Today we hear another important moment is the story of God’s people… crossing the River Jordan into the Promised Land.
Last Sunday we heard the end of Moses’ part in the sacred story of God’s people with his death on Mount Nebo, overlooking the Promised Land. It was a bittersweet ending to his amazing life as a servant of God… as one of THE servants of God… as his eulogy at the end of Deuteronomy says: “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.” (34:10-12) Moses was an undeniably extraordinary character, unequaled in all Israel as mighty prophet. There is something tragic about a story that has such a leader dying before actually reaching his destination – the Promised Land. And yet it is also hopeful because even though Moses didn’t live to see it, the life of the community of faith, the people of God, goes on to enter another phase, another season. Before he died, Moses laid hands on his assistant Joshua to pass the torch who would continue Moses’ work.
With Moses gone, things have changed. But the most important things haven’t changed. God’s promise to bring us into a new land, a land flowing with milk and honey, remains. And more… the time for its fulfillment is at hand. We will receive what was promised to Moses and our ancestors. And more… As the Book of Joshua opens, God assures Joshua: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” God then goes on with instructions about what is most important: “Be strong and courageous;” God says, “for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’” (Joshua 1:6-9)
And now today, just 2 chapters later, it is time for God’s people to cross the River Jordan and step into the Promised Land. It is a story that closely connects to the story of escape from Egypt and yet it does not replicate it. Leaving Egypt meant going through water. Entering the Promised Land also means going through water. Both experiences involve a miracle such that the people cross on dry land but the methodology of the miracle changes. As they were leaving Egypt, God instructed Moses to lift his staff and stretch out his hand over the sea to divide it. (14:16) To enter the Promised Land, God instructs Joshua to command the priests who carry the ark of the covenant to get their feet wet at the edge of the Jordan. Notice how things have changed. Last time all it took was Moses’ faithfulness and the waters obeyed. But with Joshua’s leadership, it took the faithfulness of a number of others. Priests had to carry the ark of the covenant to the edge of the water and only when their feet were in the flowing water did the miracle come. The water stopped and as long as the ark remained in the middle of the Jordan, the people crossed over on dry ground.
Both actions took trust and boldness. Both showed that God was with them. Both were miracles. And both lead to huge changes in the life of the community. Away from slavery into the difficulties of the wilderness. And now away from the challenges of the wilderness, that had nevertheless become familiar as “the way it is,” and into the promise of a new life in new land, with all the joy and struggle that would come with it. I wonder if they made the journey across the river bed with more excitement or more trepidation? I wonder if they walked across the river bed with sadness that they were leaving behind dear friends and their leader Moses, who would remain in the wilderness forever, or if their joy and hope overshadowed all else?
Yesterday morning we engaged in a conversation about our journey as the parish of St. Andrew’s. We began by reflecting and sharing about some of our most uplifting and meaningful experiences at St. Andrew’s. With those brief stories swirling about us, we made a beginning at teasing out some of our core values – those things that matter most. Those are the things we carry with us in our ark of the covenant. We spent the second part of our morning talking about the process of transformation. Don introduced us to a 4-part model to help us get beyond talking about “change” and instead begin to understand the broader process involved in moving from one place to another. The four elements are:
strategy / change / transition / communication
head / body / heart / soul / circulation
intention / action / experience / engagement
thinking / doing / being (feeling) / connecting
The overall intent with which we are working is: “To develop a truly multi-generational community of Christian disciples.” This is the vision… the big-picture towards which we’re moving. Tomorrow night and next Monday are good opportunities to learn more about the current theology / theory undergirding this vision and direction. This goal of developing a truly multi-generational community of Christian disciples has led us various changes – actions – (like…) as steps along the way. The next 2 elements: transition and engagement… are what we need to consider more clearly. The various experiences of discomfort and excitement, of hope and loss… in response to the changes, are not to be feared but are simply part of the process that we need to acknowledge and address. Our conversation yesterday was one step in the final element of communication and engagement. How lovely and simple it would be if we could simply move from one element to the next in a calm, linear fashion. But we humans are simply not built that way. And so as we journey together, we will continue to address all of these elements. This may mean digging in to further explore various aspects of the vision and our various experiences of it.
The good news in all this is that our sacred story is full of transformation… it is full of intent… God’s strategy to bring fullness of life to all creation. Our sacred story is full of change… from creation to the family of Abraham to enslaved people in Egypt to a new community in the Promised Land to a nation under David… and on and on. The shape of God’s plan of salvation has changed many times over the millennia, but the overall intent, the desire for us to live our lives to their fullest has remained the same. Our sacred story documents the transitions, the experiences of the people of God at every stage… the trials and tribulations, the complaining and doubt, the joy and hope, the wonder at the miraculous work of God all along the way. And finally, our sacred story calls us not only to read it as though it were only facts about an earlier time, but to engage with it… to find ourselves in the story and to communicate it beyond our own selves… beyond our own lives and spirits to reach out for the transformation of the world.
More, the good news is that through every stage of our lives, both as individuals and together, God goes with us, wherever we go. As God promised Joshua, God promises us that God will not fail us or forsake us. Our job, our part, is to be strong and courageous, to act in accordance with what Moses taught and commanded and what Jesus showed us. God will lead us through whatever is in our path and though the methodology of the miracle may change from earlier times, God’s promise of full and abundant life remains. That new life, that we can hardly yet imagine, is there for us on the other side of the water… so let’s cross over and discover it together.