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Sermon for Ordinary 31 - Ordinary 26 - Year A
Joshua 3:7-17; I Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12
"Crossing Into The Promised Land" (Version Two)


READING:  Joshua 3:7-17; I Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12
SERMON :  "Crossing Into The Promised Land" (Version Two)

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-or31su 854696
                  
   The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
   for the upcoming Sunday.  Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
   found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
   SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.


When we hear about "The Promised Land", and about entering that land across
the River Jordan, we often think of it in metaphorical terms.

We think of the Promised Land as Heaven do we not?
We think of it as the place of the eternal realm of God 
     the place where the saints dwell forever secure 
          the place where death is no more!!
And often we think of crossing the River Jordan as crossing through the
river of death and arriving in the eternal realms of God;
isn't it so??  

But crossing the River into the Promised Land was not always seen as a
Metaphor for dying and rising again.

Rather - at the time of Moses - at the time of Joshua - from whose book we
read today,  the Promised Land was a real place - a place in which the
people looked forward to living in now -  in this life.

The promised land was a place where the land flowed with milk and honey 
a place where the people could not only cry "Free At Last - Free at Last",  
but also cry - "At home at last."   
At home where God promised he would lead them,
- in the place which God promised he would give to them.

The Promised Land is the rich and abundant land God promised to Abraham and
to Isaac and to Jacob - and to their children after them - the place from
which Joseph went down to Egypt and the place of which Moses spoke as he
led the people out of bondage over 400 years later.
     
As Caleb and the others who spied out this land for Moses - reported -- it
was a rich land - a blessed land - a land so real - so good - that others
already occupied it -- it was a place of cities and of towns - of warriors
and giants -- not all of whom would prove to be friendly -- but all of whom
- with God's help - would be overcome -- that the people might truly be
blessed in their occupation of that land.

The Promised Land was - and is a real place -- located in our space - and
     our time. 
And the people of Israel longed for it and dreamed about it.

Indeed all of us long for this kind of land - this kind of place - this
kind of life 
- where our enemies are overcome by the power of God 
and where our needs are met with unheard of abundance 
- where the fear of the wilderness in which we wander is replaced by joy 
and where we are able to celebrate life and live life in a place like unto
Eden itself.

And God promises to us - as he promised to the children of Israel - 
just such a place.  
just such a way of life.  

And as he did with the children of Israel God guides us through the
wilderness towards it: He leads us to the very edge of the place and shows
us the way to enter into it.  
- A way that calls not for mighty deeds - nor for power or wisdom or might
nor even for acts of mercy and kindness,
but rather for that which the reformers of our faith have held up on high
- for faith in the word of God 
- the faith that motivates us to trust completely in the Lord.

Today, in the third chapter of the book of Joshua we see the final stage of
     the people's wandering in the wilderness - the stage where they are
     finally called into the promised land -- we see them cross through the
     Jordan and into the land of promise.

The details of the story are instructive for our own entering into the land 
- into the state of being that  God has promised to us in Christ Jesus.

First must understand about the River Jordan
     - It is the largest river in the region -- no bridges across it -- the
     Kings highway from Egypt to the Euphrates, from  the land of the
     Pharaohs to the land of Assyria and of Babylon never crossed the river
     - but ran along side it.
     - It is normally a murky river - slow moving and muddy - even so it
     can be easily crossed at certain places - that is if you don't mind
     stepping into a river whose bottom you can't easily see, and if  you
     don't mind getting the feet wet and perhaps much more....
     - however in the season of flooding - you not only can't see the
     bottom - you not only can't see where you going - but you can't be
     sure the safe way, the known fording places, will be safe.

Think about it.
Crossing a river, even when you have a bridge, represents a big event in
life.  Rivers epitomize a big obstacle in the itch to be mobile.  

But without a bridge 
     without a way to see the bottom, 
          without a way to know for sure the way is safe; 
               without a way to cross 
and with a demand to cross when the timing is oh so wrong, 
     when the river is in flood....  
well, you can understand why the symbol of crossing the river Jordan flows
deeply in our faith history: and why it might be able to speak to us today
as we examine just how the people came to the River Jordan and then crossed
over it.

Accept the simple truth with me my friends, that the River Jordan was a
roadblock on the way to the promised land, just as surely as was the time
of slavery in Egypt and the time of wandering in the wilderness.

They came to it as they came to the Red Sea, and like that place, the
Jordan must have surely frightened them - for it is one thing to put your
feet in a gentle stream and another to step into a river in flood, which,
according to verse Fifteen of Joshua, Chapter Three, is what the Jordan was
like the day the people crossed over it.  

