19 January 2021
Today among other things, is Reformation Sunday - we tell some of the stories of the time when the church was on the brink of massive change. When the river to cross required faith and courage to even start getting into the water.
Joshua was also at the brink of a reformation.
The Jordan River is overflowing its banks , as it always does this time of year. The current is swift: tree limbs and other debris sweep by us, are visible for a while, and are then sucked beneath the churning, dark, muddy current.
Our eyes are held by the rushing waters.. But then we realise we are not here to watch... we are here to cross over. We are going to have to get our feet wet.
If only, Moses was here. But Moses is dead. Our leader of 40 years, who brought our parents and grandparents out of Egypt and kept us safe all of our lives in the wilderness, is gone. His bones are buried in the shadow of Mt. Nebo behind us. We are used to the wilderness, we know how to live in the desert, we have moved on with the promise of things getting better, the land of promise which is dripping with milk and sweet honey. With new life.
It is there, we can see for ourselves, we even know the way.
The way is the problem. We need to get over, through, around, this surging river on the spring flood.
Now, Moses could have done this. We had stories of the sea parting when they escaped from Egypt. But Moses is dead.
We canít go on. The risk is too great, the water too deep the river too swift. Maybe we wait until the time is right. Some of the people arenít ready to cross. Weíve only been 40 years another little time wonít really matter. Except by then we might have forgotten why we were all wandering in the wilderness!
We can talk about it, think about it, we could even pray about it. But its much too big a step!!! The river runs deep. And Moses is dead.
Who are the leaders who will get their feet wet? Risk the river, not knowing whether they will be sucked away in the torrent but willing to show the way?
In each generation there needs to be reformation, change, for Godís people to move into new places, to be a blessing to new peoples. We so easily forget we are a travelling people, even in our own lives, we like to settle, to not really face change, to cling to the familiar and not have hands and hearts that can let go and let God act in us and through us.
There is need for reformation in the church today. We devote many of our Christian resources to preserving large and small church buildings, and parishes which eat up time and energy in just keeping going rather than worshipping together joyously and spending love, faith and hope generously serving each other and the people around us.
In our neighbourhood are many good people who want to live well and in peace. There are also many who need the hope of seeing things can be different, that they matter and have worth, and there is a way of love rather than fear. We canít be indifferent to the needs of others. We have a gift and vision of promise and are asked to plunge into the waters and lead the way. Half the time we are afraid to mention the name of Jesus as we think it might carry baggage for people.
We must listen to our history, in past reformers. William Tyndale [whom we spoke about in the storytime part of the service] denounced the clergy and church who were indifferent to human suffering in the early 16th century. They put their energies into stopping Tyndale from giving the Gospel to the poor.. Speaking the truth about corrupt clergy and translating the Gospel truth into the English people spoke cost Tyndale his life.
How could the people of Israel go on? The next step was obvious but how do we do it, its dangerous?
Joshua reminds them that the true leader of the community was not Moses, but one who still lives and still has the power to drive out the nations. The Living God - their God is living even if the past has died.
Joshua son of Nun , had a promise, when he took over from Moses. The living God had assured him . ď as I was with Moses so I shall be with you: I will not fail you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous ď
Joshua stepped forward and acted. The people are told when you see the Ark of the covenant being carried by the priests - Follow it.!! The people were camped around, no phones, no microphones but there is a visual signal of the presence of the living God.
Its on the way! The ark is going toward the river. The people start to line up to follow. This takes trust.
They got to the river and the usually not very full Jordan, was running high with the snowfed streams from Mt Hermon. The priests led the way and when they got their feet wet - the waters dried up. [Temporary dams, we are told, often occurred at these times, as banks up the river collapsed , until the torrent made a new path - for those of you who have trouble with parting waters]
They stayed there with the ark until all the people had scurried past. And until they had collected the twelve stones that they had stood on to remember the story. Then Joshua told the priests to come out of the water with the ark and the waters returned.
Telling the stories to the next generation of when we got our feet wet, when we risked the deep waters and found that God was indeed . both living still and faithful is one of our most important tasks as church and people who follow Jesus.
Joshua turned the people from looking backward to Moses and refocused their faith on the living God, who still travelled with them and went before them.
Centuries later, long after the ark of the covenant had lost its living significance and God was confined to a temple in Jerusalem, another Joshua, [Jesus is the same name as Joshua], reminded the people that living God was still with them. He himself was the living sign of that God, and stepped into the torrent of human hatred and violence, and was drowned in the waters. He came out on the other side and returned to show us that the river's danger cannot ultimately claim us. He tells us that he himself is the way, our way to the land of promise.
Peace and fertility, where the fruits are the sweetness of love, hope and faith and there is room for all.
And he invites us to make this present, in our times and our lives, if we have the courage to follow him.
He is with us when we dip our feet in the water and does not leave us ever.
It is interesting that reformation usually comes about when an honest, faithful soul speaks and lives simple truths that turn out to be world shaking. Rosa Parks sat down on a bus and was the catalyst for change. She knew what she was doing and risked the consequences.. Most of what is accomplished in this world is carried out by those who show up - and like Rosa Parks have the courage to do what is needed, what is spiritually and morally necessary for salvation in that moment in history.
Like the stones gathered to tell the story of Godís being with the people of Israel on crossing the Jordan. We tell the stories of those saints who have got their feet wet, of communities of saints who have trusted and followed, through flood and fire and fear, the living God, the Jesus who has promised never to leave us or forsake us.
When we are asked to get out feet wet and we will be if we are being faithful.
Let us never forget that God lives! And lives among us.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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