Doilies, First Dates, and the Big Bad Wolf

The following is a short sermon based on Joshua 24:1-15

“As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

This is a bit of a rally call, isn’t it?  It gets people excited.  It reinforces loyalty.  We declare allegiances.

And then we end up putting this Bible verse on doilies and cross stitches and bumper stickers and status updates.

This phenomenon of the rally call isn’t unique to faith only, though.  We have rally calls for all sorts of things.

As for me and my household, we will cheer for the Blue Bombers.

As for me and my household, we will drive Hondas.

As for me and my household, we will drink fair trade coffee from Ten Thousand Villages.

Basically, I just described my life there in a series of rally calls.  I drive a Honda, drink fair trade coffee from Ten Thousand Villages, and cheer for the Blue Bombers.

Rally calls are meant to be short, catchy, and build up support.  They’re really not supposed to lead us to asking questions.

Like the question “Why?”

Why do I cheer for the Bombers? Especially when they haven’t won the Grey Cup for 25 years?  They’re our local team, it’s fun to go to games and boo the refs, plus both my Dad and Grandpa are faithful Bomber fans, so I am contributing to the Penner legacy of True Blue.

Why do I only drive Hondas?  Well, in my experience, they drive well, and don’t break down.  Although sometimes I do miss my 1994 Ford Tempo.

Why do I drink fair trade coffee?  Well, I don’t mind paying a bit more at the till to ensure that farmers are paid a fair wage and can better provide opportunities for their families.

Those reasons don’t make very good slogans or catch phrases or rally cries, do they?

But I’m okay with that, because talking about my first car, and farmers providing for their families, and my dad and my grandpa going to Bomber games with me… it all  brings a bit of a tear to my eye.

It’s those stories, the important ones that have shaped my life and explain why I do what I do… Those are the important stories.  Sure, we have rally calls. But what’s underneath them is what’s important.

It’s the same with the rally call we read in Joshua 24.  “As for me and my household will serve the Lord.”  Sure, we put that verse on doilies and on the backs of T-Shirts, but it’s the “Why?” behind the statement that’s the important one.

Why do you and your household serve the Lord?

Well, that’s a really good question, isn’t it?  Why? Why do you serve the Lord?  Why are you here, sitting on uncomfortable pews?  Why are you here singing songs that were written hundreds of years ago?  Why do you give money to church?  Why do you serve the Lord?

Let’s go back to the text and ask the same question.  Why does Joshua declare that he is going to serve the Lord?

Because he remembered.  He remembered God.  He remembered all that God has done for his people.

Joshua remembered that it was God who took Abraham from his land and promised him that he’d make him a people, and that he’d bless them so they could bless the world.

Joshua remembered how God had led his people out of slavery in Egypt, and how they had crossed the Red Sea.

Joshua remembered how God led them through the wilderness, and brought them to a new land to live.

Joshua remembered all these life changing encounters with God over the centuries.

He remembered them so well, that when he was giving this speech, he gathered all the leaders at Shechem, which is a place that probably means nothing to most of us.   But every time the Bible names a place that’s hard to say, it’s probably named for a reason, and if we go back a few Sundays, we find that we mentioned the place of Shechem here before.

It was the place where God showed Abraham the land his descendants were going to get, the land where God was going to bless them so they could be a blessing to the world.  Shechem, to Joshua is like that ice cream place where had your first date with your partner.  Shechem is like that movie you watched where you first held hands.  Shechem is like the first house you bought.  Shechem, is like seeing your picture on the wall at the curling club for being Men’s League Champs.  It’s this place that oozes memories.  It’s screaming out “Remember what happened here!”

And isn’t that what we do every Thanksgiving?  We take a moment and reflect on all the things to be thankful for?  When all my siblings and cousins are gathered around the table, I always make sure that we go around the table and make everyone say what they’re thankful for. IMG_4500

My sister in law did this a craft with my 2 year old nephew this week, and they wrote down the things they’re thankful for.  He said family, friends, snakes, Opa, and the Big Bad Wolf, and he only needed some prompting from his mother for the family and friends part.

