Some thoughts on ministry, a collection of sermons, theological musings and of course, random thoughts.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Joshua Sermon- "This Land is Your Land"
“This Land Is Your Land”
August 7, 2011
The torch has to be passed. New leadership has to take over for the seasoned leader. The son takes over the family business from his father. The daughter extends hospitality to the entire family at Christmas, relieving her aging mother of those duties. Drew Carey takes over for Bob Barker on “The Price is Right.” No matter much we love and admire a certain leader, at some point a new leader will emerge. Such is the case at the opening of the book of Joshua. At the end of the book of Deuteronomy we read a sad story. Moses, the admired and beloved leader who has been faithful to God, who led his people out of slavery in Egypt, who paraded them around the desert in accordance with God’s will for 40 years has come to the end of life. When I read this story I find it downright tragic that Moses has been such a faithful leader to his people and he doesn’t get to accompany them into the Promised Land. Moses fought so hard for his people, even when they built the golden calf, and grumbled for lack of food, water and shelter, even when he had to wander for 40 long years. At the end of Moses’ life God shows him the Promised Land. God says to Moses, “this land is your land.” Actually God’s words were, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.”
Look but don’t touch? You will not cross over there? If I were Moses I would have asked God, “Are you kidding me? I don’t get to go in?” Thank God I am not called to be Moses. Instead of protesting, Moses did what he was destined to do, he passed the leadership of his people to Joshua and he died. Moses was BELOVED, he was everyone’s favorite leader. This is the brief eulogy written about him in the book of Deuteronomy, “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of Israel.”
I have heard it said that a person can leave three things behind when they die. They can leave behind a debt for someone else to pay; they can leave behind an inheritance, which is a one-time blessing to the next generation; or they can leave a legacy. A legacy is a set of values and ideals that last from generation to generation. Moses left a legacy.
And then there was Joshua; the new leader. Some may have called him the new Moses. One thing is for sure, he has some awfully big shoes to fill. Joshua doesn’t know it yet but his job is going to be a difficult one. Not only because he has an incredible legacy to uphold, but because this Promised Land that God has given to his people, there is a problem with it, people already live there.
Joshua and his people are not going to waltz into an uninhabited land flowing with milk and honey. Instead they would have to fight for the land God had promised them as their own. They would face many obstacles, more would join the ranks of Moses, those who would never get to set foot in the land of promise.
Joshua was appointed by God to lead his people. Joshua was also blessed by his beloved predecessor. The scripture says, “Joshua, son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the lord had commanded Moses.” Joshua was the new leader, and God’s people would follow him through the difficult times ahead.
The good news for Joshua and for us is that when God appoints you to a task, you are never alone in accomplishing it. God makes that clear to Joshua when God tells him exactly all the land that will be his, he is given the specifics of the territory from deserts to rivers to seas- this land is for him and his people. It’s almost as if God says, “This land is your land- now go claim it!” God also assures Joshua of his constant and abiding presence. God says, “As I stood with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave or forsake you. Be strong and very courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.”
With God’s blessing, and Moses’ anointing Joshua was ready to lead his people into their land, no matter the outcome. What I notice about Joshua’s story is that claiming what God has planned for you takes some work! God’s promises and blessings don’t always just fall into our laps. In fact sometimes to claim what God has in mind for us we have to work very hard, we have to struggle, we have to face challenges that seem like they will be the end of us. And all the while God is whispering in our ears if we will just listen, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
When we feel blessed by God, courageous and ready- how do we claim the blessings God has for us? How do we live fully into the life God intends us to live? Well I love the advice the God gives to Joshua. Joshua is told to cling to the laws that were given to Moses. God has established guidelines for the way his people are supposed to live. These rules were designed so that they could live their best life together as a community. These boundaries that God established are designed to bring blessings to the people.
In order to achieve leading his people into the Promised Land, Joshua is told not to let the laws of Moses depart from his mouth. He and the people are to meditate on them day and not. They should not turn to the right or to the left, but they should put on blinders and focus in on living the life God created them for. Any other way of living would be a distraction from their goal, and might cause them to miss out on the Promised Land.
Meditating on God’s word is an important part of our lives as well. The reason we ready and study the Bible is so that we can be reminded of the promises it contains, and the boundaries that were designed so we might enjoy a life lived in God’s loving presence. As Christians, we also have the wonderful blessing of guiding our lives by the example Jesus provided.
Jesus taught us to love our neighbor, love ourselves and love God. In my opinion we should put on blinders and focus on those three things that Jesus agreed were the most important of everything the law and the prophets taught. We should not turn to the right or the left but we should focus on loving God, our neighbor, and ourselves. Living in accordance with those three things will allow us to claim the promise God has for us. So meditate on them day and night, hide them in your heart, and carry them with you as you move courageously toward what God has planned for you.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the journey to the God’s Promised Land didn’t exactly happen the way the Israelite’s picture that it might. I have a feeling Moses may have thought that he might actually get to enter the land after leading faithfully and according to God’s will for most of his life. I have a feeling that the people didn’t know they would be wandering in the desert for 40 years before they got to enter the land. Do you remember that they actually asked themselves if it might not be better to go back to slavery in Egypt than to wander in the desert? I also have a feeling that when the people reached the land that was to be theirs they might have expected that no one would already be living in it. Having to fight to claim that land that God had given them might have been an unexpected challenge.
I want to ask us some difficult questions this morning. Is it possible that even though you are facing challenges that God is preparing you to come into your own promised land? In fact, is it possible that if your life is not at the present moment exactly as you picture it would be- could that actually be a sign that you are on the right track? How would you react if you were to discover like Moses that you would never actually reach the promised land you had been working for, but that you have been paving the way for others to enter that land?
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told his followers in a speech, “God has allowed me to go up to the mountain and I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
There are many rich lessons contained in the book of Joshua and over the next few Sundays Dee will bless our ears with some of those lessons. As we go forward this morning, may we focus in on claiming the Promised Land that God has given us, knowing that God’s abiding presence remains with us every step of the way. Amen and amen.