Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Sermon: Gilgal - Rolling It Away

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
March 13, 2016
Readings: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 25:11-18; Luke 7:36-50

Watch the video for this sermon here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCdzsJ7HXOo&feature=share

We’re in the last of our sermon series on “Healing, Health and Wholeness,” and we’re focusing on healing and health for our faith.  This Lent has been a particularly painful one for many here today.  Some of you are facing or recovering from serious medical issues.  Others are dealing with grief from the loss of people who are dear to you.  Still others are in the midst of difficult struggles at home, or at work or at school. 

When you are facing these kinds of challenges, you can find that the very faith that you have relied on during your youth, or in other times of need, can sometimes feel wanting.  The journeys we undertake sometimes lead us to what is sometimes called “the dark night of the soul.”  And your spirit, your trust in God can feel stretched to the breaking point.

I watched this kind of thing happen with my Aunt Joan, who was also my godmother.  Twelve years ago I watched my aunt begin a journey.  It was not a journey you can take in a car or on a plane.  In fact, it’s not even a journey where she could take any luggage.  Aunt Joan was suffering from kidney failure.  And over the course of many months, she undertook the long, slow journey to her face-to-face meeting with the Lord.  And while she looked forward to the destination with anxious anticipation, she did not enjoy the journey. 

Because it’s a wilderness journey.  Week by week, her body was losing strength.  Her appetite diminished, and food tasted weird to her.  Her body lost weight at an alarming rate.  She tried to stay cheerful and focused on the blessings in her life.  But I remember her telling me that some mornings she woke up feeling overwhelmed to the point of tears with the knowledge that her death is imminent.  I asked her what helped her get through the day.  She says only her prayers and the prayers of others.  And my Aunt Joan was a prayer warrior, let me tell you.  She had a faith that can move mountains.  But it was still a painful journey for her.

I thought about her journey as I looked at the lessons for today.  We start with the lesson from Joshua, where, after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites have finally arrived at the border of Canaan, the Promised Land.  If you’ll remember, they suffered as slaves in Egypt for many generations until Moses led them through the Red Sea and into freedom.  That was the easy part.  They then wandered 40 years through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land.  During that time they had nothing but quails and manna to eat.  It was a gift from God, this dry, bread-like substance they collected to eat each morning.  But while it gave them the nutrition they needed, it was a tediously boring meal. 

Now Moses did not live to see their arrival at Canaan.  But he appointed Joshua, his second-in-command, to become the new leader of the people.  And as they stand at the entrance of the Promised Land, Joshua is the one who hears these words from God:

"Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you." So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day.

The Hebrew word here is “galal”, which means “to remove” or “to roll away”.  Which is why God tells them to name this location “Gilgal” - the place where God rolled away their oppressive past in Egypt and allowed the Israelites to step into Canaan, leaving everything else behind - the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the slavery they endured in Egypt.  It means that now they have a chance to start anew in a new place with a new generation of faithful people.  God rolls away their sins, rolls away the oppression, rolls away everything that had kept them from being free people. 

I thought, what a wonderful image - God rolling away generations of slavery in Egypt, pushing it back, the way the waters were pushed back at the Red Sea.  And in the previous chapter of Joshua, God rolls back the waters of the Jordan River so that the Israelites can cross over into the Promised Land. 

And from this point on, they will be fed not on manna, but on real food.  It’s no longer a meager meal of survival with just enough sustenance to get them through the day.  No, now they will eat from the crops of the land.  They can settle into a new life where they can rest and stay in one place long enough to plant seeds, watch them grow, harvest them and bake them into hot, fresh loaves.  No more bland, flaky crumbs gathered each morning with just enough nutrition to stave off hunger.  Now they can really feast!

And this theme of God rolling away the heavy burdens is repeated in the other two texts this morning.  Psalm 25 speaks about transgressions being forgiven and sin being put away.  And our gospel lesson is also about this “rolling away” of sin – Jesus rolling away the sin of this woman who comes to anoint him with fragrant oil.  All the hurt, humiliation and shame that this woman has endured has been rolled away.  At that spot where Jesus declares her sins forgiven - here is this woman’s Gilgal.  Her sin was rolled away and she was given new life!

Aunt Joan was on her way to Gilgal.  She was on her wilderness journey where her prayers were like manna - just enough to get her through each day.  But she had her eyes on the horizon, looking for Gilgal, where she knew she would hear her Lord say, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of kidney failure from you.”  And she knew she would step into that Promised Land where a banquet awaited her!  And the food will not taste weird!

So where will your Gilgal be?  Maybe you are in a place right now where you feel like you’re still wandering.  You’re just taking in enough sustenance to get you through the day.  You are longing to settle your soul into a new land of faith where you can rest and plant some seeds, watch them grow, harvest them and bake them into hot, fresh loaves.  You are tired of living off the bland, flaky crumbs that just barely give you just enough emotional and spiritual strength to make it through one more day. 

We’re longing for God to roll away the sins of this generation.  We would just love to hear God say that our reproach has been rolled way:

Wouldn’t you just love to hear God say:

"Today I have rolled away the reproach of the war from you."

"Today I have rolled away the reproach of climate change and environmental disasters from you."

"Today I have rolled away the reproach of divorce from you."

"Today I have rolled away the reproach of cancer from you."

"Today I have rolled away the reproach of death from you."

That’s what we really long for, isn’t it?  We want to see that stone rolled away from the tomb!  And by God, I can assure you that that day is coming!  On that day each person will stand at the new Gilgal, where the stone is rolled away, where new life begins, where the resurrection gives us a new creation.  On Easter Day we will stand at Gilgal and watch God roll the stone away! 

Yes, that day is surely coming, my friends!  But until that time, we are still on the Lenten journey.  We’re still waiting, still longing, still yearning for the fulfillment of that promise.  And this wandering in the wilderness can get even the most faithful Christian down.  Climate change, broken families, wars, sickness, kidney failure, and death can make your faith so weak and your heart so weary, you sometimes wonder how you’re going make it through one more day.

All we’ve got is manna, my friends.  

Yes, it’s just a bland, flaky crumb of a meal.  It’s not much.  But it’s just enough to get us through the day until we reach Gilgal.


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