Sunday’s sermon: Coming Full Circle

repent

Text used – 2 Kings 22:1-23:3

 

AUDIO VERSION

 

 

  • It’s time for a little truth telling, friends. I had a cute and funny opening written for this morning’s sermon – something about the return of 80s fashion and how everything comes back around for better or for worse – but when I sat down at my computer this morning, I erased it. Something about today doesn’t feel like a “cute and funny” morning. Maybe it’s because the weather is a bit dark and gloomy. Maybe it’s because of the darkness that is ever-encroaching during this time of year, eating up more and more of that precious daylight. Maybe it’s because of the somber events that we’ve witnessed on the national stage this week – impeachment hearings, continued threats from wildfires in California, and yet another school shooting, this time in Santa Clarita, CA. Maybe it’s because of some serious and difficult things going on in the lives of people I know and love. Maybe it’s just that time of year as we approach Advent – a season in the life of the church meant to be reflective and deliberate and measured. Whatever the reason, something about this morning feels like it requires a more serious, more contemplative approach to our text.
  • This morning’s text = a coming full circle for the people of Israel → It is a powerful moment of self-recognition, contrition, and repentance.
    • Story begins in a way that many of the previous stories have not – text: Josiah was 8 years old when he became king, and he ruled for thirty-one years in Jerusalem. … He did what was right in the Lord’s eyes, and walked in the ways of his ancestor David – not deviating from it even a bit to the right or left.[1] → Remember, in pretty much all of the Old Testament stories that we’ve read recently, we’ve encountered kings who did the exact opposite – kings who did evil in the sight of God, kings who worshipped other gods and led the people of Israel to worship them as well, kings who seemed to almost go out of their way to not follow God’s guidance and commands for the people.
      • A couple weeks ago = King Ahab → cream of the crop when it comes to evil and corrupt kings
      • And so just the beginning of this morning’s Scripture reading seems to be a turning and returning … a new page … a breath of fresh air.
    • What follows = fascinating story about remodeling and buried treasure of sorts and utter repentance
      • History behind the remodel/reform (from Rev. Dr. Mark Throntveit, prof. of OT at Luther Seminary in St. Paul): It seems probable that Assyria’s rapidly diminishing power was a major factor in [Josiah’s] reforms. Since political domination in the ancient Near East usually involved participation in the conqueror’s religious practices, Josiah’s religious reforms not only witnessed to his piety, they were also a strong reassertion of Judah’s political independence from Assyrian domination.[2] → So this Temple remodel isn’t just a little DIY project a lá HGTV.
        • Repairing and remodeling of the Temple = restoration and reassertion of Judah’s power and sovereignty as an independent nation in the region → restoring long-dominated and long-abused nation of Judah to a place of self-reliance and national autonomy
        • Repairing and remodeling of the Temple = repairing and remodeling of the faith → restore the long-neglected and long-abused Temple, and indeed, the faith of the people of Judah, to its right and sacred glory
      • Discovery in the midst of the renovations = hidden “book of the law”
        • Scholars in agreement that this is some sort of copy of the 5 books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) – probably not the full books that we have today but some sort of collection of portions of them
        • Some scholars speculate it may have been hidden by previous priests in order to protect it in the face of some of the more forceful and dangerous counter-reformations of previous kings, including Josiah’s immediate predecessor – his father, Amon, as well as his predecessor before that (and grandfather), Manasseh, both of who were evil and sinful kings more along the lines of Ahab than Josiah
      • So one of King Josiah’s secretaries heads to the Temple in the morning to pay the workers and instead is met with this incredible discovery that was made by Hilkiah, the high priest. Hilkiah gives the scroll to this secretary who returns to the king and reads him the scroll. – text: As soon as the king heard what the Instruction scroll said, he ripped his clothes. The king ordered the priest Hilkiah …: “Go and ask the Lord on my behalf, and on behalf of the people, and on behalf of all Judah concerning us because our ancestors failed to obey the words of this scroll and do everything written in it about us.”[3] → You can feel Josiah’s desperation and devastation in every word of this account. As soon as he hears these long-lost words of God, he is beside himself with shame and grief on behalf of himself and his people.
        • Heb. “kriah” = ancient tradition of expressing pain and sorrow[4]
          • Mandated by Torah as part of the grieving process
          • 2-fold meaning
            • 1) outward expression of that torn feeling you have in your heart when you’re grieving
