By The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan
March 5th, 2023
Lectio Divina – Divine or Sacred Reading-(Download)
Opening Prayer – Prayer of Awareness
The peace of morning’s stillness, the peace of new beginnings, the peace of heaven’s kiss,
to welcome us to this day, to root us in this day, to free us for this day,
that we may grow with the greening earth, that we may grow from the ground of glory,
that we may grow in grateful wonder of You, Gracious Giver of this day, Great Giver of this new day.
- John Philip Newell, Praying with the Earth – A Prayerbook for Peace, p. 50.
Part II - “Deliverance Stories” (cont’d)
[“Inspired – Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” by Rachel Held Evans.]
[Conclusion of “Deliverance Stories”] To love is to honor God and keep God’s commandments. Love is the law that liberates slave and slaveholder alike. Love is the ultimate deliverance story, for only love can sustain the sojourner out of Egypt, through the desert, up the mountain, and into the promised land.
The truth is, you can bend Scripture to say just about anything you want it to say. You can bend it until it breaks. For those who count the Bible as sacred, interpretation is not a matter of whether to pick and choose, but how to pick and choose. We’re all selective. We all wrestle with how to interpret and apply the Bible to our lives. We all go to the text looking for something, and we all have a tendency to find it. So, the question we have to ask ourselves is this: are we reading with the prejudice of love, with Christ as our model, or are we reading with the prejudices of judgment and power, self-interest and greed? Are we seeking to enslave or liberate, burden or set free?
If you are looking for Bible verses with which to support slavery you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to abolish slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to honor and celebrate women, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to wage war, there are plenty. If you are looking for reasons to promote peace, there are plenty more. If you are looking for an outdated and irrelevant ancient
text, that’s exactly what you will see. If you are looking for truth, that’s exactly what you will find. This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not, What does this say? but, What am I looking for? I suspect Jesus knew this when he said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).
If you want to do violence in this world, you will always find the weapons. If you want to heal, you will always find the balm. With Scripture, we’ve been entrusted with some of the most powerful stories ever told. How we harness that power, whether for good or evil, oppression or liberation, changes everything.
Part III - “War Stories”
[A reading – “The Walls” pp. 59-60.]
As the story of Scripture moves from Israel’s most ancient origins to its distant history, the theme shifts from deliverance to conquest. After the death of Moses, God commissioned a warrior named Joshua to assume leadership over the people of Israel and take possession of the land they had been promised, land stretching “from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river Euphrates . . . to the Mediterranean Sea” (Joshua 1:4). The only problem? This land was already occupied. Various indigenous tribes, known
collectively as the Canaanites, had dominated the landscape for years, some boasting mighty armies and fortified cities. It was even rumored that giants walked among them. But God told Joshua, “I will give you every place where you set your foot. . .. I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them” (Joshua 1:3, 5-6).
So, Joshua led the people onward, crossing the River Jordan, then attacking the city of Jericho – not by charging its gates, but by marching around its walls seven times, blowing rams’ horns, and shouting as God had instructed. Sure enough, just as the famous song declares, the walls of Jericho came a-tumblin’ down. The text reports that Joshua’s army “destroyed with the sword every living thing in it – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys” (Joshua 6:21). Only Rahab, a prostitute, and her family were spared because they had sheltered Israelite spies ahead of the siege. (A children’s book in my home provides a G-rated version of the story, explaining that Rahab was able to help because she “often had visitors coming and going at odd hours.”)
From Jericho, Joshua’s armies moved on to Ai, which they conquered in their second attempt, the first having been compromised by a solider who broke God’s commands regarding plunder. After luring the men of Ai out of the city for ambush, a battalion of Israelite soldiers set fire to the city where the women and children had been left behind, reducing it to “a permanent heap of ruins.” (Joshua 8:28). According to the story, the Israelites killed all twelve thousand of the city’s inhabitants. The Israelites then offered thanks
at Mount Ebal before heading south, where they defeated an alliance of Amorite kingdoms and hung the decapitated bodies of enemy kings from trees. The text reports God sent a hailstorm to pummel the Amorite army and froze the sun in the sky for a full twenty-four hours so Israel would be victorious (Joshua 10).
All told, the Israelites took control of more than thirty Canaanite cities. The last major challenge lay in Hazor, where a coalition of Canaanites had united against the Israelite invaders and rallied an army “as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (11:4). But even with the odds against them, the armies of Israel prevailed, totally destroying the city, killing in it “all who breathed” (10:40). Of Israel’s conquest of Canaan, the text notes, “Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses” (11:19-20).
It’s an astounding statement, and if we encountered it anywhere other than the Bible, we would immediately condemn it as a defense of genocide. [To be continued.]
For this week with the “ear of your heart”: Read Deuteronomy 31:30-32:44 and practice Lectio Divina.
“Thought for Extending the Practice”: In dramatic and beautiful poetry, Deuteronomic concepts are
combined with prophetic and wisdom themes into a vivid account of God’s generous and merciful love for
Israel, and of Israel’s consistent failure to reciprocate that love. The speaker alternates between a narrator
and God. Of special interest is the frequent mention of God as Israel’s rock, as well as images of God as an
intimate father and mother, with the imagery sometimes combined. In what ways is God a rock in my life?
Source for “Thought for Extending the Practice”: “The CEB Lectio Divina Prayer Bible”
An invitation to our virtual participants: Discussion and comments are very much encouraged and
welcomed. Online discussions can be held in the comments section in the upcoming post on Facebook for
this week’s Deacon’s Reflection which is part of adult formation at St. Francis Episcopal Church.
Closing Prayer – Prayer of Blessing
May the love of life fill our hearts. May the love of earth bring joy to heaven.
May the love of self, deepen our souls. May the love of neighbor heal our world.
As nations, as peoples, as families this day, may the love of life heal our world.
May the light of God illumine the heart of my soul. May the flame of Christ kindle me to love.
May the fire of the Spirit free me to live this day, tonight, and forever. Amen.
John Philip Newell, Praying with the Earth – A Prayerbook for Peace, p. 52.
“Inspired”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2023.