Nov. 24, 2019 // Narr 2.12 // Rev. Christina G. Kukuk //First Congregational UCC, Ashland, OR //
“Josiah and the Lost Words” //
(II Kings 22:1-20);II Kings 23:1-3; “Let’s remake the world with words” by Gregory Orr

Intro

A little over a decade ago, when a new edition of a popular
children’s dictionary[1]
hit store and library shelves, some sharp readers noticed some things were
missing. About 40 common words were missing. This happens all the time, and there
were new ones in there, of course, words like attachment and blog and
voice-mail and broadband. But gone were words like acorn, adder, bluebell,
dandelion, fern, heron, kingfisher, newt, otter,
and willow. Apparently they were no longer being used enough by children
to be included in the Oxford Junior Dictionary. And their absence sparked some grown
up reflection on a growing gulf between childhood and the natural world. These
“lost words” also inspired poet Robert Macfarlane and artist Jackie Morris to
make a “spell book” of acrostic poems and magnificent illuminations they hoped
would “summon these words again into the voices, stories, and dreams of
children and adults alike…”[2] They
called it a “book of spells” in the sense that remembering and using the lost words
calls the meanings themselves into being, gives them life again. Some of the
first to become affected by their conjuring were a group of incredible
musicians who released an accompanying album called Spell Songs earlier this year. I heard its closing blessing this
week and started to weep. (And I was not alone. Alyssa Cavin, who shared it
with me, and had at least heard it before, also teared up.) It captured our longing that our children
find their way home on this planet, that all creatures on this planet might be
at home, and that our spiritual community be a place where we can help one
another find our way.
[Pause]

I.

Today’s scripture story is a story of lost words. Following decades of terrible political
leadership – a series of royals who think nothing of sacrificing their own
children – a bedraggled remnant of Judah remodeling their destroyed temple in
Jerusalem discovers amidst the rubble and the ruin a scroll… of lost words.

King Josiah was only eight years old when he began to reign, and for 18 years
he has been trying to fix the mess left by his father and grandfather. That means
he is not yet 30 the day a messenger returns from the temple rebuilding project
with a surprise: They’ve found a book. A book that was hidden. It appears to be
some portion of the book of Deuteronomy,[3]
the Torah, (which though anglicized to “God’s law,” is more truly rendered “instruction”
or “teaching.”) These words would include some things strange to our
contemporary ears, a mixed bag. But among the instructions would have been
passages about being set free from slavery, about loving God with heart, mind,
and soul, about forgiving debts after seven years, about not sacrificing children
to manipulate gods, about how to respect the life of animals which produce meat,
about cities of refuge…. all pieces of Israel and Judah’s identity. The bitter
irony is that young Josiah apparently has never heard these words, his people’s
story even though he has been tapped to lead them. As the messenger begins to
read it aloud, the young leader reacts a little like Alyssa and I did on
Thursday. Emotionally. He tears his clothes. Maybe because the words spoke of a
time before rulers so corrupted the faith story that he had only ever heard it
used to justify violence. Maybe because he and his contemporaries had never
actually heard the words of the story. Maybe because the words themselves were
a spell of sorts, making real again a holy relationship between the people and
the God of Moses and Miriam – the God of the fire and the water – the God-Who-Is. “I will be your God and you
will be my people.” In their weary, disheveled
state, these lost words call the people home.
(Pause)

II.

One way
of understanding the spiritual season of Advent, which begins next week, is the
cry of the exile for home
.[4]
The prophets of Advent call out to a people in exile, reminding them of who God
is and has been as the warring world closes in all around. The prophets of
Advent translate anew God’s promises of liberation and restoration and
salvation. The prophets of Advent challenge the people not to settle for the
values of Babylon. “Every Advent we are invited to get inside these ancient
people, to hear their cries,” Joyce Rupp writes. “Their longing for home
reminds us of our own inner places of exile, which also cry for a place of
inner peace.”[5] Already
when Rupp wrote in the early 1990s, the number of people exiled from Central
America alone equaled the population of Norway. Today, we know Somalians and
Syrians, the Kurds and the Rohingya, among others, are displaced.

