Fasting in Appreciation

Joshua 5:2-12

At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth (the hill of foreskins).

Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt. All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not. The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way. And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed.

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day.

On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.

Rituals. We all have them. When I was in college, and I played in the marching band for USC, there was a guy in our section who wore the same pair of underwear for every game—”It’s lucky!”  He liked to say.  “Helps our team win!” (and did I mention that part of the “luck” involved not washing them either?) We had our doubts about magic underwear, but perhaps you can relate to the sentiment he expressed.  There are just some things that we do that give us courage, or put us in the frame of mind to believe that we are going to achieve our destiny. Things that make no sense apart from their context.  Rituals.

The Maori people of New Zealand are no strangers to ritual either. They are, perhaps, most well known for a ritual dance called the haka.

Who wouldn’t want to get married after that?

I just have to pause and share there are a few moments that really make this video for me.  First of all, there is this moment in the beginning where they pan to the bride and she is crying.  The first time I saw the video I thought to myself, “man, I think I would be crying too if this happened at my wedding!”  But that was before what came next.  As the dance deepened in intensity, the groom, and the bridesmaids, and then the bride herself jumped in!  The ritual–this dance–invited their participation.  This was something bigger than a dance in that moment.  Like every other meaningful ritual, it had a story to tell.  Through the dance, those guests told the world who they are—they were able as well to share their sense of belonging to their culture and their values. The dance was them.

It turns out that the Israelites of the Hebrew Scriptures have a special ritual too. In our scripture this morning, they mark their entry into the land of Canaan…. By celebrating a mass circumcision.

I would just like to take a moment and admit that the last thing I expected to be talking about when reflecting on a fast of gratitude was the subject of circumcision. And yet here we are. So perhaps the first thing this story can help us appreciate is the fact that the Christian faith does not require adult male circumcision.

And they thought eating manna for forty years was rough…..

But the question remains-why circumcision? What was the point?

In order to understand, we must go back, and remind ourselves where circumcision comes from:

Genesis 17:4-11

You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.

In circumcision, the people carry on their very bodies a reminder of God’s promise to them—their own created selves bear the imprint of God’s covenant, that God will provide for them. It is this that allows them to say with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my light and my salvation: of whom shall I be afraid?”

But still—why circumcision, specifically? Couldn’t God have gone with a cool tattoo or a special hairstyle instead?

As I have pondered this question, I don’t know that I have the answer, but I wonder if it has something to do with intimacy—for circumcision is, if nothing else, something between you and God. You don’t wear it on your forehead because it isn’t for others to see. It is for you. Every time you see it, every time you bathe or change your clothes, every time you have intimate relations with your partner, you will remember God’s covenant promise—that God is with you. That God will provide for your present.

God will also provide for the future. In this covenant remember that God is promising to create a physical people. It is a new identity, one that we cannot take back. The scars of circumcision will forever remind the one who bears them of the moment that they left their old life behind in order to hold fast to God’s promises. And God is promising that Israel will become a mighty nation of faithful people.

This perhaps is why it is so important the people in the wilderness fulfill the covenant before they enter the land—the last step of their journey is to embrace the promise of God as a promise FOR them. Until they do, they cannot embrace their destiny. They must therefore remember from whence they have come, and give thanks for God, the stronghold of their life, who will keep them safe and will lead them in straight paths.

I hope I am not making too much of circumcision here. But the important truth to remember is that it is more than just a hygiene choice—it is a lasting and meaningful a mark of faith for the Jewish people.

Now as Christians, circumcision plays little to no role in our religious expression.  And that is, in large part, because we have our own ritual, our own moment where the promise of circumcision finds its full expression, and that is the ritual of baptism. According to Colossians, in Christ we “are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.” We are, Paul says, “buried with Christ in baptism.”

Mass baptism of children in the Orthodox Church in Atlanta, GA.

Baptism, like circumcision is something that is between you, the community, and God.

It is intimate.

It is personal.

It is a covenant, like circumcision, a promise that we will learn to live into every single day. And it begins in the reminder that our journey to the font is preceded by a God who has been there for us every step of the way. That everything we are and everything we have is a gift from God. And so we approach the waters as babies, as teens, as young men and old women, because we know that God has claimed us in baptism, just as God claims Israel in circumcision, from the very beginning of time.


Like circumcision, baptism also moves us to act.  It pushes us out of ourselves and into a world in which we are called to respond to God’s promise.  In recognizing God’s generosity to us, we are moved to be generous with one another.

To appreciate one another.

To love one another.

To baptize one another.

Because the gifts we have received are meant to be shared. The question becomes—how will we share it?

This woman can’t wait to share her baptism with the world!


Remember, the Maori people share their culture, their traditions, their values through dance. So how do we share our baptism? What would our Christian “haka dance” look like? How might we communicate the Good News we have received? The gratitude we feel to the God who claims us?

Perhaps like the Maori we can begin with the reminder: What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!”

