Rev. Harry Currie
Nov 12, 2023
Joshua 24:1-3a,14-25, Amos 5:18-24, Matthew 25:1-13
I started going to school when I was four years old at Brookdale primary school in Greasby, England.
As I recall the school day started with attendance and then we would all assemble together in the gymnasium slash, dining room, slash assembly room.
As the classes would troop in, music was played. Often, a class would be asked to pick the music.
One of the favourite pieces of music that we children picked was the opening movement of Gustav Holt’s the Planets… Mars, the bringer of War.
It is amazing how that one piece has stuck in my head all these years as the favourite music of the children to accompany their march to assembly.
It is a strong piece of music with a strong beat, frequent dissonant chords and building to quadruple forte.
And while as a musical piece it is a classic, sad to say what it represents, the God of War is all too real and terrible.
Mars was the Roman name for the God of War. Ares is the Greek name for the God of War…
…and while I realize that not many people have a bust of Mars or Ares in their living rooms, and do not fall down and worship the God of War…
…I have the belief that many people worship the God of war.
They worship the God of War when they think that violence and war is the answer to the world’s problems.
They worship the God of War when they support the unlimited free flow of weapons.
They worship the God of War when they repay evil with evil, and an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
They worship the God of War when they vote for huge military budgets.
They worship the God of War then they don’t speak out for peace and non-violence.
I do not think Armageddon nor the Lake of Fire is an inevitable thing. I think the Book of Revelation is a warning that if we live by the sword, we just might well bring about an Armageddon, or Lake of Fire.
And the really scary thing is that many religions have legitimized war and violence, and the Christian religion has a terrible history of legitimized violence, with religious leaders spouting that God ordains the violence.
The first real instance of this was in the late fourth century when the church became allied with the Roman Empire and the Bishops became more powerful, and doctrine was codified into creeds.
In 385 CE a man name Priscillian of Avila and six of his followers were condemned by a synod of bishops and beheaded for heresy.
In the next 250 years, Christians would execute another 25,000 Christians for heresy.
Up until that time Christianity was pacifist and non-violent. It was the emperor Constantine that used the sign of the cross for war purposes.
And so, after that, the punitive, exclusive, hard demanding God who punished sinners and sent bad people and non-believers to eternal torment, became entrenched in organized religion.
I do not believe that is what Jesus taught. When we look at Jesus, we see a God of love.
And yet wars and crusades and Inquisitions and colonizations and prejudice and exclusion have all been part of our Christian heritage because we believed in a God of violence and a God of war.
But studies have shown that the real culprit is not God. In his 650-page study of mass murder called Worse Than War, Daniel Goldhagen estimates that in the last century alone between 127–175 million people have been "eliminated." They came from all regions of the world, and from all social, economic and political groups. The vast majority of these victims were killed in their own countries, by their fellow citizens, by willing and non-coerced murderers, and almost never with any substantial dissent.
And Golhagen’s point is that while religion and state have played important roles in the violence, violence doesn’t happen by chance, nor by the act of God. Violence is a choice. It is a human choice.
The Elimination of one group of humans by another is not a divine problem as much as it is a human one.
And Golhagen calls for us to stop lying, and stop the stories, and myths, and camouflage, and deceits, and propaganda, to call eliminations and violence and war what it is, and have the moral responsibility to stop it and choose peace.
In some ways that is the message from the book of Joshua today. “Choose today whom you will serve.”
And I will rephrase it. Choose today whom you will serve: The God of Love, or the God of War.
The really crazy thing is that Joshua himself doesn’t seem to choose the God of love, but chooses the God of War and basically enters the promised land and wipes out the Canaanites and shows them no mercy. Kings were hanged, cities plundered, and then burned, people enslaved. According to Joshua chapter 10 verse 40 Joshua destroyed all that breathed. And in chapter 11 verse 20
It talks about God’s will that the peoples be destroyed and shown no mercy and exterminated. Genocide.
The result was that the promised land wasn’t very promised and good at all and descended into 300 years of anarchy. The scriptures say: Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.
And some of the stories from this time have sometimes been labeled by Phyllis Trible, feminist theologian “the texts of terror” as especially applied to women. One of the worst is the betrayal, rape, torture, murder and dismemberment of an unnamed woman.
You see scripture is not always about what is right and good, but also gives us many instances of what not to do, and how far humans can fall into sin.
And the real sin is that they think God commanded them to do this violence.
Do I believe that God commanded Joshua to be so violent, to practice genocide.
I do not.
But the scriptures record it because it was the common belief that God was an exclusive God, and a God of War, and so they used God to justify their violence, their exclusions and their exterminations.
The word of the Lord was rare during this violent chaotic time.
The God of love and mercy and peace and forgiveness is some parts of the bible is more subtext than text, and it isn’t until the prophets that we start to hear more about actually doing God’s will and embracing the stranger, and looking after the poor, and doing justice,
Our Amos text today picks up that theme that it is pointless to worship God if you are not doing justice.
I will expand. If you are not worshipping a God of love, and doing love, then worship is pretty meaningless, and doesn’t mean much to God.
God isn’t about you and I coming here and praying for him to kill all our enemies, or to give us lots of money, or to bestow on us all kinds of supernatural miracles.
If we are here to really worship God, we are here to repent of our sin and choose to follow Jesus and all that Jesus represents.
Love, peace, patience, non-judgement, non-violence, reconciliation, love for enemies, a concern and care for the poor and disenfranchised, justice, equality, sharing….
