Monday, November 6, 2017

I'm Feeling A Little Grateful-ish - Joshua 3-4

This is a sermon that was preached on Sunday, November 5, 2017 at United Presbyterian Church, Sterling Ks.  Listen to the audio here.

Read Joshua 3-4 here.


“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”
~ Attributed to Charles E. “Chuck” Dederich, Sr., (1913–1997) ~[2]

Say this with me: Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
 . . .Unless you live on the other side of the international date line, in which case yesterday was the first day of the rest of your life.[3]
No, just kidding.  Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  You really can’t argue with that.

You might prefer the Bible version of this – Psalm 118:
“This is the day that the Lord has made
We will rejoice and be glad in it.”
~ Psalm 118:24, The Holy Bible ~

Very similar.  Both true. But let’s go back to the other one:
“Today is the first day
of the rest of your life.”
…because today we’re talking about Joshua and the major transition happening for the people of Israel in our scripture readings, and this statement is so fitting for their situation.  God had sent Moses to rescue them from slavery in Egypt.  They spent 40 years in the desert headed for the land that God had promised to their ancestors, and now all that separates them from that land is the Jordan River.  As they cross the Jordan, they are leaving wilderness wandering behind, and they are beginning a new season in their lives, a new chapter in their history, with a new leader, Joshua, the man that Moses anointed for leadership before he died.

There is so much going on here – so many parallels to other parts of the Bible* and so much symbolism that has become so engrained in our culture that we may hardly even notice it.  But God wanted to make sure they always remember what’s happening here, so he gives Joshua some very specific instructions, and that’s what we’re going to focus on this morning.

First he tells them to prepare themselves.  He says:
“Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” --Joshua 3:5
Joshua was reminding them that this is not just a sight-seeing excursion.  They are following God.  They need to be prepared to experience what God is going to do.
The Holy Spirit is at work in us, preparing us, and we tap into that preparation, we participate with prayer, praise, confession.  We demonstrate that together in worship:
  • By asking God to prepare our hearts as we come to church and into the sanctuary
  • We begin with praise to renew our focus and get our hearts and minds turned toward God
  • We confess our sins, getting rid of the things that would get in the way of hearing and seeing God.
  • We come expecting to see and hear God, as Joshua has told Israel to be – expectant that God will do wonders among us.

The Israelites had been camped there by the Jordan for weeks.  Now they were finally moving forward and they needed to be ready.

Today, on this first day of the rest of your life, what will you do to prepare?  How will you make sure you are ready to see and hear God at work in your life and in the lives of those around you?

2. Then Joshua tells them how to know that God is there. Joshua says…
“By this you shall know that among you is the living God . . .  the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. . .  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.” –Joshua 3:10-13
The Ark of the Covenant was the sacred box that was the sign of God’s presence with them.  When they were camped, it was kept in the tabernacle behind a special curtain.  When they were travelling, only certain priests were allowed to carry it, and they never touched it.  They carried it on long poles.

When the toes of those priests carrying the ark got to the edge of the river, the water stopped flowing, so that Israel could cross the river on dry land.  This might sound familiar.  This is just like what happened back at the beginning of their journey, when they first left Egypt and were standing on the edge of the Red Sea.  Then Moses raised his staff and God made a strong wind blow the waters back so they could cross. 

It happens a little differently here – the Ark instead of the staff – but still the waters part and make it clear that God is there working, just as he was at the beginning.

3. And then Joshua tells them to mark this for the future.

A common way in the Bible to mark when God does something is with stones.   Joshua tells the people to choose a man from each tribe – 12 men to each pick up a stone from the riverbed.  These weren’t small stones – they had to carry them on their shoulders.  They carried them to their new camp and used them to build a monument, so they would always remember what had happened that day and how God had worked a miracle in bringing them into their new home, in bringing them across the river on dry land, in giving them a new start.

We are also in transition and making a new start, and today we will also mark the day with stones.  We are:
o   finishing a series on growing in gratitude
o   getting used to a new pastor
o   preparing for the coming year by getting ready to make our pledges next week
o   just getting started on the new work God for us as a church
No matter what is going on in our lives, every day is an opportunity to start fresh with God.

Today is the first day of the rest of our lives.

We too need to prepare for the transition, recognize God’s presence in the midst of it, and mark the transition to remember what God is doing among us.