Let us go out into the world, and seek to appreciate what we have been given, appreciate those around us, so that our lives might become a fast of gratitude. And let us walk through the world leaving wet footprints as a sign of the baptism that will never dry up when we hold fast to Christ.


Love is a Verb

1 JOHN 3:16-24

16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

23And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

GOSPEL JOHN 10:11-18

11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away — and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

The devout cowboy lost his favorite Bible while he was mending fences out on the range. Three weeks later, a sheep walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth. The cowboy couldn’t believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the sheep’s mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, “It’s a miracle!” “Not really,” said the sheep. “Your name is written inside the cover.”


The traditional view of sheep tends to be that they are dumb. People seem to think they are just wool-machines and walking leg roasts. Which they are.

The truth is that sheep aren’t the smartest animals in the world, but they are pretty wise. I should know; I grew up chasin’ em. They have almost a natural instinct of self-preservation. They can sense, for example, when a young person is trying to sneak up on them and grab them. They can also drag that young person up a hill when she manages to get hold of a hoof and not much else.


Story by a journalist named Steve Carrier about the time that he and his brother tried to run down some Bighorn sheep and quickly realized they were being played by the animals. His brother was a scientist and was an early adopter of the theory that ancient humans were persistence hunters, which means that they would chase their prey until it dropped to the ground with exhaustion. Scott and his brother went out to Colorado to chase Bighorn sheep, and after a couple of days realized that the sheep were, well, smarter than them. The literally ran loops around Scott and his brother, and frequently disappeared into larger herds to confuse them. Needless to say, the sheep won.

The problem with sheep is that sometimes they get carried away in the heat of their emotions. They get afraid, their adrenaline gets going, and they can find themselves separated from the herd. And that is when a sheep gets in trouble. You see, in a herd, sheep can work together to protect themselves. There is power in numbers. But when they are alone, they are completely exposed, and they know it. One of the most awful sounds in the world is the sound of a terrified sheep.

Now, in our Scripture this morning Jesus uses the metaphor of the Shepherd and his Sheep to describe the relationship between God and us. It probably isn’t surprising—Jesus lived in a rural culture, one where people were very familiar with shepherds and shepherding. Many people believed that the Messiah, when he came, would be a Shepherd who tended the flock of Israel like David.

Jesus, I think, is onto something slightly different here. When Jesus speaks of the shepherd and the sheep in John 10, he wants us to know that ours is the kind of God who will not leave us out in the cold—that when we find ourselves alone, forsaken, terrified—at the same time God is out there seeking us out, gathering us in, connecting us to other souls so that we don’t have to journey alone.

In this way, God embodies the work of 1 John, the task of “loving” one another that is so crucial to the Christian life.

There it is, Love. Love is one of those things that can be hard to describe. We all know eros, or romantic love. But what about the brotherly love, or agape, that the bible so often speaks of? What does that look like?

For Jesus, agape looks like a shepherd who tends his flock and who seeks out the lost sheep. In other words, it’s sort of like that famous line from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart- “I know it when I see it.”

So what does it look like for us, then? According to 1 John, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

love-is-a-verb Love looks like a verb. It looks like the work we do every day to choose connection over isolation, justice over selfishness, and peace over chaos. And all of those actions, small and large, come together to keep us together in one big community, one faithful flock. Or, as well like to call it, the church.

Let me give you an example of what love might look like. In the 1980s, my dad had just bought his dental practice in the Bay Area. Just as he was beginning to build relationships with his patients, people started dying. Turned out that the Bay Area was ground zero for a deadly disease called AIDS. No one knew how it was spreading, but everyone knew it was a death sentence. Many medical professionals like my father rightly worried that they might put themselves and others at risk by treating HIV positive patients.

Many doctors and dentists turned these patients away out of fear. But not my dad. He was afraid, but he was unwilling to let fear tear apart his relationships to his patients. So he continued to see and treat AIDS patients. He never turned one away.

The good news about love is that it doesn’t require that we have it all figured out. You can love without understanding exactly what it means. You can love without being certain.

In fact, according to the scriptures, the very act of doing helps us understand. Loving forms us into a community that “knows it when we see it.”

Today we have had the incredible blessing of welcoming new beloved children of God into our fellowship. We have gathered together, chosen community over going it alone. And those who have joined us yearn to get to the task of loving. Over the past few months, they have shared with me their hunger for meaning, their joy at being able to make a difference. Together, they represent a passion for justice, and kindness, and compassion, and they believe that this community is where they have been called to love more fully. And they have chosen you to be their flock.

So I have a wild proposal. Let’s take them up on their offer. Let’s be the kind of church that practices love, even though we don’t have all the answers. And let us not minimize love, or confine it to some tidy box. Let’s make it more than just liking ourselves. Let’s make it more than how wonderfully welcoming we are inside these walls. Let’s let love out of the box and see what it does out in the world. Because at the end of the day, that is the point, isn’t it?

“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” That is the Gospel right there. So let’s get to it.