It was really just a few days ago that the family left
1. Wilderness Time
The Hebrews took a journey eastward from
For the past four years, maybe longer, Central Woodward has been wandering around in the Wilderness. I don’t expect that you thought it would take this long to find a pastor. And yet it did. But perhaps there was a reason for the delay. I know that there are plenty of pastors out there looking for a new job. But you weren’t ready – yet. And so you continued to wander in the Wilderness, but this wasn’t time wasted. From my conversations with the search committee and others since then, I’ve figured out that there was just a bit of conflict to deal with and there were some wounds that needed to heal. Perhaps more importantly you needed to seek God’s guidance and discern God’s purpose for this congregation. You needed to wrestle with the congregation’s heritage and what that meant for its future. I expect that this was a difficult period for many in the congregation, and yet I think it was an important opportunity for the congregation to get a sense of God’s vision and calling.
As you wandered at least a couple of guides stopped by, but none of them was as important to the future of this congregation as Pastor Shirley. I know she wasn’t with you for the entire journey, but in many ways she was your Moses. She helped this congregation get a sense of its mission and commit itself to sharing the gospel. She also helped you find your way toward God in prayer. I know that she talked a lot about the need for change and she offered you tools that would help you achieve God’s mission. Yes, God sent Pastor Shirley to lead you across the Wilderness and up to the River’s edge.
In Deuteronomy it’s said that Moses didn’t cross the river. All he could do was climb the mountain and look into the Promised Land. His job was done and another would succeed him. Pastor Shirley took you to the river’s edge, and while she could look across the river, someone else would lead you across the river. Moses had his Joshua; Pastor Shirley had me.
2. Crossing Over Time
Moses appointed Joshua to lead the people when he was gone. According to Deuteronomy, Joshua was “full of the Spirit of Wisdom” (Deut. 34:9), making him ready to lead the people on the next stage of their journey together. When the story picks up in the book of Joshua, Moses is dead and the people stand along the river bank. At that point, according to the story, God re-commissions that “New Guy” – Joshua -- to lead the people into the Promised Land.
The day everyone had been waiting for had finally come, and the remnant got to enter the land. I expect that there was plenty of joy and excitement, but there was probably also a bit of apprehension, concern, and even fear. Some of them might have wondered whether Joshua was ready for the job. Besides they’d heard tales bout the dangers that lay ahead. Whatever the case may have been, it was time to take the next step and inhabit the land God had given them. Now, there’s a lot to this story that we don’t have time to deal with, and some of it isn’t all that savory. But that’s a discussion for another day.
What I’d like to talk about is Central Woodward’s calling to serve as God’s agents of reconciliation and transformation in
3. Be Strong and Courageous
As we look to cross the river, I believe that God has a word for us. It’s the same word God gave to the Hebrews: “Be strong and courageous.” The writer of Joshua uses this phrase three times in nine verses. I think the writer has a message for us, and that message is quite clear: you’ve arrived at the river, but taking possession won’t be easy. Getting this far is exciting, but there will be many pitfalls ahead. There will be areas of disagreement and even resistance -- both from within and from without the congregation. Things won’t always go the way we want. But, if you are strong and courageous, then you will find the strength to say no to the fears and yes to the energizing presence of the Holy Spirit. And as a result we will make a difference in the community; we’ll share the good news that God is in our midst and wanting to transform lives and communities. So, be strong and courageous, for if you are, then your way, our way, will be prosperous and successful.
4. God is with us on the Way
There is no better day than today to cross the river. God issued the call and I showed up to help you taken possession of the land. We can do this because God not only tells us to be strong and courageous, but God also tells us that we don’t go out alone In our text this morning we hear the promise that: “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” It is God’s presence that makes it possible for us to accomplish our mission. Indeed, God’s promise is unequivocal. I will be with you, and “I will not fail you or forsake you.” That is God’s promise and it’s unconditional. But, God does have some expectations of us.
We also hear in this morning’s text these words: “Be careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you.” It also says: “do not turn from it to the right hand or the left.” And then we’re told not to let the Law “depart out of your mouth,” but instead “meditate on it day and night.” The analogy here is that of the cattle chewing its cud. Finally, we’re told “to be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it.”
Each of these commands reminds us that if we’re going to succeed, we need to listen to God and follow God’s directions. The question is: how will we listen for God’s voice? And the answers are several. God’s voice will be heard as we gather to pray and as we pray in our own private places. It will come as we study together. It will come in our holy conversations. All of this will take discernment, and it takes time to learn to be discerning. But we already have some of the tools needed.
I’m excited that members of the congregation have been reading and discussing the book Unbinding the Gospel. I’m excited that the Council has decided to order copies of the congregational study book, Unbinding the Heart. These are books that deal with evangelism. They help us understand how we can effectively share the message of faith in a way that is appropriate and helpful. One of the things that is present in Unbinding the Heart is a 40 day guide to prayer. It’ll likely be sometime before we start that program, but it will be an important part to our efforts to listen for God’s voice.
The river is lapping at our feet, so let’s enter the land.
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost