Scripture: Joshua 3:7-17
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
In today’s Old Testament lesson from Joshua, the Israelites were at a major crossroads of their existence. They have just spent 40 years in the wilderness gathering their strength and preparing themselves to enter the land promised to them, even though it is occupied by other nations. Joshua and all the Tribes of Israel stand at the Jordan River and there is no turning back. But how to do it successfully? First they inquire of the Lord, and the Lord, with the assistance of priests carrying the Ark, steps before the assembly and the river stops to let them cross. At this crossroads, there is no turning back. They must move forward and occupy the lands they have been promised.
Some of you may remember earlier sermons of mine where I have alluded to Phyllis Tickle’s book “The Great Emergence.” The topic she writes on is that the Church, with a capitol C, is undergoing one of its periodic 500 year transitions. One of those transitions we commemorated last Sunday: The Protestant Reformation.
We’re at that 500-year mark again; it is time, and the Church is changing. In the current spiritual awakening of this new “Great Emergence,” we are experiencing exponential changes in how people – especially young people – relate to God and experience their spiritual lives. Some research I’ve been doing in preparation for my dissertation has unearthed some interesting resources. By and large, more recent teenagers are looking for a relaxed, safe setting with no pressure, where they can just be and relate with peers. Adults who hang out along the outskirts regularly in these spaces gradually become accepted, and then connections begin to form. It takes time with many invitations before true relationship is attained. Perhaps that is the same process for church membership in this new day and age.
What would it look like if our whole community of faith intentionally invited non-regular attendees on a regular basis to diverse activities here and elsewhere around the valley? What if our membership hung out where they hang out? How many ways do we invite – without pressure – those who are frequent visitors into the fuller life of our faith community? What might that look like?
I also have to ask: as we ride the wave of this 500-year shuffle, are we tapping into the new work of the Holy Spirit? Do we have our eyes open and our ears unstopped? Is the emergence movement Spirit led and if so how is it being expressed in our ministry, our faith community? How can we know? What might it look like if we returned to where we began, which was at the cutting edge of the last Great Emergence of the Reformation? I’ve been experimenting a bit with our “fifth Sunday” alternative services, and you have come along side and been willing to try a few new things, for which I thank you. True, I’ve made some mistakes; yet also true, each time we’ve had some of the families attend we’d love to nurture more fully into our community. How can we support them as they journey? In a social and cultural context where steady commitment to traditional forms of church is hard to do, how can we be who Christ would want us to be in a new era of church – a reformed and constantly being reformed faith community?
I suspect that faith – and the survival of our faith – is nothing if not about authentic, genuine practice of the love and hospitality of Christ. Relationships that welcome others – all kinds of others – inviting them into our activities, our spheres of faith are key to developing a richer spiritual community. Sometimes an evangelistic stance makes folks uncomfortable, but it is imperative that we as Christians turn outward, focusing on others in the community around us who need to be blessed with an encounter of the living Christ. How do you witness? How do you invite? How do you tell your story in God to others? In what ways can you tell it and reach out to others in the Trout Lake community this week?
Eleazar Fernandez, Professor of Constructive Theology at United Theological Seminary in Twin Cities, MN, writes:
“The central theological message of [today’s Joshua passage] is about a God who accompanies, protects, defends, and liberates the defenseless. It is about a God who fulfills a promise to those whose hopes have been betrayed by the powers that be. It is about a living God who confounds the mighty, scatters the proud, and brings release to the captives. Central to our lectionary reading is the tradition of a God who makes “a way out of no way.” When all possible ways are closed, the God who has been with the people makes a way out of no way. … The Red Seas and Jordan Rivers of history are not barriers to God’s purpose.”
In that, we are co-refugees on this earth. No matter what our Red Seas and Jordan Rivers may be in this time, God’s purposes will indeed progress on. How shall we, in the state we find ourselves in, fulfill God’s purposes? My friends, as long as we run the race that’s set before us, keeping our eyes on Christ, the author and perfector of our faith, in all things we will be enabled to reflect outward that we are God’s and God is still working in the world. There is nothing that can keep us from participating in the great work that God has set among us, nothing that can separate us from the love of God. Let us, then, journey onward and witness without fear, looking to our God who leads the way.
May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Eleazar S. Fernandez, “Theological Perspective, Joshua 3:7-17” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0