Summary: As Christians, our choices are much like Israel’s choices in the period of the judges. We can assimilate; we can allow the surrounding culture to absorb us without a whimper. Or, we can determine that, by the grace of God, we will be salt and light in the places where God places us and sends us.
The Fourth Sunday After Epiphany
February 10, 2019
The Rev. M. Anthony Seel
“The Jesus Way”
Have you noticed how “something fundamental has shifted within our American culture in the past several decades?” It’s been called the “collapse of the middle” and part of it is seen in the decline of mainline denominations to the point that they’ve become sideline denominations.
Christian culture in most parts of America has been pushed to the margins. Did you know that there are fewer Christians in Congress than ever before? The dominant culture is now secular and the moral influence of Christianity has sharply diminished.
Just last month in New York State, we saw the expansion of abortion rights. Right now there’s a push for the legalization of assisted suicide. We live in a country that has largely rejected our Christian values and beliefs. Yet, the removal of Christianity from the center square of our society has resulted in what some call “reenchantment.”
Folk religion, folk magic, astrology, goddess worship, sacred groves, totems, mandalas, crystals, pentacles, and so much more are pushing toward the center, trying to claim the place where Christianity once flourished.
We live in a world that is in constant motion, always changing, always pushing, prodding, shifting, fragmenting, subdividing, yet evermore yearning for unity, wholeness, and completeness. But this same world rejects the necessary center, which is God her Creator, Jesus her redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, her sustainer.
We live in a world that once rejected spiritual beliefs in the name of science, as if the two are mutually exclusive. Now we see a rebirth of spiritual interest blossoming in some very bizarre ways. This country of ours is less and less interested in what Christians and the church have to say.
As Christians, our choices are much like Israel’s choices in the period of the judges. We can assimilate; we can allow the surrounding culture to absorb us without a whimper. Or, we can determine that, by the grace of God, we will be salt and light in the places where God places us and sends us.
Two Sundays ago, we read in the Book of Judges how Israel’s tribe of Judah wasn’t able to totally possess the land that God had given them. Today, we see how the tribes of Manaseh, Ephraim, Zebulun, Asher, Naphtali, and Dan all fail to complete their conquest in their allocated tribal lands. We begin with Manasseh.
vv. 27-28 Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. When Israel grew strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not drive them out completely.
The writer of Judges gives us a list of cities and villages where Manasseh did not fulfill their divine mandate. God told Israel to drive out the people of the land, not keep them around as slaves. Manasseh was not obedient to God and neither was Ephraim.
v. 29 And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them.
Neither was Zebulun.
v. 30 Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them, but became subject to forced labor.
Neither was Asher.
vv. 31-32 Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out.
Neither was Naphtali.
v. 33 Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh and of Beth-anath became subject to forced labor for them.
It was even worse for the tribe of Dan.
v. 34 The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain.
Dan’s allotment was a small strip of land between Judah and Ephraim. The Amorites forced the Danites to retreat into the hills.
vv. 35-36 The Amorites persisted in dwelling in Mount Heres, in Aijalon, and in Shaalbim, but the hand of the house of Joseph rested heavily on them, and they became subject to forced labor. And the border of the Amorites ran from the ascent of Akrabbim, from Sela and upward.
The house of Joseph refers to Ephraim in this instance. They came to Dan’s aid and enslaved the Amorites.