Our series on growing in gratitude has been an important part of our preparation.  As we practice gratitude, we are also practicing seeing what God is doing, and hearing what God is teaching us.  By practicing gratitude daily, we are preparing ourselves each day to see and hear and follow God.

Together, let’s decide today to make this a forever practice, something we will commit to doing daily from now on. 

I’ll be honest, there are days when I am annoyed with myself for having committed to practicing thankfulness, because I really don’t want to.  I want to stay in my grumpiness a bit, but it’s a commitment God calls us all to make, and so I do it anyway. (Remember our theme verse: 1 Thess 5:18 and today’s Psalm 107)

The Bible tells us to be thankful, so I do it, and so many days this is a game changer for me.  I sometimes don’t even notice until the end of the day that although I started out grumpy,  I did my thankfulness practice, and ended up having a better day.
We are always in transition in some way, and our thankfulness needs to include what Moses and Joshua demonstrate in leading Israel through their transition:
  • Thanks to God for what’s happened in the past – thanks for bringing us to this moment.
  • Thanks to God for right now – thanks for God’s presence
  • Thanks to God for the future – thanks for whatever God has in store for us

We need to remember to be thankful in all our transitions for whatever God is doing. 

Alex Haley, the author of "Roots," had an unusual picture hanging on his office wall. It was a picture of a turtle on top of a fence post. When asked, "Why is that there?" Alex Haley answered, "Every time I write something significant, every time I read my words & think that they are wonderful, & begin to feel proud of myself, I look at the turtle on top of the fence post & remember that he didn’t get there on his own. He had help." That is the basis of thankfulness - to remember that we got here with the help of God, & that He is the provider of every blessing we have.[4]

Today is the first day of the rest of your life.  We’re marking this day with stones as well.  Israel used the stones to remember and to teach their children about what God had done.  They gave thanks for the past and prepared for the future. 

 Throughout the Bible, people use stones to mark for themselves that God has done something significant.  The most significant is Jesus’ death and resurrection, and we refer to him as the rock on which we stand.  Jesus is our rock, and because through our faith in Jesus he lives in us, we too become rocks, living stones.

The Bible says in 1 Peter that we are “like living stones, … being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”   –1 Peter 2:4-5

We are living stones.  And here’s something really cool.  Did you know there are stones that grow?  There’s a plant that looks just like a rock

. . .until it blooms and a flower grows up out of the middle of it
We are just like those plants – living rocks.  Sometimes we might just look like plain old stones, but by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, God is making us grow and we too bloom – maybe in unexpected ways and at unexpected times and places. 

In just a few minutes, we’re going to celebrate communion, one of the ways we mark and remember what God has done for us through Jesus Christ, and as you come up for communion we’ve got something special for you - a rock to take home with you.  Written on each rock is the word Eucharisteo, the Greek word that means “he gave thanks.” Jesus, on the night he was betrayed and arrested, gave thanks.5  Eucharisteo to help us remember to be practicing thankfulness.  This week as you are considering your pledge commitments that we will bring back next week, use this rock as a way to prepare –
  • To remember and give thanks for all the ways that God has brought us to this day, including thanks for all the people who have been a part of making the church worldwide and this church here in Sterling what it is today, and thanks to God for providing all that we have needed so far.
  • To acknowledge and give thanks to God for his presence with us right now and for all the ways God is working among us today, helping us grow as the living stones that make up his church. 
  • To give thanks to God for all the ways he is leading us into the future, to be living stones who bloom and grow in ways we have yet to discover.

Today is the first day of the rest of our lives. 
How will this be a new start for us all? 
Let us be prepared to follow Jesus wherever he leads us on this great adventure!

. . .

Our playlist for the day this was preached:

[1] By Rev. Melissa Krabbe, preached on Sunday, November 5, 2017 at United Presbyterian Church, Sterling, KS.
[3] From the Google books version of 2400 Jokes to Brighten Your Speeches By Robert Orben
[*] Joshua is indispensable to the larger biblical account, referred to or quoted in 14 other biblical texts:  1 Kings 16:34, Ps 44, Ps 68:12-14, Ps 78:54-55, Ps 94:4-5, Hab 3:11, Acts 7:45, Heb 4:8, Heb 11:30-31, Jas 2:25 (Jerome Creach, Interpretation, pg 3)
[5] Inspired by Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts

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