Our exiles can also be spiritual or
psychological or physical separations, or some combination of all of the above.
In fact, the reason Alyssa and I got together this week was to brainstorm how
to support the families of this church find some spiritual center in this
hectic season leading to Christmas. We have to keep it simple, by necessity. We
share a longing with many other families this year to recover in this Advent
season some of the goodness in both light and darkness and to return to the
cycles of nature and the natural world, to repair the separations that cause
some of the deepest pain. All Creation Waits. And that’s why we
found The Lost Words and the songs about them spoke so powerfully.
(Pause)

III.

Here is The Lost Words Blessing, inspired, you may
recognize, by Scottish Gaelic spirituality:

“The Lost Words Blessing”[6]

Enter the wild with care, my love

And speak the things you see

Let new names take and root and thrive and grow

And even as you travel far from heather, crag and river

May you like the little fisher, set the stream alight with
glitter

May you enter now as otter without falter into water

Look to the sky with care, my love

And speak the things you see

Let new names take and root and thrive and grow

And even as you journey on past dying stars exploding

Like the gilded one in flight, leave your little gifts of
light

And in the dead of night my darling, find the gleaming eye
of starling

Like the little aviator, sing your heart to all dark matter

Walk through the world with care, my love

And sing the things you see

…And in city and in forest, let the larks become your chorus

And when every hope is gone, let the raven call you home

(Pause)

IV.

As he struggles to find life – not only for himself, but for
his people – the young leader Josiah hears for the first time lost words that
speak to him of a relationship with the Creator, the Liberator, the Restorer.
So, he calls the people to gather round. They re-draw the circle….

Concl.

Words.
Just words.
(And these made more powerful in song.) Even just words can remake the world…
and our relationships in it.
If we are open to letting them change us (the
sign of tears or torn clothes), the words can make our true story shine again. For
this reason perhaps John’s gospel begins not with a childbirth story, but “In
the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God… the
Word became Flesh and lived among us full of grace and truth… and we have seen
God’s glory.” Or, as in the poetry of Gregory Orr, the Word helps us see both
creation and ourselves in our “robes of original light.” Lost words can help us
see the way  “once we gazed at the
beloved / Who was gazing at us.”

In this
scattering, spinning, spiraling chaos of a world, over these next weeks, may
prophets call a scattered people toward home.

Amen.

[Use Joyce Rupp Closing prayer, page 163, for Prayers of the
People…]

God of exiles, keep calling us home. You know the yearnings
of our hearts. You also know how easily we can lose our way. May this Advent
season be a time of coming home to the best of who we are. May our personal
homecomings influence all the earth. We walk this day with hopeful hearts,
believing that your justice and compassion will bring comfort and freedom to
all who are in exile. It is trusting in that promise, we pray with Jesus….

To place
our story in some context this morning…

Between the time of that holy troublemaker Elijah, the
prophet from two weeks ago, and today:  Samaria,
capital of the northern kingdom (ancient Israel) has fallen to Assyria about
722 BCE. This northern kingdom ceases to exist, its people go into exile and
disappear as an identity group. (That’s the basis for the myth of the lost
tribes of Israel.) Assyria tries to do the same in the south, besieging
Jerusalem. But Jerusalem is not conquered and the southern kingdom, Judah,
lasts a while longer. While surrounding geopolitical power dynamics shift, the
people in the South endure some terrible rulers, until about 640 BCE when king
Josiah tries to repair the Temple and initiates a religious reformation. In the
previous chapter, a scroll has been recovered from the temple, and brought to
Josiah where he hears, for the first time, it seems, the words of the covenant.


[1]
Oxford Junior Dictionary, published 2007, used widely in primary schools,
especially in the U.K. and North America.

[2] The Lost Words, by Robert Macfarlane and
Jackie Morris.

[3]
Widely believed to be the core chapters of Deuteronomy, chapters 12-26, which
most closely resemble in vocabulary and content the priorities King Josiah has
for reform.

[4] Joyce
Rupp, May I Have this Dance? (Notre
Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 1992).

[5]
Rupp, p. 157.

[6] The Lost Words: Spell Songs, album
released July 2019.