We pause, we reflect, and we remember.  And when we do this, it changes how we see the world moving forward.  It roots us in something deeper and something more important than just the necessary day to day activities we do to live.  When we pause, reflect, and remember, it changes how we see the world.

This is what Joshua was doing.  He was remembering the stories of God’s faithfulness.  And when he remembered, when he looked back, he came up with this nugget:

“As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Why do you serve the Lord?

My hope, and my prayer, is that somewhere, somehow, in your life, you have encountered God.   That somewhere in your journey, you have experienced the depth of God’s love.  A moment of awe.  An experience of unbelievable grace.  A flicker of peace.  That you have felt God’s love deep in the marrow of your bones.

We’re here, because somewhere, somehow, sometime, God encountered us.  And in that encounter, we found life. Life to the fullest.  Life at its best.   Life as it could be.

One of my favourite authors, Mark Yaconelli, says that “We, in the church, are connoisseurs of life.  You know what it means it be alive.  That’s why there’s humour here. That’s why playfulness here.  That’s why there’s praise and stories and music and prayer here.  All the capacities of the human being are invited into this place, because that’s who we are…. We’re living human beings who carry the image of God. And that’s the gift that we bring to the world.”

We have this encounter with God, this experience with God’s love… it’s this that propels us into the future, full of life.  We live our lives out of gratitude to God.

This is our remembering.  This is our story.  This is our rally call.  Me and my household, we’re going to the serve the Lord, because we’ve experienced God’s love.  We should put this on a doily or cross stitch or bumper sticker.

I’m going to end my part this morning, before we sing, by getting us to simply sit in silence for about 60 seconds.  And as we sit, I’d encourage you to ask yourself the question:

Why do you serve the Lord?

And if you come across a story, just smile and enjoy it.


War in the Old Testament

Several years ago, I preached a sermon on War in the Old Testament.  To this day, I continue to have conversations about whether or not God is violent, and whether or not God condones violence.

Below is my sermon.  It’s by all means not exhaustive, but I still find it to be a good start to understanding some of the more troubling aspects of the Bible.

War in the Old Testament is one of the biggest theological questions we have, but one I we don’t put a lot of time to.  I think we just ignore it.

But some people don’t. They write books on it.  They offer courses on it.  Us?  We’re giving it a solid 20 minutes.

So because of that, I am going to be using some incredibly broad strokes today.

So if you’re thinking:  Hey!  He didn’t talk about this, or that, or he missed that.  My answer is yes.  I did.

Okay, let’s start.

War in the Old Testament.  One of the biggest problems people have with this whole Christianity thing.  We all get Jesus, “love your neighbour” thing, but what do we do with this “God who orders the destruction of entire cities” thing?

Well, the first step, is tea parties.

A typical scene in my house involves me laying on the couch, either reading or sleeping.

And then Arianna calls from across the room.


I don’t respond.



“Kyle!  Look at me!”


“Tea Party.”


“Tea Party. Come.”

“No.  I’m reading.”

“Daddy Tea Party.”  And then she’ll grab my hand and pull til I go sit on the little chair that’s the size of one of my butt cheeks.

“Daddy drink.”

And so I take this little cup, and we cheers, and we have a tea party. And then we pour some more, and then we give the teddy bear and the doll some water, and I end up loving every minute of it.

One day, I was bored of having a tea party, so I said:  “Arianna, let’s wrestle.”

She looked at me, and then I grabbed her and started jumping on her and tickling her and laughing out loud.

Two minutes later, we had stopped to gather our breath, and then she looked at me, smile.

“Tea Party?”

This is the foundation for war in the Old Testament.

I choose to work with Arianna in ways that she will understand.  I work with Arianna at her level.

We don’t watch Modern Family or Game of Thrones together.  We watch Caillou and Toopy and Binoo.

