Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sermon for Sept 28,2014, 2 Samuel 1:17-27

Rev. George Miller
2 Samuel 1:17-27
Sept 28, 2014

The Kingdom of God: what does it look like? What does it mean? Who inhabits this Kingdom where the Living Lord creates, saves, and blesses?

Unknowingly, we’ve actually been formulating an answer to these questions during the past 2 months as we’ve embarked on our sermon series titled “What Biblical Character/Story Are You?”

In this oasis of space and time, we’ve met Abraham and Sarah, Hagar and Ishmael; the midwives, Moses’ mother and Miriam.

We learned about leaders: both the faithful and fearful, and those who were willing to stand in the Jordan River so everyone could cross over.

We heard about Balaam and his talking donkey. We had a visit from Eli.

We heard about Hannah’s faith and the unfaithful actions of Eli’s sons and of King Saul.

Last week we met a young David and discovered that God does not see as mere mortals do.

Today we conclude our sermon series with a scripture I’ve never preached on before. It’s the story of David and Jonathan, and I’ll be honest: I’ve not preached on this because no one seems to have a full grasp on what the true nature of their relationship was.

In 1 Samuel 18 we are told that after David slew Goliath he is brought before King Saul. There he meets Saul’s son Jonathan, and scripture says David’s soul is bound to the soul of Jonathan and that Jonathan loved David as his own soul.

Not only does Jonathan love David, he relinquishes to David his princely right to his father’s throne.

They embark on a relationship in which they make covenants with each other. Jonathan says to David “Whatever you say, I will do.”

They have secret meetings. They watch out for and protect one another. When Saul tries to kill David, Jonathan intercedes.

They fight the Philistines together and when David gets word that Jonathan has died in war…well David grieves his death in a way that is brutally honest and raw.

David calls both Saul and Jonathan beloved and lovely, and in vs. 26 he states “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved you were to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of a woman.”

These are deep, deep sentiments to be shared publicly by one man for another.

I remember reading this back in the 90’s and thinking “There’s no way these two are ‘just friends’; there’s got to be something more.”

Society tells us that men don’t express emotions like that if they’re just buddies. Where else have you ever heard of the souls of two people being bound to one another?

That’s something you’d expect in “Romeo and Juliet” or a Harlequin Romance.

But something interesting happened in the new millennium. A phrase has come into public consciousness called “bromance.”

For those who’ve never heard it before, a “bromance” is a close, intimate relationship between two guys that is everything but romantic.

It’s the acknowledgement that men can be close in a way in which they can share their feelings, share their hopes and fears, they share their lives together.

In terms of pop-culture, early examples of a bromance can be found in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

You can see bromances in TV shows like “Scrubs”, the new “Hawaii 5-0” or the bond between Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

Then there is another reality, one that most people cannot understand unless if they’ve been there: the reality of fighting in a war together.

See, David and Jonathan weren’t just good friends who fixed cars or attended sporting events together.

They were friends during a constant state of war. They were soldiers. They were men who carried weapons and had to stay alert at all times.

Once you put their relationship into this context, it opens up things quite a bit.

Now, I was raised in a family of proud veterans, the son of a New York City cop and I grew up visiting my father’s precinct and being around people who were always putting their lives on the line.

There’s a different energy that exists when someone is a cop or a firefighter or a soldier.

When one lives knowing one can die, things are heightened. There’s a higher sense of alertness and awareness that requires an absolute need for camaraderie and trust, of knowing people have your back.

Can that be part of what David and Jonathan’s relationship is?

Two comrades in a wartime setting in which doing things like working 9-5 or attending church functions are not an option?

I say this, because back in May I attended a workshop titled “Moral Injury & Caring for Our Returning Soldiers.”

Rev. Martin Montonye was the teacher and he introduced the class to a new way of thinking. He shared with us the devastating news that 18 veterans a day are committing suicide, making up 20% of all suicides.

Soldiers are not only experiencing Post Traumatic Stress, they are experiencing what experts call “Moral Injury.”

Moral injury is what happens when you do something that contradicts your personal expectations about how a person is to act.

