Sermon: Wading Across the (New) River Together
Scripture: Joshua 1.1-9
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale
Date: November 19, 2017
I just graduated high school when the love of my life broke up with me. I must have moped around for a good while because many of my good friends just shook their head at me and said, “Wrisley, get over it! Just go and ask someone out for crying out loud!”
So, I did.
She was a pretty girl. A blind date someone set me up on. I go to her house and knock on the door and the potentially new Mrs. Wrisley opened it up and began snickering at me as I handed her a flower in a vase. Now I can say for all guys out there, this is not the greeting one wants to have on a blind date! I looked at her quizzically and said, “What are you laughing at!?” She composed herself and said, “Oh I’m sorry; you’re just so, so short; I thought you’d be taller!” I put on a fake smile and looked at her 6’ 2” foot-tall frame and thought to myself, “Just shoot me now.”
I take her to a nice dinner and a movie at this large mall in Atlanta called Phipps Plaza. As we were about to go down the escalator she paused and said, “Let me go first and you go behind me; you will look taller.” Fake smile again. Going down I thought to myself, “Wonder if anyone would notice if I just pushed her just a little bit?” Don’t worry. I didn’t. I didn’t know much about the dating scene at the time but one thing I did know: She was NOT going to be the future Mrs. Wrisley!
So here we are – you and me. This date has been arranged and we’ve agreed to meet. The door has opened up and now we are staring facing one another. I look at you and see you’re a beautiful expression of the Bride of Christ and you may be looking at me going, “He’s so, so short! I thought he’d be taller!” I hope not. The last time I heard that, the date did not go so well.
New beginnings can be awkward at first. Will we like each other? Will we speak the needed love languages to one another? We may ponder, “Can I trust this person to stand beside me through thick and thin?” All of these are natural questions for us to have of one another. Well, this morning’s scripture Story is one that paints a picture of a new leader taking the reins of a community and this new leader follows in the shadow of someone who had some mighty large shoes to fill!
Turn in your Bible to Joshua 1.1-9. Our Story is picking up immediately after the great leader, Moses, has died. Moses. The Moses. The “I’m going to get in the face of Pharaoh Moses.” The parting of the Red Sea Moses. The beholding the Holy One in the burning bush Moses. The Moses who led this loosely knit band of Hebrews through the desert for forty years and has brought the people to what is today’s Jordan on the eastern side of the Jordan river just north of today’s Dead Sea. Now God immediately taps Joshua on the shoulder and says, “Ok son, you’re it.”
“Me?” we can hear Joshua mutter. And God’s answer is “Yup, you.” Our scripture this morning is God’s answer to Joshua’s questions of “You want me to do what, God?” Hear the Word of the Lord!
1After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, 2“My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. 3Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses.4From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. 5No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 6Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them.7Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. 8This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. 9I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Did you notice what God does and does not tell Joshua?
God does not tell Joshua to go on retreat and think about it. God does not tell Joshua to form a committee and talk about it. God does not tell Joshua to rehash the last forty years of history – all the good and all the bad and tragedy they’ve gone through in the past. God tells Joshua and the people pretty much the same thing Jesus tells the disciples in Matthew 28 at the Great Commission. The first word out of Jesus’ mouth is, “Go!” It seems that God’s strategy is pretty basic and consistent throughout history. God tells the leaders and the people to get up and go. So, let’s briefly look at what God is telling Joshua and Hebrews. He gives them two commands and a promise.
The first command he gives Joshua, as well as the people, is to go forth but be strong and courageous! God says this in rapid-fire staccato fashion three times in three verses. For Joshua, he must be wondering if he will be able to pull it off. He wonders, “Will I have the moxie and giftedness to provide for this community as Moses did? Will God provide mighty wonders and signs through me as he did with Moses? Will God make good on his promises to the people through little old me? And God replies, “be strong and courageous for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!”
Yet, the community of Hebrews had their own issues going on, too! They were wondering, “Can Joshua pull it off like Moses did?” They are also wondering, “Will God perform signs and wonders through this guy Joshua like Moses did when we got into dire straits in the wilderness?” They wonder if God will accompany them as they march west into the Land of Canaan or will they have to venture on their own. And God replies, “be strong and courageous for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!”