            • 2) recognition that the body is only a garment that the soul wears à death is the opportunity to strip off one garment and don another
          • So in his response, Josiah is immediately and viscerally reacting to the spiritual disobedience of himself and his people as though it were a death – something lost, something to grieve. But perhaps there is also a layer of recognition that he and the people have the chance to strip off that outer layer of disobedience and sinfulness that they have worn for so long to expose a new layer of faithfulness beneath.
            • Supported by Josiah’s actions at the end of our reading – text: Then the king went up to the Lord’s temple, together with all the people of Judah and all the citizens of Jerusalem, the priests and the prophets, and all the people, young and old alike. There the king read out loud all the words of the covenant scroll that had been found in the Lord’s temple. The king stood beside the pillar and made a covenant with the Lord that he would follow the Lord by keeping his commandments, his laws, and his regulations with all his heart and all his being in order to fulfill the words of this covenant that were written in this scroll. All of the people accepted the covenant.[5]
  • And if that were all to the story, it would be perfect and beautiful and wrapped up nicely in a neat, little package with a bow. But friends, Scripture rarely (if ever) wraps things up that neatly for us.
    • On the king’s orders, Hilkiah, the high priest, seeks the counsel of Huldah, the prophetess – Huldah’s words ring out in the middle of our text: “This is what the Lord, Israel’s God, says: … I am about to bring disaster on this place and its citizens – all the words in the scroll that Judah’s king has read! My anger burns against this place, never to be quenched, because they’ve deserted me and have burned incense to other gods, angering me by everything they have done.”[6] → As much as we may like to, friends, we cannot ignore this portion of the text. It is neither healthy nor faithful to read a story like this in Scripture and only take to heart the easy parts … the light parts … the pretty parts … the parts that make us sit comfortably and contentedly in our pews and pat ourselves on the back. Today’s Scripture is truly a text of repentance – of returning to God with hearts and souls that are woefully contrite. In order to return to God in such a way, like the people of Israel, we have to acknowledge when we’ve made a mistake. We have to actively name that mistake and claim it within our hearts and our minds. We have to own up to it and bear the consequences.
      • BUT this is where we find light and everlasting hope in the good news of the gospel (from Paul’s letter to the Romans): All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus.[7] → Friends, God knows that we are not perfect. God has had plenty of experience with God’s people throughout the millennia to fully know and understand that we are going to make mistakes. We are going to turn away. We are going to disobey God, both intentionally and unintentionally. We are going to fall short in our relationships with one another, in our relationship with ourselves, and in our relationship with God. None of that is news to God. Trust me, God is aware. But God is also merciful and grace-filled. God is loving and steadfast in that love beyond anything we could ever imagine.
        • Frederica Mathewes-Green (Eastern Orthodox speaker, author, and theologian): God is not looking for repayment, but repentance. What heals a broken relationship is sincere love and contrition.
  • So this is what we’re going to do this morning, friends. We’re going to take an extended time to give you a chance to come to God with all those things that feel broken in your world – in your heart, in your relationships, in your faith, in your belief in yourself and God and other people. We’ve all got broken places. We’ve all got places within ourselves that are as ragged and raw on the edges as Josiah’s torn garments. Take some time to bring those before God this morning.
    • Distributing rocks
      • Symbol of the destruction that Josiah and the Israelites had to go through to find their way back to God
      • Symbol of the strong, steadfast nature of God in the midst of all the turbulence of our world and our lives

  • Prayer for wholeness:

Blessed are you, O Lord our God,
ruler of all creation.
We praise you for the abundance of your blessings.
To those who ask, you give love;
to those who seek, you give faith;
to those who knock, you open the way of hope.
Help us to serve you in the power of the Holy Spirit,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[8]

[1] 2 Kgs 22:1-2 (emphasis added).

[2] Mark Throntveit. “Commentary on 2 Kings 22:1-10, [14-20]; 23:1-3” from Working Preaching, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4218. Accessed Nov. 17, 2019.

[3] 2 Kgs 22:11-13.

[4] Aron Moss. “Why Do We Tear Our Clothes After a Death?” from https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/248163/jewish/Why-Do-We-Tear-Our-Clothes-After-a-Death.htm. Accessed Nov. 17, 2019.

[5] 2 Kgs 23:2-3.

[6] 2 Kgs 22:15-17.

[7] Rom 3:23-24.

[8] Prayer from “Service of Wholeness for an Individual” from Book of Common Worship. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 018), 744.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s