August 16, 2020
2 Kings 22:3-13
In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan…the secretary, to the house of the Lord, saying, ‘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; 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, 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. But no account shall be asked from them for the money that is delivered into their hand, for they deal honestly.’
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. 9Then 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.’ 10Shaphan the secretary informed the king, ‘The priest Hilkiah has given me…a…book.’
Shaphan then read it aloud to the king.
When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his clothes.
Then the king commanded the priest Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Achbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the secretary, and the king’s servant Asaiah, saying, ‘Go, inquire of the Lord for me, for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our ancestors did not obey the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.’
There’s a Documentary series called Sonic Highways. 10 episodes – 10 American cities – covering each of their iconic music scenes. It’s hosted by Dave Grohl of Nirvana and later Foo Fighters fame.
In the episode devoted to Austin, TX Dave was setting up to record in the original studio where they first broadcasted the Austin City Limits live music show back in the 1970s. Dave and his band were setting up to record in this storied studio space when a recording engineer asked “You guys don’t want any piano on this track do you?”
Grohl stops dead in his tracks: “Wait a minute – you have THE piano.”
“Yeah,” the guy says, leading them back into some junked up hallway.
“I think it’s back behind these bleachers.”
After a bit of searching they unearth an old baby grand under a mover’s quilt with a stack of pallets piled on top of it.
“Whoa – why is this piano buried back here” Grohl says,
“Ray Charles invited Jack to hit the road on this piano,
Fats Domino got his thrill on blueberry hill on this piano,
Jerry Lee Lewis played this piano and miraculously didn’t set it on fire…
Engineer mutters “Oh they use it for the pledge drive I think…maybe for some staff brown bag lunches…things like that.”
Grohl looks at the camera incredulously and says “Brown Bag Lunches?!? Archie Bunker’s chair is in the Smithsonian…and this piano is in the corner with junk piled on top of it. I’m shocked!”
It was interesting to watch Dave Grohl geek out over this piano – but what I was really witnessing was the utterly thrilling moment of discovery.
So it is with our story today.
AND CAN YOU IMAGINE IT – The discovery of a lifetime!
They found a Bible…in a Church – who’d a thunk it!
It’s almost comical how it plays out.
Israel appears to be in the middle of a Capital Campaign.
The King sends his Secretary to pay the construction workers, which means they’ve already done their feasibility study. They’ve already received pledges from their lead donors.
They’ve already had the meeting where they ask “Which carpet sample will most likely attract new members?”
And then the High Priest Hilkiah of all people says “Hey…get a load of this. I was cleaning out the storage closet and I found this…book.”
Shaphan turns it over “Good beach read? What’s it about?”
“Man I don’t know,” says Hilkiah “I just work here.”
Shaphan takes it back and tells the King that the Temple is really starting to shape up – they should be able to move back before the high holy days, so we won’t have to rent space from the Fraternal Elk Lodge after all….and oh yeah, Hilkiah found this book in there….”
“A book! In the Temple!” says the King, “why would there be a book in the Temple…that’s weird.”
Then Shaphan reads it aloud – and the King, upon hearing it, has this incredibly powerful reaction. This Book Changes Everything.
Thus began what is known as “Josiah’s Reform.” After this – nothing is the same…all because they re-discovered and re-read and re-membered this book that had been hiding in plain sight all along.
Scholar and real Bible nerds like to try and figure out just which part of the Hebrew Bible they rediscovered. Best guess is that it was part of Deuteronomy. But let’s be careful to note that the storyteller is less interested in WHAT Josiah read, and more interested in the effect that it had on him and the people. From here on out – this scroll completely altered the way they lived. Everything would be different.
In the end that is the purpose of reading Scripture – we return to the same stories, the same letters, the same poems…we read them over and over again so that it might shape how we live.
The past couple weeks we’ve talked up this small group ministry we’re starting this Fall. In addition to creating connection in a time defined by the word ‘distance,’ our other hope is that we can spend time with this book…re-discovering it, re-membering it, allowing it to shape who we are becoming.
It’s easy for the Bible to seem like some relic from a bygone era, full of peculiar rules and stories that are downright strange. And it is an odd book, but in my experience it has a way of suddenly becoming so very relevant.
I first learned this when I was a student here at UNC. I don’t remember why I thought it was a good idea at the time, but I decided one summer that I was going to read the entire New Testament. At first I thought it was tiresome revisting some of the same stories over and over as they repeat in the Gospels. But then I got to all of Paul’s letters and I was like “I’ll take those stories again please.”
I slogged through Revelation, scarcely understanding a lick of it. As the dog days of summer were wearing thin I stumbled across the finish line, snapped the Bible shut and then waited expectantly for the parade to begin.
But there was nothing. In the moment, it was quite the opposite of Josiah’s experience. Just a Bible with a little more wear on the spine…at least now it wouldn’t snap shut if I let it go. But that was it.
I think I shrugged and prepared to come back to campus for the Fall.
And then a number of months later I was at this youth retreat – I volunteered with the Presbytery’s Youth Council at the time and we had this little problem. There were just too many youth in our churches who wanted to be a part of that youth council. Imagine that.
It was a really stellar group of young people but the numbers got so high that we couldn’t occupy them all with the work we had at these retreats. I admit, at times it felt like we were making up jobs just to occupy folks.
Naturally, the question arised – should we start limiting the size and turn people away? Are we compromising the experience by accepting too many folks. We had one of those late night talks with only 50 people trying to participate – you can imagine how efficient that was going to be. I kept my mouth shut and just listened, absorbing what other people were feeling, seeing both sides of the issue.
Then somebody in that circle completely called me out. She said “Jarrett – you were on this youth council as a student when it was smaller. You’re helping now and understand the challenges…I would really like to hear your thoughts on this.”
“Uhhhhhhhh….wellllllllll…..hmmmmmmm” I started, and probably would have carried on like that. But then I remembered this odd little story in the Gospel of Luke. The disciple John says to Jesus “Master we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we forbid him to do it because he does not follow with us.” Jesus turns to John and says “Whoa, whoa – don’t stop him. Whoever is not against you is for you.”
It was a strange little story in this odd book, but suddenly I was much more clear about the question before us. Doesn’t mean I was right, but I was clear – No we shouldn’t limit the size…if somebody has an appetite to serve who am I to forbid them? Whoever is not against you must be for you. We just have to get more creative.
In a moment when I was asked to have an opinion about a difficult decision, Scripture rose up to meet me. If I hadn’t spent time with this book, I’d still be saying “Uhhhhhh….welllllllll…hmmmm”
That night I realized that reading Scripture may not have this immediate effect as it did for Josiah, but that book was working on me somewhere deep down inside…gently molding me and informing my decisions.
There is so much that is happening in the world right now.
We have decisions before us that are so much bigger than that youth council 20 some years ago.
I wonder what would happen to us, and to our community, if we rediscovered and remembered this book and allowed it to shape us?
I wonder what new possibilities it might open us up to?
Like a well-loved, cracked-spine Bible that can no longer slam shut when you let it go, it might open us up permanently to whatever God is doing in our midst. May it be so. Amen.