Let’s face it: there are haunting realities in the past of this community of faith that have been difficult for you, the members of First Pres. The numbers if the church pews here have, like the Hebrews going through the desert, have been thinned over the years. The remnant who are left wonder if this short, stocky guy can pull it off! As your possible new pastoral leader, I shake in my boots with regards to that history as well, your expectations, and the opportunities before this church; I know that I will have to earn my trust from you and to prove my commitment the cause and God’s Missio Dei, God’s mission, through this place. Each of us come with our own hopes, fears, and dreams. But here we are today. God telling me, God asking you, to walk with one another and together wade into the river crossing to the other side. And what does God say to you and me? “Be strong and courageous for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go!”
Yet, there is another command God gives Joshua and the people. God says, “Act in accordance with the Law…Do not turn from it to the right or to the left…and meditate on day and night.” This command is not a command demanding that we drop everything and return to some form of spiritual or theological fundamentalism; God’s command is one that is reminding Joshua and his community to be laser-focused on the one necessary thing: The way of life grounded and grown in the soil of God as opposed to the soil of culture or personal self-interest. You see, God knows all too well how the people felt that they knew better than God with how to relate with one another and to the world. They heard Moses talk about the Ten Suggestions as opposed to the Ten Commandments and by confusing what they heard, they made a pluperfect mess of things. Even Aaron, who was a good enough guy as far as it goes, felt the need to give into the pressure of the people and let them make a golden calf while Moses was taking a long time up on the mountain with the Lord. The Law of God is not to be some lugubrious weight to carry in order to be loved by God; the Law is meant to be the way for the people and her leadership to keep laser-focused on God’s love relationship with them.
I love how verse 8 says, “You shall meditate on it day and night.” With all the new popularity of meditation these days, we think it to mean to enter into a Zennish form of no mind or Buddhist Nirvana. The Hebrew word for meditation is the same word that is used to describe a lion standing guard over her prey while making guttural roaring noises. For us, the connotation of meditation is that we are to stand guard over the laws and ways of God and do all we can to keep them safe. It means reading them. It means studying them. It means ruminating over them like a cow chews her cud over and over and over again. For Christ-Followers, that ultimate commandment is to love the Lord our God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. And where do we go to become bathed in that message? The scriptures! My prayer is that we will become a congregation of who falls in love with Scripture all over again so that we will learn how to be the hands and feet of Christ in this broken and hurting world! It’s a call our early Reformers cried out in the 16th Century; the cried, “Ad fontes!” – Return to the Source, the spring of life found in the Scriptures!
The first command God gives Joshua and the people is this: Be strong and courageous; no fear for I am with you wherever you go! The second command God give Joshua and the people: Keep focused on my Scriptures and let them become a part of who you are! And it’s at this point we come to the promise in our Story.
Note with me verse three. The way it is written should cause us pause because this verse is clearly the promise God has waiting for the called community and for First Pres Fort Lauderdale. It reads, “Every place the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised Moses.” Hear that again: Every place the sole of your foot will tread upon (that’s future tense), I have already given you as I promised Moses (that’s past tense). Can you hear what God is promising? He’s telling Joshua and the misfit Hebrews to wade across the river to the other side and claim all God has had waiting for them! The deal is to be strong and courageous and keep focused on God’s ways and plans! If we do that, it will be like finding a ruby under every rock in a North Carolina mountain stream! All we have to do is go and start flipping over some rocks!
Beloved, I humbly come before you today. I’m definitely no Moses and not a Joshua either. I’m just a short stocky guy who rides a Hog who loves Jesus and is passionate about telling others about him. Why are Kelly and I here today with you? Because like you, we are standing on the banks of the Jordan, or in this case, the New River, and we look across wondering what God has waiting for us over there. It will require us to step out together in faith. It will require us to trust one another and display courage and strength. It will require us to focus on the ways and character of God through the scriptures as opposed to the cacophony of the surrounding culture. Kelly and I are here today saying we are willing to make the sacrifice to get wet and wade across the river you. Now it’s up to you. Personally, I hope we will cross that river together and claim the promises of ministry that God already has waiting for us. And all of God’s people say, Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
© 2017 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the 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.