Sermon delivered by Sue Whalley at Harrow Baptist Church
Normally I don’t include the full text of others’ sermons as essentially this is a personal blog, but on this occasion, due to a technical error, the audio and video are incomplete.
Bible Text: Joshua 1: 1-9
Video here from 31:50
Emerging from Lockdown
It’s a strange feeling isn’t it? Being told we can walk around without masks, that we can hug other people, can congregate in large groups. It’s strange what you can get used to if you have to. Of course, none of this is compulsory. We don’t have to hug, we don’t have to throw the mask away. We can continue to meet in small groups, outside, socially distancing, wearing masks when moving around and in public buildings. Life is still different. Some of us are entering this new phrase full of jubilation as if we have finally arrived. Forget the last year and a half, lets slip back into old ways.
When we went into a world of lockdown, it was full of uncertainty and speculation about what might happen, what the future would be like. When would we would be allowed out, or visit our families and friends again. Sixteen months on and things look like they are getting back on track but what’s next? COVID hasn’t gone away and it is still around so can we get back to normal or more importantly, do we want to?
This makes me wonder what it was like for the Israelites when they finally arrived at the Promised Land. Phrases like, “At last” or “About time” spring to mind or even “I can take the weight off my feet at last”. Once they had put up tents, sorted out animals, settled themselves and their families, made a well-deserved cuppa, did they think “Now what?” Do we resume our old life or is this the time to explore ourselves and the land and maybe do some things differently. Sometimes making a decision about what to do can be scary.
Some of us find comfort and security in old ways, regular routines. Others are a little more adventurous and welcome change.
I went on a retreat recently in the Lake District. A beautiful place and it was so good just to take time out, although you may ask, did I really need that after all the lockdowns and isolation periods? The retreat was led by Chris Duffett, I don’t know if you have heard of him, he is a prophetic artist and does amazing paintings. The focus of the retreat was on “lost words”, one of which was, “adventure”. As a person who likes to stay in my comfort zone, when read this word on the introduction sheet, I thought “Uh oh” this does not sound good! What is God going to ask of me? The thing about going on an adventure is that we need an element of bravery and faith to push us out of whatever comfortable place we are sitting, in order to try new things or go to new places. Some of us are adamant we do not want an adventure at any cost and I am sure some of the Israelites said “we have had enough adventure to last a lifetime.” Some of us are tempted by the idea of adventure but think that this is for other people, not for ourselves. Those who are younger, stronger, wiser. Those with more faith and experience and then there are others who are already out of the door looking for adventure without even saying goodbye.
When we look at Joshua and his foray into the promised land, it is easy for us to imagine that after all the years in the desert, he could not wait to get there. Not perhaps because he wanted an adventure but because he just wanted somewhere to set up permanent camp. A little like some people who after experiencing lockdown, cannot wait to get back to normal as if nothing had ever happened. And then there are those of us who have become accustomed to the “new normal” and actually like staying at home. Then there is another group of people who acknowledge that COVID has happened and that we should look at this opportunity to try new things rather than slipping back into old routines.
In the reading this morning, God clearly affirms his promise to his people, reminds Joshua that he is in control clearly indicated in the land he has set apart for the Israelites, marking out the boundaries and his confirmation that he will be with them “as he was with Moses”.
But also in this passage Joshua is told no less than three times to be strong and courageous. If you read the full chapter, it is four in total and in my version there is even a command to be “very courageous”. What is God saying to Joshua and what can we learn from it. At first it looks abundantly clear, Joshua is to be strong and courageous and God will be with him but when we look at it more closely, what does this actually mean and how does it apply to us and our situation?
The first question that comes to mind, Why does God tell Joshua to be strong and courageous? Has God not bought them to the place he wants them to live. Has he not said he will be with them, Why does Joshua need to be strong and courageous if the God was providing all that was needed? Was Joshua not brave? Did he lack courage? Hard to imagine God telling Joshua who had taken over from Moses and bought the Israelites into the promised land to be strong and courageous. Surely that act shows strength and courage. However, I expect that Joshua too, like many human beings, had moments of doubt, (in himself and in God). I am sure he had moments of uncertainty, (that walking around the desert was the right thing). Times of confusion (as to what they were actually supposed to be doing) and yet God told him three times, “Be strong and courageous”.
In verse 7, God gives clear instructions to Joshua, explaining what he must do.
- Follow the teachings which Moses has given them (the ten commandments).
- Recite the teachings. Think about them day and night. Almost with every breath he takes
If he does these things, follows them faithfully, he will succeed.
The key word here is to “do”. It is no good just to remember the teachings, but Joshua needs to follow (put into action). V8 says when “you faithfully do everything written in them” “Only then will you succeed and prosper.
The courage God was asking Joshua to have was to believe and follow the teachings faithfully. He knows it is not going to be easy and the job ahead will require immense courage and strength. He is asking Joshua to trust him, act on the teachings and set an example, putting his faith into practice.
A friend of mine has just taken up kick boxing as a means to get fit and healthy and would you believe when I looked up on the internet the number of different kinds of strength which were mentioned. I won’t go into it here but trust me, there are a lot. When God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous, he does not mean physical strength (which of course would be helpful in moving everyone) but mental and spiritual strength. Strength to stand by our convictions and faith in God particularly when all seem to be against you or you are faced with an insurmountable task. Courage to follow when you know lots of people may be relying on you and the pressure you feel to get everything right.
God is not just asking for a faith that relies on God when all is going well and believe me, its easier to trust him then, but when the odds are stacked up against you and it feels like the world is closing in on you and any other person would question your sanity in trusting God.
God is asking that we abandon our lives into his care and put all our faith in him. That calls for strength and courage.
After this last week, full of questions and perhaps uncertainty. I ask the following questions
Have we lost our way, are we still going round in circles in the desert?
Have we dug our heels in (the desert) and are refusing to move?
Are we anxious to move onto the next stage (arrive in the Promised Land) but that’s enough.
Or are we are chomping at the bit and saying “What’s next Lord?”
Are we scared to take that next step or embrace the idea of a new adventure. Christ calls us to change, to abandon our life of sin, believe in him and follow him. That’s scary, that’s a new adventure in itself.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes strength in our current situation is having the guts to say we need to stay at home, continue wearing masks publicly either for ourselves or for others but each of us will be facing this situation differently.
We may not be moving to or even leading others to a new land. We may not be making life changing decisions uprooting families across the world into new territories but we are still moving into an uncertain existence as to what happens next. We are not the first people to experience this and God knows that. Take comfort…
God knows what we are going through
God is with us
God asks us to be strong and courageous whichever way we are looking at the removal of restrictions or any other situation you may be going through
I encourage you to take that step-in faith, wherever you are in your journey.
Be strong and courageous.