Text: Joshua 1:10-11; 3:1-9; 13-17
I am disappointed as I grow older that I have not advanced further in mastering the fruit of the Spirit called patience. I have improved some, but I am certainly a work in progress. I may be at a red stop light and fret that it does not change more quickly. My mind questions, “Is this a light that only changes on Mondays and Wednesdays. I’m a busy man. Have been retired only 10 1/2 years. It may be mid-day and I’m going to the store for a loaf of bread. I must get there before the store closes. Let’s see — well I have about 8 hours, but I have other things to do. Won’t this light ever change? Interesting, how many thoughts can run through your mind in a few seconds of impatience. (For any worried about my mental health, I do not have these thoughts at every red light. Just occasionally.)
Impatience is one of the first things that comes to my mind as I read the passage from Joshua.
The Hebrews have been delivered marvelously from slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea, wandered in the Wilderness for 40 years. God is about to lead them into the Promised Land through the Jordan River.
As I imaginatively insert myself into the Scriptures, I see myself there with the Hebrews. Having camped beside the Jordan River for three days, Joshua, the new leader, says it’s time to go. God is ready to act. Now the Scripture does not tell us of any discussion about the matter, but a large group of people like this, if Hebrews are anything like Presbyterians, often have differing opinions. Many, having heard about God’s marvelous parting of the Red Sea when Moses was leader, are not questioning now is the time. But I can imagine a few, looking at the Jordan River right now, a swollen flooded river, and saying that perhaps they should wait till later. Looking at the angry waters, they may also be reminding the others that Joshua is just a beginner when it comes to leading. He has just taken the reins of leadership from Moses. Joshua is like the rookie pitcher who has never thrown a ball in a real game.
God, in so many words, has promised Joshua that after they have crossed the river, the people will really trust him. But that is after, not before the river crossing. Nevertheless, the Hebrew people start to go.
The instructions from God say that the priests are to take the Ark of the Covenant, that wooden box which symbolizes the presence of God, that box in which tradition says holds among other things the stones on which are inscribed the Law of God, given to Moses on Mt. Sinai, that Ark of the Covenant which they carried with them into battle, that Ark of the Covenant is to be taken into the flooded waters of the Jordan River. When the feet of the men carrying the Ark are covered with water, God will hold back the flow of the river, and the people can cross on dry land. So the priests enter the flooded Jordan River, and when their feet are covered, God does as promised, and stops the flow. Yet listen carefully to the scripture here, ” the waters from above stood still, rising up in a single heap, far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarathan.” Adam is 20 miles upstream; Zarathan is 30 miles upstream. So figure that the waters were stopped 25 miles upstream. If the water is flowing at 30 miles an hour, it will be fifty minutes until the Hebrew people see any dry ground. If the water is flowing at l5 miles an hour it will be an hour and a half, and if flowing at 7 1/2 miles an hour it will be three hours. We have no idea of the ground under the feet of the men carrying the Ark. Standing in moving flood waters can be difficult at best if not dangerous. Maybe the Ark of the Covenant helps anchor the ark-bearers; yet, sometimes carrying a heavy object makes you less steady on your feet. They can’t set the wooden ark down in the water; rather, they may have to lift it higher, so that it won’t get splashed by the water. Well, for some an hour or two wait is not long. But for any with limited patience — for those for who would fret over a traffic signal which did not turn fast enough, it could be a long wait. I can imagine someone saying, “Joshua is new at this. Maybe we had better go back and wait till later. Let Joshua confer with God to better get the timing, and also, by then the flood waters may have receded.” Note that impatience in this case could have led to a delay. Eventually, the dry ground did appear, and the Hebrews safely crossed the Jordan River as God promised. But observe, even as they heard God’s call to act now, they still had to adjust to God’s timing with patience, always open to God’s plan and leading.
Notice also that some are going to have to get their feet wet. I find it fascinating that God did not say “take the Ark of the Covenant up to the very edge of the river and then I will act.” God said they were to take it to the edge, but then to step into the water. Some are going to have to get their feet wet.
We are not crossing the Jordan River, but we are seeking God’s guidance in re-shaping this presbytery to the 21st century, making it more efficient and more helpful to the churches who comprise it. Phyllis and I love this presbytery. When resettling after my retirement, one of the priorities in location was to remain within the bounds of this presbytery. Nevertheless, there is a need for a time of reexamination. Now is that time, and hopefully we will follow God’s leading. But some are going to have to get their feet wet. Phyllis and Chris, Cheryl and Paul — but also Cynthia and Alan, and also…and also…and also. Where do we stop?
I always get irritated when I hear Presbyterians talk of presbytery as though it were some outside entity. We are presbytery — all ruling and teaching elders — all of us presbyters, who in our ordination vows promise to serve on the councils of the church. The vows don’t say, “if I am interested in that sort of thing,” nor “If I have a lot of free time on my hands.”
Some of the churches are re-examining their own mission to strengthen it. Now is the time and God will help, but some people are going to have to get their feet wet. Some churches in this presbytery are seeking ways to share life and mission, working together. Now is the time and God will help, but some people are going to have to get their feet wet.
Why does God tell those carrying the Ark, that they must not just go to the edge of the Jordan River but that they have to go into the Jordan River, before God will act. Is God possibly saying God is not going to do this great act just for them, but with them and through them.
If now is the time, we need to follow, aware that even in God’s now, we may need patience. If God’s plan is to take hold, we will have to get our feet wet, to be willing to let God use us.
The question is not, what are we going to do? But what does God want to do through us now? That sounds challenging and could be exciting. So, let’s go, and to the one God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — be all glory and honor and praise. Amen.