Summary: Sin has consequences that must be dealt with if the community is to survive
By Rev Heather Cetrangolo
During the week I represented a man in a family law mediation. He had recently separated from his wife, and we were negotiating for him to have contact with his children. It’s hard to imagine, for those of us who haven’t been through it, what it would be like to be negotiating with total strangers, about how many hours a week you are allowed to spend with your own children … especially if you have been in a Christian marriage.
The couple in this case were both practicing Christians – active members of their church. There hadn’t been any violence or abuse or adultery in the marriage. The relationship had simply broken down irretrievably for no obvious or striking reason … although they were, as many couples are, under financial pressure and pressure from extended family … my client finds himself in a situation he never imagined he’d be in … sitting with me in the Legal Aid Dispute Resolution Centre, praying, that he will still be able to have a relationship with his kids.
As I sat in the mediation and listed to the mediator carry on about what children need after separation … and tolerated the discussion that canvassed everything but what God might have to say about it all … I wondered … why are we here? Why are two believers even subjecting themselves to this process? - arguing against each other before an unbeliever? (and Paul says this in 1 Cor)
This couple haven’t broken the law. Why has the church palmed them off to the civil authorities? Why can’t we help them internally? Or are we so ashamed when we fail, when our people divorce, that we’d rather not get involved?
I noticed that the woman who ran the mediation was watching us very intently. Watching us pray. Watching our behaviour … and the world does have its eyes on the church, and people watch intently to see exactly what we do when things go wrong.
And the world wants to know …
When your people have failed marriages, what do you do?
When you have disputes amongst yourselves, how do you resolve it?
When your people fall into sin, what do you do?
When you hit hard financial times, what do you do?
When people stop coming and your churches are empty, what do you do?
What do you do when your minister is caught having an affair? Or when your clergy get divorced?
What do you do when the police uncover widespread sexual abuse in your schools and seminaries?
What do you do when it all goes pear-shaped?
It’s not our sin or short-comings that people are most critical of … it’s how we handle it … how we resolve conflict and respond to tragedy …
Because when the rubber hits the road, where faith really counts is when hard times hit … and how we respond (in those times) tells people who we really are, and what we really believe.
Today’s story from chapter 7 of the book of Joshua, is a story about just this …
It’s a story about things going wrong.
It’s a story that teaches us what to do and how to respond when we stuff up and when our mistakes make us lose face in our world.
As is often the way in life, things go badly for the Israelites suddenly, unexpectedly and immediately after they’ve just had huge success. They’ve crossed the Jordan and settled at Gilgal. The walls of Jericho have come down and victory is theirs. God is on their side and that makes them winners … until suddenly they’re losing.
They’ve sent 3000 men into the smaller city of Ai … strategically this is their next target if they’re gonna conquer the hill country … and they are defeated, and thirty six of their men have died.
They have no idea why this has happened. Things were going so well. They have been faithful and for no reason that they can see, suddenly, they’re losing the battle. Their hearts “failed and turned to water”. (7:5)
When has your heart failed and turned to water? When has all of your strength and courage suddenly left you, because something that you thought would never happen to you or your church, did happen … perhaps suddenly … perhaps unexpectedly?
We need to know as individuals, and as a community, how to respond when this happens … and today’s scripture passage teaches us to do two things … it’s a simple two step process …
Step 1: Ask God ‘why’?
Joshua is an exemplary leader. His immediate response (we see in v6) is not what we usually see when this go wrong – we often see denial, blame, or let’s employ some outside professionals to fix this mess for us. Joshua immediately gets down on his knees in prayer, and buries his face into the ground … (demonstrate) … it’s an act of worship (of saying you’re God, I’m not) … and it’s an act of repentance … he says Lord, ‘why have you let this happen?’