We don’t read Lord of the Rings.  We read Murmel Murmel Murmel and the Potty Book.

We don’t have chicken cordon bleu.  We have cheese and peanut butter buns and cucumbers with dip.

I don’t teach her a zone defence for Ultimate Frisbee and make her run laps.  We stack the pylons.

I choose to work with Arianna in ways that she will understand.

Eventually, she will grow up and learn.  But in the mean time, I will put up with Toopy and Binoo, because I love Arianna.

In order to understand War in the Old Testament, we have to understand that God chooses to work with people.

Every time God has a good idea, he doesn’t just snap his fingers.  God asks: “Who can I get to do this?”  And the answer?  Humans.

God makes a beautiful garden.  Who is supposed to tend it?  People.

God makes all these animals?  Who names them?  People.  He marches them in front of Adam.

Hmmmm…. Giraffe.

This one? Hippopotamus.

This one?  Cat. And then God says:  Oh, that was a mistake.  That’s not supposed to be there. (I’m here all day folks).

God works with people.  God partners with us.

And the thing about partnering, is that you work with what you’re given.  I am given Teehouse TV and Dora the Explorer colouring books, so I do that.   If your parents are in a nursing home, you join the Resthaven sing-a-longs.   If you’re the parent of a teenager who loves volleyball, you go to the gym, even if you’re watching grade 7’s bump, bump, bump.  Even if the life of your loved one only a fraction of what it could be, or even if you hate it, you still go along for the ride.

God partners with humans.

We read God choosing to work with Abraham, telling him that he will bless Abraham and make him a great nation, and that this nation will then be a blessing to the world.

Right there, God chooses to work with a people.  And if you work with people, you have to work in terms they’ll understand.

So if you were to make a nation that will bless the world, what’s the first thing you need?

Population.  You can’t be a nation with only 13 people in it.

And after you have people, you need land.  You need resources to feed your population.

And so, we read about Abraham walking along, going where God is sending him.  ,

And so they end up in Egypt.  First as friends, through Joseph, and then as slaves, where Pharoah is murdering their children.

And it is here where we read about how God fights in the Old Testament.  Scholars call it “Holy War,” where God does the fighting.  If you know the story of Moses, you will know that over a million Hebrews were slaves, building pyramids, and then walked out of the Egypt without raising a finger.  They did not fight.  God did.

Exodus 14:13-14 – Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid.  Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today.  The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.  The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

God does the fighting.  And God chooses to work in terms that humans understand.  Pharaoh wouldn’t let the slaves go until the plagues got worse and worse.  He finally relented when his firstborn died.  Not ideal, but neither is Toopy and Binoo.

So now you’re saying:  “Kyle, that’s fine that God did the fighting in the story of Moses.  But after that, they went to Canaan and did horrific acts of violence.”

Yes.  Yes they did.

We read in Joshua 6 that after the walls fell down in the battle of Jericho, we read in verse 21:  “They devoted the city to the Lord and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it – men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.”

This God of love would order that?

Okay, this is where it gets fun.

Back to the beginning.  God partners with humans.  And thus has to work with what’s available.

The Israelites have left Egypt, with their number in the millions.  They need a place to go.  They need land.  Being a middle class accountant or teacher living in suburbia wasn’t an option.    And so they go off to Canaan to live.  The only problem is that there are already people there.  So they essentially wipe them off the map.

But if God needs a nation, and a nation needs land, why couldn’t the Israelites just hold hands and sing kumbaya?  Why couldn’t they form a multi-cultural society like we have now?  Why couldn’t they just live in peace and harmony?

There are a few things going on here.

The first.  Thousands of years ago, the worldview was this:  Kill or be killed.  That was it.  There was no multi-cultural policy.    There was no Folklarama.  If you didn’t kill your enemies, they would kill you.  There was a deep, deep tribalism that I don’t think we really understand today.