Not only was the river in flood but, according to verse 4 of today's
passage, the people are not familiar with the place where they are about to
cross the river; they have not been there before, they do not know what it
will be like.

There, by the side of the river, Joshua is told by God that he will be
exalted among the people, and then Joshua tells the people that by what is
about to happen they should KNOW that they will be able to take possession
of the promised land, and this despite all the powers that might prevent
them.

Joshua then tells the people that they are to enter the promised land by
following the priests, who carry the ark of the Covenant - the sign and
symbol of God's presence with them, into the river and that the river will
part for them to make their passage through it possible.

I think it is very significant that one has to step into the waters before
they are parted, rather than waiting for them to first be parted.  Very
significant indeed.   

It is only when the soles of the feet of those bearing the ark touch the
water that the waters part.  Not before.

In verse 15 through 17 we hear the conclusion of the matter:

     "As soon as the feet of the priests touched the water, the river
     stopped flowing, and the water started piling up at the town of
     Adam near Zarethan.  No water flowed toward the Dead sea, and the
     priests stood in the middle of the dry riverbed near Jericho
     while everyone else crossed over."

In the faith journey, there comes times when it looks like you are backed
up against a barrier; times that it looks like you are prevented from going
forward because of a river at flood stage.

As followers of Christ, as a people whom have been promised a new land, a
new life, we are called to step out in faith 
- before the circumstances seem to be ready
that we may enter into the promised land
that we may experience the promised life.  

We called to cross the river, to enter the turbulent and muddy flood waters
so that we may receive the fullness of what God has promised to us and to
those who follow us.

We are called in the here and now 
- and not simply in the by and by - 
to a rich and abundant life.  

We are called when facing death, 
when facing persecution, 
when facing indifference!

It can be a frightening proposition this calling forward, this proposition
to have faith.  We don't know what will happen - and the timing can seem so
very wrong:
- when things are at their worst - rather than at their best
- when not only we can't see the bottom of the river, but we can't even
tell where the banks of the river are...

But we - like the people of Israel - have God with us.  
And as we step forth carrying God with us 
- as we hold in our hearts the precious name of God 
- as we trust in God's living presence even though the circumstances do not
appear to favour us
the waters will part.

What today's story tells us - with it's mention of how the priests led the
     way for the people into the river - is that God goes before us into
     the flood waters of life.  God stands in the middle of the waters and
     God divides them, and then God watches us pass safely to the other
     side.

It tells us that when we come to a difficult stretch on the road to
recovery,
     when we encounter obstacles and hazards in our attempt to become a
     whole people,
          when we come across barriers to entering into the state of
          blessedness God wants us to have,
that we need to hold God up for all to see in the midst of those troubles
     that we need to claim God's presence in the centre of the turmoil
          and trust in God to keep us perfectly safe and deliver us through
          our woes  - as if on dry land.

The story of how Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land is a
story of faith.

It is a story of how God acts through the trust of the people,
of what God does when we affirm his presence 
and trust in his word as spoken by chosen one.

It is a story of how salvation comes 
- of how God loves us,
- of how the Lord will not let anything stand in the way of his love and
his plan for you.  

The hymn "HOW FIRM A FOUNDATION" sings this of this faith in the third
verse - where it says:  

       "When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
       The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
       For I will be near thee, thy troubles to bless,
       And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress."

When through the deep waters I call thee to go.... 

My friends the journey of faith we have pledged ourselves to by becoming
followers of Christ Jesus
is not a journey through a land of ease,
it is not a journey through a land of peace.
But it is a journey to such a land.

We journey to the Promised Land 
     and on the way we are called into deep waters,
we are told to cross rivers whose bottoms we cannot see,
     we are urged to step out - and to do so boldly - trusting in the one
who not only parted the sea and made the river Jordan cease it's flowing
but who vanquished death and brought to light life and immortality.

It is not much to go on at first glance - it is only a promise -
But it the promise of the Living God.

If we take the plunge - if we step out in faith and get our feet wet.  If
we start walking with ark of God's presence in here and in here (HEART and
HEAD)into the turmoil and chaos about us, God will part the waters - and
bring us safe to the other side.

This is the message of the Gospel that we proclaim.

As Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica this message is not a human
word, rather it is God's word - able to work in those who believe.

Trust in it.  Trust in God and he will make straight your path
Blessed be his name - now and forever.  Amen


(A first draft of this sermon, with a liturgy, can be found at a-or31-99.html)


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1999 - 2005
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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