So, we need to choose.
Today we come to the story of the ten bridesmaids or the ten virgins who go to the wedding.
A couple of months ago I turned the parable on its head and suggested that maybe the foolish ones were the ones who rejected the wealth and abundance of the party and chose the darkness so they could minister to others.
That is just one of many interpretations.
But today I want to use it in a different way.
As a prism to understand the violence in the world.
There are ten bridesmaids who go to the wedding reception and they are waiting for the party to start, for the bridegroom to come.
And there are five foolish and five wise.
The five wise have brought lots of oil and the five foolish have not.
Let the oil be a metaphor for peace. Let it be a metaphor for love, including love of enemy.
The five foolish run out, suggesting that they are not practicing the love of Jesus, not forgiving, not practicing peace, nor loving their enemies.
And when they say to the five wise ones, give us your oil, it isn’t that the five wise ones are mean, or won’t share, but love, forgiveness, mercy, peace, reconciliation are not commodities found in a bottle that can be shared with someone.
I can’t go to Walmart and buy love.
I can’t order peace online at Amazon.ca
I can’t get reconciliation at the dollar store.
I can’t order a case of forgiveness from the Liquor Depot.
The reason the foolish can’t go into the party, and into eternal life, or into a relationship with Christ is not because there is some physical door that blocks there way, or because some mean bridegroom won’t let them in….
But that the only way to love is to love.
The only way to peace is to practice peace.
The only way to harmony is to forgive and reconcile.
The only way to heaven to let heaven be your way your truth your life.
And so today I ask you again to choose. Choose the oil of love. Choose the oil of forgiveness. Choose the oil of peace.
Choose the Holy Spirit. Choose the way of Jesus. Choose the God of love.
You might think it is impossible. How can prayer and love and forgiveness and practicing peace stand up to Hamas or Putin or terrorism, or mass shooters?
Well, it hardly ever does if it is only one or two people. But Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. showed that when a whole lot of people pray and are non-violent and practice love it makes a huge difference.
There is a documentary film called Pray the Devil back to Hell…
…which is about a women’s movement in Liberia, who prayed and organized and activated for peace. It was amazing because it brought forth both Muslim women and Christian women to pray and sing for peace. They started in a fish market.
They were sick of the 14 years of war and starvation and rape and child soldiers and torture and mutilation and death,
Under the leadership of Leymah Gbowee the women went to the fish market every day. They wore white tee shirts and showed up every day to pray and sing no matter how blistering hot, or how much of a torrential downpour there was. They picketed Embassies. Some of them said to their men that there would be no more sex until the fighting stopped.
Their persistence forced the president Charles Taylor to acknowledge them in a public ceremony. As the president fidgeted in his chair on stage, Gbowee spoke for the nation: "We are tired of war! Tired of running! Tired of begging for wheat! Tired of our daughters being raped!" They forced Taylor and the rebel factions to the peace table in Ghana.
When talks stalled after six weeks, they staged a sit in and blocked the delegates from leaving the hall until they signed an agreement. After the peace accords in 2003, they led the nation in disarmament, then in voter registration and campaigning, all of which led to the election of the Harvard-educated Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president of Liberia and the first African woman head of state in January 2006.
In 2011, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Prayer and non-violence can work. That is why we are all needed to spread the message that God is love and only love.
That is why we all need to practice love, so that the oil of love never runs out.
Those Muslim and Christian women prayed the God of War right back to hell.
And you know, sometimes I think that we would do well to pay more attention to women in the bible and to study their stories more.
In Matthew’s gospel in which we located today the parable of the bridesmaids, there are some powerful stories about women. The women who was bleeding and touched the hem of Jesus garment. The Syrophoenician woman who seems to teach Jesus about inclusion, and the women who were at the tomb.
Stories that I think that on a deeper reading sometimes indicate that in many ways some of the women in scripture are very much like Jesus, in that they suffered, were discriminated against, and yet seemed to understand better than the men what Jesus was about. Love.
Turning back to the book by Phyllis Trible called Texts of Terror, it is a feminist reading of some Old Testament texts specifically the story of Hagar, the story of Tamar, the story of the Unnamed Woman who was cut in pieces, and the story of Jepthah’s daughter.
All of them suffer violence of various kinds by men. They are not pretty stories and no nice easy morals to take from them, except to say: this is no way to treat any human being.
Hagar is the slave woman cast out by Abraham with her son Ishmael into the wilderness to ostensibly die.
Tamar is the daughter-in-law to Judah and is refused her rightful place to be married to Judah’s third son after her first and second husband die…Judah’s eldest sons.
The unnamed woman I have mentioned… Raped, killed and dismembered
And then Jephthah one of the judges vows to sacrifice to God the first thing he sees after winning a battle. The first thing he sees is his daughter.
Phyllis Trible connects these stories of violence upon women with the one who was non-violent. Jesus.
So, the epitaph for Hagar: She was wounded for our transgressions; she was bruised for our iniquities.
Tamar’s gravestone reads: A woman of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
On the Unnamed Woman’s tomb: Her body was broken and given to many.
And written on Jephthah’s Daughter’s gravesite: My God, my God, why have thou forsaken her?
Their suffering was not in vain. Their violent stories are told in hopes that we would learn from them and turn away from the horrors of violence and the God of War; and choose peace, choose love, choose the way of Jesus, choose the God of love.