Series: Joshua | Onward
Theme: Strong and Courageous
Bible Reading: Joshua 1:1-18
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
After being restricted by COVID and lockdowns on and off for 18months we are starting to reopen and looking forward to 2022. But how do we prepare for whatever God has instore for us? Our Pastor Phil explores the Old Testament character Joshua to encourage us to be strong and courageous as we move onward – towards Christmas and into a new era of our church life in 2022. We will even have a special video input from our soon to be new second minister Kevin!
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This is a photo taken on New Years Eve, 1997. Marion is 8 months pregnant with Bec and we are packing up our all we own to move to Sydney so that I could go to theological college. Although I had heard the call from God to go into ministry about 10 years earlier – we had settled into a fairly comfortable life waiting for the time to be right. Things seems to be just gently bubbling along when suddenly it all happened. It was about October when we got the call that yes I had been accepted into the ministry, and I could start my study the following January if I wanted to – and so in this flurry of activity … we had about 3 months to wind up our jobs, pack up our house and head off into a new era of our lives. It has a little surreal how quickly the change came.
I was chatting to someone during the week who commented that they were feeling the same about opening up after COVID. For 18 months it seemed like we had pushed pause on many things that we were doing as we learned how to live with COVID. It was a bit like we were treading water as we developed procedures and ultimately vaccines which could allow us to open up again. And then after all this waiting – it seems that the last few months we have gone from sitting around waiting for vaccines to suddenly being 80% double vaxxed and opening back up.
This also has played out in the life of our church too. We as a church have been talking about and working towards adding additional ministry staff for about 2½ years. We set our big audacious goal, we made a commitment to fund it and basically were ready to press “go” when COVID arrived and …
well like a plane wanting to land at an airport … we were put in a holding pattern and got stuck there for the next 15 months!
But then in a flurry of activity, we offered a call to Kevin to be our second minister and he arrives in 11 weeks, we are opening back up … today, Christmas plans are in full swing … it has gone from stuck in a holding pattern to full steam ahead.
So how do we process this as a church community? How do we prepare for the next 3-6 exciting months in the life of the church? Is there any Biblical narrative that can speak to us in this midst of this moment? Well, so glad you asked because I think that there is … which is why we read the first chapter of the Old Testament book of Joshua as our reading for today.
If we jump back to Exodus 3 we find God speaking to Moses through the Burning Bush and saying that he has heard the cry of the Israelites in slavery in Egypt and God was going to rescue them, bring them out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land – a good and spacious land flowing with milk and honey. The promise was given, the vision was cast, the task had begun … and started with a flurry. Exodus through the Red Sea, God speaking at Mt Sinai … but then things got a bit stuck. Doubts, disobeying and disagreements meant that they lost their way a bit. Long story short … what technically should have been about a 2 week journey turned into 40 years. It had been so long that the Israelites had just got used to this was they way things were. But just like our last 6 weeks, or my story about going into ministry … when the change came, it came fast.
Moses died of old age and God calls Joshua – one of the younger generation – to step up into leadership because it was time. “Get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them”. After all this waiting – it was time! So many questions, so little time to prepare, but after being in a holding pattern for 40 years … it was really happening.
Can you see the similarities? The Israelites were coming out of a time of inertia, a time where the vision of the promised land had got lost in the desert lockdown. But now, things were moving again. The restrictions had been lifted and now they were preparing to move into this new era. What can we learn from this part of the Joshua story that might help us make the most of the moment we are in. How can we learn from their successes and mistakes? What can we discover about the character and promises of God that apply also to us right here, right now?
Today and over the next 2 weeks we are going to look at three key moments in Joshua’s life. Three moments in the Joshua story all with something to teach us. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Back to chapter 1.
I think we need to note that right up front – almost in the first moment of Joshua’s leadership – God gives this amazing affirmation: As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
Joshua had a hard gig. Not only was he stepping into some very large shoes – following in leadership one of the absolute superheros of the Old Testament – but he was being asked to finish the task that Moses the superhero couldn’t complete. I can imagine Joshua thinking “If Moses couldn’t do it, I have no chance”. But God right up front says that God would be with him, God will never leave him … and not the word in verse 6 … you WILL lead these people to inherit the land. “Trust me” God says. This will be ok. Be strong and Courageous.
I will come back to the Be Strong and Courageous bit at the end but note the sense of preparation. God in verse 2 tells Joshua that because things were moving again that they needed to get the people ready and in verse 11, we read that everyone in the camp had three days to prepare. Things were changing, the new era was coming, and they needed to be ready. They needed to prepare.
As we emerge from lockdown and prepare for a big Christmas season and look ahead to 2022 and Kevin’s arriving … are we ready? How are we preparing?
