People have been standing at the edge of waters for thousands of years, just wondering what to do when they have tough decisions to make. Three years ago a massive tsunami crashed into northeast Japan, causing enormous damage and destruction. The Japanese government is building the biggest anti-tsunami barrier in history. Some have begun to call it the Great Wall of Japan, which will eventually span 230 miles at a cost of $8 billion . Some fear the seventeen foot wall will ruin seaports and tourism. People are standing at the water’s edge, wondering what to do.
Years ago the people of Israel stood on the banks of the Jordan River, and like their ancestors on the edge of the Red Sea, they wondered how they might get across. Moses was dead, so he could not lift his hand with his staff to part the waters. God was with them and had promised their new leader, Joshua, that he would begin to exalt Joshua as the new leader and be with him, just as he had been with Moses.
Joshua, assured of God’s presence, instructed the Israelites to build a relationship, to “Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God” (v.9).
1. Begin by listening, says Joshua. Stand still and hear God’s words. Fall into formation behind God, not march ahead of God. This was demonstrated when the people set out from their tents following the priests, who bore the ark of the covenant, the symbol of the presence and power of the living God, moving ahead of the people.
We are challenged today to listen to God’s word and to follow where the living God leads us. God wants to guide us on the path that is best for us, giving us words to maximize our health and happiness. When Moses said to “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy,” that meant that working seven days is not good for ourselves, our families, or our relationship with God.
The prophet Isaiah said to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow” (1:17). We are to care for vulnerable people around us; that is at the heart of our faith. Jesus said to, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). In other words, destruction of rivals and opponents is unacceptable behavior for his disciples. All of this is meant to help us, not to hurt us. Keeping the Sabbath gives us time for rest and renewal. Caring for the poor makes our community a better place, and loving our enemies breaks the cycle of violence and revenge. Draw near and hear the word of the Lord.
- Move forward one small step at a time. Watch and wait for what God will do both for you and through you. God’s help does not come in the form of 230 feet seawalls, rather in small acts of healing, protection and peace. Think of the priests carrying the ark. They just dipped their feet into the edge of the water, watching and waiting for God to act. God’s response was to “move the waters into a heap and the people crossed over opposite Jericho” (v.6). We dip our feet into water when we move forward one step at a time. Martine Luther King said, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase; just take the first step.”
In what ways are we asked to take the first step? Maybe you have tension in a relationship with a friend or relative and need to pick up the phone to talk. Maybe a co-worker makes you uncomfortable and you could get to know them better over coffee. Are their isolated individuals and families in your neighborhood? God is leading you to pull people together–maybe a block party is in order. If you take a step toward healing and peace, God will protect you.
- Keep your eyes on the future. You cannot change the past, but you can be instrumental in building a future. Just as the priests’ feet touched dry ground, the waters of the Jordan returned and overflowed its banks, as before. God’s wall against the water was not a permanent barrier; instead, it was a temporary seawall that allowed the Israelites to cross one time. We are challenged to look to the future:
–if we are granted a physical healing, we give thanks and move forward, not expecting to face the illness again.
–if we receive the gift of forgiveness, we give thanks and move forward. We do not beat ourselves up for our imperfections or allow ourselves to be consumed by regrets.
–if we receive a new job or a new opportunity, we give thanks and move forward. We should not obsess over mistakes from the past or hold ourselves to an impossibly high standard.
God’s gifts are life-saving but transient. They are like the flow of the Jordan River that stops for a moment and then returns. Once you are on the other side safely, move forward into the land that God has promised you. Do not be consumed by worry or regret. When we face raging rivers, God throws up a wall. More often than not, God does this by reconfiguring the water itself, creating a change in the environment that enables us to escape whatever dangers we encounter. God takes the circumstances that once seemed to impede our progress and reshapes those events in such a way that we are enabled to proceed–to move forward. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan, the water was still there, but God had taken what seemed to be a barrier and turned it into a gateway–a door that allowed passing into the future God has designed for us all.
As we remember those who took steps to pave the way for our future, we know that they were led by God. Our ancestors carved a way in the desert, diverted rivers with God’s help, and made the desert a productive place in which we live. Let us pray for all who have gone before us, led by God, to build a future that is now entrusted to us. (Ask for names of loved ones who have passed away this year, and pray for those saints.)