Moral injury is what happens when a person does something they were told is wrong by church, school, or society.

It causes agony and inner judgment, a collapse in identity and a lack of trust in one’s self.

For soldiers, the moral challenges of war, especially modern war, are great. There’s the obvious example of killing, but there is also the dehumanizing of the enemy, grief, survivor’s guilt, and betrayal of authorities.

Those who have fought in a war, or currently are fighting, all have had to deal with issues of isolation, finances, leaving behind their friends, family or their career.

They come back from war and find that those things may have changed, are gone or are now seen through a new set of eyes.

Some soldiers lose their faith, their reason to live and wonder what the meaning of life is.

All these combine to create moral injury in which there are complex feelings, fears and complaints, all creating a need to lament, to be transformed, and to be renewed.

Is that what we are witnessing here today: the story of two men during a time of war who are close and dependent on one another, who have found a relationship that has allowed them to feel less isolated, less scared, and more connected?

In David and Jonathan do we have biblical characters who give voice to our veterans and soldiers who know what war is really like and what it’s like to lose a comrade they cared about?

Once again, here we have an example of just what makes the Bible so powerful-

There is virtually no human experience you can go through in which there is not some biblical counterpart in which you can say “Yes- I can relate.”

And by relating, one can find voice, find comfort, find strength…and find God.

Regardless of the true nature of David and Jonathan’s relationship, today’s scripture provides a voice for anyone who’s ever loved and ever lost.

And in a society that still tries to dictate how men should or should not act, here we have a story that gives voice to all men who have ever lost a buddy, a comrade, a bro.

This scripture, with its references to weeping and distress, gives voice to grief.

It is a validation of grief: that when someone you loved has died it is right and appropriate to say and express and to feel that loss.

Today’s scripture tells us that that you can be a shepherd, you can be a slayer of bears, you can be a mighty warrior, you can be a powerful king…and you can still experience hurt, you can still be vulnerable, you can still be…a man.

Today, I could ask “Which Biblical Character Are You?” but we already know the answer, because we have all loved, and we have all lost.

We have all grieved and felt the distress of death.

In this oasis of space and time, as we conclude our sermon series, we’ve encountered enough stories and people that we can each articulate a bit more about ourselves, our faith and what it means to talk about the Kingdom of God.

In God’s Kingdom, all these people exist.

The Sarahs and Abrahams, called by God, yet still capable of doing imperfect things.

The Hagars and Ishmaels, cast out into the wilderness but finding care in God.

The midwives, servants and princesses, the mothers and sisters who find ways to protect life even in the face of death and injustice.

The Calebs who find ways to speak words of hope and promise even when others are afraid.

The Balaams who use their words to bless instead of curse. The donkeys who chose to protect even when being punished.

They all have a place in God’s Kingdom.

The Joshuas who assist in bringing others into the land of milk and honey.

The leaders who are willing to stand still in rushing waters and the people who are willing to leave their past behind and cross over to the other side.

The Hannahs who aren’t afraid to pray passionately, the Eli’s who help others to hear even if they themselves seem blind, and the Samuels who learn how to say “Here I am Lord? Is it I, Lord?”

They all have a place in God’s Kingdom.

The fathers, the sons, the princes, the young Davids who are left to watch the sheep and the older Davids who are grieving the death of their soul mates, they all have a place in God’s Kingdom.

They each play a role in the history of God’s people; they each are a part of the story about how God creates, saves and blesses.

In God’s Kingdom we too play a role, we too are a part of the story.

And soon we will be invited to travel to a manger to see a child. Soon, we will gather at the feet of Jesus to hear another story; we will experience storms at sea being calmed.

We will be called to eat at the table. We will stand before the cross. We will visit the empty tomb and we will come to the garden alone and here our names spoken aloud.

We too will play a role in the history of God’s people, we too are a part of the story in which God creates, saves and blesses.

God blesses, saves and creates.

For that, we can all say “Amen and amen.”

