Gotta Cross the River One Day
Joshua 3:1-17 Early in the morning Joshua rose and set out from Shittim with all the Israelites, and they came to the Jordan. They camped there before crossing over. At the end of three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people, "When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God being carried by the levitical 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. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, a distance of about two thousand cubits; do not come any nearer to it." Then Joshua said to the people, "Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you."
To the priests Joshua said, "Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass on in front of the people." So they took up the ark of the covenant and went in front of the people. The LORD said to Joshua, "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, 'When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'"
Joshua then said to the Israelites, "Draw near and hear the words of the LORD your God." Joshua said, "By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan.
So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap." When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people.
Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.
Direct Biblical quotations in this site are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The people of Israel stood outside the Promised Land
They didn't know the way they were going, they had not been that way before.
They had to trust God to take them into the New Land, to part the waters for them. They could not cross the spring floods themselves.
And once they had crossed over there would be no going back for the waters were closed again.
They could trust God that they would be led into a new land, which would be the promised land, or they could play it safe and stay where they were.
If they stayed where they were, then they would remain in the wilderness, with the slavery of Egypt always at their backs. And the promised land would be cut off from them.
But to enter the Promised Land they had to trust, had to enter the swollen spring river bearing the nation's most treasured possession, the Ark of the Covenant, risking losing everything to receive the promise. They had to risk the possession which was their most treasured sign of God's presence and blessing.
It reminds me of a song by Eric Bogle called Change in the Weather
Like a river my life hurries by
If I jump in perhaps I might drown
But if I don't then my spirit could die
Before that change in the weather comes round.
We are in a situation like this in our parish.
We are standing at a river
The old way of church has become an Egypt for us. Do you remember how Egypt was the place of salvation for Jacob and his family during the famine, but then after many years became a place of slavery?
Is this not what has happened to our old way of being church? The churches to which we have come each week have been the place of our salvation. But the way we do church no longer works. We cannot afford to pay for our three ministers, and barely for two. Today's young people do not want church like we do it. It simply does not work for them.
Our many expenses and properties are beginning to enslave us and become a burden rather than being the houses of our salvation, and the nourishing homes of our life as a church.
(And the way we live as ministers and elders no longer works. Ministers can not keep up with the work. Elders and ministers alike, all over the church, are disillusioned and disempowered.)
We are beginning to feel like we are in a wilderness, we do not see how we can keep going. We are lost. If only we could go back to the way things were.
We would like someone to rise up among us and to say to us: Here is the way. Do this, Do that, and your church will thrive and your people will grow strong and many will come.
I do not think there is such a person who will come to us. One of the fearful things of this age in which we live is that no one knows what the new church will be like.
There are some who seek to build large churches with lots of people and razzmatazz and extravagant promises about what God will do; but the ones I have heard compromise the gospel. They order you what to do. They tell you what to believe. They make a slavery of the gospel. They sound like the heresies of old dressed in new clothes.
They often become a new Pharisaism. Remember that Jesus said: The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.
They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.
He also said: The greatest among you will be your servant, talking again of the compassion and gentleness the old translations call mercy.
Yet in all the confusion we do have among us some Joshuas. We have among us people who are calling us to take a new way. They are calling us to �enter the river.� There are radical ideas for the joining of congregations together. There are other ideas for the sale of properties and rebuilding on a new site. Other people have made suggestions for new ways of employing ministers, and for caring for each other.
These people do not know, and I do not know, what will come. We only know that we are being called to enter into the river of change. We are being called to a radical new way. We are being called to cross over, risking everything on a new venture, from which there will be no turning back.
We also know that to stay here, on this side of the river, as we are, is to invite death. There is no future here. This way of being church is finished. It will linger on, but it does not have a future. Churches and parishes like us are fading away and closing down all over the country. God is calling us to something new.
God's promise is that the waters will part for us. There will be a way. and God�s promise is for a new church a new way. It has always been so. Ever since the time of Christ we have been called to cross the swollen rivers of new circumstance. And it has been hard and costly. Some have gone, some have stayed behind and been lost.
But we... we are only here because our forbears in the faith crossed a river flowing full with doubt and fear, and flooded with new and unpleasant change.
Will we cross over for the sake of the people who are to come?
Jesus says he will never leave us or forsake us. He will remain with us here, always. But if we wish to go into what is new and is the promised land of the future, we must cross over, leaving this way behind. Amen.
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