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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, September 19, 2010



Joshua 6:15-21
15 On the seventh day they rose early, at dawn, and marched around the
city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they
marched around the city seven times. 16 And at the seventh time, when
the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, "Shout!
For the Lord has given you the city. 17 The city and all that is in it
shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the
prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live because
she hid the messengers we sent. 18 As for you, keep away from the
things devoted to destruction, so as not to covet and take any of the
devoted things and make the camp of Israel an object for destruction,
bringing trouble upon it. 19 But all silver and gold, and vessels of
bronze and iron, are sacred to the Lord; they shall go into the
treasury of the Lord. " 20 So the people shouted, and the trumpets
were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets,
they raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat; so the people
charged straight ahead into the city and captured it. 21 Then they
devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both
men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.

Matthew 5:38-48

38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth
for a tooth. ' 39 But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if
anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40 and if
anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well;
41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.
42 Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who
wants to borrow from you.

43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and
hate your enemy. ' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for
those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father
in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and
sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love
those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax
collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and
sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles
do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is

Last month, with some excitement, Scott told me the choir would be
singing "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" today. Immediately, my mind
jumped to the children's song. And, knowing Scott, and knowing Carla,
and knowing our choir, I figured the Anthem was really going to rock.
I've been looking forward to it.

And, since I'm a preacher, I thought this would give me the
opportunity to dig back into the Old Testament and pull up the
scripture about Joshua and Israelites marching in circles around old
Jericho, and then, on the right day, at the right moment, blowing the
trumpets like a million vuvuzelas at the World Cup, and the walls
came-a tumblin' down. Maybe we could get a trumpeter, or a
vuvuzela-er, during the Children's Sermon. It would be so much fun.

So, I pulled looked up the passage in the book of Joshua to refresh my
memory. Oh. My. Lord. This scripture isn't appropriate for children.
It's barely appropriate for church. I was thinking I could do a sermon
about the power of music. How the sound of music can break down the
walls that divide us one from another, tribe from tribe, nation from
nation. And, yes, that's true. The right music can do that. Probably
not Lady Gaga's music. But good music. Music can teach us to sing in
perfect harmony. Yes, the music of Joshua's trumpets certainly did
break down the walls between the Israelites and their neighbors, the
Jericho-ites-ians. And then, with the walls broken, with the divisions
down, filled with the inspiration of Almighty God, the Israelites
rushed into Jericho and slaughtered every man, woman, child, ox,
sheep, and donkey.

Oops? Not where I thought scripture was going to go.

The week before last, when the news was talking about mosques and
Islam and potentially burning Qur'ans, I heard someone quote the tail
end of this scripture. They were saying, you think the Quran is
violent? Take a look at some of the Bible's God-sanctioned atrocities.
And they're right.

Most of the time, we treat these parts of scripture like the drunk
uncle at the wedding. Yes, he's part of the family tree, but we try to
seat him at the table in the corner. He had a rough childhood, kind of
like the Israelites. Thomas Jefferson had a good idea. If there were
parts of the Bible he didn't like, he cut them out. Jefferson's Bible
was holey, in the way Swiss cheese is holey. One way or another we
remove the parts of the Bible we don't like. Or, we make children's
songs of them.

Like Fox News, I always want to present a picture that's fair and
balanced. We preach it; you decide. That's why in the New Testament,
we get Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount, he said,

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and
hate your enemy. ' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for
those who persecute you,"

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a
tooth. ' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer."

Ah, that's more like it. Good, 60's liberal Jesus.

And that's the problem. The Bible IS fair and balanced enough that
whatever your political or ideological stance, if you cherry-pick hard
enough, if you cut out enough, you can make the Bible say whatever you
want. You can turn a massacre into a children's song, or a children's
story into marching orders. And yet, it's all about one God.

Some people laughed about this, but I thought it was a really good
theological question. You remember how two weeks ago, Pastor Terry
Jones, that guy in Gainesville - the city of peace, love, and a really
annoying college football program - you remember how the pastor was
100% positive that God was telling him he should burn a big pile of
Qurans? And though I found his message 100% repugnant, it also raised
the question, How do any of us know - really know - when God is
speaking to us? How do we know it's God telling us to do something?
What people laughed about was how, after Defense Secretary Gates and
the IRS called the pastor, miraculously, God changed his mind.

Which makes me wonder if we're dealing with the same thing in today's
scriptures. Somewhere between Jericho and Jesus, did God change his
mind? It sure sounds that way. We can go through so many mental
gymnastics trying to harmonize scriptures that simply disagree 100%.
You can construct complex theories about how God was working for good
by sanctioning egregious evil, or you can say, even God eventually
decided Jesus was more right than Joshua. Even God can change his
mind. And if God can do it, so can we.

Think back on your life. Maybe you don't have to think that far back.
How many things have you done that at the time seemed like good ideas,
but today are embarrassing mistakes? How many times have you said,
"Oh, I wish I hadn't said that." Or, "Gee, I wish I had said that."
How different would you be if you had only known then what you know

I was reading an author the other day, who was talking about mistakes.
He said the essential question is, have you learned something from
your mistake? If so, then it's not a mistake any more. It's a lesson.
You can't change the past. You might be able to apologize or even make
reparations. But the past is past. It's gone. So yesterday's mistake
is either today's lesson - or it's nothing.

I think people who want to follow Jesus' ways would have to say, Yes,
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho... so we don't have to fight it
again. Joshua did what he did... but we're not going to do that. We're
going to follow Jesus. Jericho is in the Bible as a lesson of what NOT
to do.

Likewise there are things in our personal histories that are there,
not to make us who we are, but to remind us who we are no longer. We
can dwell dark nights on the past, or we can turn it into a song, to
remind us where we never want to go again. And, when we are truly
close to Jesus, when we are safe and assured of his forgiveness and
his guidance, we can laugh at that darkness. We can laugh at it
because we know the darkness has no more power over us. We can laugh
at the darkness because, as Jesus said, we are children of light,
children who walk in the light, children who sing in the light. The
light of Jesus Christ is stronger than any personal darkness. The
light of Jesus Christ is brighter than any history. The light of
Christ shows us the way to change our minds, change our hearts, and
walk in His ways, and no one else's.

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho. But Jesus fought the battle of
Joshua. And Jesus has fought the battle of your own darkness, too.
Jesus didn't fear the darkness. He descended into it. And he changed
its mind, its being, its message.

You are free to change your mind, too. Jesus has set you free from
bondage to your past. In him, you already are perfect, even as your
Father in heaven is perfect. So be who you are, no who you were. Be
who you are, not who your opinions tell you to be. Be who you are, a
child of light, a child of your Father in heaven.

James McTyre
Pastor, Lake Hills PCUSA
Stated Clerk, Presbytery of East TN
Office: 865-577-8510
Cell & SMS: 865-268-9628
Skype: jamesmctyre