24 November 2019 Revolution Martin Baker
2 Kings 22:1-10, 23:1-3
22:1 Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign; he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Jedidah daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. 2 He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in all the way of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left. 3 In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan son of Azaliah, son of Meshullam, the secretary, to the house of the Lord, saying, 4 "Go up to the high priest Hilkiah, and have him count the entire sum of the money that has been brought into the house of the Lord, which the keepers of the threshold have collected from the people; 5 let it be given into the hand of the workers who have the oversight of the house of the Lord; let them give it to the workers who are at the house of the Lord, repairing the house, 6 that is, to the carpenters, to the builders, to the masons; and let them use it to buy timber and quarried stone to repair the house. 7 But no accounting shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly." 8 The high priest Hilkiah said to Shaphan the secretary, "I have found the book of the law in the house of the Lord." When Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, he read it. 9 Then Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, "Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of the workers who have oversight of the house of the Lord." 10 Shaphan the secretary informed the king, "The priest Hilkiah has given me a book." Shaphan then read it aloud to the king.
23:1 Then the king directed that all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem should be gathered to him. 2 The king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him went all the people of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. 3 The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant.
How many of us are thinking ‘what are we going to have for lunch?’ Or have worries about Christmas or health or is excited and looking forward to something? How many people have been listening this week to accounts of two murder trials, or listening to what Prince Andrew has been up to, or Donald Trump? And here we are at worship on a Sunday morning. And we have all these other things, important things, trivial things, things we can do something about and a whole lot things we can do nothing about, and they’re all circulating around us.
And sometimes, something happens that make us pause for a moment
Two little pause moments I’ve had in the last couple of weeks.
A couple of weeks ago at one of our family ministry programmes a prison officer from a high security prison came with his young children. We got into conversation about how tough that job can be. In his role he has some responsibility for some especially difficult and violent and high profile prisoners.
And a voice intrudes in our conversation. His beautiful little daughter calling ‘daddy’. She wanted to be picked up. Instantly the grim conversation stops and you can almost touch the love in the face of the father and the young daughter as he reaches down and picks her up.
Last week the post woman who delivers the mail dropped in on her delivery schedule. She often takes a moment to have a coffee here on her rounds. Somehow in the conversation she mentioned that she had left her wallet at home and would not be having lunch that day. Immediately one of our people here went off and made her a sandwich to take with her on her rounds and make sure she would not go hungry.
A simple message here, and I guess one we all know. In that in midst of all the complexity, all the news, all the stories that are part of our lives, it is not that difficult to find a moment of care and kindness, of spontaneous acts of concern and love between people. And they make us pause for a moment. Maybe help us put our own issues in different perspective. At least for a moment. Our Bible celebrates these little moments. If we read the book of Ruth in the Old Testament, if we read the psalms, if we hear stories of reconciliation and love between Jacob and Esau, our Hebrew scriptures tells us that in all these stories, no matter where they happen, no matter who is involved, the stories of hesed, of kindness in Hebrew, all these stories bear evidence of God’s presence and providence. And we would say thanks be to God for every one of these moments.
There are other stories in our scripture which are the big stories. The big stories are the ones of transformation. They're the stories that change everything. But the big stories also happen in the midst of all that is happening around us.
So we hear our story today about Josiah, this child who, 2650 years ago, grew up to be king of Judah, . And I guess it sounds pretty obscure and irrelevant. And yet it is one of the most important stories in our Biblical history. It is a big story. And it happens in the midst of some really difficult things that are going on all around.
The small kingdom to the north of you, then called Israel, and was made up of people who had worshipped God, had by now been utterly destroyed and assimilated. These tribes that had followed Moses out of slavery in Egypt, like your own people, were now lost into the Assyrian empire. They had just gone.
You were living in the kingdom of the South and you were based in Jerusalem. But Your grandfather had turned really bad. Your grandfather’s names were Manasseh he had reigned as king in Judah for more years than any other king. During his reign he converted the Jerusalem temple into a pagan temple. He is remembered as one of the worst kings, scripture tells us “made his son pass through the fire” that means that your grandfather had sacrificed one of his own children to a pagan God. He was bloodthirsty and we are told he "shed very much innocent blood" His policies are continued by his son Amon, who reigns only two years before he was murdered.
