Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sermon Notes

The Battle Begins:  Joshua 1:1-9
Reflections by Megan Adams

Wow! We’ve covered a lot of territory in the last seven weeks! And now, after 40 years with Moses leading the (grumbling) people through the wilderness, his time has grown short. We see him pick the man he thinks can lead his people. He picks the man with great faith and trust in the Lord. He picks the man that knows God will be with them when they need to overcome the cities that are in their way. He picks the man that has shown strength and courage in the past – and is still standing with him.

He picks Joshua. Moses introduces Joshua as the new leader and says to Joshua, in front of all the people of Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” And then, Moses finally climbs the mountain to get a glimpse of the promise land… Only to find out, that because of the few times he lost trust in God – he will not get to actually enter the promise land. And here, he dies.

Now Joshua is left alone to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land. He’s to take Moses’ place. Can you imagine?! The last paragraph of last week’s chapter said, “Since then, no prophet in Israel has risen like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt – to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.”

Those are some big shoes to fill! Can you imagine being Joshua? I don’t know about you, but I would be trembling in my boots! (But remember the words of Moses… Be strong and be courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not despair… We’ll hear those again somewhere…)

Have you ever faced straight on an overwhelming challenge that just about scared you to death? If so, did you confront or retreat? This week, in “The Story” we find Israel facing an overwhelming challenge… After 600 years of waiting for God’s promise to Abraham to make him a great nation – it’s finally happened! And the people of Israel are ready to advance into the Promised Land. But there is one problem. And it’s a BIG problem. Literally! There are wicked people already living in the land and among those people are some literal giants.

The children of Israel are under a new leader, Joshua, and are back to the spot they camped 40 years earlier – before they made a colossal wrong turn. Do you remember? 40 years earlier, they had been at this same spot – able to see the Promised Land, Canaan. A group of spies had been sent to check things out – and while the land was flowing with milk and honey, as promised… There were giants in the land. The other spies said, “I don’t think so!” While Joshua and Caleb tried to convince the Israelites that with God on their side, they would have no problem up against the giants! But alas… The Israelites couldn’t be convinced. And God, dismayed at their lack of trust AGAIN, let them wander another 40 years in the desert – until all of the untrusting, grumbling generation died off.

And now? God tells Joshua and the people of Israel that it’s finally time for this generation to take the land. Take Canaan. And in this speech, Joshua is told 3 times to “be strong and courageous.” Because now is the time for courage!

Here’s where we start today: Joshua 1:1-9
“After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aid, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give them – to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates – all the Hittite country – to the Great Sea on the west. No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and be very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’”

So now Joshua is getting his marching orders directly from God. God gives Joshua a ludicrous plan – by our standards. After 40 years of wandering, God tells Joshua to: Cross the raging Jordan River with a million people. Once that’s done, set up camp and circumsize all the adult men. Once they’re feeling a little better, have them take the city of Jericho. But don’t do it with violence – just walk around the outside walls for several days, until you’re given the signal. Then? Make as much noise as you can! The city will be yours.

Joshua has to sell this plan to the people. Be strong and be courageous.

None of this makes sense if we look at it through the lens of the “lower story.” Remember – the lower story is the actual events that are taking place… Joshua’s life is part of the lower story. Taking an entire city by whooping and hollering is part of the lower story…

But what about the “Upper Story”? That part that is “God’s Story”? What is this teaching us about God’s nature? One of my favorite quotes in studying this chapter this week, was “In the lower story, the giants are bigger than the Israelites. In the upper story? God is bigger than the giants!”

We are learning, through the story of Joshua, that God is with us when we trust, believe, have faith – when we listen for God. Following God is full of ongoing battles – everyday. And unfortunately, this will always be part of our story… Our culture is one that is constantly pushing back against the values that God tells us to hold dear.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul – not easy in a world that emphasizes so many other things that control our destinies… Money. Success. Power.  Love your neighbor as yourself. Really? In a world where I come first? My needs, wants, desires, comfort? My neighbor can take care of themselves – right? I don’t have time for that…

The thing is, in our culture, following God first can be like a salmon swimming upstream – we can fight to survive and keep going, or we can give up and go with the flow… and eventually die. When we lose trust in God, when we lose faith , when we allow fear to control our choices… We don’t live in the light of God’s love. We forget what it is to shine and reflect God’s glory. We drown in grief and uncertainty. Life becomes something we wander through (much like the Israelites in the desert), without hope.

