Back in my youth ministry days we gave Bibles to graduating Seniors and I usually wrote on the inside cover a version of Joshua 1:7-9: “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all (God’s) law; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go…. I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” These are good words for any people ready to navigate a new landscape.
Rereading Joshua 1, I was struck by Joshua’s blunt opening line “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua, Moses’ assistant, saying, “My servant Moses is dead. Now arise-proceed… into the promised land.” It jars the hearer awake.
Just on the edge of the Promised Land, the Israelites wept for Moses for thirty days. (Deut 34) Jesus wept. If we fail to find our tears our grief will find other outlets. Could the endemic anger in our culture flow from our failure to properly grieve? The weeping Deuteronomist pines “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled.” Moses left a huge leadership gap.
God called Moses from a Burning Bush, “Go down, Moses, way down into Pharaoh’s land, tell old Pharaoh, let my people go.” Moses faced down an ancient superpower. God sent armies of boils, gnats locust, hail, and worse, when Moses prayed. Moses brought freedom to an enslaved people. Moses held out his staff and the Red Sea divided. Moses stood as witness while God carved the Ten Commandments. Moses came off the Mount Sinai bathed in God’s glory wearing a literal halo. Moses drew water from the stone. His prayers brought bread in the wilderness. In forty years Moses moved the people from freed slaves to nation-state. Now, Moses was dead.
There are all sorts of transitions in life. When Kris shared that he was leaving our staff after 7.5 years, we wept. Connie and I wept, leaving Lewis at college even as our son correctly asserted “this goodbye has gone on too long”. Years ago, I sat in my new Pastor’s Study amid half-opened boxes looking out the window wondering why I had moved! I hear the cries of dear Christians courageously moving through transitions like divorce or recovery. Even great joys can make tough transitions. As new parents, Connie announced her pride at take the daily shower! A recent retiree told me that not working was the hardest transition of her life!
Friends, after this ugly election season there will be an official transition team. We are anxious! Why do we look for politicians to bring change? Politicians rarely transform anyone. Politicians reflect back to us, who we already are. God changes lives. .
In the midst of this ugly election season, let us remember, that we do not look for transformation, hope, or salvation from any prince but the Prince of Peace. Every Christmas we rejoice, to hear the Good News that begins “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” Jesus was born and Christianity grew in pagan world ruled by evil Kings. King Herod made Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus refugees. Frustrated jealous religious leaders pushed crowd pleasing politicians to crucify our Lord Jesus. But Jesus overcame sin and death, rising to give us life! Early Christians with their goodness, mercy, grace, love, kindness, generosity, friendliness, soup kitchens, orphanages, hospitals, hospitality, check-turning, stands for justice, and other good works won over a hostile and dreary pagan world. The Kingdom of God is not of this world. God’s Kingdom is a spiritually powerful leaven that resides within our hearts and remakes our world with justice, love and virtue!
After the death of Moses, things looked bleak! Now the assistant, the servant, the secretary, Joshua comes onto the scene. Do you think the people welcomed this Promise Land dreamer? Where they ready for transition? As Joshua slide into Moses shoes do you think he remembered the glorious past, the great victories that Moses won and felt unequal to the task?
Do you think Joshua recalled the hard-scrabbled struggles Moses endured? During transition we easily forget the past’s problems. Wondering about the future we forget hard won past victories. We forget that in Numbers 11 the people complained about the Manna God sent! Once upon a time, those who now wept for a solid month formed a Back to Egypt Committee and tried to fire Moses! Moses groused to God “Why did you lay the burden of all these people on me? Did I give birth to them? God, why do you say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child, to the land that you promised on oath?…. I am not able to carry all this alone! They are too heavy for me. Just let me die right now” In longing for the past we can forget what was not great or what is better now!
