Rev. George Miller
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 naïve- 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.