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sermon for Sept 21, 2014; 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Rev. George Miller
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13
Sept 21, 2014

Today we hear a story about David- the Boy Who Would be King. David who will be a reckless lover, a cowardly murderer and the brave destroyer of Goliath. David who will be a father, a husband and a best friend.

Biblical history will credit David for being an excellent musician, an ecstatic dancer and a song composer.

But for now, we meet David as just a boy, a baby brother of eight, a youth who is left to tend the sheep while his siblings put on a fashion show for in hopes that they’ll be crowned Israel’s Next Top Monarch.

Since God’s people experience God through story and history, let me share with you the tale of “David and the Big Bad Bear.”

Once upon a time, when Israel was at war with the Philistines there was a man named Jesse. He had eight sons. The three oldest fought with King Saul in battle.

David was the youngest child and would go back and forth, visiting his brothers in battle and feeding his father’s sheep in Bethlehem.

One day, a bear came to the field and took a lamb from the flock. Though he was a just a boy, David went after the bear, gave it a good walloping and rescued the lamb from its mouth.

But the bear was not happy and went after David, who grabbed the bear by its jaw, struck it down and killed it.

Amazingly this didn’t happen just once, but many times, and not just with bears but with lions as well.

Whether this is historical fact or a spiritual truth, it certainly makes for a good story…

...Last Tuesday I had the honor to represent our church while giving the opening invocation at the Board of County Commissioners.

I stayed afterwards, as recognitions and presentations were made. One was by Mike Orlando, the Assistant Bear Management Coordinator for the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission.

According to Mike, there are currently 20 million people living in Florida; there are about 3,000 bears. 100 bears are estimated to live in Highlands County.

There’s been a problem because more and more bear/human incidents are occurring.

Bears are omnivores, meaning they’ll eat just about anything: berries, insects, pigs. They’ll also eat anything left out: bird seed, garbage, dog food. This creates a problem as it brings more and more bears into direct contact with people.

Hunting is being evaluated as an option to deal with this growing concern. Relocation is not worthwhile because a male bear will cover about 60 miles and usually ends up back where they were caught.

Here’s something else: bears are lazy and scared of anything. It’s not unusual to observe a cat or dog chase a bear up a tree.

According to Mike, do you know which breed of dog chases bears the most?

Chihuahuas.

Why? It’s all about the attitude.

In other words, it’s not the size of the dog but the bombast of the bark.

I wonder if this analogy can be placed upon David in today’s story.

Following last week’s scipture about Eli and Samuel, we have another sensory laced tale about God’s activity in human history.

Last week we heard: Samuel the boy asleep by the Ark of the Covenant hearing God call his name. Eli the judge hearing harsh words of judgment spoken against him and his family.

Today we will see; not as humans see, but as God sees- beyond height and stature, beyond outward appearances and birth order.

For example, last week Eli saw Hannah praying passionately to God and assumed she was drunk and crazy.

Eli also saw the unethical, abusive behaviors of his sons, but turned a blind eye to them.

To give a brief recap of the events leading up to today’s narrative, things have not gone as well as God had planned. Samuel grew to be the next Judge over Israel, but his sons became just as bad as Eli’s two boys.

Against God’s better judgment, God gives the people what they ask for: a king so they can be just like everyone else.

Samuel coronates Saul who appeared to be everything you’d want for in a king: tall and good looking, religious and courageous.

Trouble is that Saul has a difficult time following through with God’s instructions. It’s not that he doesn’t know what God wants, it’s just that Saul thinks he can put his own spin on things.

God is not happy with Saul and decides to appoint a new king. So God sends Samuel to the family of Jesse living in Bethlehem.

He throws a big BBQ, invites Jesse and his boys to attend and he asks each of them to do their best runway walk in front of him.

When none of them please God, Samuel asks “Are all your sons here?”

Jesse states “There remains yet the youngest, but he’s keeping the sheep.” It’s almost as if Jesse does not even consider David a son, much less a candidate. Maybe he just stopped caring after the fourth boy was born.

The moment David appears, God speaks to Samuel: “This is the one- stand and anoint him.” Then the Spirit came down mighty powerful upon the child.