Then there is you - just an 8 year old child, surrounded no doubt by some very bad people, the people who advised your father and your grandfather, you as a child somehow end up with the hospital pass, you become the new king of this little besieged kingdom of Judah. The last tiny little remnant of the people who worship the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob.
We read our scriptures:
Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign; he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem He did what was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of David; he did not turn aside to the right or to the left. So this child grows up as a person of honesty of faithfulness integrity.
And as the story moves on we find that he is a person who has gathered honest and trustworthy people around him. It sounds like he is a young leader who has set an example. First of all he is repairing his temple, the sacred place that had been so terribly defiled by his father and grandfather. He is using money for the purposes it was given. And he trusts those who receive the money to do the job. Important today, a good tradesman is someone who we can trust to do the job.
And then it seems that in the process a copy of a portion of the Bible, the torah, the teaching and directions found in scripture, is discovered.
“The king went up to the house of the Lord, and with him went all the people of Judah, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the priests, the prophets, and all the people, both small and great; he read in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found in the house of the Lord. 3 The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. All the people joined in the covenant.”
So what makes this story so remarkable is that it tells of a reformation based on the discovery of God’s word. Our own church history tells us of other times this has happened. The story of the rediscovery of the word. Those reformers like John Wycliffe Martin Luther, those Bible translators who insisted that all should have access to the Bible in a language they understand. The basis of the Reformation.
And there is a kind of irony as we listen to this story today. We almost never hear this story read at church, and this is a story about how the people of God didn't know their story, because the story remained locked up behind the Temple doors. The word was not read to the people. It was not taught to the people. The priests did not preach it. As a result, the people did not know their story. We need to know our story. In Josiah's time, the Reformation that took place was that the word was let out of its prison and it proceeded to set the people free from their bondage to false gods.
So in the midst of this terrible history. In the midst of the worship of all these false God’s, worship that even demanded the sacrifice of children, we hear about the power that comes from the rediscovery of God’s word.
Have we lost our story? The international labour organisation tells us that every year now 1.2 million children are sacrifices in a different kind of way. They are trafficked. They are sold are exploited. Often for the sexual gratification and benefit of the wealthy. That figure alone must be one of the worst indictments on our consumer society.
Christian justice organisations like World Vision and the Tear Fund remind us cheap clothes and products from developing nations often come as a result of a huge price paid by child labour.
I am really pleased to be part of a church that’s says to our community that as uncomfortable as the reality is, we have poor children right on our doorsteps - in fact we have their names just, their first names on the envelopes on the angel tree . Children must be cared for. Not just as a nice thing to do, but as a way of honouring God, keeping our focus on the main thing, and following Josiah, not turning to the left or the right as we read this morning.
One of the difficult lessons, especially for us who like our comforts and security, is that Josiah reminds us is that the Bible Story, the gospel is disruptive. And whether it is Pharaoh or Caesar of the Sultan or the party leader or the Commander in Chief or the Prime Minister, or the power of Facebook or Amazon, the Bible story is always going to be threat. It starts revolutions, it offers a different view that doesn’t take the status quo, doesn’t take how things are now, for you and me, as either adequate or inevitable. It presents us with a God who wants something better for us. And wants something better for our neighbour as well.
With everything that makes life complicated for us now we also stand with Josiah in this ancient story which has been discovered again for people of faith. Through the 26 centuries of time between us and the work of a young man, who has the courage to face the terrible realities of his time. In all we see around us now God is at work and there is every reason to hope. For 26 centuries since Josiah discovered the word and led the transformation of a corrupt society, our Bible's story is told and retold through these centuries. We can list some of these big moment. Walls that separate, can come tumbling down. Stones can be rolled away from tombs. The heavens can be torn asunder. The powerful can be cast down from their thrones, the poor can be fed and the prisoner set free. In the midst of everything we face, Old wineskins can burst. And we can discover ourselves again, Christ reborn in us. AMEN
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