Yes, in practical ways we have cleaned the church, rearranged and tidied the offices, etc. But I am talking other ways of preparing. For example, if we keep reading onward into Joshua chapter 2 we find that part of the preparations that the Israelites did was to have a look ahead of what was to come. They sent some spies across the river Jordan to check out the future situation. Now we might not be able to send some spies 6 months into the future to see what we need to prepare for, but we can do some looking ahead and discern what might need preparing for.
For example, the Church Council have put together four short term teams of people to do exactly this – to do some assessment of what is needed as we reopen our programs, to make the most of the Christmas season, for welcoming Kevin and his family and for reconnecting with the community as we head into 2022 – and over the next few week I am hoping to get some of these teams to report back to all of us on what we are doing or hope to do.
I also had a chance to chat this week with Kevin – our soon-to-be second minister – and ask him a few questions about looking ahead and preparations. I’d love to share this video … and kids, I threw in a fun question at the end so keep listening for that.
That was great. Just to recap where we are up to in the Joshua story … after years of being bogged down in the desert, things were opening up and it was time to enter into the promised land. The people were asked to get ready – and they did this not only in practical ways but looking ahead and working out what was needed to be most prepared.
And before I finally get back to “Be strong and Courageous” – I just wanted to touch on the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh as mentioned in our reading in verses 12 to 15. What is happening here? Well, there are 12 tribes of Israel, and they were each promised different parts of the Promised Land. 9 ½ of the tribes were allocated land west of the Jordan River which was most fertile land and hence most fortified. But the Tribes of Rueben, Gad and Manasseh were allocated land east of the Jordan, where there was little resistance and actually, where the Israelites had already moved into at this point in the reading.
So when it came to crossing over the Jordan and doing the hard work of taking back the Promised Land, these 3 tribes could have just said … not my problem. I already have my land so I don’t need to be involved in any of that. But Joshua reminds them that it is not about individual tribes but that they are all in this together and asks them in this time of transition to help out – to stand alongside and work with the other tribes to provide support and help.
It has been interesting that this week I have had three different conversations groups or ministry areas within the life of the church where those involved are feeling a little isolated and alone … that they are working hard in their area but they have the perception that the rest of the church are unaware of their part of the church’s mission … or even worse, unsupportive.
I think that this is a side effect of lockdown, when we haven’t seen each other and it has been isolating and we have this perception that our ministry has been separated from what the rest church is doing. Maybe we also need to hear the encouragement of Joshua. Whether it is the leaders working in our children and youth groups or the teams supporting Turratots or The Dish or CEW, or the bible study leaders or pastoral carers or whatever. As a church I want to remind everyone that we are all in this together and in this time of reopening and preparing for Christmas and 2022, we need to go above and beyond to stand alongside those serving – even if it is not in our area of interest or concern – to encourage them and to help them. This is really important.
And above all, God says, we are to be “strong and courageous”. Four times in our reading God commands them to be “strong and courageous”. How do we understand this phrase? Sometimes we view this story of Joshua in the light of the battle of Jericho – and being strong and courageous means to be the mighty and brave in battle – but I don’t think that is what God is meaning.
It is interesting that the Hebrew word used in Joshua 1 for Strong is the same word that the Bible uses to describe young David when he defeated Goliath. David certainly was not physically stronger than Goliath … but he was stronger.
When God encourages us to be strong, I don’t think that it means to be strong like a bully – intimidating all those around us but rather we need to be strong in our inner convictions that you are walking in God’s Way. We are to be strong … not in the way that we can bring victory in your own strength but rather strong in our faith and trust in the promises of God.
In the same way, I think we need to be courageous, not as in rushing into danger without fear, but having the courage to still move forward in the midst of the fear. Courage is doing what is right even if it makes harder for us. It is having the courage and determination to keep going and not give up.
The Hebrew word for Courageous used in Joshua 1 is the same word to describe Ruth as she stubbornly stood by her mother in law and said that she was not taking the easy road but would go where Naomi went – Naomi’s God would be Ruth’s God and Naomi’s people would be her people. The Bible highlights these two women – a refugee and a powerless widow – as courageous.
I think this is what it means to be Strong and Courageous … to trust in God above all and to keep going despite the challenges.
And so as we reopen, as we prepare for Christmas and get excited about the possibilities of 2022 – let’s hear the affirmation of God that God will indeed be with us, just as God was with Moses and Joshua – God is with us. So let’s make the commitment to come alongside each other and help each other in this time. Let’s encourage each other and pray for each other. Let’s not give up but determinedly address the challenges. And just like Joshua and David and Ruth and Naomi … let’s be strong and Courageous. Amen.