When anxious about the future we often remember only the past’s highlight reel. Last week Caleb made a college visit to the University of Kentucky. Caleb checked out the band, toured the school. Just outside the football stadium stand four life-size statues of Greg Page, Nate Northington, Wilbur Hackett and Houston Hogg. I was alive in 1967 when Northington broke the SEC color barrier becoming the first African American to play in an SEC football game. How did we welcome these young men? They endured death threats. The team brought along armed guards. Wilber Hackett almost left UK due to racism on campus, in the locker room, and on hostile road trips. He endured. Hackett’s teammates elected him as the first black team captain in any Southeastern Conference sport. Sometimes in our remembering the glorious past we forget what: was not great or good or even right! We self-select a nice past or a past that makes our present point. Our self-centered selective memory keeps us from hearing our less nostalgic neighbor’s point of view.
The Word of the Lord comes bluntly telling the truth- the world has changed. My Servant Moses is dead. Now arise. Now proceed. Now Go. God perhaps whispers to Joshua’s doubts and fears, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and very courageous, being careful to stay in love with God, so that you may be successful wherever you go…. I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Moses did not free the people. Moses did not divide the Red Sea. Moses did not make the Manna. Moses did not carve the Ten Commandments! Moses was a faithful vessel of the Almighty- a conduit for a flow of spiritual power that changed the world. Our beloved friend Kris did not give hope to a hurting freshman, or empower seniors struggling with hard choices. Ministry belongs to the Lord. Our next president will not bring love of God and Love of neighbor to Tullahoma, we are the one charged to do that. Let us arise and proceed for our God goes with us!
Last week, our Jewish friends celebrated Rosh Hashanah remembering God’s moral vision “practice righteousness, stop fighting, loose the bonds of injustice, share your bread with the hungry, clothe the naked… and then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly” (Isaiah 58). You are the light of the world. Let your good works shine. Isaiah promises that healing dawns when we love our neighbors. Christians know that goodness, decency, justice and love provide the light, salt, and balm that heal a nation. It is not those who seek crowns, but those who shoulder the cross who bring righteousness. Hear our Lord’s moral vision- Jesus’ platform for healing.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You are the salt of the earth
You are the light of the world.
A city built on a hill cannot be hid.
Let your light shine so that others may see your good works and give glory to God!
We arise and face an uncertain future with hope, not because God will go with us, but because we will go with God. God is not on the edges following after us but out in front leading us. God does not tag along blessing our sinful choices. We proceed following Christ. As a Christian my guiding allegiance and hope belongs to no king, kingdom, politician or party. Jesus is Lord. My King resides within loving hearts and just acts. My King waits in heaven and “will come again to judge the living and the dead”. My God reformed my ancestors’ faith amid crushing Babylonian captivity. On Easter, my King overcame terrible evil, oppression, and injustice. Let us cast our anxieties on Christ, live righteously, and align our allegiance, hope, and passion with Christ our King. Let us arise and proceed because Almighty God goes before us. Let us proceed because Christ frees us. Let us proceed because the very Spirit intercedes for us. Let us proceed because Jesus grieves with us. Let us arise because our savior arose! Let us proceed because when we lose our way the Good Shepherd comes looking for us! Let us go forward comforting each other as Jesus comforted Martha and Mary. Let us speak freely of our hurt as Jesus spoke to his friends in the garden. Let us arise from our prayers, shoulder our crosses, and follow Jesus until that Day that God sets all things right. Let us build the Kingdom of God by loving our neighbors as ourselves. Let us be very strong and courageous. Let us Proceed.
This morning, I thought we should hear the good news sung by those past leaders who transformed our nation, with peaceful sit ins at lunch counters, peaceful marches, and powerful sermons. These Civil Rights warriors lifted up a song as they marched for freedom. Let us go out into our anxious world singing their beloved anthem.
Lift every voice and sing, till earth and Heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou Who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee.
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.
Arise! Let your light shine. Let your good works glow with the righteous reflection of Christ. Proceed!
Oh lets us be strong and courageous, being careful to stay in love with God. Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with us” Follow Jesus, the only king worthy of our allegiance. Follow Jesus, who will lead us to the end of the age! Amen.