Week of Proper 14: Saturday, Year 1   14 comments

Above:  Nablus, Palestine, Ottoman Empire, 1898 (Built on the Site of Shechem)

Image in the Public Domain

National Holiness

AUGUST 19, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Joshua 24:14-29 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Joshua said,

Now, therefore, revere the LORD and serve Him with undivided loyalty; put away the gods that your forefathers served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.  Or, if you are loath to serve the LORD, choose this day which ones you are going to serve–the gods that your forefathers served beyond the Euphrates, or those of the Amorites in whose land you are settled; but I and my household will serve the LORD.

In reply, the people declared,

Far be it from us to forsake the LORD and serve other gods!  For it was the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage, and who wrought those wondrous signs before our very eyes, and guarded us all along the way we traveled and among all the peoples through whose midst we passed.  And then the LORD drove out before us all the peoples–the Amorites–that inhabited the country.  We too will serve the LORD, for He is our God.

Joshua, however, said to the people,

You will not be able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God.  He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions and your sins.  If you forsake the LORD and serve alien gods, He will turn and deal harshly with you and make an end of you, after having been gracious to you.

But the people replied to Joshua,

No, we will serve the LORD!

Thereupon Joshua said to the people,

You are witnesses against yourselves that you have left your own act chosen to serve the LORD.

They responded,

Yes, we are!

Joshua replied,

Then put away the alien gods that you have among you and direct your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.

And the people declared to Joshua,

We will serve none but the LORD our God, and we will obey none but Him.

On that day at Shechem, Joshua made a covenant for the people and he made a fixed rule for them.  Joshua recorded all this in a book of divine instruction.  He took a great stone and set it at the foot of the oak in the sacred precinct of the LORD; and Joshua said to all the people,

See, this very stone shall be a witness against us, for it heard all the words that the LORD spoke to us; it shall be a witness against you, lest you break faith with your God.

Joshua then dismissed the people to their allotted portions.

After these events, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of one hundred and ten years.

Psalm 16:1, 5-11 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;

I have said to the LORD, “You are my Lord,

my good above all other.”

5 O LORD, you are my portion and my cup;

it is you who uphold my lot.

6 My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;

indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

7 I will bless the LORD who gives my counsel;

my heart teaches me, night after night.

8 I have set the LORD always before me;

because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

9 My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;

my body also shall rest in hope.

10 For you will not abandon me to the grave,

nor will your holy one see the Pit.

11 You will show me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy,

and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Matthew 19:13-15 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then some little children were brought to him, so that he could put his hands on them and pray for them.  The disciples strongly disapproved of this but Jesus said,

You must let little children come to me, and you must never stop them.  The kingdom of Heaven belongs to little children like these!

Then he laid his hands on them and walked away.


The Collect:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The Hebrew Bible assumed its current form in stages.  Among these was the editing together of documents (among them J, E, P, and D) into various books, including Joshua.  This process reached completion after the return from the Babylonian Exile, hence the strong foreshadowing in certain books, such as Joshua.  Those who came out of exile and relocated to an ancestral homeland in which they had not lived understood that national apostasy had led to the decline and fall of the Jewish kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

The Enlightenment and U.S. history inform my views on the proper relationship between religion and state.  I know that colonial New England Puritans did not tolerate religious dissent, for the exiled Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson.  They also expelled the Quakers they did not execute.  The Enlightenment value of the separation of church and state is wise.  It also protects the church from state interference and religious dissidents from execution as alleged traitors.

So national holiness is not a matter of theocracy.  It is not so much an issue of policy as it is of personal behavior fostered in community.  The main principle of holiness in a social context is the Golden Rule.  How we treat others reveals much about how we value God and ourselves.  This is an affirmative statement, one intended only to point to the light.  There is no wrong in acting according to the Golden Rule, although obeying it constitutes at least what the Lutheran confessions of faith call civic righteousness, which is good yet cannot save us from ourselves.  Only God can do that, but we have an abiding obligation to serve this deity with undivided loyalty.  May we do so, by grace.

By doing this we will improve our communities, societies, and nations.  National holiness is a matter of attitudes, which translate into actions.  By reforming the way we act toward one another we can change society.  May we do so for the better.  This is what God commands us to do.



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