To be connected to the church is to be associated with soundrels, warmongers, fakes, child-molesters, murderers, adulterers, and hypocrites of every description (and that’s just the clergy! mf). It also, at the same time, identifies you with saints and the finest persons of heroic soul within every time, country, race, and gender. To be a member of the church is to carry the mantle of both the worst sin and the finest herosim of soul…because the church always looks exactly as it looked at the original crucifixion. God hung among thieves. – Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing
You could call it a Spartacus moment.
Traversing in devotions through the story of Achan – the thief nailed with stolen goodies hidden under his tent and subsequently stoned to death, then burned, and buried along with his family under a huge pile of rocks whose story you can read about in Joshua chapter 7 in your Old Testament – I was stirred.
I was dissatisfied with what I wrote in the church devotions about it.
Can’t really respond to the sermon preached about Achan this past week because I listened to it horizontally (call me Anemia Man). But then I read a friend’s thoughts about the story and sermon in a Facebook post. For him it was an Old Testament Smack Down with the message “Don’t be an Achan!” with blistering judgment and footnoted grace. Whether that’s a fair characterization of that particular sermon, I can’t comment on. But I know that over the course of twenty years I preached the sermon he perceived. Over and over and over again.
Blistering judgment. Footnoted grace.
Look what happened to Achan. Are you an Achan? Don’t be an Achan! Achan only suffered stones and temporal fire; for you it will be brimstone and eternal flames!
Yeah. Kinda been there. Have a collection of t-shirts, too.
Which brings me to my “Spartacus moment.”
Not because I stole candy and magazines and hid them under my bed when I was ten. We love our pastors to talk about their sins – you know, the ones that happened a decade or more ago. As long as their sins and weaknesses and dirty secrets are back there somewhere in the foggy past. We don’t love it so much when the sins and weaknesses and dirty secrets are right here and right now – like the rest of us. We might not stone them and burn their bodies. But we do fire them. But back to the point:
And more than that, so are you. That’s right, this should be a wonderfully freeing Spartacus moment for each of us. Imagine the story that way: “Are you Achan, son of Carmi?” “No, I’m Achan.” “No, I’m Achan.” The entire congregation, pastors first, rise to their feet, each in turn. “I’m Achan!”
Now, I know, we’re only supposed to confess our own sins, but if Paul can say, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” then I can say we are all Achans.
And we are. Each of us. All of us.
We all have things buried under our religiously tidy tent floors that we pray never sees the light of day. Like the thoughts you had just this morning or even while you were reading this sentence. That apathetic stare in the face of human need as you saw yet another one of those cardboard signs on the street corner. That anger that boiled up inside at that perceived slight – but fortunately never made it to your face. That self-satisfying pride that flooded through you when you won that argument, the doubts that plagued you, and – good God – did you see what she was wearing?
It’s said that Jack Miller, founder of World Harvest Mission, used to say that the entire Bible could be summed up with two sentences: (1) Cheer up: you’re a lot worse than you think you are, and (2) Cheer up: God’s grace is a lot bigger than you think it is.
I’m Achan. Outwardly, religiously respectable – “What a fine Christian young man you are,” as my mom would always say to me when I was in my Sunday best. “Oh holy Mike” as one of my friends often sings to me (like the carol). But I’m a thief. And good thing: he hung with thieves. He still does.
He casts no lots to nail down my guilt and then to pass judgment. No stolen goods are dug up and laid before the congregation’s watching eyes. No stones. No fire. No family swallowed up with me (have you noticed the contrast? Under the ministry of death [religion] whole families were consumed, swallowed up, devoured along with the erring parent; under the ministry of life [Jesus] whole families are rescued, redeemed, healed; just a thought).
Instead, in his mercy he collapses the tidy religious tent over all that it was hiding, then reaches out his hand and says, “Come, child.” And so Achan’s valley of trouble and judgment, of bloody rocks and fire, is transformed from dead end tombstone to a door of hope. Sonship. Inheritance. Home.
And that, in a word, is the difference between Joshua and Jesus.
That’s the devotional intro I should have written.