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Following trails left by the saints, who followed trails left by Jesus

by davesandel on August 14th, 2021

Saturday, August 14, 2021                             (today’s lectionary)

Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr

Following trails left by the saints, who followed trails left by Jesus

Apparently, not everyone was happy.

Joshua gathered all the tribes together and said, “Fear the Lord and serve completely and sincerely. Cast out the gods your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt. If it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve. As for me and my household, we will serve Yahweh.”

As father to his people, Joshua held them together with his tough love. Make up your mind. Go with me, or go away.

And the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other Gods. He protected us, all along our entire journey. Here we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

Joshua called them out. He questioned their integrity, their courage, their perseverance.

“You may not be able to serve Yahweh, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God who will not forgive your transgressions. If you forsake the Lord and serve strange gods, he will do evil to you and destroy you.”

Joshua did not name these strange gods, except for the idols of the Amorites and others. He did not name money or power or fame. He did not name lust or avarice. Perhaps it was good that he did not.

The people answered, “Still, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua said, “You are your own witnesses.” They replied, “We are indeed!”

Joshua was, to say the least, skeptical. But hopeful, right? And assuming the best.

Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, which he recorded in the book of the law of God. And he took a large stone, set it up there under the oak tree as a witness, and dismissed the people.

Stephen F. Austin did much the same thing with Indian chieftains under what is now known as the Treaty Oak near downtown Austin. A few years ago an unhappy Home Depot employee did his best to poison the tree. It didn’t quite die, and it is gradually regaining strength.

After these events, Joshua, son of Nun, servant of the Lord, died at the age of a hundred and ten.

As it does, push comes to shove at some point in all our lives. The promises made easily on a clear, cool sunny day in the desert turn to dust, or to poison, or to stomach-turning betrayals. That’s why today’s memorial to Maximilian Kolbe is perfect. His national shrine is at Marytown in Libertyville, Illinois, where I spent twenty or so weekends since 2011 making retreats with my Transforming Community and Ruth Haley Barton. Push came to shove in Maximilian’s life, and he kept keeping his promise.

Keep me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I bless the Lord who counsels me, even in the darkness. With him at my right hand, I shall not be disturbed. You are my inheritance, O Lord.

Father Kolbe, imprisoned at Auschwitz in 1941, offered himself as a substitute for another Polish prisoner who had been arbitrarily and cruelly picked for execution. Father Kolbe died today, on August 14, and his fellow prisoner lived. In time he returned to his family and carried the story of this rescue to the world over the next 30 years. “Through the Immaculata (Mary) to Jesus” was Kolbe’s lifelong motto, and his body was cremated on the next day, which happens to be the feast day of the Assumption of Mary.

I am glad to know Maximilian Kolbe’s story of kept promises. Knowing something of the joys and sorrows of his journey, I’m more able to stay strong on the paths of my own.

Children were brought to Jesus that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them, but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” After he placed his hands on them, Jesus went away.

(Joshua 24, Psalm 16, Matthew 11, Matthew 19)

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