And by God choosing to get involved in the lives of the Israelites, he chose to get involved in their land claims, and thus he chose to get involved in their wars, and thus he chose to get involved in their policy on war.  Kill or be killed.  And when you do kill them, make sure that they can’t come back and kill you in the future.  Scorched Earth policy.  Brutal.  But effective.

Remember:  God partners with humans, so he works with what’s available.

And there’s another piece of the puzzle… (I emailed one of my profs for some articles on the Canaanites, and he sent me back a fascinating read).

The premise is that we don’t really understand how evil the Canaanites were.  Through our 2012 eyes, we just can’t really comprehend how they lived.

I’ll give you the highlights.

Child Sacrifice.  Common.  Encouraged.  Their idol was made of metal with his hands were outstretched for the children.

Incest.  Common.  Encouraged.

Sexual Assault.  Common. Encouraged.  Gender or age didn’t matter, as long as they were weaker than you.

Bestiality.  Common. Encouraged.  The Hittites, a different people, had rules.  If you ended up with a Canaanite sheep, you were supposed to kill it, because you couldn’t have it hanging around your family.

So now, if your neighbours were as evil as the Canaanites, what would you do?  Can we live nicely here in Steinbach if they’re living like that in Blumenort?

Well, what do we do?  Call the police?  There were no police.  Put them in jail?  There were no jails back then.  Non-violent revolution?  What’s non-violence?   It’s kill or be killed.

So the Israelites took over the land and lived in relative peace.

But then there are some other fascinating war policies going.

During the Conquest and also in the book of Judges, there is no central government, no king, no Democrats or Republicans or Stephen Harpers or Justin Trudeaus.  And there was no standing army.  So when there’s trouble, someone, whom they called a Judge, would rise up and declares they have to attack someone or defend this city.  But who goes?

Well, the people who are available.  In our context, that would mean Kyle, Mel, and the person sitting next to you in the pew.  Now, here’s a question.  Do you want to go to war with me beside you?  No.  Because I’m not very good.  You’d rather have a trained soldier.  But during the time of the Judges, Israelites didn’t have any.  So not having a standing army was a deterrent to war.  You relied on God and only had to fight when you absolutely had to, because you’d have Kyle Penner in your corner, and you didn’t really want to have Kyle Penner in your corner.

And here’s another one.  When a battle was won, and they were supposed to kill everyone, women and children, young and old, do you think that people were excited about it?

Great.  I get to go to war with a bunch of skinny office workers, and I get to kill women and children and older people.  Sounds like fun.  At least I am going to get rich off of it by keeping their cattle and gold.

Well, no.  When the Israelites enacted the ban of destroying everything, the livestock was killed and the temple got the gold.  The soldiers went home with nothing.  There were no spoils of war.

So, untrained soldiers, killing defenceless people with no spoils of war.

Do you really want to go to war?  I mean… really?

But Kyle, what about King David and his mighty men?    There were standing armies and they got rich.

Yes.  So after a while, the Israelites wanted a king. They got Saul, who didn’t work out so well, and then King David.

Yes.  He fought a lot of wars.  And he was remarkably violent.

But even in there, you have a couple of funny stories showing the intent of God’s work.

Remember… God works with what he’s given.

God did not allow the Israelites to have chariots. Why?  Chariots were the tanks of the day.  They were the most modern equipment available.  The Israelite army were always a few centuries behind in modern warfare equipment.  That not only acted as a war deterrent, but also made sure that they were “trusting God” with their decisions.

At one point, King David ordered a census of all his fighting men.  He wanted to know how strong his army was.  Mistake.  God was angry.  Are you relying on God or the strength of your army?

And in addition to this, the king wasn’t supposed to be rich and store all sorts of precious metals, or have many wives. Why?  It’s hard to wage war without money, and wives were used as political allies.  No money, no strategic alliances, less wars.

Yes, the violence still happened.  But it’s become less and less clear that God wanted it to.  It sort of seems that God was always using what was available, and taking it one step this way away from the violence.

