Joshua 3:1-17, Matthew 22:34-40
This story from the book of Joshua should feel a little like déjà vu. We’ve seen this story before. Not too long ago we talked about Moses parting the Red Sea. For us the stories of the Red Sea and Crossing Jordan are being discussed within a few weeks of each other. For the ones living these stories, an entire generation has passed. Indeed, most if not all of the ones venturing to cross the Jordan River were not around for the crossing of the Red Sea and vice versa. The previous generation had passed on. The stories of that day remained and were told and retold to their children, but there is something different about experiencing the power of God first hand. Crossing Jordan required stepping out of a comfort zone and following God. For us, perhaps this story represents our own venture into our local and worldwide mission field.
Normally, during the dry season (note that Palestine had 2 seasons – a wet season and a dry season), the Jordan River was only about 100 feet wide. You may have expected that this event occurred during the wet season which is true. The children of Israel faced the Jordan challenge in the height of the wet, spring season. As they approached the bank of the river, they are told to camp for 3 days in order to prepare for the crossing.
Here is where we start to see some differences between the two stories. When Moses parted the Red Sea, the Israelites were fleeing from Egypt. There was very little time of preparation. Throughout the night God separated the waters of the Red Sea while keeping the Egyptians in darkness. The whole company was on the run, hence the time for prayer and contemplation was minimal.
With the Crossing Jordan story, things are a little different. The children of Israel were given a time of preparation; a time for meditation and prayer; a time to discern their call to claim the promise land. All their experiences of slavery in Egypt were second hand. They were not around to know what the life of a captive truly was. God was allowing this group of people to exercise their free will. Would they choose to follow God and gain a level of peace and contentment as children of God or would they cling to their idols of other gods? For 3 days they were allowed to do some serious soul-searching to decide if they would launch into unknown territory.
I like the part of the story that I will read again for you from Joshua 3 verses 3 and 4. “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levite priests, then you shall set out from your place. Follow it, so that you may know the way you should go, for you have not passed this way before.” The children of Israel had a tangible guide – the Ark of the Covenant. They were to follow the leading of God into the unknown.
I think we have often felt we too were being asked to follow God into the unknown. For me it was the road to the pulpit. I shared with you my calling and how I wrestled with God for a full week after my own personal road to Damascus experience. In looking back I can appreciate the fact that God allowed me to make my own choice. God gave us free will. Sometimes we make wrong choices, but God continues to walk with us and lift us up when we do. I could have chosen to walk away from God’s calling. Instead, I chose a leap of faith.
So with that in mind, I would like to share a scene from a movie that’s been around a while but is probably familiar to most of you. Don’t worry – the scene is appropriate for all ages! The movie is from the Indiana Jones series, “The Last Crusade.” In the movie, the main character has to face 3 challenges in order to obtain the Holy Grail. This is the part where he meets the third challenge. [play movie clip]
A leap of faith – sometimes we have to take that leap and trust God to be with us. We are launching into new areas of mission and outreach here at Mayo UMC. I’m sure at times that will feel like a leap of faith. We spent time yesterday at SERRV working to help with fair trade around the globe as we marked and inspected items from artisans in third world countries. We may never know the impact of volunteering a few hours of our time will have. But we stepped out in faith to serve a greater community. We want to share God’s love with others and I believe we can do in many ways. We are getting ready to serve a dinner for the local firefighters, many of whom donate their time and effort to help others in need. This is new territory for us together. We have no idea how we will be received. We just want to send a thank you message to a group of volunteers in our community. It’s a leap of faith – God is sending us and we will go. Every connection we have with the community is an opportunity for us to love God and love our neighbor.
Today is a special day in the life of the Christian church in general and for us as this body of Christ. The Christian church celebrates today as Reformation Sunday, pointing to a specific event in our history. On October 31, 1517, a Catholic priest named Martin Luther posted what became known as his 95 Theses, indicating his questioning of church practice to charge the poor what was known as ‘indulgences’ in order to ‘forgive’ the sins of dead relatives. Luther noted this basically as gouging the poor and reminded the church that only God could forgive sin. [Source: Wikipedia.com] This brave act cost Luther everything as he we dismissed from the Catholic Church, yet it sparked a revolution that initiated the Protestant church from which we stem as United Methodists. Stepping out in faith seems to go hand-in-hand with loving God and loving our neighbor. It is not always easy to go against the grain.
So the children of Israel had to choose. Would they follow God into the unknown and take that leap of faith? The rest of the story seems pretty familiar although no less miraculous. The priests took the Ark of the Covenant into the Jordan and the water rolled back on both sides. The children of Israel did not trudge through muck and mire – they walked across the mile-long stretch on dry ground to step onto the promise land.
As the people of Mayo, we too must choose. Will we reaffirm our belief in almighty God, who has already shown us great victories here in this community, or will we choose to turn away from God’s calling? Today I invite you to re-dedicate yourselves to God. We have spent the last few weeks looking at stewardship, with the realization that we are merely asset managers for God. I invite each of us to spend time in prayer this week. As we pray, listen for God’s calling. What is God leading you to do here in this community? What is God calling you to do with this phase of your life? What is God revealing to you as your path to follow?
During this time of prayer I will be praying over the pledge cards that have been presented so far. If you would like to bring yours forward today that’s ok. I won’t be praying for a miracle of loaves and fishes! I want to pray for each of you who have so faithfully pledges a portion of your finances to enhance God’s work in this church. I want to pray for the ministries that will ultimately benefit by your generosity. I want to pray for the lives that will be changed for Jesus Christ as together we become Disciple Makers reaching and encouraging the next generation of believers, as noted in our vision statement.
This just seems to be a natural segue into a time of prayer together. If you would like to come forward the altar is always open for prayer. You each have a bulletin in front of you that mentions a lot of the current and future ministries, a list of names of those in need of prayer, and a sacred space in which to talk freely with God. I encourage you to do so as we bring our hearts and souls before God, dedicating ourselves to the one who gave all for us. Know that we serve an awesome God that can find a way when there is no way. Let us take that leap of faith while Crossing Jordan into the promise land. Love God and love your neighbor. Amen.