What did God see in David that we are not told about? What was it that made David so special, so unique from all his brothers, from all of Israel?

What is it that made God forgo social customs of 1st born privilege to call upon David, eighth born, ruddy and in the field?

We don’t know. Was it that David was like a Chihuahua- enough attitude to scare a bear?

Was it that he already proved he knew how to put the protection of the flock before his own safety?

Was it because God just really enjoys being free and messing with people’s heads and expectations?

We don’t know. I don’t know. And the narrator of our story doesn’t bother to tell us.

And do we really need to know anyway? Maybe the point (if there even is one) is that God sees in a way that we don’t and in a way we can’t.

God sees not as mortals or based on good looks, perfect symmetry or perfect poise.

God sees in a way we will never fully understand, and that is OK as long as we accept this and try not to fool ourselves into thinking God sees, hears, and acts as we do.

Because, as hearers of the biblical narrative, as observers of the stories, we continue to see how God acts in the history of God’s people.

A childless couple like Abraham and Sarah can be seen as perfect candidates to have a family that will bless the entire world.

Moses, a flawed Hebrew living as an Egyptian with a murder rap sheet and speech impediment can be seen as the deliverer of God’s people.

A barren woman like Hannah can come into the Tabernacle and make what appears to be a drunken spectacle of herself and yet will have God answer her prayers.

If the over arching story in the Bible, if the spiritual history that’s presented is to be understood, it is that God’s ways are not our ways.

God does not act as we would act, God does not speak as we would speak, God does not see as we would see.

Perhaps no scripture sums this up better than 1 Corinthians 1:27-29:

“…God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame what is strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world…so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”

In other words, God chose a childless couple over nubile newlyweds. God chose a baby in a basket over a prince in the palace. God chose the son of a distressed woman over the sons of a Judge.

Just as God chose the youngest in the family over the good looking first born.

Just as God would bring salvation to the world through an infant in a manger who would grow up to be our Living Water and the Good Shepherd.

Just as God would find a way to bring new life out of a cross and a new creation out of a tomb.

Today I am not going to ask what biblical character you are, that’s something you can ponder as you go about the rest of your week.

But I will say this: may our ears continue to tingle, may our eyes find new ways to see.

And may we continue to learn and grow from the stories of God’s people and the stories which they tell.

Amen and amen.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sermon for Sept 14, 2014; 1 Samuel 3:1-10

Rev. George Miller
1 Samuel 3:1-10
Sept 14, 2014

(This is a character sermon, given by Eli. He enters singing the Shema, wearing dark glasses, carrying a seat which he sets up and sits.)

“Sh’ma Yis’ra’iel Adaoni Eloheinu, Sh’ma Yis’ra’iel echad.” Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One.

It is a difficult time. We are at war with the Philistines. They have drawn up a line against us and killed 4,000 of our men.

As a last resort, we have brought out the Ark of the Covenant in hopes that God will deliver us from our enemies.

My two sons, Hophni and Phinehas are fighting. As they fight, I wait with my heart trembling. An old, fat, blind man who can do nothing but to tell you a story while he sits by the side of the road.

I’ll tell you a story because that is who we are. While others gaze at the stars, while others study signs of the zodiac, we pay attention to what has happened.

We are interested in history; we observe events. Why? Because we believe God is personally alive and active in our lives.

History is the medium by which Yahweh works. History is the means by which our God creates, saves and blesses.

So, listen to my story.

Nearly 1,000 years ago God spoke to Abraham and said “Go! I will give you family and land.”

Nearly 600 years ago, God spoke to Moses and said “Go! And free my people.”

Nearly 550 years ago, God said to Joshua “Go! Cross the Jordan River into the land I am giving you.”

Now? Well now it seems as if God is no longer speaking, much less saying “Go!”

It’s not God’s fault. We’ve become too well fed, self-assured and complacent to hear.

Yet, the lamp of God has not gone out.

It seems that once we were no longer slaves, once we no longer had to depend upon God in the wilderness, once we conquered the land and settled down…we settled in.