And then, after years and years of the kings, the Assyrians came and destroyed the Northern Kingdom and the Babylonians came and destroyed the Southern Kingdom and took all the Israelites into Babylon as slaves.

So they were sitting by the rivers of Babylon, and they realized something.

It didn’t work.  This entire system of living by the sword didn’t work.  Sure, there were moments of glory.  But if it worked so well, why were they slaves in a foreign nation?

Fast forward about 700 years, and Jesus enters the picture, and here, for the first time in the history of civilization, you have this invitation to love your enemies and sharing meals with them.  Kill or be killed was replaced with love.   Violence was replaced with non-violence.  And death was no longer the final word; Resurrection was.

So… What does this mean for us today?

I’m going to give you some questions to ask around the lunch table today.

What are our spoils of war?

What are our spoils of war?  Who gets rich off of war?   Do we benefit from this?  (Think salaries, oil, pension funds, military-industrial complex).    Should we benefit from war?

Do we know more about violence and non-violence than they did thousands of years ago? 

Do we believe that we can solve conflict without violence?  Have Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, made a difference?  Do we believe in non-violent crisis intervention?  Why do we not allow our kids to bring violent weapons to school on Halloween?  And if we know more, does that change how we look at solving conflict?

I choose to watch Toopy and Binoo and have tea parties with Arianna.

And I’ll end with quote my Old Testament prof from CMU, Pierre Gilbert:

“God’s involvement in war in the Old Testament reveals exactly the same thing. It does not suggest that God is essentially violent in character. On the contrary, his willingness to intervene and participate in human history, a history profoundly and irrevocably tainted by sin, broadcasts his infinite love for humanity.

This concept should fill us with hope. God’s unconditional commitment to Israel in its historical situation, with all of its limitations, including the necessity to use war, teaches us two things:

1. Even today, God’s project carries on: God still has a purpose for humanity as a whole and for each one of us.

2.  God is profoundly and unswervingly committed to partnering with us in full recognition of the human condition.

The greatest proof of this unconditional intent towards us is found in the historical appearance of Jesus Christ as a man, in his life, his death, and his resurrection. There lies our hope.”

The Sky Is Weeping

A windy, cloudy sky dumped rain and snow on us.

We were told, “The sky is weeping.”

But it wasn’t only the sky. It was also the hearts and souls of thousands of Canadians across the country who had gathered at over 130 vigils across Canada for the annual Sisters in Spirit Vigil for murdered and missing indigenous women.

The numbers are bleak. There have been close to 1200 murdered and missing indigenous women since 1980. Indigenous women make up 4% of the female population in Canada, but make up 16% of female homicides and 11% of women who are missing.

And so every October 4th, people gather to remember the ones whose lives ended too early and often violently.

This year, nine of us from Grace Mennonite in Steinbach attended the vigil at the Legislative Buildings in Winnipeg. We heard an elder give her blessing. We heard traditional drumming. We heard from politicians who want to work at the root causes of the problem. We heard Inuit throat singing. We heard from young men and older men, encouraging other men to be part of the solution. We heard contemporary musicians. We heard from mothers. We heard from families who had lost loved ones.

We stood with our indigenous brother and sisters as an act of solidarity. We stood as a support for the good work indigenous groups are doing across Canada as they work to end the violence. We stood for the indigenous women that we know who have been either victims of violence, or are at a higher risk of being a victim of violence. We stood because we believe that something in this relationship between settler and indigenous peoples is broken. We stood because in our own little corner of this country, we care.

One of the organizers shared with us, “I am looking forward to the day that we can gather for different occasions, a day when our women are safe and no longer missing or murdered.” We are looking forward to that day as well.

Lord have mercy.

For stats, stories, and how to help, please visit the Native Women’s Association of Canada website.IMG_4470.JPG
Photo by Hilda Anderson-Pyrz


Photo by Kira Burkett