Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Joshua 5: 13 – 15, 6: 12 – 14
Once when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?’ 14He replied, ‘Neither; but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshipped, and he said to him, ‘What do you command your servant, my lord?’ 15The commander of the army of the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.’ And Joshua did so.
Then Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. 13The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord passed on, blowing the trumpets continually. The armed men went before them, and the rearguard came after the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets blew continually. 14On the second day they marched around the city once and then returned to the camp. They did this for six days.
On the seventh day they rose early, at dawn, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. 16And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, ‘Shout! For the Lord has given you the city.’
Romans 12: 1 – 2
The New Life in Christ
12I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters,* by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual* worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world,* but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.*
Luke 23: 32 – 43
32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus* there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’* And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah* of God, his chosen one!’ 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ 38There was also an inscription over him,* ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding* him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah?* Save yourself and us!’ 40But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into* your kingdom.’ 43He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
We all carry a picture in our minds about what we are. That picture can range from the illusions of grandeur of a Walter Mitty, who used to imagine himself in all sorts of heroic situations, to an unrealistically negative one. A friend of my mother’s used to tease sulking children by saying, “Nobody loves me. Everybody hates me. I think I’ll go and eat worms.”
Joshua is the person who took over leadership of Israel from Moses and had to lead the attack on the Promised Land. He had big shoes to fill and he was pretty nervous. His picture of who he was needed changing.
God spoke to Joshua and said to him; and I want you to look out for how many times God told him to be courageous: I will not fail you or forsake you. 6Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. 7Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. 8This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. 9I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ (Joshua 1)
That was in chapter one, but by chapter five Joshua is in need of a visit from God himself, who describes himself as “The commander of the army of the Lord.”
Following Joshua’s realisation that God is not simply a distant provider of instruction, but is with him making a material difference, his picture of himself changes and he confidently places the priests with trumpets amongst the soldiers, to march with them; and Jericho is conquered.
Joshua’s picture of himself changed. His confidence grew because God was working on him, changing him.
When Paul wrote to the church in Rome he had not visited them before so he felt it necessary to focus on the important things. He is so keen for them to get what he wants to say that he says, 12I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters. When someone like Paul just about begs you to do something, you know it’s important.
And what does he beg them to do? He says, 12I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters to present your bodies as a living sacrifice Place yourself entirely at God’s disposal. Don’t hold anything back. He goes on to say 2Do not be conformed to this world,* but be transformed by the renewing of your minds,
Transformed. Changed. Let God begin changing your mind – making a new picture of yourself, one that lines up with how God sees you.
But here’s the thing. Paul is writing this in Chapter 12. He knows very well that to get to the point where we can be transformed, where we can develop a different picture of ourselves, something else has to happen first.
Let me explain it like this. Imagine that you are a happy piece of glass – part of a green beer bottle. Life is good as a container of beer. Your beer bottle has been taken out for a Saturday sail on a yacht. You don’t know that because all you are aware of is the other glass next to where you are on the bottle – and the beer of course. You are snoozing away and suddenly feel a great big jolt. What you don’t realise is that the bottle has been broken. You can taste sea water now, not beer, and you also wonder why you are getting tossed about so much.
Now for you to be transformed into something beautiful, three things have to happen:
- You need to be washed ashore into the sunlight so you can know that you are broken.
- You then need to be rescued, picked up and taken home by someone.
- Finally, they need to clean you – wash off the sand and salty water.
Only when those three things have been done can they build you into something lovely that they are making. In other words, you can be transformed, changed into a more beautiful picture than you were before.
How does Paul tell the Roman church about this?
- In Romans 3: 23 he tells them that each of them is broken by saying
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
- In Romans 5: 8 he tells them how God rescues them by saying
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
- In Romans 10: 9 he tells them how they can be cleaned up by saying
“that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Just like the thief on the cross in our Gospel reading. He knew he was a sinner. He told his fellow thieves as much, so he turned to Jesus next to him
42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into* your kingdom.’ 43He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’ (Luke 23)
Paul explained to the Romans that they needed to know that they were sinners, that Jesus died for them on the cross, and that if they said with their mouths that Jesus was Lord and believed with their hearts that he was raised from the dead, they would be saved.
Only after explaining all that does he then say God wants to transform you, make you into a more beautiful picture than you are now. In other words, become more like Jesus.
We’re all like bits of sea glass. We need to know that we are broken, need someone to pick us up and to give us a wash. Likewise we need to know that we are sinners, that Jesus died for us on the cross, and that when we speak out that he is Lord, and believe that God raised him from the dead: only then can God begin transforming us.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters,* by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual* worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world,* but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.*
It’s God who transforms us. Ask yourself today, “Where am I in the transformation process, and how do I present myself as a living sacrifice so that God can renew my mind?”
So that what was glass, stained with encrusted seawater and sand, can become, together with other bits of glass, a beautiful stained glass window – a beautiful picture made by God.