Things became easy. Things became good…perhaps too good.

When you live in the land of milk and honey it is easy to think you are the reason for the milk, you are the reason for the honey.

So over the decades corruption has crept into our lives. We worship God through our mouths but not through our hearts.

In actuality, we are really worshipping ourselves.

My sons and I are as much at fault. As Judge of Israel, I’m the most powerful man there is. People come to me for leadership and to speak and hear the word of God.

But here’s the thing: I can’t even govern my own family and it’s been ages since I’ve last heard a peep from the Lord.

So I’ve been winging it. Sticking to ritual and appearances, liturgy and bylaws.

I know how things are to be done. People come to Shiloh to interact with God. We follow the proper procedure: ritual, incense, sacrifice. Ritual, incense, sacrifice. With me as intercessory.

That’s why it threw me off guard when years ago a woman names Hannah came to the temple and skipping all familiarity she walked right past where I was sitting and boldly did her own thing.

She was weeping like a wild woman; she was moving her mouth but no words were coming out. She looked like a person possessed with strong drink.

I approached her saying “You drunk fool- put away your wine.”

But Hannah said “My lord, I am not drunk. I am a woman deeply troubled. I’m not worthless, I am simply childless.”

Turns out she had been praying to God for a child, promising that if she had a boy she’d set him apart as a nazarite.

I was humbled and answered “Go in peace, God will grant what you have asked.”

It was clear she was a woman of great faith, perhaps greater than I had ever seen. Certainly greater than me and my boys.

I’m embarrassed to say that even though I’m Judge over all of Israel, I’m unable to judge my own sons: Hophni and Phinehas- what scoundrels!

All they do is eat and fornicate. They have abused their place as priests; they have no regard for the Lord.

When people bring in a sacrifice to be cooked, they are the first ones there with their forks to get the biggest piece of meat and all the delicious fat, which by the way is supposed to be burnt for the Lord.

They have no respect for people’s offerings and they demand for more, more, more and if people refuse to give it to them, my sons bully them and threaten to take it by force.

Perhaps worse yet is the scandalous way they abuse their pastoral authority. They’ve been known to have sexual relations with women right in the doorway leading into the tent of meeting.

Right there for everyone to see!

I’m ashamed to say I have turned a blind eye. What am I to do? What am I to say? They are my sons. I ask them “Why do you do such things?” I hear nothing back.

So our nation has fallen into moral and political chaos; our religious traditions are in shambles, merely a show, and it seems as if God is no longer speaking.

Can anyone blame God?

Yet the lamp of God had not gone out.

A few years later a woman who looked vaguely familiar comes into the house of the Lord with a boy of about 3, a bull, a skin of wine and a measure of flour.

After the bull was sacrificed, the woman said “Do you remember me? I was the one you accused of being drunk. The Lord has answered my prayers and given me a child as I have asked. Now I give him to the Lord as a nazarite, just as I have promised.”

I never saw such faith. Truly, the lamp of God has not gone out!

She then stood before all the people and spoke the most beautiful prayer I ever heard:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord.
My strength is exalted in God.

There is no other Holy One
There is no Rock like my Lord.

Let no one be arrogant or conceited
For the Lord is God of wisdom and truth.

Weapons are destroyed
The weak are made strong.

Those who are overfed will experience hunger
Those who are hungry will be well fed.

The childless will have children
The poor and lowly will be exalted.

The Lord raises the poor from the dust
And the needy from the ashes.

God will guard the feet of the faithful
And judge the ends of the earth

The Lord gives strength to his chosen
and empowers God’s anointed. Amen.”

Truly, the lamp of God had not gone out!

She left the boy, named Samuel, behind to be raised in the house of God. I looked at him: innocent, pure, full of life and decided that I would do what was right.

While my sons slept and ate their sinful lives away, Samuel was properly raised in the ways of the Lord.

Once a year Hannah would make the 20 mile journey to visit, bearing gifts and a handmade robe for Samuel to wear.

I, in return, offered her a blessing, that God repay her with many more children, which she had: 3 boys and 2 girls.

Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord. Unlike me and my sons, Samuel had a true gift of ministry, caring for the Lord, doing what was right for God.

Then there was that fateful night. My eyes had grown much worse, I could barely see. I laid down in my room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out.

Samuel was in the temple, a stone’s throw away from the Ark of the Covenant.

He came running into my room saying “Here I am for you called me.”

I said “I did not call you, go back to sleep.”

A little while later Samuel came back in “Here I am; you called me.”

I said “I did not such thing my son, go back to bed.”

A third time Samuel came back into my room saying “Here I am, for you called me.”

Then it hit me: it was God who was speaking to the boy! Why didn’t I realize it before? Had I truly forgotten the stories and history of our people like Abraham, Moses and Joshua?

It made sense. He was right beside the ark, he had been set aside by his mother, he had not been made fat, complacent and deaf with food and drink and selfish behavior-

He was able to hear and see what my sons and I no longer could. So I told him “Go, lie down, and if he calls you say ‘Here I am, God. Speak for your servant is listening.’”

I didn’t hear another peep from Samuel the rest of the night.

But the next morning I got a real earful. I asked the boy what God said, and it was not good news.

God was about to do something new that would make people’s ear tingle. But my family would not be a part of it, for we have been unfaithful and full of sin.

The sins of my sons and I were so great there was no undoing what we had done, therefore there were consequences to be paid.

My ears certainly did tingle and my heart fell. By turning a blind eye on my sons’ sinful behavior I had enabled them and set us all on a path of destruction.

But Samuel…well Samuel was righteous and he continued to grow in the Lord and God was with him.

Not a word fell to the ground. He was trustworthy and just, fair and good.

As for me, I have grown old and fat, blind and full of remorse, wondering why God has not spoken to me.

God spoke to Abraham and he left his home to raise a family and secure some land.

God spoke to Moses and he left his home to free his people and to lead them to the land.

Here I am, part of that family, living on the Promised Land, and it was a boy that God spoke to.

And now my sons are at war and we are in threat of losing what we have.

Is there any good news that I can share with you as I await to hear the news of the outcome?

I wish I had done things differently. I wish that we, as God’s people, had done things differently.

That we remembered our history and our stories and what we had: milk and honey, green pastures and still waters.

I wish we did a better job of realizing what it meant to say we are descendants of Abraham and Sarah, the midwives and Moses’ mother, Miriam and Joshua and that our best leaders were like the ones who stood still in the Jordan River allowing others to safely cross over.

Not those like me and my sons who bullied others and took what was best for ourselves.

I also would say that the lamp of God is still burning; it has not yet gone out.

As much wrong as my sons and I have done, as much sorrow as the people have caused, as much as we have turned our back on God, the light of God still burns.

I do not believe that God has turned his back on us.

Like Miriam who followed Moses down the Nile river,

Like the leaders who stood still in the Jordan while bearing the Ark of the Covenant,

Like Hannah who prayed with such passion,

Like Samuel who is pure of heart, fresh of ear and ministers to the Lord,

As long as there are the faithful who live and listen for the Lord, God’s light will never go out.

As long as there are the faithful who act and speak for the sake of the Kingdom, God’s fire will burn and inspire and give hope for the world.

My eyes may be blind, but by amazing grace I can still see. Amen and amen.

(Most Of Eli's statements about history is taken from Eugene Petterson's commentary on "First and Second Samuel", Westminster John Knowx Press, pp 2-4, 1999)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sermon from Sept 7, 2014; Joshua 3:7-17

Rev. George Miller
Joshua 3:7-17
Sept 7, 2014

A few days ago I was at Ft. Pierce, a perfect day to spend at the beach. The skies were clear, the water was clean and the waves were rough.

As a true Pisces, I was content in the water, body surfing the waves and talking with the surfers riding their boards until one guy said “Did you see the spinning shark that just jumped out of the water?”

“What?” I said. I’m not na├»ve- I know there are always sharks in the water, and that the chance of ever being attacked is next to nil.

But still, to know that one was so close...I rattled off my questions: how big is it; is it dangerous?

