“The Bloody Book of Judges: A Love Story”
Rev. Tasha Blackburn
September 29, 2019
Pastor Dick Johnson called it “Forgotonia.” It was years ago, just after some terrible flooding in Illinois where we were living at the time. One county on the western edge of the state had been particularly hard hit. At a regional church meeting in the weeks following there were lots of questions about why aid had not reached the flood victims. That is when the Reverend Dick Johnson stood up and he said. “I live in that county. There are only 10,000 of us in the whole region. And the people there call themselves “Forgotonia.” Johnson went on to explain that they were an overlooked and disregarded place and that memory loss is what had led people to not care enough to care about them. He said to us: “I live in and serve the people of Forgotonia.”
Forgotonia: Dick Johnson is not the only person who lives there. I live there too. Except I am the one forgetting. Here are just a couple of painful examples from this past week. On Wednesday I represented our church at a meeting of Vera Lloyd Children’s Home in Monticello. While there I ate dinner with several of the 30 children who live there. I looked into their bright eyes and watched as they struggled to have proper table manners and polite conversation. I later learned the background of two specific children shared by fellow meeting members. Their stories made me sick to my stomach and made me openly weep.
Then I left the meeting, pressing the pledge envelope in my work bag, overwhelmed by all I had seen and heard. By the time I’d hit Conway, though, I was thinking about dinner instead; and errands I needed to run; and whether or not the living room couch could use new throw pillows. Forgotonia.
On Thursday, pledge form still in my bag where it sits even to this moment, on Thursday I received word that a high school friend had been killed in a car accident. She left behind 4 children. The cause: a driver who was texting. I was heartbroken and stunned; and outraged and convicted. But by Friday morning I was driving along Rogers when my phone went off and I found myself balancing it on the steering wheel so I could see its message. Forgotonia. I live there and I know I serve people who live there too. Each of us could share something similar, something we felt we would never lose sight of or lose a heart for and then, shockingly, we were able to walk away from it, ignore it, leave it in our work bag.
You could argue that these things are so weighty we have to forget them. Our hearts cannot handle the pain and so our minds find a way to save us; to offer us comfort. But, at its very core, it is a terrible loss of memory. But when we find a way to forget something, it makes it easier to find a way to not love it either. Because love and memory are linked. It may sound trite but what we are able to love, we will remember. And what we forget, we can never love.
The book of Judges is an often forgotten book of the Bible. It is ignored and passed over as we usually move from Moses and Joshua to Samuel and David, skipping all that lies in between. It is also disregarded because of its violence and uncomfortable episodes. But the book is a window into our world.
For the people of Judges live in Forgotonia. They have been told about the way God led their ancestors out of slavery. They have grown up knowing about how God has saved them in the past. But they have forgotten and, in their memory loss, they have stopped loving God as well. Or perhaps it’s the other way around: they don’t love God enough and so their memory of him has faded.
That is what is described here at the beginning of the book and what we will hear over and over again as its chapters unfold. “Then the Israelites abandoned the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt.” That’s what we read about their memory loss. Their abandonment leads to terrible consequences and a downward spiral. But then the Lord is so moved by their pain that he sends to them judges who will bring justice back to the land. The people remember for a while and then they forget again. As the passage puts it, “the people would relapse and behave even worse than before.” Try as they might, the people live in Forgotonia.
We can easily sympathize, can’t we? In the two examples I shared earlier, these were people I looked in the eyes, laughed with, embraced with a hug. And still, I could easily walk away from them and forget. How much more so can we do this with our Lord?
It reminds me of the image I heard offered on a marriage podcast called The Naked Marriage. The image was of a seating arrangement. Picture it: two armchairs set apart with a loveseat in between them. As it was described, in any committed love relationship, we can find ourselves all over this seating arrangement. The couple can each be sitting in their separate armchairs, doing fine individually perhaps but not focused on a common future or there for each other. It could be that one person is in the armchair and the other is on the loveseat, waiting for the armchair person to come and join them so that they can support one another and make their way together and not apart. Of course, things work best when both parts of the couple can get on the love seat at the same time.
Can you imagine the consequences of sitting, longterm, in the armchair? Of striking out alone with no regard to the love seat commitments, forgetful of any promises made or received? Of course you can. As we dive into this book we will see lots of armchair moments, just as we see them in our lives as well. But, in the whole array of seating options, as we move from seat to seat, God only sits in one seat. God only sits in the love seat.
Lots of times we think of the Bible as a long set of rules. But that is not, primarily, what the Bible is. Or we think of the Bible as a history of heroes. But that is not what the Bible is either. At its core, the Bible is a romance. It is a love story between God and us. And in this love story God is always sitting on the love seat, waiting for us to remember him again.
The chapters of this romance include Adam and Eve who forsake their Creator and must leave Paradise but, on their way out, God is sewing them a set of clothes. There is the chapter where God sends a frightened Moses to get his people out of the pain of slavery. And the one where God raises up judges to lead the people even though they have abandoned him. And when God sends prophets to both chastise and cheer the people in exile. And when God sent his only Son even though the world would not know him and would disregard and disdain him. It is God who gave his Holy Spirit to comfort and sustain, even as his Church struggled and bickered among itself. It is God who calls upon men and women even today to teach and guide us on the narrow path, even though it is harder and even though they will often be ignored.
Over and over again, God has done this. Over and over and over again, God continues to do this. Sitting on the loveseat waiting for his love to join him there. I said that I live in Forgotonia. That we all live there. But I don’t. We don’t. God does. God is the one who is forgotten over and over again. Perhaps it is because our memory is terrible that our love for him fades. Or perhaps our love for him is not strong enough to hold fast our memory. Whatever the reason is for our armchair living, God is the one who gets forgotten and God is the one who shows us time and again that he never forgets.
You know the promise and the best definition we have for our Lord is this: “God is love.” God is love; and that means his memory holds. He does not, he can not, forget you. He is calling you out of your forgetfulness and hoping you will join him on the love seat. To show his love he will sew you clothes. He will send you a judge. God will set you free from slavery. God will send you his Son. God will sustain you and lead you; chastise and comfort you. God will do all of these and more for you. But the one thing God will never do is forget you.
For God is love. It is who he is. It is the love story we join that is told in the book of Judges. Look for it and you will see. It is the love story told throughout the scriptures. Look for it and you will see. It is the love story of your life. Look for it and you will see. God is love. It is where he sits. And he has left room for you there too. Amen.