Saturday, May 23, 2009

God Speaks Again Joshua 6:1-5

There have been moments in my life when I felt the gentle nudging of God’s direction in the depths of my soul. Sometimes it emerged from prayer. Other times it came from Scripture. Still other times it came from the voices of people I trusted. But there have been other times in my life when the call of God was so clear, so unmistakable that I knew exactly what I was supposed to do. My call to ministry late night at the close of my freshman year in college was one of those moments. My call to missions that carried me and my family to Southeast Asia was one of those moments. My call to come to serve as a part of the First Baptist family was one of those moments. Can you think of moments in your own life when God nudged you quietly or stirred you unmistakably? What did those moments feel like to you? How did you respond? These moments and how we respond to them can shape and define our life’s journey.

Our focal passage for the morning comes from Joshua, Chapter Six. You probably remember that Joshua was Moses’ right hand and when it came time for the people to enter the Holy Land God assigned him the task of taking the people in. Joshua’s story is a story listening for God’s voice and following God’s leading. The closing verses of Chapter Five paint a picture of one of those critical moments for Joshua. 13 And then this, while Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, "Whose side are you on—ours or our enemies'?" 14 He said, "Neither. I'm commander of God's army. I've just arrived." Joshua fell, face to the ground, and worshiped. He asked, "What orders does my Master have for his servant?" 15 God's army commander ordered Joshua, "Take your sandals off your feet. The place you are standing is holy." Joshua did it.

Can you imagine what this moment must have felt like for Joshua? An angel of God appeared to him and let him know he was not alone. There is a phrase we hear that echoes Moses’ encounter at the Burning Bush. “Take your sandals off your feet. The place you are standing is holy." What made the place holy was that the presence of God. We sometimes of this room as a holy place, but any sense of its holiness is not found because of the beautiful architecture but rather because of the moments we have experienced the presence of God in this place. For Joshua the holy place – the divine encounter was on a roadside outside of Jericho. For those who call this place home. we have come with expectation to this room and God has responded. Our song sings out and God stirs. Thanks God for the experiences from yesterday. Thanks be to God for the experiences that still await us.

But Joshua’s story at Jericho was not done. God speaks again. We hear it in one of those childhood stories with significant adult meaning. 1 Jericho was shut up tight as a drum because of the People of Israel: no one going in, no one coming out. 2-5 God spoke to Joshua, "Look sharp now. I've already given Jericho to you, along with its king and its crack troops." I can almost imagine what Joshua must have been thinking. “What do you mean you have already given me Jericho? Don’t you see the walls? Don’t you see the soldiers? Don’t you see the sad band of wanders I am supposed to lead?” Joshua’s task was a God sized task. It was beyond his capabilities. It was beyond his resources. The only way that Jericho could be taken was for God to act.

There are times when we are clear on God’s call – the direction he has for us to go – but the task seems too big. We can be paralyzed by the fear of failure. The problem is that if God has called us to a task then it is not our reputation at stake. We can find freedom in the fact that it is God who called and that God’s reputation is significantly more valuable than ours. If God beckons us then it is our task to be faithful and God that will empower and respond.

There are other times when we face a God sized task that we can be frozen because we are locked into a theology of scarcity that looks at what we do not have. We focus on the limits of our personal or financial resources. We keep trying to make it work with what we know we have on hand. The problem is that a theology of scarcity simply does find a place in scripture. We are told over and over again that God’s provision is sufficient. If we are called to a God sized task – or any task given by God – then God can and will provide the way.

Our congregation, like countless congregations across the country, is facing a season of economic concern. We see God stirring in so many places. We witness God’s fresh movements in so many ways. We see the evidence that God has called us to the great task of the restoration of this great church. We have been faithful in the renewal of the brick and motor. We have opened the doors of the worship and ministries of the church to our wider community and we see the way God has responded. We cannot allow a theology of scarcity to claim us – or to be frozen by the fear of failure – but must be confident that God can and will respond to us and through us. God’s call is clear. God’s stirring is unquestionable. We will together experience the wonder of God’s provision for us and through us.

God lays out the plan for Joshua; Here's what you are to do: March around the city, all your soldiers. Circle the city once. Repeat this for six days. Have seven priests carry seven ram's horn trumpets in front of the Chest. On the seventh day march around the city seven times, the priests blowing away on the trumpets. And then, a long blast on the ram's horn—when you hear that, all the people are to shout at the top of their lungs. The city wall will collapse at once. All the people are to enter, every man straight on in."

I want you to know that an engineer could tell you that a seven day march around town would not have weakened the support structures adequately to cause the walls the fall. A great jazz musician could tell you that the burst of the trumpets could excite, engage, or even entertain, but music could not cause the walls to fall. The dramatic image of the march and the music might have made those within the walls concerned, but would not have caused the walls to fall. The real story is about the people of God being faithful in doing what God told them to do. God’s people were faithful and God responded. I love this story because it borders on the absurd. Joshua was given an impossible task – a God sized task – and he decided no matter how difficult it seemed the right response was to hear God and go for it.

The rest of the story is just as you would expect. The people marched. The priest played their horns. The walls collapsed. Jericho was given to Joshua and to the people of God just as God had promised. The good news is that God still calls. God calls us to the little decisions that shape our everyday lives and sometimes God calls us as individuals and as a congregation to God sized tasks. The God who was faithful to Joshua is still faithful today. Our task is not to have it all worked out. Our task is to look for those holy places where God stirs, to listen for God’s voice and to be faithful to follow. There are walls to great ministry that wait to be torn down.

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