He calmly answered “It’s about 6 feet; it won’t hurt you, at most a few stitches.”

A few stitches?

But then he said something that brought me a sense of peace: “Don’t worry-if something happens we’ll be here for you.”

We’ll be here for you. The power of words: to bless, to curse, to insight fear, to bring calm and to create a sense of community.

Don’t worry- if something happens we’ll be here for you.

So, I didn’t worry- I was just more aware while I was in the water, humbled and mindful that the world is not our own, nor that we are entirely alone.

Later that day I walked to the jetty where the rocks are gathered. There was a school of small, silvery fish. They circled around me, moving with the ebb and tide of the ocean.

From who knows where more and more appeared, some with flecks of black and brown, hundreds, thousands of them. When I stepped forward, they swam back.

Calm, peaceful, tranquil- awe-inspiring. Nature is amazing.

On the shore a father and son were taking the small silvery fish that had been washed up on the sand and throwing them back into the water, giving them a chance to survive.

I joined in, finding this one fellow who was struggling to breathe and toasting in the sun. I put him into the water; he washed back up to shore.

I put him a little further out; his strength had not returned so he washed back up again. So I went out to my knees and put him in.

The little guy straightened himself up, swam towards the shore. I followed him. He picked up speed, he zigged to the left. I continued to follow, pleased to observe his recovery and to think I played a part in his survival.

He zagged to the right…and out of nowhere, from the jagged rocks came a large mouthed jack fish that swallowed the little guy in one gulp and then returned into the deep, like something from a horror movie.

Another humbling reminder that the world is not our own and we are not alone.

That’s how it is with water. As much as we are surrounded by it, live off of it, depend on it, water is something to be respected.

The way it moves, the recreation it creates, the ecosystems it supports, the communities it develops, the life-and-death dance of nature at its most primal and its most beautiful.

Water is something to be loved; it is also something to be respected and feared.

Water is something we think we can control via wells and modern plumbing, but water is also something we are humbled by because in its uncaged environment and when it falls from the skies it will do what it dang well chooses to do.

Scripture understands very well this dualistic complexity of water. The Bible is saturated with such images.

Psalm 23 gives a moment of calm as the Lord leads us besides still water.

Psalm 69 is perilous as the singer says “Save me, o God for the waters have come up to my neck…and the flood sweeps over me.”

Whenever we encounter any mention of water in the Bible, our ears should perk up because it usually means something is about to go down.

Hagar, the outcast slave, cries out and sees an oasis of water. Moses is pulled out of the river by a princess. A Samaritan woman at a well learns about the Living Water. Today’s story is certainly no exception.

For 463 years now, everything has been leading up to this moment:

-The covenant that God gave Sarah and Abraham about family and land.
-The life-affirming actions of the mid-wives, Miriam and Moses’ mother.
-The last 40 years of wandering through the wilderness, surviving on manna and quail, blessings and water from a rock.

The first generation of Israelites has passed away, as have their unfaithful and cowardly leaders.

Before his death, Moses gives his final instructions to the second generation, reminding them of who they are and whose they are, keeping God’s covenant alive.

Caleb and Joshua are now the only two members who recall what it was like to be slaves. Everyone else had been born during the time in the dessert; gypsy people with no place to call their own…until now.

It is once again the fertile season of spring; the time of harvest. Their future is right before them: a good and pleasant land flowing with milk and honey; lush green grass and buzzing bees; cattle and flowers; figs, pomegranates, and giant grapes.

All they have left to do is to cross the Jordan River and once on the other side they are officially…home.

And unlike 40 years ago, they do not act out of fear. Unlike 40 years ago, their leaders do not deceive them with lies. Unlike 40 years ago, they do exactly as God tells them.

The Lord has a heart-to-heart conversation with Joshua. God says “It’s now time for you and the people to enter to the land I’ve always wanted to give you; a land of rest.”

“Every place the soles of your feet touch will be yours and no one can defeat you. All I ask is that you be strong; be courageous and follow all that I’ve taught you.”

