the fourth sunday in lent …

Joshua 5. 9-12
We are a people not of a destination, but of the way!!

It’s called a canon-within-a-canon. Canon not in the sense of an artillery piece. But canon as in a collection of sacred books. That’s what we called the bible, back at seminary. The canon. And a canon-within-a-canon – a bible-within-a-bible – is what happens when not all books are created equal. When some books have more authority than others. When some books are more inspired. More useful. More helpful. And that “some” is what’s called a canon-within-a-canon.

For instance, Dr. Luther had, shall we say, misgivings about some books in the book. James, he called “the epistle of straw.” And he looked at three others – Hebrews, Jude, the Revelation – in the same way. They were the “disputed” books. And while he didn’t feel he had license to delete them, he could put them at the end of the list. So, that’s why they’re where they are, today! But that’s what a canon-within-a-canon looks like. How it works.

We do the same thing, Sunday mornings. The bible’s too big to be read in its entirety in one year. It’s too big to be read in its entirety in two years. Three years. And so, we pick and we choose. We create a canon-within-a-canon! And we call it a lectionary. We don’t read everything. We leave some things out. But we read what we think is important. What we think’s necessary. Essential. But every now and get, we bump up against an exception, not the rule. An accident. A fluke. Like the passage we read, a few moments ago. Joshua. Five. Nine, ten, eleven, and twelve.

Joshua’s the sixth book of the oldTestament. Genesis – Exodus – Leviticus – Numbers – Deuteronomy – then, Joshua. And this passage will only be the second time we ever read a passage from this book! Six hundred fifty-eight verses in the book of Joshua and every three years, we’ll real only eleven! Ten-and-a-half, actually. We read six-and-a-half verses, last August. And we read four more, this morning. But that’s it! That’s all! That is a canon-within-a-canon! And Joshua made it by a fingernail! But frankly, we haven’t missed much. The battles! The plunder! The conquest of Canaan! The promisedLand wasn’t so much a gift, as it was an invasion! More like the oldTestament version of Ukraine than anything. So, twice every three years, we read a mouthful of words from Joshua. And today is one of those mouthfuls.

Moses has died. Joshua has taken his place. Israel has crossed over the Jordan. Out of the Wilderness, into the promisedLand. Finally! And today’s reading sounds a lot like the final “Amen!” The happily-ever-after, at the end of it all! “And the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.” Word of God, word of life!

And I was ready to preach just that! “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, we have already come! ‘Tis grace has brought us safe thus far and grace will lead us home!” Like it did Joshua! Like it did Israel! Amen! Amen! This is most certainly true! And they lived happily, ever after! Only thing … they didn’t. Live happily, ever after, that is. And truth is, neither do we! Sure, they had their moments. Just as do we. But in the end, it was always the journey! Always and forever the journey!

Four hundred years, they’d spent in Egypt. In the mud pits. Oppressed. Enslaved. Forty years – give or take – in the Wilderness. Then, today’s reading. Four centuries more as tribes before becoming a nation. For twenty years, Saul is king. For forty, David. Another forty, Solomon. But then, Israel fractures beneath the weight of Solomon’s foolishness. The ten tribes to the north continue to call themselves Israel and go their own way. What god had joined together, they put asunder. Two hundred years pass and Israel is defeated by Assyria. The people are torn up and tossed to the wind. Others were brought in to take their place. After another century-and-a-half, Judah was destroyed by Babylon. Jerusalem was in ruins. The temple in ashes. The people carried away into exile, trophies of war. A couple generations later, some of the people return and take up where they left off. They rebuild the city. But it would never be the same again. Wave after wave of conquerors would sweep over the land. Alexander. Antiochus. Julius. Wars. Rumors. Nation against nation. Kingdom against kingdom. And Israel … Judah … was caught in the middle … Until they were, finally, thrown out of the land. Judea – the land of the Jews – became Palestine – the land of the Philistines. Israel – at least, in Canaan – would cease to exist until 1947. Even then, it was not the same.

But maybe, just maybe, there’s only the journey. Only the wandering. Even after we cross over the river. You and I … You and I believe there’s an emerald city at the end of every yellow-brick road. That there’s a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. That there’s a promisedLand on the other side of every Jordan. That a celestialCity waits for every pilgrim. It’s been three-and-a-half millennia … thirty-five hundred years … since Joshua led Israel into Canaan. It’s been a hundred generations since Jesus’ death. Since Jesus dying and rising. And how much has changed? How much has really, truly changed? Are we any closer than when we first began?

Maybe it’s not the destination that inspires us. Maybe it’s not the objective, the goal, that draws us on. Maybe it’s, simply, the journey. Putting one foot ahead of the other. Going from one oasis to the next. That’s been our prayer, for a few years, now, hasn’t it? Ventures with no end in sight? Ventures that go on and on and on? Only one thing important? Only one thing that matters …

That god is leading! That god is loving!
That god is leading! That god is loving!
That god is leading! That god is loving!

Day after day! Mile! After mile! After mile! “Not all who wander are lost,” as the saying goes. And maybe, my friends, maybe not all who are lost need saving!

Midland Lutheran Church