But this is not what God created us for! God is with us – in the darkest moments. The moments when we are most fearful and unsure of the future. God is there to guide us – we just need to do our part to be ready.  We need to be strong and courageous in our lower story lives! We need to know that God gives us the ability to be strong – when we lean on God.

The book of Joshua goes on to tell us how Joshua lived in obedience to God – how he was able to lead his people through battle after battle, winning city after city, by listening to God’s guidance and following God’s plan… The book gives us three ways to follow more closely in our lives, too. 1) Be people of the Book. 2) Pray. 3) Reflect God’s glory.

First: We need to be people of the Book! The Book, meaning The Bible. We’re coming together, reading The Story together to remember what it means to be people of the Book. We’re learning, talking, discussing, asking questions, sharing thoughts and ideas around these stories together – continuing to learn about God and God’s relationship to us.

A couple of weeks ago, we were reminded that the Book includes the Ten Commandments. We were reminded that these aren’t there to punish us or to take the fun out of life – but to be guidelines for a full and wondrous life with God and our neighbors. The Bible is there for us always – to read and memorize, to grow familiar with God’s relationship with us – so that, in times of fear and challenge, we are ready to continue to follow God’s guidelines for community. We are reminded, through scripture, how to live with grace and dignity – with one another and with God.

It’s easy when times get tough, when life is uncomfortable, when we don’t know where to turn next – to forget what it is that gives us life. But when we can remember how God came searching for Adam and Eve in the Garden – even after they messed up… how God gave Abraham and Sarah a baby even after they had given up… how Isaac was rescued from death when God provided another sacrifice… how Joseph’s life of grief and pain kept being redeemed again and again, and things that were intended for evil were always turned into good… how Moses became God’s most trusted man to lead God’s people out of harm, despite his insecurities… When we can remember and point to the stories where people (people like you and me) were hurting, scared, unsure, we can be assured that God was with them in those moments – and God is with me in my dark moments, too.

God told Joshua to “be strong and be courageous” 3 times. Oh, and by the way, “Do not be afraid!” We’ve heard that before, right? The phrase “do not be afraid” appears in the Bible more than 100 times! (You could say that’s a major Upper Story theme!) The thing is: God will not have his community characterized by fear – despite the fact that we will face many fearsome moments in our lives.

How do these fears affect the way we lead our lives? Are we afraid to try new things? Meet new people? Trust others? Are we scared to share our thoughts and feelings? Do we keep our money and time to ourselves – for fear there’s not enough to go around?

God promises us, “I will be with you.” And in these moments of fear, we are called to live distinct, wholesome lives that stand out from the norms of our culture. We are called to face the giants in our lives and reflect our trust in God. We are called to choose life over fear. To choose people over fear. To choose love over fear.

What overwhelming obstacles are present in your life today? What fears are holding you back? Where is it that things seem hopeless? What giants are presenting challenges? What would it take for you to be strong and be courageous in these places? How could God’s words “Do not be afraid” be allowed to sink in?

Be strong and be courageous. Be people of the Word. Pray. Reflect God’s glory through the life you lead. Do not let God’s community be characterized by fear – but stand together. Trust God. Trust each other. Lean on one another. Be a community that can tear down walls – by standing together with voices that spread hope.

Jericho was only one of many battles for Joshua. And in the end, he won them all – and Israelites were finally home. His trust in God, obedience to all God called him to do, his strength and courage in following through – against all kinds of obstacles – made Joshua the hero he’s still known as today.

For Joshua, living out his trust in God was what “stuck” for him. He knew the Book, he spoke to God, and he let his life reflect the glory of God. What is it about your faith that “sticks” with you? What is it about your relationship with God that you could not live without?

Before Moses died, he stood in front of the people – men, women, and children, and read the Book of the Law so all could hear it and know it – so they would have it written on their hearts again. Before Joshua died, he did the same.

On one hand, they were reminding the people of something they already knew. On the other, they were challenging the people to take their knowledge out of their heads and instill it in their hearts, their souls, wherever it would land… Let the words of faith take on a life of their own.

Reminders of how to love God and love neighbor are a daily part of our faith journey – and by living by these words, we find the ability to journey through life with strength and courage.

Today, as you ponder the life of Joshua… May you discover what it is about your own relationship with God that you cannot live without… And then, may you find the strength and courage to be that in this life.  Amen.

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