God further says “It is time you stop acting frightful or dismayed- the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua prepares the people. He tells them to gather their provisions; to remember God’s commands. The people say “All that you have instructed us, we will do.”

Two spies are sent out to see how things are and they return with good news “Truly the Lord is giving us an awesome land and we have nothing to fear.”

So early in the morning, at the dawn of a new day, Joshua gathers the people and they go to the Jordan River. Because it’s spring, it’s overflowing with water.

They camp there for three more days, and then Joshua gives the command to each of the 12 tribes: “Select a leader from your group to help carry the Ark of the Covenant. When the ark moves forward, follow it.”

Joshua continues “When the soles of their feet rest in the Jordan, the waters shall stop flowing, they will gather in a single heap and you will have dry land to cross upon.”

…And that’s what the people did.

Devoid of fear, devoid of infighting, devoid of lies and treachery, doubts and cowardice, the people all cross to the other side.

Not one of them is left behind.

As their leaders bear the weight of the ark, as their bare feet rest in the riverbed, every child, woman, man make their way to the other side and into their blessings.

They have nothing to fear. There are no jack fish that will come to swallow them whole. There is no spinning shark to cause a few stitches.

Perhaps most important, they are not alone. The LORD their God is with them.

It took 40 years to get there, but by God, they got there.

And note that they did not do it alone, nor was it by any one person’s doing. They all worked together and like the surfers in my story they there were for one another.

For this event to take place, for them to go from here to there, in order for them to go from past to future, in order for them to go from barren dessert to green pastures, they had to work together.

It took listening to the voice of God, discerning what was to be done and where they were to go.

It took information being shared, not kept secret or for a few choice privileged.

It took each tribe to call forward and select a leader, someone who would do right by the Lord and what was best for them.

It took 12 strong, spiritually grounded people who could bear the weight of the covenant and yet stay still, allowing their soles to rest even when the waters rushed around them.

It took the entire congregation to move forward, to step together, to trust and believe and to be willing to enter into a new life in which they could thrive and be blessed.

So the questions come to the surface:

What are the waters in your own life that are yet to be crossed? What are the rivers that are separating you from going from barren dessert to entering green pastures?

Are you trying to cross these waters alone or are you finding ways to allows others and for God to assist?

Which biblical character are you today?

Do you resonate with Joshua? A leader called forward not by your own choice but by God, given the responsibility to care for many, learning how to discern God’s Still Speaking Voice, willing to pass on instruction for the betterment of all?

Do you resonate with the two spies, called to investigate what lies ahead, and although you’re aware that there will be obstacles, you are not afraid and you’re willing to give an encouraging and truthful report.

Do you resonate with one of the 12 bearers of the ark? Called forward by your peers to carry the awesome responsibility of leadership; learning how sometimes the best thing one can do is to stand still, to trust in God and not let the overflowing water scare you away?

Do you resonate with the Israelites? Wandering around for too long, ready for that something more, willing to trust that you can step across the riverbed without being washed away?

Or perhaps you may resonate with the folk we have not yet talked about: the ones who are already living in the land who are afraid of what it will mean to have new voices, new visions, new expressions of faith amongst them.

Last month we spent time in an oasis, encountered the Nile and crossed a sea.

Each biblical story has been held up in this holy space, in this holy time, to teach us how to trust and proclaim that God is there, God is victorious, that God is the Lord of the rivers, the empty tombs, and the songs of victory.

We have discussed what it means to let go of the currency of fear and to trust in the promise of possibilities. To seek and to enter, to move forward and to taste just how good milk and honey can be.

There are still many rivers to cross, many mountains to climb, many deserts to survive, and many crosses to bear.

But we are guided by the Holy Spirit, being taught by Christ, and in the presence of the Still Speaking God.

In other words, we are not alone.

Are we listening? Are we willing to follow? Do we know when to stand still? Do we know when to cross over? Do we trust that our soles can keep back the waters if God so wills it?

God waits and God is able to give us rest, to bless the land our feet touch.

We cannot be defeated.

Are we willing to step into the waters?

Amen and amen.