not ours. And the safe thing to do would be to leave this quote in 1945 or to use it against those we disagree with. But the vulnerable thing to do would be to replace the different categories in this quote with the group, political parties, professions, or individuals, that we have negative judgments of, because we all have negative judgments of others. First they came for X, but I was not X, then they came for Y, but I was not Y, then they came for Z, but I was not Z, then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.
If we do this we will come to understand the meaning of empathy and vulnerability. If we do this we will become more than just a support group. We will become more than just citizens of our individual nations. We will become citizens of heaven. We will join the commander of the LORD’s army, the Lord Jesus Christ, in tearing down strongholds, in waging war against spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places, in showing the world that indeed perfect love can cast out fear, and the world shall see that indeed we are the body of Christ, bought by his precious blood, circumcised by Grace, with hearts set ablaze by love. No weapon formed against us shall remain, and we shall tear down the gates of Hell. And the world will see the power of the saints, which is the power of vulnerable warriors.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.