Sunday, May 29, 2011

“Get Ready” Joshua 3 A Sermon in Three Parts

Prepare: Joshua 3:1-5a “Consecrate Yourselves”

Moses had led the people out of Egypt, brought down the Ten Commandments from the mountaintop, and had led them through 40 years of wandering through the desert. They had seen God part the Red Sea, provide bread from heaven, offer water out of a rock, and had led them as a pillar of fire by night. Moses brought his farewell speech and left the people in the hands of Joshua. They now stood on the edge of the river Jordan ready to go into the land that God had promised them. A buzz of excitement filled their air. Their future awaited them. You could also feel an ominous sense of fear and apprehension. Those gathered at the river’s bank was not sure what awaited them.

In a few days we will choose to leave behind the confines of this beautiful church facility and make our way into the heart of our community. For three evenings we will sing and play and connect with our community face-to-face, life story-to –life story at McKinley Park. For many there is a palpable sense of excitement about this three day event. For some others in the room there is a sense of fear and apprehension because they do not know whom they will meet or what they may experience. Joshua’s words to the people camped on the edge of the Jordan can speak with power to this moment in the life of our church family.

Joshua’s first words to the people were to “consecrate yourselves.” Other translations use the phrase “sanctify yourselves.” They mean the same thing, but candidly both terms are far from common in our every day conversations. What Joshua was telling them to do was to prepare themselves for the task at hand. This preparation was more than a “clean up, pack up, and get ready.” He was calling them to a ritual process of bathing and prayer that was to ensure that their bodies, their hearts and their minds were prepared for what God had planned for them. They were to make themselves physically and spiritually as pure and focused on the holiness of God as possible so that God might move among them and work through them.

I believe this call to “consecrate yourselves” is of equal value for us today. We do not need to simply pack up the church van full of equipment and food and head over to the park. This is more than a little mission venture. It is one step in our journey of acknowledging that the days of opening the church doors and saying “ya’ll come” has passed. If we want to be relevant. It we want be the church we need to be for this era we have to get out of the walls and into our community. We need to begin to prepare ourselves for God to move among us and to work through us. Our preparation process does not require a physical ritual bathing with water, but instead calls us to bath our plans in prayer. We want to make sure all we do in according to God’s will and God’s way. We need to pray for the kids we will work with, for the parents we will meet, and for ourselves. We need to pray that the games that are played, the songs that are sung, and the conversations we share together all are a reflection of God’s love and grace. We need to pray that God will prepare our hearts to meet new people and to engage in their life story. We need to prepare ourselves so that God might move among us and work through us.

Expect: Joshua 3:5-13 “for tomorrow God will do amazing things among you”

Joshua tells the people to prepare themselves – but he wants them to know that they are preparing themselves so that they might witness God at work. He tells them; “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” The people had witness the incredible work of God before, but Joshua wanted the people to understand that they needed to keep their eyes open and their hearts ready to see a fresh and amazing act of God.

I wonder how many of us expect God to do things among us that would amaze us. I wonder if we have become so comfortable in our religious routines that we fail to see God at work. Joshua tells the people; “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God. This is how you will know that the living God is among you….”and he begins to describe the way that God will go ahead of them and make the way for them. Are we coming to S3 and our ministry at McKinley Park with the attitude that we will play some games, sing some songs, eat a bit of food, talk to a person or two and head home – OR are we coming to S3 and our ministry at McKinley Park with an expectation that God is going ahead of us – making the way – getting ready to do something among us and among the people we will encounter that will amaze us? Are we coming to this week in ministry with a sense of eager anticipation that we are about to see God at work? Do we come to worship expecting God to move? Do we walk with God expecting God to work in us – through us – among us in ways beyond our imaginations and limitations? We cannot, we must not, be content living faith lives that do not make room for God to amaze us. We cannot, we must not be content with a church life based where ever decision and every act is measured by our skills and our capacities. God calls us to more. God promises us more. “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

Follow: Joshua 3:14-17 “So the people crossed over”

When I was in my twenties I went with a group from our church in Raleigh, North Carolina to raft the rushing whitewaters of the Ocoee River. The morning of our day for rafting we got up early, packed up, and headed to the river’s edge. I was shocked when we arrived and all I could see was a dried up river bed with a little stream in the middle of it. Apparently I was not alone. Our guide for the day called out, “don’t worry, you will see a raging river soon enough. They have not turned in on for the morning yet. You just wait!” I did not think I had ever seen a dam controlled river before, and sure enough, promptly at 9:05 we were looking at a world famous roaring whitewater river.

The people gathered on the banks of the River Jordon experienced just the reverse. The Jordan was at flood water state and I imagine the people wondered just how they would get across. They had heard Joshua’s promises, but there was the water rushing by. Then, I can imagine that the word began to spread – the priests with the ark of the covenant were on the river’s edge – now they were stepping in – “can you believe it,” the cry goes out, “the water has stopped in its tracks. The path is clear. God is at work. ““So the people crossed over.” - The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

The task of the people of God was to prepare themselves, to come to this moment with expectation, and to follow the way God had made for them. We are not taking God to the Classen-Ten-Penn community or to McKinley Park for that matter. God is gone ahead of us. God loved the people of that community long before they became a focus for our church family. God had a plan for the people of that community long before we ever began to plan. God has gone ahead of us and calls us to follow the path he has set before us. Our task is to be faithful to follow – to cross over the path to the place that God has called us. We do not go alone. God goes before us and with us. I love how Eugene Peterson captures the heart and passion of Joshua’s call to the people in his interpretative translation The Message. Joshua calls out; Haven't I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don't be timid; don't get discouraged. GOD, your God, is with you every step you take."

It is time to prepare yourself, to come to this place and to the mission and ministry where God has called us with great expectations to see God do amazing things among us – and to follow God to the places He has called us – whether across the street or across the world. It’s Time!

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