God’s reward system is curious. The reward for faithfulness is never a shiny new Mercedes, or even a Prius, just the gift of deeper work to do. The gift exchange for following God turns out to be…more of God. Answering Josiah’s remorse over Israel’s faithlessness, God promises him a peaceful death, and to be spared from seeing the coming destruction.
Read the scripture here.
Read the Working Preacher commentary here.
God’s word comes to Josiah through a series of steps and a series of people. The book comes to light during the temple renovation, and then God’s word travels through the priest, the scribe and the prophet Huldah, who has a number of family connections in the palace. Through family gossip, she must already know plenty about Josiah and what kind of king he is. She interprets God’s message for Josiah.
Hearing it, Josiah is both horrified and sorrowful. He tears his clothes, a traditional expression of lament and repentance, and then gathers the people together to make a new covenant with God. The original language says he “cut” a covenant with God, following the tradition of cutting an animal in half to seal the covenant.
The Working Preacher commentary notes, “The most significant event in the narrative is the recounting of the “discovery” of the “book (better: “scroll”) of the law” during the renovation of the Temple, the covenant renewal of promised obedience, and the ensuing reforms. There is widespread agreement that this document is some form of the book we know as Deuteronomy (probably Deuteronomy 12–26) since the reforms correspond to requirements found only in Deuteronomy: Worship centralized in Jerusalem (23:8 as in Deuteronomy 12:13-14), Foreign cults, idols and superstition (23:4, 5, 6 as in Deuteronomy 17:1-5), Child sacrifice, mediums, and wizards (23:10, 24 as in Deuteronomy 18:10-11), Cult prostitution (23:7 as in Deuteronomy 23:17.)”
Josiah is that rare figure who is willing to change course, and to make huge changes in response to what he learns about God. Many of us settle for tweaks here and there, and Josiah offers us the inspiration for big reversals in response to God.
God’s word travels to Josiah through a number of other people, including the high priest, the scribe, and Huldah the prophet. The sermon might look at the people who bring God’s word to us, and the community of people who needed to bring that word to fulfillment. This is a story about all the people who enable Josiah to receive God’s word. Who are those people in your life? In the life of your faith community?
The lectionary selections ends hopefully with the proclamation that “All the people joined in the covenant.” We read a little later that “all” the people didn’t join in, and kept going their own way. How do we live with people who resist change, and who love the current system too much to change? How do we switch the systems that resist God, and work with the people who have no interest in changing? The sermon might examine the joys and the pain of change, and how we work with “all” the people when it turns out that not all of them are interested.
Josiah’s lament is a sharp contrast to our culture, where we rarely admit to our mistakes, or apologize for them. “Mistakes were made,” we say, never wanting the responsibility of owning the mistake. For Josiah and the people of Israel, this moment of repentance is the start of a new chapter. The sermon might examine how we express regret, as a community or as individuals, and we begin on a different path.
What are your thoughts this week? Where are you heading with the sermon? Join the conversation in the comments below. We’re eager to hear where you’re going this week.
Rev. Mary Austin is the Senior Pastor of Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church, where 33 different nations are represented in the church membership. She is the author of Meeting God at the Mall. The image above is the Huldah gate of the Jerusalem Temple, from Wikimedia Commons.
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