Rev. George Miller
“The Feet/Feat of Our Ancestors”
Oct 30, 2011
Show of hands: how many people here are honest to goodness history buffs?
How many would say they are on the opposite side, so much so that sometimes you forget that July 4th is our nation’s day of independence and not just a chance to enjoy bbq?
I myself fall more into the second group, but if I was to justify it, I’d say it means that when I come across certain bits of information I find it exciting.
Take for instance; did you know that it wasn’t until 1534 that a version of the Bible was released in a language other then Latin, meaning that people other then priests could finally read it?
Or that women did not get the right to vote in America until 1920; 1971 in Switzerland?
Or that interracial marriage was illegal until 1967?
Years from now, our descendants will say “Can you believe it wasn’t until 2009 that the first black person was elected President?”
All of these things are revolutionary; we can look at a specific moment in time and say that there was a before and an after.
That there was a way in which things used to be done and a way they are done now.
On paper, such things can give the impression of an easy transition. But that is rarely the case. Usually there is some type of symbolic river to cross.
Often times things that we take for granted, like being able to read the Bible on our own or women having the chance to vote, came about thanks to the actions of those who paid a great price.
Sometimes it can take a long, long time to get to the other side of the river; so we should give thanks to those who faithfully took those steps forward, knowing they were not always easy.
Take for example today’s reading.
40 years ago the ancestors were freed from slavery. Through the leadership of Moses and the mighty acts of God they were lead across the Red Sea waters.
They entered the wilderness where they cried out for food and water and discovered that God could and would provide both.
They camped out on the mountain side where they were given the Law, taught the commandments and experienced first hand how God’s grace could even lead God to change His mind.
And at one point they were poised to enter the Promised Land. The ancestors were right on the cusp of true freedom, when they became scared (Numbers 13-14).
As the story goes, they had sent out spies to check out the land of Canaan, the place the Lord had been leading them. These spies came back with their report.
The good news is that there is milk and honey and everything a person could want.
The bad news is that the people there were different, and they appeared strong.
And though God had promised them the land, though God had performed amazing deeds of deliverance and grace, the ancestors were scared. This lead to people to rebel.
They cried and they wept; they complained that it would have been better to die in slavery; that they should turn back around.
This saddens Moses. It saddens one of the men named Joshua who says to the people “Don’t listen to their fearful reports, the land is good. God is pleased with us. Do not be afraid: we are on the verge of being blessed.”
But the ancestors were afraid; they threatened to kill anyone who tried to move them ahead.
This angers God. God feels hurt and despised, and because of their unbelief no one from the original group is allowed to make it into the Promised Land; no one that is except for Joshua’s family.
So for 40 years the people wander the dessert; for 40 years they struggle, they live, they die, they wait, never to experience the paradise God had wanted to give them.
It is not until the next generation comes along, one no longer tied to bondage and the old fears. And then it becomes time for the people to finally enter the Promised Land.
God gives clear directions to Joshua and the priests and the people follow.
The priests carry the arc of the covenant into the Jordan River and when the soles of their feet rest in the river, the water stops flowing, and a path of dry ground is created for the people to journey across to the other side.
And they all do so, without a hitch, without complaint, without a quarrel, without a “what if?’ or a “woe is me.”
(Perhaps that was the greater miracle then the water stopping.)
The result: after 40 long years they are wilderness travelers no more; they are people of the Promised Land.
That’s how it is sometimes, isn’t it? The things we fear the most, or have been taught by others to fear, are sometimes nothing more then simply crossing a river, trusting that God will keep us dry.
Like allowing women to vote or people of different races to marry.
It took trust in the Lord. To reference last week’s sermon, it required faith and action.
To get from here to there took courage.
For the last few days, via e-mail, members of Council have been discussing the concept of courage.
Images of courage occur throughout the stories of our spiritual ancestors; stories designed to show us how to find and to have courage in the Lord.
As Christians, our ultimate example of courage would be Jesus Christ.
This is perhaps another way for us to look at and experience Jesus. That he was a man of courage.
Jesus showed courage by not being afraid to fraternize with those who were seen as “not one of us.” He wasn’t afraid to reach out to those who were seen as different.
He wasn’t afraid to be close to or touch the hands of someone who was sick.
He was willing to be seen talking with those of questionable morals or those deemed too dangerous for society.
For example the woman at the well who had been married many times before and was living with a man who was not legally hers. (John 4)
For example, the man possessed by demons who was left in a grave yard naked, chained and alone because people feared him. (Mark 5)
These are but two people who had an encounter with Jesus in which their lives began here, but through their experience with Jesus ended up being there, spiritually, physically, socially.
Jesus, like Moses, like Joshua, was a person of faith, a person of action.
He was a person who showed courage by reaching out to folks when the world around them would not.
Where did this courage come from?
His relationship with God. His understanding of the Spirit of the Law.
I would also like to say from his sense of compassion.
Compassion meaning love and mercy, grace and kindness.
Compassion means to look upon someone and not judge them but to say “I can only imagine what you’re going through.”
I believe compassion is one of the means through which Jesus found the courage to reach out to people who felt lost in their own wilderness and lead them into a variation of the Promised Land.
The woman left alone at the well to gather water became the one who went out into the community and gathered people for Christ.
The man left naked and alone, finally clothed and healed enough to return home.
And because of the resurrection, Jesus is still present to us today, blessing us and showing us how to do our own courageous acts of compassion.
In conclusion, the feet of the ancestors from oh so long ago led us out of the wilderness, and into the Promised Land.
And the feat of our ancestors is that although they were often afraid and unsure, they eventually learned how to trust the Lord, and in trust, they were able to move forward in faith and action, grace and compassion.
We too are following in the feet of our ancestors.
Some are the ancients who came long ago. Some are our immediate relatives.
Some are those who helped to shape the denomination, those who worked hard to build this specific church; some of who are even amongst us today.
Regardless if they knew it or not, what they did and have done took courage, courage based on compassion and an understanding of God’s grace and love for all.
Each person, each community, each nation has a moment in which they come to their symbolic river and are invited by God to cross over into something wonderful, something new, and yes, perhaps even something scary.
But may none of that stop us from getting our own feet a little wet, trusting that in God the path ahead will by dry.
And with compassion, we have the chance to go from here to there with feet of faith that moves us forward into feats of faith.
For that, let the people say “Hallelujah!” and “Amen!”